1. There have been many instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party over the years. People have complained about them, people have warned about them but nothing has ever been done until recently. People who have dared to raise the issue of antisemitism in the Party have been accused of being apologists for the Israeli government who are intent on closing down criticism of Israel. Alternatively it has been claimed that examples of antisemitism are really few and far between, and hence there is no need for any kind of action. While these antisemitic episodes have taken place within the discourse of the Palestine / Israel conflict, they have seldom actually been criticisms of Israel in themselves. They have included anti-Semitic tropes such as the idea of Jewish control, the “Zionist” lobby and dual loyalties. Some of the most obvious past examples are as listed below – it’s a striking fact that none of them are criticisms of Israel or Israeli government policy. (The 2010 comments by Kaufman and Linton were made at a Labour Friends of Palestine meeting.) Hopefully the current incidents of antisemitism in the current Labour Party will be acted upon in a more effective way than these examples were at the time. The more they are ignored or ineffectually dealt with by the leadership, the more they will multiply.
2003: In an interview in Vanity Fair, Dalyell said with reference to Tony Blair that he was unduly influenced by a “cabal of Jewish advisers”.
2011: After Matthew Gould, who is Jewish, became the British Ambassador to Israel Flynn told Sir Gus O’Donnell that the post of ambassador to Israel should go to “someone with roots in the UK”.
Gerald Kaufman :
2010 “Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest.”
2011 When his Labour colleague Louise Ellman got up to speak in the Commons he said “here we are, the Jews again”,
Martin Linton :
2010 “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.”
2. So there’s always been antisemitism in the Labour Party. Some people say that this is not a big deal, the incidence of genuine antisemitism in the Party is very low; and suggestion that it’s serious is actually a conspiracy by the right wing press and the “Israeli Lobby” to bring about the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn, with his well-known support for Palestinians. Examples of this kind of response are listed below.
Len McCluskey :
“This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims because this is all about constantly challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”
Jewish Socialist Group:
“Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally.”
“Will someone point out to the idiots that the latest anti Semitism row was launched by Tory blogger, Guido Fawkes & promoted by Mail on Sunday”
After his brother tweeted “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”, (with regard to Louise Elman’s comments about antisemitism in the Labour Party) Jeremy Corbyn when asked if he thought his brother’s tweet was wrong went on to agree with his brother saying: “No my brother isn’t wrong. My brother has his point of view, I have mine. We actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that has been fighting racism from the day we were born. My mother was at Cable Street.”
This kind of response to worries about antisemitism amounts to an accusation that people who raise such worries do so purely in order to silence others, and so the charges they make are false, they are deliberately manufacturing them. This response is deeply insulting to the vast majority of Jews in the UK.
3. The current wave of antisemitic comments take place within the discourse of the Palestine / Israel debate but the criticisms are not in fact criticisms of Israel or Israeli government policy. Nobody can seriously believe that the following quotations are really criticisms of Israel.
Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor and a former Lord Mayor of Bradford : “Your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler.”
Vicki Kirby, a Labour Parliamentary candidate tweeted that “Jews have big noses” and also asked why Isis was not attacking the real oppressor, Israel.
Gerry Downing, previously expelled from the Labour Party and then re-admitted, talked about his belief that there is a “Jewish Question” which needs to be discussed.“Why Marxists must address the Jewish Question concretely today”, his publication talks about “the world ‘Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie’
Jacqueline Walker: Walker is a Vice Chair of Momentum and talked about many Jews being the chief financiers of the sugar trade and the slave trade.
4. The suspensions of several councillors, the suspension of an NEC member, the suspension of activists show that this problem is now a serious one. It can no longer be argued that it is just a few mistaken people. Many of those suspended carried a lot of influence – in their local parties, in their particular factions. While there are many supporters of the Labour Party there are not as many activists (ask anybody trying to get volunteers to do leaflet runs or supporters out during the last local elections), so activists are important and influential people.
