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

Labour Conference or Nuremberg Rally? Assessing the evidence

Jamie Stern-Weiner

This article was first published on Jamie Stern-Weiner’s blog and is reprinted by permission of the author

It was difficult to ascertain on the basis of media reports whether Brighton played host this month to a Labour Party conference or a Nuremberg rally. This article investigates claims of antisemitism at the Labour conference and finds them to be without factual basis.

Labour v Nuremberg. Spot the difference: is it really so difficult?

The 2017 Labour Party conference was a success for supporters of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn snubbed a reception held by Labour Friends of Israel, a group which lobbies for close UK-Israel relations, and put enjoyably little effort into his excuse. According to the Telegraph, this ‘was the first time in over two decades that a Labour leader has not attended the annual event’.[1]

Delegates cheered as Corbyn’s keynote speech pledged ‘real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion and move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict’.

Most significantly, the leader’s office defeated a back-door attempt to neuter the party’s support for Palestinian rights: Continue reading “Labour Conference or Nuremberg Rally? Assessing the evidence”

JVL triumph at Labour Conference

Mike Cushman

Jewish Voice for Labour must be greatly encouraged by the reception it received at Labour Party Conference.

JVL Triumph

As a brand new organisation with very limited resources and no paid staff, they did not anticipate the scale of its impact. Its launch meeting attracted over 300 people when JVL had been doubtful about filling a room that seats 180. As well as attracting many conference delegates, leaders of two trade unions, Unite and ASLEF, attended and pledged their support. In addition to stimulating speeches, brimming with, fact and ideas from leading Israeli academic Professor Avi Shlaim, retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and respected Jewish socialist activist David Rosenberg, the audience heard from leading film maker Ken Loach who spoke from the floor.

The hall at teh JVL launch was full to overflowing
It was difficult to fit everyone who wanted come to the JVL launch into the hall

The message from all the speakers was clear, consistent and enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. There are Jewish voices that the Labour party is wilfully ignoring. The party needs to listen attentively to the whole of its Jewish membership and not just those individuals and groups who defend Israel’s crimes against humanity; its occupation of Palestinian land; and its increasingly Apartheid-like regime. The message of the meeting was clear: that antisemitism is as unwelcome in the Labour Party, as it should be everywhere; but that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic. Rather, JVL continues the long tradition of Jewish defence of the oppressed and recognition of the humanity of all. As descendants of victims of oppression over centuries all Jews should join with JVL in denouncing injustice.

The impact of JVL was not only at the fringe of conference. Leading JVL members Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Leah Levane roused conference to its feet with their calls for justice and peace in Palestine and for just procedures inside the Labour Party. Their reception paved the way for Jeremy Corbyn to pledge the Party to support Palestinian rights.

Why the rule change is inadequate and dangerous

JVL applauds the Labour Party’s renewed concern with combatting discrimination within the Party and in wider society. They recognise this has been central to Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political career. While the agreed measure on this topic avoids some of the worst features of other proposals circulated, JVL is concerned that the rule change adopted may not be effective in advancing that cause and fears its misuse. It can be seen that JVL’s anxieties are around four issues.

Firstly, the rule change does not spell out how to embody the recommendations of last year’s Chakrabarti report including that there should be no trawling of ancient social media postings in the hope of targeting specific individuals; and that all processes of investigation and discipline must be transparent and follow natural justice norms. Previous experience has been of selective vision; perverse textual interpretations; opaque procedures; and media vilification preceding hearings. The Party must determine to end such abusive ways of working.

Secondly the procedures for drawing up the code of conduct have not been specified. JVL expects that the NEC will consult with all groups that may experience discrimination and with all currents of opinion within these groups. A draft of the code must be circulated to all local parties. It is a lesson from all anti-discrimination initiatives that unless there is wide involvement from the start there is no ownership of the final process and failed implementation. There are particular issues with regard to the antisemitism aspect of the code. Over the last 18 months, criticism of Israel has, too often, been taken as evidence of antisemitism in Party disciplinary cases. The code must not include proposals that would brand anti-Zionism as antisemitism. We have seen too many examples where fear of being labelled antisemitic has silenced voices that, while critical of Israel, are in no way antisemitic. The code of conduct must not be used as a way to smuggle in a draconian reading of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism.

Thirdly, it is alarming that the rule includes the notion that beliefs can be the subject of discipline. Objectionable beliefs may well give rise to statements and actions that are unacceptable. It is such statements and actions that are the appropriate object of sanction. Trying to punish belief is what Orwell derided as thought crime.

