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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Across the world, Israel lobbyists are promoting a highly problematic list of 11 examples of purported antisemitism. These examples have been used to shield Israel from accountability for its human rights violations. Continue reading “IHRA: The Politics of a Definition”
Brian Klug introducedthe session of the International Gathering of Jews Supporting Justice in Palestine on ‘Responding to the Misuse and Abuse of Antisemitism Definition’, held by Zoom on 3 October 2020. His presentation honed in on the ambiguities, internal contradictions and inadequacies of the widely proclaimed IHRA ‘definition’ of antisemitism. His address centred on five modest proposals for escaping for the quagmire created by the definition’s proponents.
His text is reproduced by his kind permission
My brief is to address two questions: Why has the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism been so successful and what can be done about it? I am a little diffident about tackling these questions. You are the activists with experience in the field, and a strategy that works in one national context might not in another. I am merely an armchair philosopher. All I shall do, therefore, is offer a few modest suggestions that I hope will be helpful as you deliberate about action later today and after we have dispersed. So, here are five modest suggestions from the clouds. Continue reading “Tackling the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism”
As members of the Labour Party, we have been shocked by your abrupt and authoritarian decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet.
The reason given for this action is specious indeed. It is not and cannot be Rebecca’s retweeting of Maxine Peake’s interview. The allegedly antisemitic section of that interview is one sentence only, stating that: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.” This allegation is rebutted right away in the same interview, with the interviewer commenting between brackets: “A spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, stating that ‘there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway’.” Continue reading “Open Letter to Keir Starmer on the Dismissal of Rebecca Long-Bailey”
We are a group of Liberal Democrats proud of the recent growth in support for our party, but seriously concerned that our leaders’ repeated utterances about alleged antisemitism have not been based on sound evidence. We have tried to raise this issue with them and get it discussed within the party, but much to our disappointment, have encountered a total refusal, as if the topic were taboo. The experience has led us to publish this article.
There exists prejudice against Jews and other minorities in all corners of British society, but we have found no hard evidence behind repeated assertions (echoed by the Lib Dem leadership) that it is exceptional or rampant on the Labour left. Since 2017, some of us have been trying to get the leadership to discuss the issue properly, but without success. The experience motivated us to form this group, and write them an open letter in May, asking them to “tell the truth about alleged antisemitism”. Continue reading “Lib Dem members: party line on Labour anti-Semitism is ‘ill-judged and uncritical’”
Mike Cushman looks at how the witch hunt against Chris Williamson is linked to WitchHunt. The film shows how slurs against principled supporters of Palestinian rights become solidified into ‘common sense’
Antony Lerman says “I warned that adopting the IHRA would shut down protest on Palestine – I’ve been proved right”
This article first appeared in the Independent and is reprinted by permission of the author
When cyclists signed up for this year’s Big Ride For Palestine, which raises funds for a charity aiding Palestinian children in Gaza, they were expecting to finish with a rally in a Tower Hamlets park. But the council took a secret decision to ban the rally using a false interpretation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) controversial “working definition” of antisemitism.
Jonathan Cook details how Macron’s conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not an aberration but part of a systematic campaign. He shows how the successive enlargements of what is alleged to constitute antisemitism are a response to the growing success of the movement to enforce BDS and support Palestinian Rights
This article was first published in Mondoweiss andis republished by permission of the author
How far the international community’s approach towards Israel has reversed trajectory over the past half century can be gauged simply by studying the fate of one word: Zionism.
Western publics were generally shocked. Zionism, they had been told, was a necessary liberation movement for the Jewish people after centuries of oppression and pogroms. Its creation, Israel, was simply the righting of terrible wrongs that had culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust.
But Zionism looked very different to those countries around the globe that had been exposed to centuries of European colonialism and the more recent advent of US imperialism.
The long history of crimes against Jews that led to Israel’s establishment took place mostly in Europe. And yet it was Europe and the US that had sponsored and aided the arrival of Jews in another people’s homeland, far from their own shores.
To the global south, the great purges of native Palestinians carried out by European Jews in 1948 and 1967 looked all too reminiscent of white Europeans cleansing indigenous peoples in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
A colonial anachronism
By 1975, the time of the UN vote, it was clear that Israel had no intention either of handing back to the Palestinians the occupied territories it had seized eight years earlier. Rather, Israel was entrenching the occupation by illegally transferring its own civilian population into the Palestinian territories.