5. The most worrying thing for the Jewish community, and there is a very large consensus over this, is that the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party cannot be solved unless it tackles the problem with Jeremy Corbyn’s views. The Jewish community to a very large extent believes that Jeremy Corbyn is a supporter of Hamas, is happy to campaign and give support to antisemites, supports the boycott of Israel and does not believe that there is actually a serious problem with antisemitism in the party. Corbyn claims not to be a supporter of Hamas, he claims to not be a supporter of antisemites, he claims that he only referred to Hamas as friends in order to be diplomatic and that he simply wants to bring the two sides of the conflict together. The Jewish community to a large extent simply doesn’t believe this, and based on what he says I think their refusal to believe Corbyn’s defence is correct. Corbyn has said that he doesn’t believe that Hamas should be labelled as terrorists by the UK government and he believes that they are a force for good. He has said it is an honour to host Hamas and Hezbollah. With regard to Raed Saleh, the antisemite who believes that Jews use Christian blood to make bread, Corbyn has described him as someone who must be heard and that he looks forward to giving him tea on the terrace of the Commons because he deserves it.
In order for this enquiry to have any effect it needs to press Corbyn on the above. Corbyn has shown no remorse, he has never apologised for supporting people who want to kill Jews (not just Israeli Jews). Corbyn is a role model for many of the new members and supporters of the Labour Party. His influence is massive and so far his reaction to the problem of antisemitism in the party has been very poor. He has said that it isn’t a serious problem, he’s said that there are mechanisms in place and when it occurs it will be dealt with (he seems to think that because his family marched against Mosley he has no responsibility for what is happening in the party which he leads 70 years or more later. Compare this to John McDonnell who has said that people guilty of antisemitism in the Labour Party should be banned for life. Compare it to Tom Watson who has said that he is ashamed about antisemitism in the party and that “he would “fight to ensure that Britain’s Jews always feel safe as a key part of this country and my party. I will fight to ensure that Zionism is not used as a term of abuse. Or as a code word for Jews. I will fight to ensure that the right to Jewish national self-determination is preserved and respected.”
6. It’s good to criticise Israel and its government when it gets things wrong, in the same way that it’s good to criticise any country for its misdeeds. But it isn’t good to single Israel out, it isn’t good to demonise it, it’s wrong to run a boycott campaign which while doing nothing for Palestinians is a campaign against a 2-states solution. This is what the Palestine Solidairty Campaign does, it’s what the boycott movement does. The Labour Party needs to show commitment to a real 2-states settlement. This is an anathema to the boycott campaign and anti-Zionists in the Party. Israel is seen by them as evil, supporters of Zionism (a Jewish national state with self-determination) are seen as supporting evil (you can be a Zionist without supporting any Israeli government). This results in the demonization of the Jewish community rather than legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy. This leads to antisemitic comments even when there is no conscious antisemitic intent. It’s important to realise that people don’t have to be antisemitic – that is, to have antisemitic feelings – to make antisemitic comments. If the comments unfairly discriminate against Jews, then they amount to antisemitic behaviour, whatever the intentions or feelings of the commenter are. Too often the boycott campaign and anti-Zionism slip into conventional antisemitic tropes, and this means an attack on what most Jews believe.
7. I’ve picked up a new theme which has emerged. It’s used by people who probably recognise the problem but are reluctant to admit it. It’s the “I wouldn’t put it like that myself but it’s not antisemitic” excuse. As though being unpleasant to Jews (e.g the behaviour of the Jew-baiter Ken Livingstone) should be excused or minimised, treated merely as rudeness or bad manners, rather than racist behaviour.
8. Many previous supporters of the Labour Party in the Jewish community (some for all their adult life) now feel unable to vote Labour due to the problem of antisemitism and the track record of Jeremy Corbyn with regard to his hostility to Israel, his support for antisemites, etc. The choice is to either vote for a Party which has an antisemitism problem or to vote Tory. What a horrible choice to make – antisemitism or welfare cuts, antisemitism or benefit cuts, antisemitism or cuts in the NHS ? Support for the Labour Party in the Jewish community is at an all-time low. I myself am embarrassed to be a member of a party that is becoming more and more off bounds for the Jewish community.
9. I’m worried about the ability of this enquiry to reach a conclusion which is satisfactory to many Jewish Labour Party members and to the wider Jewish community. I hope I’m wrong but if the conclusion of the enquiry is that while there is antisemitism it’s not widespread, that it’s all about being civilised to each other on debates and it’s about a range of legitimate views, then this enquiry will be at best ineffective. This is not about a debate between two even sides, it’s a debate about antisemitism: about those who indulge in or tolerate antisemitism against the Jewish community and those who want to fight against it.
10. Writing this report is demeaning, it feels as if I have to grovel to simply play a part in getting the Labour Party to combat the problem of anti-Semitism. This shouldn’t be needed, Jews shouldn’t have to feel like this, in the Labour Party of 2016.
Richard Gold, member of Bury South CLP.