Dave Rich: The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism

In The Left’s Jewish Problem Dave Rich offers a careful and scholarly (but unfailingly readable) intervention into the highly charged topic of the left’s relationship with antisemitism – a meticulous genealogy of the movements and ideological skirmishes that lie behind the most recent and familiar manifestations of the problem:

As this book will explain, while Corbyn’s rise to the leadership precipitated the Labour Party’s problem with anti-Semitism, the political trends on the left that brought that problem about long predate Corbyn’s leadership, and stretch well beyond the Labour Party. His rise is a symbol of the problem; whether he survives or not, the issue of anti-Semitism on the left of British politics is unlikely to go away.

Rich reminds us that the British left used to view Israel favourably. Zionism was associated with socialism and, through its conflict with a British occupying force, was perceived as anti-colonial in nature. ‘The cause of Israel is the cause of democratic socialism’ asserted a Tribune writer in 1955. What changed? Rich cautions against overstating the role played by active antisemitism, but demonstrates some of the ways in which antisemitic tropes were able to infect the discourse, and the thinking, of people who saw themselves as part of an antiracist struggle.

An important factor in Israel’s perceived shift from socialist underdog to colonial oppressor was the Six Day War. This polarised opinion, exacerbating nascent left wing hostility to Israel, but strengthening an identity with Zionism amongst British and American Jews. Another significant factor was the rise of the New Left, less interested in bread and butter socialist concerns, driven instead by identity politics, single issue pressure groups and anti-American sentiment. Through this lens, Israel began to be seen as a colonial imposition on the Middle East.

Many of today’s familiar anti-Israel tropes began to circulate in the late 1950s and 1960s. The PLO compared Zionism to Nazism and the Algerian National Liberation Front blamed Israel’s creation on the monopoly of finance and media held by ‘magnate Jews’. Rich explains in detail how another trope – the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa – gained so much traction. Surprisingly, the Young Liberals play a major part in this story. The relationship between this group and the wider Liberal Party was bizarrely disjunctive in the 1960s. Their vice-chairman Bernard Greaves, for example, ‘dismiss[ed] Parliament as a hindrance to “the revolutionary transformation of society”’.

Some members flirted with Communism and others engaged in violent direct action as part of their campaign against apartheid. Among the key players was Peter Hellyer, Vice-Chairman of the Young Liberals. Through his campaigning he made connections with Palestinian and other Arab activists and this political environment exposed him to Soviet and Egyptian anti-Zionist – and antisemitic – propaganda. As Rich explains, the Soviet Union was a particularly important vector for anti-Zionist discourse. Examining these 1960s networks, and the way ideas circulated within them (rather like tracing the transmission of a virus) helps explain not just the preoccupations of today’s left but the precise arguments and images they instinctively reach for.

The British Anti-Zionist Organisation (BAZO) was seen as one of the more extreme groups. ‘It argued that Zionists collaborated with Nazis during the Second World War and that they encouraged anti-Semitism to the benefit of Israel.’ If that sounds familiar, so will the names of several of its members – Tony Greenstein, George Galloway, Richard Burden. Another significant grouping was Matzpen – but this Israeli anti-Zionist movement was viewed with disfavour by some, such as Ghada Karmi, because it acknowledged a place for a separate Jewish grouping within the socialist federation they proposed for the region. This particular fault line prompted charges of tribalism against anti-Zionist Jewish activists – accusations since nastily amplified by Gilad Atzmon.

While the anti-Apartheid movement functioned as a gateway to zealous anti-Israel campaigning, the NUS’s No Platform policy, intended to repel fascism and racism, became weaponised against Zionism and (in an ironic twist) had a discriminatory impact on university Jewish societies. These were deemed to be racist unless they renounced any expression of a Zionist identity. The impulse to outlaw abhorrent speakers is understandable. John Randall, a former NUS president, insisted:

There are some boundaries that a civilised society adopts, and there are some behaviours that clearly lie outside those boundaries.

But as Rich dryly comments:

As Jewish students would discover, the flaw in the policy is that those boundaries are movable.

This is just one of many moments in the book where the reader may experience an uncanny sense of déjà vu. In the 1971 words of Kate Hoey, vice-president of the NUS we can read a foreshadowing of the stance taken by current NUS President, Malia Bouattia.

Unquestionably the mass media has given no prominence to the Palestinian case which is understandable because of the Zionist influence among the people who control it.