Across much of the globe, these Jewish settlers looked like an anachronism, a reminder of the white “pioneers” heading westwards across the supposedly empty lands of the US; the white farmers who seized vast tracts of South Africa and Rhodesia as their personal homesteads; and the white newcomers who herded the remnants of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples into reservations or turned them into a sideshow at its tourist sites.
The UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution lasted 16 years – until the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the US as the world’s sole superpower. After a lot of diplomatic arm-twisting by Washington, including promises that Israel would engage in a peace process with the Palestinians, Resolution 3379 was finally scrapped in 1991.
Decades later, the pendulum has swung decisively the other way.
US and European elites have moved on from their once-defensive posture that Zionism is not racism. Now, they are on the attack. Their presumption is that anti-Zionism – the position of much the international community 44 years ago – is synonymous with racism.
Or more specifically, it is increasingly being accepted that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin.
That trend was consolidated last week when Emmanuel Macron, the centrist French president, went further than simply reiterating his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This time he threatened to outlaw anti-Zionism.
Macron’s confusion of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is patently nonsensical.
Antisemitism refers to the hatred of Jews. It is bigotry, plain and simple.
Anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is opposition to the political ideology of Zionism, a movement that has insisted in all its political guises on prioritising the rights of Jews to a homeland over those, the Palestinians, who were already living there.
Anti-Zionism is not racism against Jews; it is opposition to racism by Zionist Jews.
Of course, an anti-Zionist may also be antisemitic, but it is more likely that an anti-Zionist holds his or her position for entirely rational and ethical reasons.
That was made only clearer last summer when the Israeli parliament passed a basic law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people (PDF). The law asserts that all Jews, even those with no connection to Israel, enjoy a right to self-determination there that all Palestinians are deprived of, including the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and formally citizens.
In other words, the law creates two statuses in Israel – and implicitly in the occupied territories too – based on an imposed ethno-religious classification system that entitles all Jews to superior rights over all Palestinians.
In constitutional terms, Israel is explicitly operating an apartheid-style legal and political system, one even more encompassing than South Africa’s. After all, the apartheid rulers of South Africa never claimed that theirs was the homeland of all white people.
Macron’s threat to outlaw anti-Zionism is the logical extension of existing moves across Europe and the US to penalise those who support BDS, the growing international solidarity movement with Palestinians that calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Many members of the BDS movement, though not all, are anti-Zionists. A proportion are anti-Zionist Jews.
The movement not only leapfrogs western policy elites’ decades of complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians but highlights the extent of that complicity. That is one reason it is so reviled by those elites.
None seem concerned that they are violating Americans’ much-cherished First Amendment rights, and making an exception to the right to free speech in one case only – that of Israel.
This month the US Senate joined the fray by passing a bill to encourage states to inflict economic punishments on those who support a boycott of Israel.
These victories against the non-violent BDS movement are the result of vigorous and malevolent efforts behind the scenes by Israel lobbyists to confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
As Israel’s standing among western publics has plummeted with the advent of social media, endless videos of violence by the Israeli army and settlers caught on phone cameras, and Israel’s starvation of Gaza, Israel’s lobbyists have moved to make it ever harder to speak out.
Redefinition of antisemitism
Their coup was the recent widespread acceptance in the west of a redefinition of antisemitism that intentionally confuses it with anti-Zionism.
One example, stating that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, suggests that the 72 UN member states that voted for 1975’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, as well as the 32 that abstained, were themselves espousing, or turning a blind eye to, antisemitism.
The result has been a growing fear among western publics about what can be said any longer about Israel without eliciting accusations of antisemitism.
That is the goal. If people become afraid that others will think them antisemitic for criticising Israel, then they will keep quiet, giving Israel greater leeway to commit crimes against Palestinians.
‘Self-hating Jew’ trope
Were Macron and the IHRA right – that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are all but indistinguishable – then we would have to accept some very uncomfortable conclusions.
