An Antidote to the EHRC Poison

Mike Cushman introduces Jewish Voice for Labour’s forensic reply to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s infamous report on Labour’s alleged antisemitism problem

This article first appeared in the Morning Star on 13 May 2021

Cover of 'How the EHRC Got it so Wrong'The publication of the EHRC report on ‘Antisemitism in the Labour Party’ was a seismic event in the history of the Party. Despite its undoubted political impact, it contributed little to anyone’s understanding of how the Party works; how antisemitism manifests itself in contemporary Britain; or how to combat it or any other form of identity-based hatred.

Jewish Voice for Labour published a series of commentaries on the shortcomings of the report but also promised an in-depth appraisal of it. That appraisal is now published by Verso as a free e-book ‘How the EHRC Got It So Wrong: Antisemitism and the Labour Party

As Geoffrey Bindman says in his foreword:

Instead of responding by setting up an inquiry into the way the Party was handling, or mishandling, complaints, the Commission saddled itself with the needless task of finding illegal conduct; not by those who made the offending statements but by the Party itself. It claimed to have found the law had been broken in only two cases of harassment and two of indirect discrimination, all of which findings, as the following analysis demonstrates, were highly disputable. Predictably, what hit the headlines, when the report was published, was the humiliating conclusion – by the Commission Labour had itself created – that the Party had broken the law.

The Commission undertook the its task as though the political context of its initiation was uncontroversial. They took at face value the repeated allegations by politicians hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and relentlessly repeated in broadcast and print media, that a Corbyn-led Labour Party “represented an existential threat to the Britain’s Jews”.

The outcome of the investigation was pre-determined by this fallacious trope and was not deflected either by the lack of evidence or that this sort of investigation was outside the scope of the EHRC’s powers. This is manifest from its Terms of Reference through to its title. The EHRC is not empowered to investigate antisemitism or any other ‘-ism’; its remit is confined what is specified in the Equalities Acts: discrimination, harassment or victimisation related to or on the basis of a protected characteristic. A distinction that JVL made in its joint declaration with Free Speech on Israel on ‘What is and what is not antisemitic misconduct. Unlike the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, and it seems the EHRC, JVL concentrates on visible actions not on the invisible states of mind that are presumed to motivate them or in the IHRA’s mystic terms ‘a certain perception of Jews’. The recent Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism also captures this distinction.

Video of the Haldane Society Launch Event of the Book

The EHRC misapplied the Equality Acts

This misconception of its task directed how the investigators went about gathering evidence. Whereas the 2006 Equality Act requires that the EHRC specify at the outset of an investigation ‘the nature of the unlawful act which the Commission suspects’, the EHRC failed to do this and instead embarked on what is best described as a ‘fishing expedition’. Having announced they suspected there were such acts, without saying what was the basis for the suspicion, they then tried to find them. JVL challenged the EHRC’s faulty Terms of Reference at the outset but received no response.

By diligent and highly prejudicial selection of evidence the EHRC purported to have found three illegal acts, each of which the study demonstrates in great detail required a very particular reading of the facts and dubious legal reasoning. These ‘illegal acts’ provided the basis for issuing an enforceable ‘Unlawful Act Notice’ requiring specific action by the Party. Action the incoming Starmer/Evans regime was enthusiastic to embrace in order to cement their political project of marginalising, where they could not exclude, socialist currents within the Party.

The thread of the report hangs upon an understanding of what antisemitism is and how it manifests itself. It is noticeable that, despite using the terms ‘antisemitism’ and ‘antisemitic’ an average of over four times on every page, it never defines what it understands by the terms or attempt a definition while castigating the Party for not issuing clear guidance on their meaning.

