Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party
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Allegations of antisemitism in the UK Labour Party have been made since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as Labour Party leader in September 2015, and after controversial comments by Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone under Corbyn's leadership of the party. Following their comments, both Livingstone and Shah were suspended pending investigation.
The controversy prompted Corbyn to establish the Chakrabarti Inquiry to investigate the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Disciplinary investigations lead to some party members being expelled or suspended for bringing the party into disrepute. Livingstone resigned from the party in 2018 after being suspended for two years. Corbyn himself was the subject of controversy in 2018 after his comments on Facebook in 2012 concerning the removal of Freedom for Humanity, an allegedly antisemitic mural, were brought to public notice and for being a member of three Facebook groups in which antisemitic content was posted.
However, claims of antisemitism being uniquely problematic in the Labour Party have been challenged. For example, in 2016, the Chakrabarti Inquiry found "no evidence" of systemic antisemitism in Labour and the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom found "no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party." In addition, a number of Jewish groups in the Labour Party have disputed the antisemitism claims. These include Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Jewish Socialists' Group; all of whom have said that accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party have a twofold purpose. Firstly to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel in order to deter such criticism and secondly to undermine the Labour leadership since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.
In July 2018, Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted a new code of conduct that defines antisemitism for the purposes of disciplinary cases brought before the National Constitutional Committee. It included the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition, although it removed or amended four out of eleven 11 of what allegedly constitutes antisemitism, added an additional three examples and amended points showing how criticising Israel can be antisemitic, which led to controversy and media furore over the agreed code. However, in September 2018, the NEC decided to add all 11 IHRA examples (unamended) to the definition of antisemitism and include them in the Party's code of conduct.
- 1 History
- 2 2015
- 3 2016
- 4 2017
- 5 2018
- 5.1 Facebook groups about Palestine containing antisemitic content
- 5.2 Corbyn and an allegedly antisemitic mural
- 5.3 Resignation of Christine Shawcroft
- 5.4 Pro-Corbyn Facebook groups containing antisemitic content
- 5.5 Jewdas Passover event
- 5.6 Other incidents and suspensions
- 5.7 Israeli Labor Party cut ties with Corbyn
- 5.8 Meeting with the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies
- 5.9 Working definition of antisemitism
- 5.10 Jeremy Corbyn's responses
- 5.11 Resignation of Frank Field
- 6 Rebuttals
- 7 Surveys
- 8 Institute for Jewish Policy Research
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 Further reading
In the early 20th century, antisemitism was common throughout British society, both inside and outside the Labour movement. Antisemitic conspiracy theories were promoted by figures of the anti-war Labour left during the Second Boer War, with prominent Labour leaders such as Keir Hardie asserting that Jews were part of a secretive "imperialist" cabal that promoted war. The Independent Labour Party, Robert Blatchford's newspaper The Clarion, and the Trade Union Congress all blamed "Jewish capitalists" as "being behind the war and imperialism in general."
British Jews have traditionally supported the labour movement and party, the Jewish Labour Movement, the UK arm of Poale Zion, supported the Labour Party, affiliating to the party in 1920. The Labour Party had a historical affinity for Israel both because the labour movement was part of a broad, political left that historically supported national movements, and because it felt an affinity for Labor Zionism, which was the dominant movement within pre-state political Zionism, and the political identity of the founding government of Israel in 1948 and Israeli government until the election of Menachem Begin in 1977.
Despite leaning towards Labour in the immediate postwar decades, along with most other immigrant communities, much of the Jewish population supported Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, especially in her own seat of Finchley. Many Jewish voters returned to Labour in the late 1990s under New Labour, with polling generally showing Jews as evenly split between Labour and Conservatives, which remained the case in 2010 when Labour appointed its first Jewish leader Ed Miliband.
However, in August 2014, Miliband came under pressure from Jewish donors and supporters of the Labour Party over his stance towards Israel's ground incursion into Gaza in summer 2014, after describing it as "wrong and unjustifiable". Subsequently, Jewish support for Labour fell to an estimated 15% in the May 2015 general election (compared to 64% for the Conservatives). After Miliband was defeated, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader who had extensively campaigned for Palestinian rights, and came under sustained accusations of antisemitism. During the 2017 snap general election under his premiership it is estimated that 26% of Jews voted for Labour.
1980s; rising pro-Palestinian views
Although antisemitic attitudes were rare in the Party in the 1980s, in his 2016 book, The Left's Jewish Problem, Dave Rich attributes what he believes to be the origin of new antisemitism in the Labour Party to attitudes that began to develop in the early 1970s among Young Liberal British political activists concerned with the fate of Palestine. James R. Vaughn says that an "Arab Lobby" is to blame for anti-Zionism in the Labour Party, specifically mentioning the creation of the Labour Middle East Council in 1969 by Christopher Mayhew as laying a foundation of radical anti-Zionism. According to Rich, Mayhew founded the Council in order to change the "pro-Israel" position of the Labour Party.
Rich credits the British Anti-Zionist Organization (BAZO), established in 1975 to focus on university students, with "show(ing) how a highly ideological anti-Zionism can ... incubate anti-Semitic campaigns". BAZO distributed antisemitic leaflets and argued that Zionists encourage antisemitism to benefit Israel, and that Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime during the Second World War. According to the Labour MP Richard Burden, who was a member of the BAZO Executive in the 1970s, BAZO was funded by the government of Iraq. BAZO was banned by the National Union of Students by the early 1980s for distributing antisemitic material. Burden and George Galloway, then a Labour Party member, both first visited the Middle East on a 1977 tour sponsored by BAZO.