Although much in this book was unfamiliar to me, all too familiar was the sense of disbelief and frustration that so many on the left, sensitive to other forms of prejudice, have a seemingly limitless capacity for glossing over or blanking out antisemitism except on the right. Here’s one example of this selective obtuseness. Jeremy Corbyn (who refused to campaign alongside David Cameron to Remain) shared a platform with Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Hezbollah supporter who posted Holocaust denial material on his website. When complaints were raised, Corbyn’s response was careless and arrogant.

I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian, we’re antisemitic. It’s a nonsense.

This is an example of a manoeuvre I see increasingly often – the invocation of Israel/Palestine to shut down accusations of antisemitism that have nothing to do with that topic.

Although the possibility of a left-wing antisemitism just doesn’t seem to compute for Corbyn and his ilk, the problem’s roots can be traced back to the early years of socialism in the nineteenth century. Jews became strongly identified with capitalism and there grew up the idea of ‘a specifically Jewish network of power and wealth that needed to be broken.’ Capitalism and Jewish power become dangerously interchangeable ideas, both perceived as barriers to a just society. The left needs to face up to its patchy record on this front, rather than brush it under the carpet. Here Rich reminds us of just one blot on our copybook.

The Trades Union Congress in 1900 passed a resolution decrying the war as one ‘to secure the gold fields of South Africa for cosmopolitan Jews, most of whom had no patriotism and no country.’

I wholeheartedly recommend this illuminating and timely study – there are so many more examples and observations I’m tempted to quote, but I’ll end with some strikingly prescient words from Jeremy Thorpe, speaking in 1968:

Britain suffers little from the disgrace of anti-Semitism. But the amiable weakness for the underdog, which is part of our national character, can all too easily allow us to become sentimental about political problems, while the perverse British characteristic of preferring our foes to our friends often corrupts our judgment.

 

Dave Rich is talking about his new book: ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism’

jlmJewish Labour Movement, North West invites you to hear Dave Rich talk about his new book:

The Left’s Jewish Problem:

Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism

Date: Sunday October 9th, 6-00pm

 

Venue: North Manchester

(TBA after registering)

No admission without registering first

 

To Register Email:

 

jlm.northwest.meeting@gmail.com

book

 

 

Does the Labour Party have a problem with antisemitism? Jewish supporters are deserting Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and the party has held three different inquiries into antisemitism this year. Dave Rich’s timely new book looks at the growth of an anti-Israel Left, that includes Young Liberals in the 1960s, Trotskyists in the 1980s and parts of the present Labour Party. It looks at the damaged relations between British Jews and the Labour Party, and what can be done to address antisemitism in politics today.

Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications at the Community Security Trust. He is also an Associate Research Fellow at the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Birkbeck College, University of London, where he was awarded his PhD in 2015.

On being targeted for a harassment campaign by ‘anti-Zionists’ – Marko Attila Hoare

This is a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare.

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Last autumn, a group of ‘anti-Zionists’ launched a harassment campaign against me. Charles Frith, a notorious Holocaust denier and particularly vicious Jew-hater, who had over 32,000 Twitter followers until Twitter suspended his account, telephoned my employers, Kingston University, posing as a job-seeker. After finding out the name of my immediate manager from an unsuspecting colleague, he sent a series of abusive and defamatory emails to me and my senior colleagues, accusing me, among other things, of ‘Zionism’, and turning Kingston into a centre for ‘child abuse’. Frith is someone who refers to the ‘fake 6m Holohoax figures’. He has tweeted that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Israel’s Mossad did 9/11’; that ‘Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory’. He has blogged that the figure of six million Holocaust dead was fabricated before World War II, and that the real figure is ‘somewhere in between half a million to a million’. He has referred to David Cameron as a ‘Rothschild-Zionist tea boy’ and accused a senior British Jewish journalist of ‘milk(ing) the Holocaust gravy train like a 6 million lottery payout’. His last email to my university colleagues contained a disgusting war-porn picture, apparently of a graphically mutilated child, which he claimed was ‘Zionism in action’.