The EHRC acknowledged the existence of the leaked report into the workings of the GLU but did not allow the evidence it provided to deflect them from their intended course. The Commission, strikingly, did not ask to see the detailed dossiers upon which the GLU report was based saying it ‘was not proportionate for us’. As the EHRC opined at length about the culture of the Party and the direct responsibility of the Leadership (they rarely mentioned Jeremy Corbyn by name) their refusal to make use of material that directly contradicts their conclusions makes those findings of little use. They were under no obligation to accept the findings of the GLU report but the absence of any reasoned rejection is telling.

The report acknowledges that it received evidence from JVL, it never at any point discusses that evidence. Had it done so, it would have undermined a central contention of the report that there is a singular Jewish community, all of a mind as to the nature and extent of ‘Labour antisemitism’.  That contention is central to the recommendations about consultation with ‘the Jewish Community’; the creation of an advisory board that excludes even those professionally involved with, and widely renowned for, the study of antisemitism who even mildly deviate from the required orthodoxy; acceptability of new process to that community; and the establishment of a training, not an education, programme. A training programme that sees antisemitism as a series of undisputed facts to be transmitted from trainer to trainee, not as a process of discussion and evolving understanding.

EHRC poison

The report is intensely political, it achieves this by ignoring the politics of the situation it purports to investigate. It ignores the bitter arguments inside the Party and holds the Leadership responsible for actions of officials determined to undermine it. It insists on regarding the Party as a singular command and control organisation but with valiant and discriminated against individuals who, with only the flimsy protection of all the print and broadcast media, risked their futures by naysaying.

The Report is an intellectually dishonest poison; this study is a meticulous antidote that could save the Party if ingested speedily and deeply.

The book is published as an eBook. Advice on how to read Verso eBooks

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and free expression

Rob Ferguson presents the third of our series of posts on the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) He demonstrates its importance in the  fight for free expression on Palestine and Israel and defending the left and opposing the use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) is a highly welcome development. Its key significance lies in its potential for mobilising significantly wider opposition to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition” of antisemitism, and attempts to de-legitimise free expression on Israel and solidarity with Palestine. Continue reading “The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and free expression”

Turning the Tables

David Rosenberg writes the second of our responses to the JDA, the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism. David points to the importance of the JDA in dislodging the IHRA definition from its status of being THE definition and opening the space for debate and challenge. David Rosenberg is a member of the Jewish Socialists Group

This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is reproduced by permission of the author.

David RosenbergI once heard Tony Benn giving a speech at Conway Hall in which he revealed the “most dangerous word in the English language”. Only three letters long, but it had the power to elevate one perspective, and dismiss, reject, and encourage vilification of all others on the subject being discussed. The word was “THE”. Nowhere, in recent years, has Benn’s claim been so powerfully illustrated than In the controversies surrounding definitions of antisemitism.

A poorly-worded “working definition” of antisemitism, plus examples of what 21st century antisemitism might look like, were first developed for the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) in 2005, by the American Jewish Committee’s researcher, Kenneth Stern. According to Tony Lerman, former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Stern’s document was signed off by just five people, one of whom was Mike Whine, long associated with the Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust. Continue reading “Turning the Tables”

The JDA is to be welcomed but also debated

Mike Cushman discusses the strengths of the recently issued Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism and also the areas for further debate. FSOI regards the production of the JDA as an important step in the constant endeavour to understand how antisemitism manifests itself in order to combat it most effectively. It is the result of intense intellectual debate among scholars who have spent their lives enquiring into antisemitism. We regret that its publication has been almost entirely ignored by the national media, the Government, political parties and mainstream Jewish organisations. Their reluctance to engage with a serious and carefully crafted document casts doubts on their motives in raising issues of antisemitism so strongly in the recent past.

This article is the first in a series of pieces we will be publishing to advance the debate on the JDA which is taking place with intelligence and passion among thoughtful Jews and anti-racists.

Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA)I find the Palestinian Boycott National Committee (BNC) statement a valuable stating point for any consideration of the recently published Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (the JDA) as it identifies many of the main issues even though I differ with them on some of their analyses. Continue reading “The JDA is to be welcomed but also debated”