Richard Seymour wrote in 2018 that "Palestinian rights have been a growing concern in the British Left since 1982, and Sabra and Shatila" when "the British trade union movement and the Labour Party began to break with Israel in response." The Labour Committee on Palestine was formed in June 1982 to challenge the Labour Middle East Council, which supported a two-state solution, and to oppose the "Zionist state as racist, exclusivist, expansionist and a direct agency of imperialism." Labour politicians Ken Livingstone of the Greater London Council and Ted Knight of the Lambeth London Borough Council were early supporters; the chair was former BAZO activist Tony Greenstein. The new Committee backed a resolution at the party 1982 Party national conference to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", which passed at conference, "embarrassing" the Party leadership. Knight and Livingstone established the Labour Herald newspaper with funding by the PLO and, in 1982, the Herald was accused by the Jewish Socialist Group of publishing a "blatantly anti-Semitic" book review. No apology was made.
According to June Edmunds, University Lecturer in Sociology of the University of Sussex, the party's leadership, initially supportive of Israel, shifted to support Palestine instead in the early 1980s, though the membership did not; later challenges to this shift eventually resulted in more balanced support for both and broad support for a two-state solution. Edmunds credits the shift to more moderate appeals by Palestinians combined with a sharp shift to the right in Israeli politics that alienated Labour supporters on the left, as well as the rise of broad anti-colonial politics among a British the Left that increasingly saw Israel as opposing their values. Paul Kelemen, in his 2012 book, The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce, likewise ascribes the shift to Israel's increasingly right-leaning politics and opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, while rejecting the idea that the shift was caused by antisemitism. Daniel L. Staetsky, a Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, stated in his 2017 study Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A Study of Attitudes Towards Jews and Israel that in the 1980s parts of the political left assumed strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel positions, and faced accusations of antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Incidents in the 21st century
In the 21st century there have been several incidents which were subject to charges that they involved antisemitism. In 2003, Labour MP Tam Dalyell claimed that "there is far too much Jewish influence in the United States" and that "a cabal of Jewish advisers" was directing American and British policy on Iraq. In 2005, proposed Labour Party posters depicted the Conservative Party leader Michael Howard in a pose resembling Shakespeare's Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, superimposed onto the bodies of flying pigs and swinging a pocket watch on a chain resembling Fagin from Oliver Twist. The Board of Deputies of British Jews refused to get involved in the controversy. In 2010, Labour MP Martin Linton said, "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." Community Security Trust spokesman Mark Gardner responded: "Anybody who understands antisemitism will recognise just how ugly and objectionable these quotes are, with their imagery of Jewish control and money power." In 2010, during the Holocaust Memorial Week in the UK, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn co-chaired a meeting in the House of Commons with the main talk by anti-Zionist Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer entitled "The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes". One eye-witness complained about pro-Israel protesters, the "hounding of 85-year old Dr. Meyer, and the bellows of ‘boring!’ every time any survivor of a different genocide tried to tell about their experience." One of these protesters, Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation, later justified these protests, saying that Meyer was "a raging anti-Semite. The fact that he was in Auschwitz for ten months is entirely irrelevant." Louise Ellman MP, of Labour Friends of Israel, had attended the meeting at the time but she now told the BBC that she was "absolutely appalled" at Corbyn for chairing Meyer's talk, which she argued was antisemitic. When he was asked about his involvement with the meeting, Corbyn apologised for any "concerns and anxiety caused" by his associations with regard to his support for the Palestinian people, saying that "Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone. In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject." Corbyn and Jewish Labour MP Gerald Kaufman have attended events of "Deir Yassin Remembered" (the massacre of over 100 Palestinian villagers in 1948), founded by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen. However, Corbyn has said that this had taken place before Eisen had made his views known publicly, and that he would not have associated with him had he known. In 2015, Kaufman said that "Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative Party ... [and] support from the Jewish Chronicle" had made the Conservatives more sympathetic to Israel; Corbyn condemned Kaufman's remarks at the time as "completely unacceptable".
In January 2011, a motion was submitting to rename Holocaust Memorial Day to "Genocide Memorial Day", which was supported by 23 MPs, mainly from the Labour Party and including future party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said in 2018 that "Holocaust Memorial Day already rightly includes all victims of the Nazis and subsequent genocides, But the Holocaust was a specific crime, with anti-Semitism at its core. Any attempt to remove that specificity is a form of denial and distortion." Labour responded by saying that "this was a cross-party initiative, jointly sponsored by a senior Conservative MP, to emphasize the already broader character of Holocaust Memorial Day. It is not our policy to seek a name change for this important commemoration".
In a meeting in Parliament in January 2013, the UK Palestinian Authority representative Manuel Hassassian said that Jews are "the only children of God ... because nobody is stopping Israel building its messianic dream of Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel]." Pro-Israel activists at the meeting then challenged Hassassian. In August 2018, MailOnline released footage of comments that Corbyn had made a few days after this event at Friends House in Euston, convened by the Palestinian Return Centre. There, he defended the earlier comments made by Hassassian on the history of Palestine, which, he said, were "dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists" in the audience. Corbyn went on to say that these "Zionists" had approached Hassassian and "berated him afterwards for what he had said", and that these "Zionists" had "two problems": "One is that they don't want to study history and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don't understand English irony either. Manuel [Hassassian] does understand English irony and uses it very, very effectively so I think they need two lessons which we can help them with." His comments were accused by some of being coded antisemitism, including by Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Wes Streeting, Mike Gapes, Catherine McKinnell, and political strategist John McTernan. A number of Conservative MPs reported Corbyn to the parliamentary standards watchdog over the comments. Historian Deborah Lipstadt, writing in The Atlantic, asserted that Corbyn had crossed the line from anti-Zionism to antisemitism. However, Corbyn's remarks were defended by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who argued that the comments were "taken out of context". A Labour spokesperson said that parts of the speech which contexualised Corbyn's language were "edited out of the footage ... He had been speaking about Zionists and non-Zionist Jews and very clearly does not go on to use Zionists as any kind of shorthand for Jews."