Frith had been set on me by his political fellow-travellers. One of these was Damian James Read, who Tweets under the name ‘@CockneyActivist’. Read is a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and apparently a Labour Party member, and he likes posting pictures of himself online, dressed in Palestinian flags. When David Cameron tweeted in remembrance of the ‘millions murdered in the holocaust’, Read tweeted back that ‘I think you mean 300,000. An horrific event I agree. But not 6 million is it’.  Read is on record as claiming that ‘our economy’ is controlled by ‘the Rothschilds[and refers to the ‘Zionist controlled media’.[He asked rhetorically on Twitter ‘Is it true that the BBC is in fact a dept of the Israel Embassy ? Is that why so many Zionist [sic] seem to have been given top jobs ?’He has ‘liked’ a tweet saying ‘Fuck the Zionist Jewish Apartheid State’ another complaining that the ‘6 million figure seems to have been repeated ad nauseum throught 20thC. Nazis blamed’; and a third saying, in relation to Israel, ‘it’s God chosen [sic] people. God told they [sic] could commit genocide with impunity just like the Nazis’. Read claims he contacted Kingston University, asking them to investigate my online activities. He and his Twitter gang bombarded the Kingston University twitter account with defamatory tweets about me.

The pretext that Read and Frith gave for fixating on me, was that they suspected that I was a pseudonymous blogger called ‘Soupy One’, who blogs about left-wing anti-Semitism. What was remarkable was how little it took to move from a suspicion to launching their harassment campaign, and how little they ultimately cared whether their suspicion was justified or not. Read decided I was ‘Soupy One’ because one of the latter’s posts tagged my name, and Read – not the sharpest knife in the drawer – thought the tag was the post author’s name. His second piece of ‘evidence’ was that someone online – the Spectator columnist Douglas Murray – had claimed that Soupy One was based at Kingston University and threatened to report on him to his employers, although Murray was unable or unwilling to substantiate the claim when challenged to do so, and would not confirm which Kinston staff member he had in mind. Needless to say, I am not ‘Soupy One’, whose views I do not entirely share.

Not only was this a sorry pretext for Read and his friends to harass someone, but the targets themselves seemed almost random. I am not a prominent or hardline supporter of the State of Israel. I have blogged in support of UN recognition of Palestine’s independence, and condemned Operation Protective Edge without reservation. The ‘Soupy One’ blog itself seems an unworthy target; a pseudonymous blog with fewer than two thousand Twitter followers. What quickly became clear to me was that these people did not much care whether I was ‘Soupy One’ or not. Nor whether or not I was a ‘ZIonist’. Nor what my actual views on Israel and Palestine really were. They inhabit a dystopian fantasy universe governed by Zionism’s omnipresence, in which their own ‘revolutionary’, anti-Zionist goals override ordinary considerations of morality.

In fact, I was not completely innocent of having done anything to provoke them. I have consistently condemned anti-Semitism, including the left-wing ‘anti-Zionist’ variety. I teach the history of the Holocaust. Last year, I appeared in the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s annual commemorative programme, screened in Westminster and broadcast on BBC2, and wrote a post for its blog on the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. But perhaps most relevant is the fact that last summer, without thinking much of it, I shared an article about the anti-Semitic activities at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of the ‘musician’ Alison Chabloz, and suggested that her gigs should be boycotted. Chabloz has denied the existence of the gas chambers, claimed Anne Frank’s diary was a fabrication,[publicly performed the quenelle in order to bait ‘Zionists’ and shared online a video of herself mocking Holocaust survivors. She was quick to blame Jo Cox’s murder on the Zionists. Her anti-Semitism is so vicious and her Holocaust denial so blatant that Artists 4 Palestine UK actually removed her name from their website. She responded to my tweet about her by fabricating the story that I was ‘Soupy One’, then proceeded to spread the story on Twitter.

Naturally, Kingston University did not look favourably on the campaign against me. Even if the accusation had been true, blogging pseudonymously about anti-Semitism is hardly an activity to which any self-respecting university would object. In Kingston’s case, our vice-chancellor, Julius Weinberg has taken a very hardline position in defence of free speech, and has made clear that, as the child of a German Jewish survivor, diversity is embedded in his belief system. If any of my harassers received any reply from anyone at Kingston, it certainly didn’t uphold their complaint.