One would be that Palestinians should be uniformly damned as antisemites for demanding their own right to self-determination. Or put another way, it would be impossible for Palestinians to demand the same rights as Jews in their homeland without that being declared as racist. Welcome to Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Another conclusion would be that a significant proportion of Jews around the world, those who oppose Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, are also antisemites, infected with an irrational hatred of their fellow Jews. This is the “self-hating Jew” trope Israel has long relied on to discredit criticism from Jews.
On this view, those Jews who want Palestinians to enjoy the same rights as Jews claim for themselves in the Middle East are racist – and not only that, but racist against themselves.
And if Macron’s efforts to criminalise anti-Zionism prove fruitful, it would mean that Palestinians and Jews could be punished – maybe even jailed – for demanding equality between Palestinians and Jews in Israel.
Preposterous as this reasoning sounds when laid out so bluntly, similar approaches to dealing with antisemitism are being readily accepted by actors across Europe and the US.
The bank took the action after complaints that Jewish Voice was antisemitic by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a group that masks its fervent support for Israel behind campaigning for Jewish rights.
Eliding the left and far-right
Macron’s antipathy to anti-Zionism – shared by many others seeking to confuse it with antisemitism – has an explicit cause as well as a more veiled one. Both are related to the political crisis he faces. After two years in power, he is the most unpopular president in the republic’s history.
According to Macron, the rise of anti-Zionism, or more broadly growing opposition to Israel, is swelling the ranks of those who want to harm Jews in France, whether through attacks, the scrawling of swastikas on Jewish graves or the polluting of public discourse, especially on social media.
Although a small number of French Muslims have adopted extremist positions, most feel hostility towards Israel because of its role in displacing and oppressing Palestinians. That sentiment dominates among BDS activists too.
But the implication of Macron and the lobby is that these two anti-Zionist groups are actually closely aligned with the antisemitic far-right and neo-Nazi groups, whatever their obvious respective differences in ideology and attitude towards violence.
The blurring by Macron of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is meant to sow doubt about what should be obvious distinctions between these three very different ideological constituencies.
Macron’s sleight of hand
Macron’s sleight of hand has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.
Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.
Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.
The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.
The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.
Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief.
Centrists’ love of authority
For those who assume that centrist leaders like Macron are acting not out of naked political self-interest but from a concern to eradicate prejudice and protect a vulnerable community, it is worth pausing to consider recent research on global political attitudes.
Last year the New York Times published a commentary by David Adler showing that, contrary to popular wisdom, centrists were on average significantly less invested in democracy than the far left and far right. They were least supportive of civil rights and “free and fair elections”.
These trends were particularly pronounced in the US, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand, but noticeable in many other western liberal democracies.
Additionally, in most western countries, including France, support for a strongman and for authoritarianism was much stronger among centrists than on the far-left. British and US centrists also outpolled the far-right in their love of authority figures.
Adler concluded: “Support for ‘free and fair’ elections drops at the center for every single country in the sample. The size of the centrist gap is striking. In the case of the United States, fewer than half of people in the political center view elections as essential. … Centrists …seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.”
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that centrist leaders like Macron are among the most ready to disengage from fair and open debate, smear opponents and readily blur the ideological distinctions between those to their left and their right.
And similarly, supporters of centrism are most likely to lap up unfounded accusations of antisemitism in the service of maintaining a status quo they perceive as benefiting them.
That process has been starkly on show in Britain and the US of late.
For decades the centrists in Washington have dominated politics on both sides of a supposed political divide. And one issue that has enjoyed especially strong bipartisan support in the US is backing for Israel.
The reason for a narrow Washington consensus on a whole range of issues, including Israel, has been the stranglehold on the US political process of corporate money and paid lobbyists.
Lobbies prefer to operate in the dark, wielding influence out of public view. In the case of Israel, however, the lobby has become ever more visible to outsiders and its defences of Israel ever harder to sustain as abuses of Palestinians are readily displayed on social media.
That, in turn, has spurred the growth of the BDS movement and a new, if still small, wave of insurgency politicians.
Ilhan Omar attacked
Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar showed how the established system seeks to tame wayward freshmen after she tweeted an obvious point that the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC – like other lobbyists – uses its money to enforce political orthodoxy in Washington in its chosen field. Or as she expressed it, “It’s all about the Benjamins” – slang for $100 bills, which feature an image of Benjamin Franklin.