On 14 August 2015, as Jeremy Corbyn emerged as a front-runner for the position of Party Leader in the Labour Party leadership election, The Jewish Chronicle devoted its "front page to seven questions regarding Corbyn's record on antisemitism" headlined: "The key questions Jeremy Corbyn must answer". The questions raised were about Corbyn's endorsements of individuals known for promoting antisemitic ideas; his relationship with Islamist organisations Hezbollah and Hamas, organisations that Corbyn called "friends" (although he has stated he disagrees with their views); and about his failure to object to many antisemitic banners and posters that "dominate" the London Quds Day rallies supported by the organisation, Stop the War Coalition of which Corbyn was national chair from 2011 to 2015.
MP Diane Abbott has defended Corbyn by calling his critics part of a "Westminster elite" afraid of Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda. MP Alan Johnson, a supporter of Palestinian statehood, published a letter criticising Corbyn's support for Hamas and Hezbollah, Stephen Sizer and Raed Salah, all alleged with antisemitic statements and policies. 47 prominent Jewish activists, including Laurence Dreyfus, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Ilan Pappé, Michael Rosen and Avi Shlaim were signatories to a letter criticising The Jewish Chronicle's reporting of Corbyn's association with alleged antisemites.
Inquiries and allegations
In April 2016, it was revealed that Labour MP for Bradford West Naz Shah, during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, had shared a graphic showing an image of Israel's geographic outline superimposed on a map of the U.S. under the headline "Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States", with the comment "problem solved". Ken Livingstone then appeared on BBC Radio London to defend Shah and said he had never heard anyone in the Labour Party say anything antisemitic. He then added: "When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."
On 29 April 2016, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn launched an internal inquiry following the publication of comments made by Shah and Livingstone which were considered antisemitic, both of whom were suspended pending investigation. The report was described as a "whitewash for peerage scandal" by Board of Deputies of British Jews. Shami Chakrabarti led the inquiry and joined the Labour Party on the same day she was appointed to chair the investigation. The inquiry had two deputy chairs: Jan Royall, who was at the time holding an investigation into antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club, and Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism David Feldman, whom Chakrabarti defended as a signatory to Independent Jewish Voices, which had claimed that some of the allegations of antisemitism within Labour were "baseless and disingenuous".
Livingstone was suspended for a year after a hearing over three days by the National Constitutional Committee, for breaching rule 2.1.8. Shah was reinstated after accepting a number of conditions (such as apologising for bringing the party into disrepute and to carry out engagement with the Jewish community).
British author Howard Jacobson called the internal inquiry "a brief and shoddy shuffling of superficies" that "spoke to very few of the people charging the party with anti-Semitism and understood even fewer of their arguments." Jacobson also suggested that Corbyn nominating Chakrabarti for a peerage was shown contempt for those who had raised issues over antisemitism in the party.
Following allegations of antisemitism from the Oxford University Labour Club, an inquiry was launched by Labour Students, chaired by Jan Royall. The party's National Executive Committee accepted the report in May 2016. Some of the report was published, but the full report was deemed confidential until Royall leaked it. The report found that whilst there was a "cultural problem" in which "behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated" leading to some antisemitic behaviour towards Jewish students there was also "no evidence the club is itself institutionally anti-Semitic".
In June, the Chakrabarti Inquiry headed by Shami Chakrabarti found "no evidence" of systemic antisemitism in Labour. In October, the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom. The committee found "no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party." However, it was critical of Corbyn's response to antisemitic incidents against Labour MPs. The committee described the Chakrabarti inquiry as "ultimately compromised". The report also found that "the failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with anti-Semitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic".
In May 2016, American political scientist Norman Finkelstein (whose graphic was shared by MP Naz Shah) described the controversy as "obscene". Referring to those on the right of the Labour Party allegedly using the scandal as a means of undermining Corbyn, Finkelstein asked "What are they doing? Don't they have any respect for the dead? ... All these desiccated Labour apparatchiks, dragging the Nazi holocaust through the mud for the sake of their petty jostling for power and position. Have they no shame?"
In May 2016, the vice-chair of Momentum, a left movement within Labour, Jackie Walker, was briefly suspended from Party membership in spring 2016 for making comments on Facebook concerning the alleged role of Jewish people in the Atlantic slave trade. Jon Lansman, the chair of Momentum, defended her against these claims at the time, describing the media campaign against Walker as "a 'lynch mob' whose interest in combating racism is highly selective".
At the September 2016 Labour Party conference, Walker's comments about Holocaust Memorial Day led to renewed calls for her to be expelled from the Labour Party. Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA union, said their Momentum funding would be reconsidered if Walker failed to be removed. She was suspended from party membership at the end of September. On 3 October 2016, the organisation's steering committee decided she should cease being vice-chair, but would remain a member of the committee. Lansman now wrote that they considered Walker's comments about Holocaust Memorial Day "to be ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive" but not antisemitic.
Walker, who is of mixed African and Jewish heritage, said that she "utterly condemn[s] antisemitism" and said that her words were taken out of context by the media. She further went on to say that "I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise."
In May 2016, Baroness Deech said that "Too many Labour politicians cravenly adopted the anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Israel demonization they think will get them British Muslim votes, rather than standing up to the prejudice that exists in the community". Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld said that while not all of the most extreme antisemitic slurs were made by Muslim representatives of Labour, they represent a disproportionately large proportion of antisemitic perpetrators. According to Gerstenfeld, Labour's issue with antisemitism "demonstrate what happens when a party bends over backward to attract Muslim voters".