Yet this was not the end of the matter. Some weeks later, another of Read’s online cronies who had congratulated him for his attacks on me, Jason Schumann (‘@debatingculture’), took up the cudgel. Schumann has tweeted that ‘Jews are evil’; he believes that the figures of six million Holocaust victims is a ‘lie’ intended to magnify Jewish suffering, and has suggested that the real figure may be 2-3 million. He has written a storify slide-show entitled ‘The Shoah must go on’, claiming the history of the Nazi Holocaust is being used to brainwash the ‘sheeple’. He claims that ‘The holocaust of WWII has become an industry; based on lies; pursuit of profit, and giving a false but deliberate and polished sense of victim status’. After an Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police visited Auschwitz and spoke about the Holocaust, Schumann accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of ‘brainwashing and indoctrinating’ the Met. He has tweeted repeatedly about how Jeremy Corbyn has been ‘vilified by the Jewish media’. He has accused LBC of ‘shilling for Israhell’, asking ‘how many shekels ?’ He has described the Home Secretary’s funding of the CST’s campaign against anti-Semitism as ‘Grade A arse licking to the Zionist lobby at the behest of Israhell !’ This charming individual is also on record for calling female Twitter users words including ‘cunt’, ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘bint and spastic.

In January, Schumann sent me abusive tweets, and after I called him out on his unsavoury views on Jews and the Holocaust, he threatened to sue me unless I retracted and apologised, then sent a threatening and defamatory letter about me to my university. Naturally, I did not retract or apologise and Kingston University was not interested in his ‘complaint’. I received help from an eminent solicitor with past experience in dealing with him personally and others of his kind, who wrote him a letter in response to his legal threat, after which he backed off. He has, in fact, repeatedly threatened on Twitter to sue people who have called him out, but never actually followed through.

Ironically, the same Schumann has repeatedly accused ‘Zionists’ and Israel (or ‘Israhell’, as he frequently calls it) of using ‘lawfare’ to silence critics of Zionism. Similarly, when I called Read out on his harassment of me, he attempted to justify himself with ‘I have only done what has been done to me and others.’These ‘anti-Zionists’  have created in their mind an image of what their ‘Zionist enemy’ is like, then emulate its supposed behaviour on the grounds that ‘if they can, we can too’. Historians of anti-Semitism are only too familiar with this form of projection.

This experience has really woken me up to just how poisonous part of the radical subculture that cloaks itself under ‘Palestine solidarity’ has become. It comprises a self-referencing clique divorced from the real world, whose vicious extremism is an end in itself. Their activism has little to do with the Palestinians, about whom none of them clearly gives a damn. They are obsessed by a different ethnic group. No prizes for guessing which.

Ilan Pappe admits that BDS was not initiated by a “call” from Palestinian Civil Society

A Palestinian activist and scholar, Ruba Salih, who is chairing a session tries to correct Ilan Pappé at one point, saying:

“Well the Palestinains launched BDS in 2005.”

“Yes, yes,” replies Pappé.  He makes a face which shows that he knows that what is being said is not true.  “Not really, but yes.  OK.  For historical records, yes.”

Ruba Salih then smiles, strokes his shoulder and makes clear: “That’s important”.

Pappé replies to her, nodding and smiling, quietly, embarrassed, patronisingly, knowingly: “It’s not true but it’s important.”

[This video comes from David Collier’s website, Beyond the Great Divide.]

Ilan Pappé knows that it is a lie that the boycott campaign was launched by a “call” from “Palestinian civil society”.  He knows it is a lie, but he’s content nevertheless for it to be solidified into what he calls “historical records”.

In the 1970s and 80s the ANC, which positioned itself as the voice of the whole South African nation, called for a boycott of South Africa.  Campaigners for the boycott positioned themselves as passive responders to the “call” of the oppressed.    The BDS campaign against Israel has, since 2005, tried to position itself in the same way.   However in truth, British anti-Israel activists started the boycott campaign and they persuaded people in Palestine to issue the “call”.  Although neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have issued a “call”, the BDS movement says that the “call” is issued by “Palestinian Civil Society”.

Ilan Pappé now admits that the “call” did not come from the Palestinians but he makes it clear that he is willing to go along with the pretence that it was.

The pretence is politically important because it positions Palestinians as being the initiators of the “call” and people outside the region as passive responders to the voice of “the oppressed”.

I wrote the following in 2007 (from p. 130) about the actual conception of the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel.  It was thought up in 2002 in England:

In April 2002 Steven and Hilary Rose ‘initiated’[1] the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel.  Later they participated in setting up BRICUP, the British Campaign for the Universities of Palestine and PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  It subsequently became an important element of their political rhetoric that they are not initiators of the boycott call but are, rather, responding passively to a call from within Palestine.