She was quickly submerged in an avalanche of claims that her comment was evidence of antisemitism. They came from across the so-called political spectrum, from the grandees of her own Democratic party to President Trump. Weighed down with the criticism, she apologized.
Omar justified her decision, saying it was up to Jews to decide what is antisemitic. In an age of rampant identity politics, this sounds superficially plausible. But it actually makes no sense at all.
Even if a clear majority of Jews do in fact think criticism of Israel or its lobbyists is antisemitic – a highly questionable assumption – they don’t enjoy some special or exclusive right to make that determination.
Israel victimises Palestinians, as has been endlessly documented. No one has the right to claim the moral high ground as a victim of racism when they are using that same high ground to obstruct scrutiny of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. To think otherwise would be to prioritise the defense of Jews from a possible racism over the vast evidence of concrete racism by Israel against Palestinians.
But more to the point, Omar’s apology assumes that those Jews with the loudest voices – that is, those with the biggest platforms and the most money – represent all Jews. It makes organised American Jewry, whose vigorous support for Israel has proved unshakeable even as Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu has driven the country to the far right, the arbiter of what all Jews think.
In fact, it does more. It makes the Israel lobby itself the one to determine whether there is an Israel lobby. It gives the lobby permission to shield itself entirely from view, allowing its influence to become even more entrenched and opaque.
Omar is far from alone. Other prominent critics of Israel, often black, have found themselves singled out for accusations of antisemitism over the criticism of Israel, including recently Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis.
Through a drip-drip of accusations that Omar is expressing “antisemitic tropes” when she speaks out, the aim is to make sure she starts to self-censor, becomes as “moderate” as her fellow politicians, and joins the bipartisan consensus on leaving Israel to get on with abusing Palestinians.
If she doesn’t, it is assumed, she will be finished politically, kicked out either by her own party bureaucracy or by voters.
Corbyn is both a throwback to a socialist tradition in Britain that was killed by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s and a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. In fact, he is a major anomaly: a European politician in sight of power who prioritises the right of Palestinians to justice over Israel’s policy of oppressing Palestinians.
The Israel lobby has a great deal to fear from him in changing the political climate in Europe towards Israel.
In the UK, the ruling Conservative party has moved relentlessly to the right in recent decades, leaving the Labour party in parliament to occupy the centrist ground carved out for it during Tony Blair’s leadership in the 1990s.
Although enjoying huge support among Labour members that propelled him into the leadership, Corbyn is at war with most of his MPs. The centrists there have happily weaponised antisemitism to damage Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members behind him, just as Macron has against his own political opponents.
Corbyn’s own MPs have publicly accused him of indulging an “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, or even of being antisemitic himself.
They have done so even though all evidence suggests that there is very little antisemitism among Labour members – and less than in the ruling Conservative party.] Labour members, however, have felt liberated by Corbyn to be much more outspoken in criticizing Israel.
This month a group of eight Labour MPs split from the party to set up a new faction, the Independent Group, citing Labour’s supposed “antisemitism problem” as one of the main reasons. Highlighting their centrist agenda, three “moderate” Conservative MPs joined them, opposed to prime minister Theresa May’s hardline on exiting the European Union, known as Brexit. More MPs from both sides may follow.
Corbyn has repeatedly tried to appease the centrists, as well as pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK – both those inside his party like Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement, and those outside like the Board of Deputies, BICOM and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.
Corbyn is slowly learning, as others are in the US and Europe, that this is not a good-faith disagreement and that there is no middle ground.
The smear industry doesn’t want safeguards on antisemitism, they want a return to a political culture in which their power was left unchallenged and unscrutinised.
For the Israel lobby, that means the revival of a political climate that existed before the discrediting of the Oslo process, in which criticism of Israel was publicly shunned and the Palestinians were treated chiefly as terrorists.
For the centrists, it requires the entrenchment of a managerial, neoliberal politics in which major corporations and the financial industries have the freedom to dictate economic and social policies and their failures are unquestioningly bailed out by the public through austerity programmes.
It is an unholy pact, and one in which Jews are being used to oil the wheels of a failed, impotent and increasingly authoritarian politics of the center.