In April 2017, Ken Livingstone's suspension was extended for a further 12 months after a disciplinary panel of the Labour Party upheld three charges of breaching party rules against him. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader ordered a new inquiry into Livingstone's conduct, which did not take place for 10 months. In March 2018, Livingstone's suspension was extended indefinitely pending the outcome of an inquiry and May 2018, Livingstone announced that he would resign from the party. In a statement Livingstone said, "I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour Party into disrepute – nor that I am in any way guilty of anti-Semitism. I abhor anti-Semitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so."
In November 2017, a Labour Party member was suspended following the posting antisemitic comments. The party member was suspended after Labour councillor Adam Langleben reposted the material, saying that Labour had failed to take action prior to publication.
In another incident, a Labour council candidate was removed from the party's candidate list in Bradford after making antisemitic remarks such as "teachers are brainwashing us and our children into thinking the bad guy was Hitler" and "What have the Jews done good in this world?"
In December 2017, a Brighton and Hove Labour housing campaigner was suspended after posting a parody Hanukkah video featuring three dancing Orthodox Jews with the faces of local councillors superimposed on Facebook. The campaigner denied allegations of antisemitism, stating that he condemned "all forms of racism" and stated that the posts were meant to be "a bit of fun, not racist".
During the 2017 general election campaign, Jeremy Newmark, the chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said that "Jeremy Corbyn appears to have failed to understand the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism in the same way that it's understood by most of its target group". Labour MP Wes Streeting also criticised the party's record on antisemitism, saying "I don't think many Jewish voters in my constituency have been very impressed with the way the Labour Party as a whole have responded", but denied that Corbyn was antisemitic.
In the Epilogue to his book Contemporary Left Antisemitism (2017), written after the general election, sociologist David Hirsh alleges Corbyn's "antisemitic... politics... did not seem to be an issue" with voters, with the possible exception of four constituencies with significant Jewish populations, and discusses the impact of the near win by a Labour Party, he says, is led by man who has a "decades-long association with antisemitic politics" who has "for his whole career, embraced or tolerated certain kinds of antisemitic... politics," and "long been connected to antisemitic ways of thinking and antisemitic movements".
The significance of the Jewish vote was argued to have manifested in the "Bagel belt", consisting of four seats in the north-west of London with a dense Jewish population: Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Chipping Barnet and Harrow East. Early predictions held that the four constituencies in the belt would see upset victories for Labour, but ultimately despite a strong overall performance, the Labour "surge" was weaker in the "Bagel belt", and Labour failed to capture the four Bagel Belt seats despite predictions.
Analysis by University of Leicester sociologist Daniel Allington found a statistical relationship under which "The higher [an area's] Jewish population, the lower the rise in the Labour vote this election." Analysis by election analysts Prof Stephen Fisher, Prof Rob Ford, Prof Sir John Curtice and Patrick English based on The British General Election of 2017 by Philip Cowley and Dennis Kavanagh, a study of results at the 2017 general election, suggests Labour may have underperformed in the constituencies with the most Jewish people before the antisemitism row intensified. There are five UK constituencies where, according to the 2011 Census, more than 10% of the population identify as Jewish: Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Hertsmere, Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Bury South. In these seats, Labour's vote share at the 2017 general election increased by seven points in comparison to the 2015 election. However, this was below the 9.8 point overall increase by Labour in the election.
During the 2017 Labour Party Conference, new rules were introduced to combat antisemitism or other "conduct prejudicial to the Party" by members. 98% of members supported the change to the Labour Party Rule Book; however, some party activists claimed that the rule was "an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel". Deputy leader Tom Watson promised there would be an investigation into how the party provided a platform at a conference fringe event to Israeli author and activist Miko Peled, who was criticised for saying that the Holocaust should be open to debate, saying "This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it's the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum." Watson responded that "it is nothing to do with the official Labour party conference. And if there was Holocaust denial there, these people have no right to be in the Labour party, and if they are they should be expelled". Delegates at the fringe event demanded that the Jewish Labour Movement be expelled from the party over their support for the state of Israel. In October 2017, Chair of the Jewish Voice for Labour, Jenny Manson argued that they were not an anti-Zionist organisation per se, and that they did not believe that criticism of Israel should be included in any definition of antisemitism.
In November 2017, British authors Howard Jacobson, Simon Schama, and Simon Sebag Montefiore condemned Labour's failure to address antisemitism in a letter to The Times saying "We are alarmed that during the past few years, constructive criticism of Israeli governments has morphed into something closer to antisemitism under the cloak of so-called anti-Zionism", further stating "Although anti-Zionists claim innocence of any antisemitic intent, anti-Zionism frequently borrows the libels of classical Jew-hating," and adding "Accusations of international Jewish conspiracy and control of the media have resurfaced to support false equations of Zionism with colonialism and imperialism, and the promotion of vicious, fictitious parallels with genocide and Nazism".
In December 2017, Likud member of the Knesset and senior Israeli minister, Gilad Erdan, said that "We recognise and we see that there are antisemitic views in many of the leadership of the current Labour party". A Labour Party spokesperson said in response "Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party campaign against and condemn all forms of antisemitism and the Labour party conference recently adopted new tough rules on antisemitism."
Facebook groups about Palestine containing antisemitic content
In March 2018, a dossier was published by David Collier exposing the actions of Labour Party members, including Corbyn, some of his office staff and MPs, who all belonged to a private Facebook group where antisemitic tropes and comments were freely made. Soon after the dossier was published the Labour Party made a statement saying that a full investigation will be undertaken and appropriate action will be taken against any Labour member found to be involved.