In May 2002 Mona Baker, an academic at UMIST, fired two Israeli academics, Miriam Shlesinger from the board of her journal, The Translator and Gideon Toury from the board of her journal, Translation Studies Abstracts because of their institutional connections to Israeli universities.  Both have long and distinguished records as campaigners for human rights and for peace in Israel and Palestine.[2]

In May 2003, Sue Blackwell proposed a motion  (Woodward 2003) at AUT (Association of University Teachers) Council asking members to sever ‘any academic links they may have with official Israeli institutions, including universities.’ AUT Council discussed the motion and it was comfortably defeated. …

In April 2005 Sue Blackwell came back to AUT council with what she said [3] was a more sophisticated and tactical attempt to win a boycott.

[1]  Steven and Hilary Rose did ‘initiate’ the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel in April 2002, according to Steven Rose’s own account in his profile on The Guardian’s website, Comment Is Free, http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/steven_rose/profile.html, downloaded 14 February 2005.  It was later that they portrayed themselves as answering a Palestinian call rather than themselves initiating action.

[2]  Mona Baker’s ‘personal statement’ is available on her website at http://www.monabaker.com/personalstatement.htm (downloaded 14 February 2007), together with links to the correspondence she had with the woman who had been her friend, Miriam Shlesinger, and her letter to Gideon Toury.  She writes: ‘In May 2002, following the sharp rise in the level of atrocities committed against the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, I decided to join the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The boycott was conceived along the same lines as the sanctions which ultimately led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The call was initiated by Professor Steven Rose (Physics, Open University) and Professor Hilary Rose (Bradford University). … I first wrote to Miriam Shlesinger (Bar Ilan University, Israel) on 23 May explaining my decision and asking her to resign from the Editorial Board of The Translator. She refused. I also wrote to Gideon Toury (Tel Aviv University, Israel) on 8 June along the same lines, asking him to resign from the panel of Consulting Editors of Translation Studies Abstracts. He too refused. I removed them both from the boards of the respective journals.’

[3]  ‘It’s a tactical attempt to get it through,’ admits Birmingham’s Sue Blackwell, one of the motion’s authors. ‘We’ve got to be a bit more sophisticated. We are now better organised. One of the reasons we didn’t win last time was that there was no clear public call from Palestinians for the boycott. Now we have that, in writing.’ (Curtis 2005)

 

 

“We call it the Livingstone Formulation”

 

Follow this link for Mark Gardner’s explanation of the “Livingstone Formulation” in Parliament [30s video clip]

The Livingstone Formulation is a means of refusing to engage with an accusation of antisemitism by responding to it with a counter-accusation that the accuser is crying wolf; that they are mobilizing Jewish victimhood in a bad faith effort to silence criticism of Israel.  This way serious discussion of antisemitism is avoided.

Read more here by following this link to an explanation and examples of the Livingstone Formulation. 

Ken Livingstone (2006):

“For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.”

A few observations on the Chakrabarti report – Adrian Cohen

Shami Chakrabati should be commended for producing a report in record 20160405_213318 (1)time on such a colossal subject as antisemitism and other forms of racism. There is some helpful stuff in there around sensitivity, holocaust metaphors and the abhorrent use of the term ‘zio’ and misuse of the term Zionism.

There is one great line in there: ‘it is not sufficient narrowly to scrape across some thin magic line of non-antisemitc or non racist motivation, speech or behaviour.’

Unfortunately whether it is the speed at which the report has been produced or whether there are other factors which are at play the report and its analysis and recommendations are somewhat flawed and leave the author and her team open to the allegation of superficiality or worse whitewash.

I list some of these flaws as follows:

1. The opening line of the report states: the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism. This has been seized upon by those who wish to play down the significance of the problem. The second paragraph of the report refers to an ‘occasional toxic atmosphere’. All of this conveys the impression of the ‘few rotten apples in the barrel’ which of course is the classic apologism used by any institution under criticism for institutionalised attitudes. Whether the party has been ‘overrun’ is to set up a straw man. That the Labour Party has a serious problem sits somewhere between being overrun and an occasional toxic atmosphere.