Fourthly, the new rule does not lead to a distinction that Chakrabarti clearly alluded to. Some unacceptable statements arise from ignorance and confusion and need to be addressed through education to lead the perpetrator to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Other statements and actions arise from malice and are the proper domain of disciplinary action. Neither type of hurtful action is acceptable but the way to deal with them, and to build a stronger, more inclusive party, vary.

JVL must look forward to building on its progress in Brighton and its boost in membership. It has committed itself to playing its role in strengthening the Labour Party and securing the Labour Government pledged to achieving the domestic and international justice that we desperately need.

FSOI Labour Conference Fringe Meeting

FSOI have just issued the this statement in response to the spate of attacks on us following our successful meeting in Brighton. It is a tribute to our growing effectiveness that so much abuse is being hurled at us.

Free Speech on Israel rebuts claims of Holocaust Denial

• Miko Peled did not endorse Holocaust Denial
• Entrapment and character assassination tarnish political life

Allegations that have been made that Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation, is complicit in holocaust denial are a signal episode in the manufacture of fake news.

They are distortions based on highly selective quotations, ripped out of context, from a strong and principled speech by celebrated Israeli Army veteran and author Miko Peled at our fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. These allegations, too readily re-broadcast by an insufficiently critical press, misrepresent the meaning and intention of his talk. His words, read in the flow of his speech, offer no support at all to holocaust denial. These tactics of attempted entrapment and character assassination tarnish the integrity of political life in Britain.

Free Speech on Israel always challenges Holocaust denial whenever it rears its head, just as we are resolute in our opposition to antisemitism. Like Miko we are equally determined to fight false accusations of antisemitism and their use to silence criticism of Israeli crimes or to suppress support for Palestinian rights.


If you are in Brighton for the Labour Conference please don’t miss our fringe meeting

How Israel Silences Its Critics: Why We Oppose the Witch Hunt

Monday 25 September                       12.30 pm
Friends Meeting House, Ship St Brighton BN1 1AF     

Miko Peled – The Israeli General’s SonMiko Peled The General's Son

Continue reading “FSOI Labour Conference Fringe Meeting”

Tell your council not to adopt the IHRA (mis)definition

JVL logo

This is a copy of a letter sent by Jewish Voice for Labour to a council considering adopting the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We hope it may be of use to you if your local council is thinking of proceeding down this misguided path.

Dear councillor

As Jewish members of the Labour Party, and of the new Labour group, Jewish Voice for Labour, we are opposed to adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism due to be tabled before the council on Monday September 18.

We believe the IHRA document sows confusion in the fight against antisemitism and racism, which must be a key priority at this time of rising right-wing hate-mongering against ethnic and religious minorities. We also believe it poses a threat to freedom of expression, which it is a key duty of local authorities to protect.

We understand that councillors may feel obliged to endorse the motion out of a commendable desire to support and defend Jewish constituents, but in our opinion this would be misguided. The short definition of antisemitism contained in the proposed motion is, in our view, poorly worded and indefinite, but it is the rest of the document that seriously concerns us. The greater part of it is made up mainly of examples which do not relate to Jews at all, either individually or collectively. They relate to attitudes to the State of Israel.

We urge you to read the assessment by our friends in the Jewish Socialists’ Group, which can be found here. There is also a full assessment of the legal implications of the definition from Hugh Tomlinson QC here, as well as a scathing critique from (Jewish) former Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books here.

Antisemitism may sometimes be masked by a critical attitude to the State of Israel, that is true. The IHRA definition, though, seems designed not so much to catch speech or actions clearly motivated by hatred of Jews, as to defend the State of Israel against criticism of its violations of human rights, and to justify aspects of its foundation and constitution opposed by many Jews, both within and outside Israel. We know of many disturbing cases of the IHRA document being used to limit criticism of Israel and restrict campaigns in support of justice for Palestinians. The legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC makes clear that public bodies using it in this way, including against the boycott movement, would be open to legal challenge for breaching their duty under the Human Rights Act to defend freedom of expression.

Councillors should be aware that the Labour Party has only adopted the short definition of antisemitism, which was included in the Race and Faith Manifesto during the 2017 general election. We are pleased that the party has not adopted the list of examples which follow the definition in the IHRA document. Nor should your council.

We appeal to you not to allow yourselves to be bounced into an ill-considered decision which will do nothing to oppose real antisemitism, and is likely to have negative consequences for the perception of the Council by many anti-racists and supporters of the rights of Palestinians.

We look forward to the opportunity to engage in productive discussion with council members about these important issues.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
on behalf of
Jewish Voice for Labour