Corbyn's office issued a statement not denying his involvement in the group but saying that he had no knowledge of what was being discussed in the group. Collier wrote that there was no suggestion Corbyn was aware of extremism within the group or that he shared "the views of many inside the group", merely that he was a member. He left the group after becoming Labour leader in 2015. According to HuffPost he was enrolled by someone else in 2014 and had only made a small number of posts. A fortnight later, Corbyn's membership of a second Facebook group 'History of Palestine', which featured antisemitic comments, became known. He then left the group to which he had been added around 2014. Corbyn's spokesman said "he was added to this group without his knowledge". Later in March, it was reported that Corbyn was a member of a third group containing antisemitic content. Corbyn left the group following the reports and a spokesman said that he was not an active member.
Corbyn and an allegedly antisemitic mural
Freedom for Humanity was a street mural, painted in 2012 by American artist Mear One. The artwork depicted what Mear One described as an "elite banker cartel" of the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, and the Morgans and others sitting around a Monopoly-style board game on the backs of men with dark complexions. The mural was later removed by Tower Hamlets council. Lutfur Rahman, then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said "the images of the bankers perpetuate antisemitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions". In response, Mear One denied that the mural was antisemitic; he was as saying that the mural was about "class and privilege", and pointed out that the figures depicted included both "Jewish and white Anglos".
Corbyn, on Facebook, responded to a post by the artist about the mural's destruction, saying "Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller(sic) destroyed Diego Viera's mural because it includes a picture of Lenin," referring to Nelson Rockefeller's destruction of Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads fresco in 1934. This post set off a firestorm of controversy; Labour MP Luciana Berger tweeted about the issue in March 2018 asking Corbyn why he had questioned mural's removal. Corbyn's spokesman issued a statement later in the day: "Jeremy was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. However, the mural was offensive, used antisemitic imagery, which has no place in our society, and it is right that it was removed". Berger said the response was "wholly inadequate". In his own statement, Corbyn said: "I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and antisemitic," he said. "The defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of antisemitism in any form. That is a view I've always held." Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust said that the mural was "indefensible" as it "was blatantly anti-Semitic, using images commonly found in anti-Semitic propaganda – it is impossible not to notice".
Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London argued that this accusation is based on a logical fallacy, saying that the allegation "amounts to a mere argument from resemblance: because anti-capitalist discourse and anti-Semitic discourse share some structural features, they are fundamentally the same". For example, both anti-capitalist discourse and antisemitic discourse are often conspiratorial in nature; but similarity does not denote the same motive or intent.
The coverage over the mural was followed by an open letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council stating that Corbyn was "repeatedly found alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views", concluding that Corbyn "cannot seriously contemplate anti-Semitism, because he is so ideologically fixed within a far-left worldview that is instinctively hostile to mainstream Jewish communities".
Following the open letter's publication accusing Corbyn of siding with antisemites "again and again", hundreds of people outside Parliament Square gathered to protest 'Enough is Enough' against antisemitism in the Labour Party, demanding that Corbyn does more to tackle anti-Jewish feeling in Labour Party ranks. Jewish Voice for Labour organised a smaller counter-demonstration. A Jewish Voice for Labour spokesman said after the event: "There is a massive difference between saying that more needs to be done within the party and a demonstration like this which is implicitly trying to force him [Corbyn] out... This protest is unnecessary, inflammatory and politicised." The organisation said in a statement that it was "appalled" by the Board of Deputies' letter. "They do not represent us or the great majority of Jews in the party who share Jeremy Corbyn's vision for social justice and fairness. Jeremy's consistent commitment to anti-racism is all the more needed now." Jewish Voice for Labour's Chair Jenny Manson defended Corbyn on Daily Politics, saying he had taken "enormously strong action" to deal with the issue in his party.
Resignation of Christine Shawcroft
In late March, Christine Shawcroft the recently appointed head of the Labour Party's disputes panel resigned from the panel after it emerged she had opposed the suspension of a Peterborough council candidate who was accused of Holocaust denial. In the leaked email, Shawcroft said she was "concerned" to hear about the suspension of Alan Bull for "a Facebook post taken completely out of context and alleged to show anti-Semitism". However, she later said that she had not seen the "abhorrent" Facebook post which led to his suspension. Subsequently, a group of 39 Labour politicians, both MPs and peers in an open letter called on Corbyn to suspend her from Labour's National Executive Committee. Two days later, on 1 April, she resigned from the committee.
Pro-Corbyn Facebook groups containing antisemitic content
At the beginning of April 2018, The Sunday Times reported that it had uncovered over 2,000 examples of antisemitic, racist, violent threats and abusive content in non-public Corbyn-supporting Facebook groups, including frequent attacks on Jews and Holocaust denying material. The 20 largest pro-Corbyn Facebook groups, which have a combined membership of over 400,000, were reported to have as members 12 senior staff who work for Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell. The messages repeatedly targeted Labour MP Luciana Berger and Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. A Labour Party spokesperson said the groups "are not officially connected to the party in any way". However, Labour MPs urged Corbyn to instruct his supporters to shut down abusive groups. Subsequently, Corbyn deleted his own personal Facebook account that he had set up before becoming Labour leader although his official page remained.
Jewdas Passover event
In April, Corbyn attended a "third night" Passover Seder celebration held by the radical Jewish group Jewdas, which has suggested that allegations of antisemitism within Labour are a political plot aimed at discrediting the party as well as tweeting that Israel is "a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of." Jewdas stated that "Jeremy Corbyn accepted our invitation to join the Jewdas community Seder. Jeremy was a 10/10 guest and provided delicious maror from his allotment." Corbyn was criticised by the Jewish Leadership Council for attending the event. The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, said: "If Jeremy Corbyn goes to their event, how can we take his stated commitment to be an ally against anti-Semitism seriously?" A number of Labour MPs criticised his decision to attend.
