Preliminary response to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from  

What Shami Chakrabarti failed to do in this report was to explain how to recognise contemporary left wing antisemitism. She failed to describe it, how it operates, how it is sometimes hidden, and what its key

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

tropes are. She had every opportunity to do this in a way which could be easily understood because her inquiry was precipitated by a number of examples of left wing antisemitism. She could have gone through them and explained why they were antisemitic. She did no such thing. Indeed there were two incidents which happened at her very launch which illustrate precisely the kind of antisemitism which requires explaining and opposing.

The Chakrabarti report does some good things but it does not address the key problem that it needed to address, which is the rise of political antisemitism within the Labour Party and within wider left wing and radical culture.

In my submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, I wrote:

A bad apple theory will not do as an explanation for the current phenomenon of antisemitism on the left. We need to understand what the problem is with the barrel which has allowed so many apples to turn bad.

There is a relationship between a broad culture of emotional, disproportional and irrational hostility to Israel which is accepted as legitimate in much of left politics, and the specific examples of Jew-baiting by Labour people which were the catalyst for setting up this inquiry.

The Inquiry report does not touch on this key relationship.

In my submission I described the ways in which political antisemitism had been moving into the mainstream, saying:

Previous Labour leaders have rejected one-sided hostility to Israel and they opposed the boycott movement. They embraced the consensus of the Jewish community and of democratic politics in favour of peace, a two state solution and in rejection of the demonization of Israel and its associated antisemitism.

The current leader has been intentionally ambivalent on these questions. He has said he is in favour of peace and he has said he opposes antisemitism; yet he has also been hosted a number of times by Hamas in Gaza and he has articulated clear political support for Hamas; he has jumped to the defence of antisemites like Raed Salah, saying that they are victims of Zionist smears; he has acted as a figurehead for Stop the War, which has advocated war against Israel, and he has implied, for example in his response to Lord Levy, that the current antisemitism crisis is manufactured; he has been a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is dedicated to the politics of demonization and of boycott; he has worked for the Iranian state propaganda machine.

However, there is nothing about the current political leadership of the Labour Party in the report and in particular, not a word about the way it has embraced and defended antisemitic movements, antisemitic individuals and antisemitic ways of thinking.

The report does make clear that that the word “Zio” should be understood as a racial epithet and should not be used; it is analogous to “Paki”. The report also says that “Zionist”, when used as a form of abuse is not acceptable.

It makes clear that Nazi analogies and talk about Hitler in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict is “incendiary”, is “intended to be incendiary”, “brings the Party into disrepute” and “undermines the cause of peace”. But it does does not say that it is antisemitic.

But in my submission I argued that:

It is crucial .. that the inquiry recognizes and describes why certain examples before it are not only vulgar, ignorant, rude, uncivil, but are specifically antisemitic. It must not be tempted to find cases guilty, but of a lesser charge. This would have the effect of bolstering those who insist that nothing in the antiracist movement is ever antisemitic.

The report modernizes disciplinary procedure within the Party, which is urgently needed. But what Chakrabarti and her team have completely failed to do is to discuss why these antisemitic incidents have been bubbling up to the surface; what it is about contemporary political culture on the left, and in the leadership of the Party, which relates to these incidents and which makes them possible.

In my submission I described the process by which people who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in order to try to silence criticism of Israel: the Livingstone Formulation. There is nothing in the report concerning accusations of bad faith and other counter-accusations made against people who are concerned about antisemitism.

The key conclusion of my submission was that antisemitism is a political problem, not one which could be addressed administratively. I wrote:

The party must be clear in its choice to embrace a politics of peace, reconciliation and engagement and to reject the politics of the demonization of Israel.

The politics of peace forms a virtuous circle: it mutually reinforces democratic movements on all sides of the conflict; it takes the wind out of the sails of those who seek to mobilize hatred, racism and war.

This inquiry can and should recommend practical actions to educate the membership on the issue of antisemitism and to clamp down on people who refuse to accept the boundaries of democratic and antiracist politics. But political change is key.

If the party leadership cannot move Labour back into the mainstream democratic consensus on Israel and on antisemitism then this issue will continue to throw up crisis after crisis and it will continue to alienate most of the Jewish community; no doubt it will alienate many swing voters too.

The Chakrabarti Inquiry has not addressed the key issue that it needed to address; it has addressed some issues of process, some issues of education and some symptomatic issues.

This inquiry was supposed to address the problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party. But two incidents happened at its very launch which illustrated how the problem is not being addressed.

First, Jeremy Corbyn spoke. He wanted to show that he now understood the problem of antisemitism, that he had dealt with it, and that the Party could now move on. He said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

This is an analogy between the State of Israel and its government with the most antisemitic and fascistic gang of political murderers on the planet. This claim itself, violates the spirit of the Chakrabarti report. The report recommends that “Labour members resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons…”. Corbyn did not compare Israel to Hitler and to the Nazis, but to their closest possible Jew-killing contemporary facsimiles.

And there was a second incident at the launch which illustrates very precisely another key aspect of the problem which is not being addressed by this process. Ruth Smeeth, a brilliant young Labour MP, was verbally attacked by an activist who accused her of colluding with the right wing press. In the context of the Corbynite left, this should be understood as an accusation that when Smeeth raises the issue of antisemitism, she is really doing it to harm the left and to harm the party; that she is not genuinely part of the left; that she is secretly anti-left. It is an accusation of “Zionist” disloyalty. Ruth evidently felt this as bullying; she left the room in tears.

David Hirsh
Sociology Lecturer
Goldsmiths, University of London

6 Responses to “Preliminary response to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party – David Hirsh”

  1. Abtalyon Says:

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

    And by inference, Jews who support Israel or its government are to be lumped together with those Muslims that support “self-styled Islamic states” and therefore ostracized, insulted and declared persona-non-grata.

  2. Fredrik Möller Says:

    This is madness. How could ever Corbyn’s statement be interpreted as anti-semitic? It is the opposite of anti-semitic.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Oh really? So proclaiming Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” is merely an empty gesture? His wishing to offer Sheikh Raheed, guilty of the proclaiming the blood libel, tea on the Terrace of the House of Commons merely a friendly gesture? He is at best unthinkingly naive, at worst…

      And this man might be the UK’s next Prime Minister? Perish the thought. And I write as a life-long labour voter.

  3. Jaap Bosma Says:

    Obviously, mr. Hirsh tries to exploit the accusation of antisemitism to whitewash Israeli colonisation-crimes.
    I’m glad the Chkrabarti-inquiry didn’t buy his Zionist-self-justifying-nonsense.

  4. David Hirsh on the re-emergence of the antisemitism crisis in Labour | Engage Says:

    […] link for the full text of Jonathan Campbell and Lesley Klaff‘s submission to the Inquiry   Follow this link for David Hirsh’s response to the Inquiry   Follow this link to Ruth Smeeth’s statement about the incident that happened at the inquiry […]

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