2. Recent polling suggests that support for the Labour Party has fallen to 8% amongst Jews – a remarkably small amount. It had been sliding under Ed Miliband to some 20% but the process of alienation seems to have accelerated under Jeremy Corbyn. Some of this might be explained by his wider politics and the party’s dramatic shift to the hard left but perceived antipathy to the Jewish community and Israel is another. The leader’s failure to explain, account or if appropriate apologise for his associations with Paul Eisen (Holocaust denier), the Larouche cult, Stephen Sizer (9/11 conspiricist), Raed Salah (blood libeler), Hamas, Hezbollah and Press TV and more recently the leader’s dismissive attitude to complaints by his own MP Louise Ellman and peer Lord Levy are at the core of the problem. But none of this is addressed in the report. These issues identify a problem at the top of the party which suggests more than a few rotten apples. And this behaviour has been argued to have licenced some of the more egregious behaviour by the leaders supporters who are ascendant in the party but again none of this is discussed in the report.

3. The report commends the leadership for commissioning the inquiry. The inquiry was in fact announced as a consequence of extreme political pressure after numerous allegations had been made about antisemitism in the party and the leadership had become subject to ridicule for not taking the issue seriously, particularly following the incendiary comments by the leader’s long term political associate Ken Livingstone. None of this context is referenced. One comes back to the point that the former director of Liberty would never be so charitable if asked to do a similar exercise say in relation to a police force.

4. The inquiry was announced on Passover and on Friday night, with no consultation with the Jewish community as to terms of reference or the individuals who were appointed. No reference is made to the need to have sensitivity around religious calendars in the report. The terms of reference of course refer to antisemitism, and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia. This brings us back to the leadership and the well known inability of the leader to address antisemitism without mentioning ‘other forms of racism’ in the same breath. There may well be good practical reasons to address other forms of racism in this report – in particular in the procedural aspects but the report doesn’t address one fundamental charge made about left-antisemitism (save a cursory nod at it) that it doesn’t take it seriously.

5. This segues into the lack of any analysis of left-antisemitism – nothing about the socialism of fools, the Stalinist legacy of ‘anti-Zionism’, the baleful influence of classical antisemitism through the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated movements and their impact on anti-imperialist politics and what is sometimes called campism, Likewise it doesn’t deal with the impact of the propaganda of the Iranian regime. Perhaps it would be too ambitious to cover these issues in the short time frame given to the process. But it seems that a lot of intellectual input by serious experts into the inquiry has been wasted.

6. The most alarming aspect of the report is the call for a moratorium on triggering new formal investigations on conduct arising prior to the report. Really? It is precisely the issues around the leader that remain unresolved and unaccounted for and are, perhaps with the exception of the interventions of Ken Livingstone, the biggest cause for anxiety in the Jewish community. Chakrabati asks for a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts and past comments. First this implies there has been ‘trawling’ in any organised sense by members of the party to expose antisemitism, whereas there is no evidence to suggest that it is true. More importantly the way it is put implies it is reprehensible to do so. This seems to be seeking to disarm the victims of antisemitism particularly as the call for a moratorium is without qualification. It sounds like a positive thing to do but would only work if there was was commitment from the leadership by example to be open and transparent. But there is no evidence of this to date.

7. The failure to publish the Royall report in full or the NOLS report into the Oxford University Labour Club again go to the issue of transparency.

8. The section on Zionism and Zionist is open to the challenge in that it employs gross simplifications of the beliefs of strictly orthodox Jews and young Jews. For example whilst it is true many Haredim do not consider themselves ideologically Zionist most are passionately concerned with the well being of the State of Israel and can be quite conservative in attitudes to defence and the peace process. This is a nuance that will be missed by readers. Gaza is referred to as under bombardment – it’s unclear if this is a permanent state of affairs and certainly doesnt allow for any notion of rocket attack going the other way. It’s an odd deployment of language in a report which seems otherwise to avoid a historical or contemporary analysis of Israeli- Palestinian relations.

In summary whilst there is much to be commended in the report the bar has been set very low as to what is unacceptable and the real issues of concern haven’t really been addressed. Curiously the recommendations all seem to have been foreshadowed by published comments much to the same effect made by chair of Momentum Jon Lansman – eg about avoiding debates around Zionism and use of Zio. That isn’t to knock their utility but does give an insight into possible provenance and thinking behind the report.

Finally on the meeting itself the role of the leader and the choreography of the event and the defence of the leader the next day by Chakrabati on the Today programme have reinforced the concerns expressed above.