Charlotte Nichols, Women's Officer of Young Labour and member of Jewdas, wrote in Labour List: "It is not for non-Jewish people, in criticising Corbyn's attendance, to determine what is and isn't a legitimate expression of the Jewish faith. Many of the criticisms I've seen are themselves anti-Semitic. For those in the community who want to paint Jeremy's attendance as an act of provocation, rather than an attempt to listen, engage, and share our festival with us, it's actually just alienating many young Jewish people further and validating Jewdas' very existence."
Actor and comedian David Schneider pointed out that "the same people who had been shouting that if Corbyn was serious about tackling anti-Semitism, he had to get out there and meet Jews were suddenly shouting: 'Hold on! Not those Jews!'" Schneider tweeted "'Boo! Corbyn needs to get out and meet some Jews!' (Corbyn spends Passover with some Jews at Jewdas) 'Boo! Not those Jews!'". Comedian David Baddiel said that "They are just Jews who disagree with other Jews. Which means: Jews ... To make out that it's somehow antisemitic for him to spend Seder with them just because they're far left is balls".
Other incidents and suspensions
In April 2018, Roy Smart was suspended from the party and dropped as a local council candidate for the St James' ward on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in the May 2018 local elections, after it was discovered that in 2015 he had shared posts on social media which urged followers to "question the Holocaust" and linking to a "Holocaust deprogramming course" website. He had also shared several conspiracy theories, including that the "Rothschilds Jewish mafia" was being behind the September 11 attacks, that "Jewish money" was running the British government.
In the same month, Rossendale Councillor Pam Bromley was suspended over alleged antisemitic posts on Facebook dating back to April 2016, though she denies being antisemitic, saying that "The allegation that I am anti-Semitic, based on a tiny sample of Facebook posts taken out of context and dating back up to 12 months, is absolutely ridiculous." She added that she welcomed the investigation. In May 2016, two fellow councillors had been suspended but reinstated following an investigation that cleared them.
In August 2018, author Lev Golinkin wrote: "so many others are, too, for anti-Semitism that's at least as dangerous. And yet the same leaders and institutions who are up in arms over Britain's Labor Party have failed, over and over, to express appropriate outrage" and "a case can be made that for many of these institutions, people like Corbyn and Farrakhan are manna from heaven, because they allow them to show the world how fiercely they fight anti-Semitism without actually having to do so in places where it's inconvenient." In September, Professor Rebecca Ruth Gould, a literary theorist, said that "Labour must recognise the internal diversity of the Jewish community and not allow a political faction to silence other points of view, as is happening now to an unprecedented degree."
In October 2018, at a Barnet Momentum event featuring John McDonnell, held to support the parliamentary candidacy of Jewish Voice for Labour's Jenny Manson, dozens of Jewish activists who had spoken out against antisemitism in Labour, were told at the last minute that their tickets were cancelled. The ban initially also included journalists from The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News, for not having "media accreditation", but the ban on on the two news papers was later lifted, although a Jewish journalist who had not applied for accreditation was physically ejected, and journalists were required to pay £8 towards Manson's election campaign. Jewish Voice for Labour said that “Only a few individuals with a record of disrupting meetings have been banned”, although the ejected journalist said he had no such record. Organizers later accused the people banned of having "previously misrepresented events." and that this is why they had been banned. A spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism, members of which were barred from attending, said that "The banning of Jewish Labour members from a John McDonnell event tonight is an act of racial segregation that underlines the institutional antisemitism now endemic within the Labour Party."
Israeli Labor Party cut ties with Corbyn
In April 2018, the Israeli Labor Party led by Avi Gabbay announced it would cut ties with Corbyn and his office due to their handling of antisemitism, but still retain ties with the UK Labour Party as a whole. In a letter to Corbyn, Gabbay wrote "my responsibility to acknowledge the hostility that you have shown to the Jewish community and the antisemitic statements and actions you have allowed".
Meeting with the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies
In April 2018, Corbyn met with Jewish community leaders to discuss antisemitism in the Labour Party. Following the meeting, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies issued a statement saying "We are disappointed that Mr Corbyn's proposals fell short of the minimum level of action which our letter suggested. In particular, they did not agree in the meeting with our proposals that there should be a fixed timetable to deal with antisemitism cases; that they should expedite the long-standing cases involving Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker; that no MP should share a platform with somebody expelled or suspended for antisemitism; that they adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism with all its examples and clauses; that there should be transparent oversight of their disciplinary process." Corbyn however described the meeting as "positive and constructive" and re-iterated that he was "absolutely committed" to rooting out antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Working definition of antisemitism
In December 2016, Labour adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. In May 2017, former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley said: "Shorn of philosophical and political refinements, anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews. Where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech it is generally illegal, lying beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and of action. By contrast, criticism (and equally defence) of Israel or of Zionism is not only generally lawful: it is affirmatively protected by law. Endeavours to conflate the two by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic are not new. What is new is the adoption by the UK government (and the Labour Party) of a definition of anti-Semitism which endorses the conflation."
The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism was formally accepted by the Labour Party at its 2017 Conference. Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) saw this as "attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards, or discrimination against, Jews as Jews". JVL's information officer, Jonathan Rosenhead sees this definition as being intentionally "vague", allowing for "the protection of Israel" via "a side door" and thus "encouraging the presumption that criticism of Israel is likely to be antisemitic". The organisation sees the change to the Labour Party Rule Book as an "anti-democratic restriction on political debate". In May 2018, JVL, along with members of Free Speech on Israel, produced a definition of antisemitism as "Antisemitism is a form of racism: hatred, hostility, discrimination or prejudice against Jews because they are Jews. It may be manifested in violence; denial of rights; direct, indirect or institutional discrimination; prejudice-based behaviour; or verbal or written statements. Such manifestations draw on stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share."
In July, Labour's National Executive Committee adopted a new code of conduct that defines antisemitism for the purposes of disciplinary cases brought before the National Constitutional Committee, which was intended to help make the disciplinary process more efficient and transparent. The new code of conduct included the IHRA working definition on antisemitism, but it was accused of removing or amending four out of eleven of the IHRA's examples of what constitutes antisemitism, adding three examples and amending points showing how criticising Israel can be antisemitic. In particular, the code describes "Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations" as wrong rather than antisemitic. It also omits a clause stating that it is antisemitic to claim that "the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor".
Jewish Voice for Labour said in a statement that the code of conduct "offers a constructive framework for moving forward in this difficult area." Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal said it was important that Labour had rejected the examples in the IHRA document which pro-Israel groups use to "assert that calling Israel an apartheid state or calling for peaceful action to respond to its human rights abuses via Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are inherently anti-Semitic." This "not only demeans the struggle against anti-Semitism in which all should be involved but also prevents action to address the injustices perpetrated against Palestinian people." Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council criticised Labour alleging that the new rules "only dilute the definition and further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour movement."
According to Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, the code of conduct takes the IHRA working definition and supplements it "with additional examples and guidance", thus creating "the most thorough and expansive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism introduced by any political party in the UK". Labour National Executive Committee member Jon Lansman called the code of conduct "the new gold standard" for political parties, "stronger than anything of its kind adopted by any political party in this country". He said, it "fully adopts the IHRA definition, and covers the same ground as the IHRA examples". He added, "Conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism is dangerous and undermines the fight against antisemitism. Clear and detailed guidelines are essential to ensure that antisemitism isn't tolerated, while protecting free speech on Israel's conduct within a respectful and civil environment. This is what Labour's code of conduct provides." Labour said the wording in the code of conduct "expands on and contextualises" the IHRA examples. The Shadow Solicitor-General, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said many of IHRA’s examples were "adopted word for word in our code of conduct" while "the ground is covered" for others. He said: "We should be going further than the IHRA definition and the language of the code is at times much stronger. We need to expand on a lot of the examples to ensure that we have a legally enforceable code so that we can enforce discipline as everyone wants to." Following the adoption of the new code of conduct on antisemitism, Labour MP Margaret Hodge accused Corbyn of being "an anti-Semitic racist".
The code was also accused by law lecturer Tom Frost of failing to apply the Macpherson Principle which says "A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person." Former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley said: "...Sir William Macpherson did not advise that everything perceived as racist was ipso facto racist. He advised that reported incidents that were perceived by the victim as racist should be recorded and investigated as such. His purpose was to reverse the dismissive culture that characterised the reporting and policing of racial incidents. To derive from this fallacy a proposition that anything perceived by one or more Jewish people as antisemitic is legally an act of racism is not only absurd: it overlooks another aspect of legality, the right of free expression contained in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and now embodied in our law by the Human Rights Act. It is a right that may be qualified by proportionate legal restrictions necessary for protecting the rights of others: hence the legal bar on hate speech." He later added: "These supposed examples of antisemitism are at the heart of the debate... They point to the underlying purpose of the text: to neutralise serious criticism of Israel by stigmatising it as a form of antisemitism." Human rights solicitor Geoffrey Bindman said: "The Labour party's new code of conduct on antisemitism does not set out all the IHRA examples as if they were rules set in stone (as they were never meant to be). The code seeks to establish that antisemitism cannot be used as a pretext for censorship without evidence of antisemitic intent. This is entirely in line with the recommendations of the all-party Commons home affairs select committee in October 2016 that the IHRA definition should only be adopted if qualified by caveats making clear that it is not antisemitic to criticise the Israeli government without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent... Far from watering down or weakening it, Labour's code strengthens it by addressing forms of discrimination that the IHRA overlooked... The attacks on the new code, including those by some Labour MPs and a number of rabbis, are baffling. One has to wonder if all these people have read the code or indeed the IHRA press release. This omission only serves to protect Israel from legitimate criticism." Geoffrey Robertson QC, an expert on freedom of speech and human rights, questioned why Jewish organisations are advocating acceptance of the full definition by the Labour Party and other organisations when it fails to protect Jews from many prevalent kinds of antisemitism.
Writer and scholar of antisemitism Antony Lerman said: "...Jewish leaders have, in their uncompromising reaction to the NEC's new code, responded by doubling down on the sanctity of the IHRA definition. They claim exclusive rights to determine what is antisemitism, potentially putting Jewish sentiment, and unwittingly the sentiment of any minority group, above the law of the land." Lerner later stated that "...the fundamental principle that IHRA is so flawed it should be abandoned, not tinkered with" and "The answer to hate speech is more speech. Not suppression of offensive views. I can only see full NEC adoption of the entire, deeply flawed IHRA definition achieving the latter, not encouraging the former." Philosopher and scholar of antisemitism Brian Klug said: "...it is not true to say that the NEC rejects the IHRA 'working definition'. On the contrary, it endorses it and incorporates it – prominently – in its Code. It does, however, depart from the IHRA document in certain other respects, including the 'examples' it gives." He added: "...the IHRA intends its examples as mere indications of what 'might' and 'could' manifest antisemitism, whereas Labour's code says its examples are 'likely' to be deemed antisemitic. This shift – from mere possibility to likelihood – strengthens the role of the examples and makes them easier to apply as guidelines." He concluded: "It is a working definition with working examples. It is a living document, subject to revision and constantly needing to be adapted to the different contexts in which people apply its definition. This is the spirit in which the drafters of Labour's code have approached their task.... But people of goodwill who genuinely want to solve the conundrum – combating antisemitism while protecting free political speech – should welcome the code as a constructive initiative, and criticise it constructively." American scholar Norman Finklestein wrote: "If the Labour Party adopts them, it will become a willing dupe of Israeli hasbara; it will disgrace the Party's noble traditions; and it will betray Jeremy Corbyn's promise to set the Party on a new-old path of upholding Truth and Justice, wherever it may lead and whatever the price."