NB: this post was substantially drafted prior to the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing save for the addition of points 7 and 8 which I had run out of time to previously add. The hearing gives rise to a number of other points which I would like to address on another occasion.

Adrian Cohen (in a personal capacity)

The Real Jeremy Corbyn Stands Up – Marc Goldberg

On Thursday the much talked about Chakrabarti report into antisemitism

Marc Goldberg

Marc Goldberg

and other forms of racism in the Labour Party was released to the public in the Houses of Parliament. The release of the Chakrabarti report should have been an opportunity to heal wounds and end divisions between Jews and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

It should have been and could have been the moment when Corbyn, already under fire from the parliamentary Labour Party, could have healed at least his rift with the Jews.

It could have been, it should have been, but it was not.

Instead the press conference descended into farce when the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was accused of being part of a media conspiracy by a Corbyn loyalist called Mark Wadsworth. This was mere moments after Corbyn had given what was supposed to be a landmark speech setting out his opposition to antisemitism. Corbyn had literally just said that

To assume that a Jewish friend or fellow member is wealthy, part of some kind of financial or media conspiracy, or takes a particular position on politics in general, or on Israel and Palestine in particular, is just wrong.

After saying the above and then hearing one of his own MPs insulted in precisely the way he had just stated categorically was unacceptable one would expect Corbyn to step in and give a clear rebuke to Wadsworth. Swift and very public action on Corbyn’s part would certainly have shown he was serious about implementing the recommendations of the report and sticking by the words he had just spoken. He did nothing of the sort. In fact he did nothing at all.

To just stand by while one of his own Jewish MPs is accused of being part of a media conspiracy is shocking. That Corbyn would then go on to have a jovial conversation with the very man who had made such an accusation without offering a reprimand or any kind of opprobrium is bizarre, that he then made it clear that they would be in touch later by text message adds insult to injury is beyond belief. But this is precisely what happened in a moment caught on video and posted to youtube.

A closer reading of Corbyn’s speech means we shouldn’t be surprised.

During his speech Corbyn said that

Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.

The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs was quick to make his outrage clear at Corbyn’s comparison of Israel to the Islamic State writing that

Jeremy Corbyn’s comparison of the State of Israel to ISIS is demonisation of the highest order, an outrage and unacceptable. That this occurred at the launch of the report into the Labour Party’s recent troubles with antisemitism shows how deep the sickness is in parts of left of British politics today.

The Corbyn team later apologised to the Israeli ambassador but the damage was done. Furthermore his comments were not made off the cuff they were made as part of a prepared speech and vetted by his team. He made the “mistake” of saying what he really thinks.

Other comments in the same speech point to a line of thinking that cannot comprehend anyone taking umbrage at antisemitism in the context of an argument about Israel:

No one should be expected either to condemn or defend the actions of foreign powers on account of their faith or race. At the same time, we should have the sensitivity to understand how upset many Labour party members and supporters are likely to feel about various human rights abuses around the world.

Bear in mind that this was said during a speech about antisemitism at the launch of a report into antisemitism in the Labour Party and how to stamp it out. What are Jews meant to take from this statement other than that anyone who defends Israel should be sympathetic to the abuse they face from Labour Party members bearing in mind “how upset many Labour party members and supporters” get?

It is precisely the linkage between caring about human rights and being antisemitic against Jews in the UK that Jews took issue with in the first place. The idea that being antisemitic is okay as long as Israel is involved in the argument is precisely the nonsense that Corbyn and Chakrabarti are supposed to be challenging. Instead the message to Jews is that they shouldn’t be defending Israel in the first place as it is akin to the Islamic State and that should they receive abuse back it is because their defence of Israel rightly made people so upset that any antisemitism is to be excused.

But the sad truth is that if this is something new it is only a new episode of the same phenomenon that has already been happening for a very long time. Too much has been written about the antisemitism of the left, particularly the British left, for the Jewish community to feel that more understanding is needed. If you don’t get it by now it’s because you don’t want to get it and Jeremy Corbyn clearly doesn’t want to get it.

The release of the Chakrabarti report into antisemitism in the Labour Party and Corbyn’s response to it was supposed to be an opportunity for Corbyn to draw a line under a great deal of antisemitic unpleasantness from within the Labour Party instead it exposed the real Jeremy Corbyn and not that “decent” politician people were once harping on about.

Marc Goldberg

 

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