On 16 July, more than 60 British rabbis wrote a joint letter to The Guardian, saying that Labour had "chosen to ignore the Jewish community". The signatories included Harvey Belovski, Laura Janner-Klausner, Danny Rich and Jonathan Wittenberg. The letter said that it was "not the Labour party's place to rewrite a definition of antisemitism" and noted that the full IHRA definition had been accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and 124 local authorities.
On 17 July, a statement signed by 39 left-wing Jewish organisations in 15 countries, including six based in the UK, was released criticising the IHRA definition, declaring that it was "worded in such a way as to be easily adopted or considered by western governments to intentionally equate legitimate criticisms of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism, as a means to suppress the former" and that "this conflation undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law." The statement went on to urge governments, municipalities, universities and other institutions to reject the IHRA definition.
In a move which they described as unprecedented, three UK Jewish newspapers The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph all carried the same front page commentary in a joint editorial, claiming that a Labour government under Corbyn's leadership would prove an "existential threat to Jewish life" in the UK and "Had the full IHRA definition with examples relating to Israel been approved, hundreds, if not thousands of Labour and Momentum member would need to be expelled." A spokesman for Labour said a Labour government posed "no threat of any kind whatsoever to Jewish people". The joint editorial was condemned by three Jewish groups, namely the Independent Jewish Voices, the Jewish Socialists Group and Jewish Voice for Peace, with the Jewish Socialists Group describing the editorial as "concocted hysteria". In an interview with The Canary on 6 August, the Foreign Editor of Jewish News Stephen Oryszczuk described his newspaper's coverage of antisemitism in the Labour Party as "repulsive" and in reference to Jeremy Corbyn said "This is a dedicated anti-racist we're trashing." Following his comments he was understood to have taken personal leave from the newspaper. An open letter to The Independent on 17 August signed by 84 Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, expressed concerns about the adoption of the IHRA definition stating the view that it would suppress free discussion of the Palestinians' "dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established" and "silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination."
In September 2018, all the 11 examples of the IHRA working definition were accepted by Labour NEC, alongside a clarification by Jeremy Corbyn that the definition and its examples will not silence criticism on the actions of the Israeli government or speaking out in favour of Palestinian rights.
Later in the month, a report by the Media Reform Coalition examined over 250 articles and broadcast news segments of coverage of Labour's revised code of conduct on antisemitism, and found over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting. Regarding the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, the research found evidence of "overwhelming source imbalance" in which critics of Labour's code of conduct dominated coverage which failed to include quotes from those defending the code, critiquing the IHRA definition and key contextual facts about the IHRA definition. The researchers concluded these were "systematic reporting failures" to weaken the Labour leadership and to strengthen its opponents.
Jeremy Corbyn's responses
In March 2018, during an interview with Jewish News, in response to claims that he may be seen as antisemitic, Corbyn stated, "I'm not an anti-Semite in any form" and that he challenges "anti-Semitism whenever it arises and no anti-Semitic remarks are done in my name or would ever be done in my name". In August, he told The Guardian that he acknowledged there were antisemitism was a "problem that Labour is working to overcome", acknowledged that some criticism of Israel may stray into antisemitism at times but denied that all forms of anti-Zionism were inherently racist, and pledged to "root out antisemitism" within the party, which he described as a "poison".
In September, at the Labour Conference, Corbyn said he wants Labour and the Jewish community to "work together and draw a line" under antisemitism. He went on to attack the record of the Conservative Party for accusing Labour of "anti-Semitism one day, then endorse Viktor Orban's hard-right government the next day."
Resignation of Frank Field
On 30 August 2018, prominent backbencher MP and former Minister Frank Field resigned the Labour whip over "excuses for the party’s toleration of antisemitism". He retained his party membership, announcing that he would sit as an "independent Labour MP". It was suggested by Owen Jones that he resignation had little to do with antisemitism, and Andrew Grice (in The Independent) and others have suggested that Field left before he was deselected by his local party, as he had lost a vote of confidence in his constituency over his support for Theresa May's Brexit plans in a recent parliamentary vote.
Labour movement activists
In September 2017, general secretary of Unite the Union, Len McCluskey said that the antisemitism row was nothing more than an attempt to undermine Corbyn by his political opponents saying "No, I've never recognised that. I believe it was mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn". He stated that in 47 years as a Labour member he had never heard any antisemitic language at any meeting he had attended, adding "Unfortunately at the time there were lots of people playing games, everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership had become misogynist, had become racist, had become anti-Semitic and it was wrong."
In December 2017, Momentum founder Jon Lansman said that he believed that antisemitism in the Conservative Party is as widespread as in the Labour party. According to Lansman, antisemitism in Labour falls into three categories: petty xenophobic remarks, of which he "[doesn't] think there's much" the Labour party; old-school blood libel type antisemitism, which, according to Lansman is "extremely rare"; and, then, there's the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, whereby, Lansman says, "we all understand that when that conflict heats up, it results in dreadful antisemitism. It shouldn't result in that, but it does."
Jewish activists and organisations
In August 2015, dozens of prominent Jewish activists signed an open letter criticising The Jewish Chronicle for what they viewed as the newspaper's "character assassination" of Corbyn. They wrote: "Your assertion that your attack on Jeremy Corbyn is supported by 'the vast majority of British Jews' is without foundation. We do not accept that you speak on behalf of progressive Jews in this country. You speak only for Jews who support Israel, right or wrong." They continued, "There is something deeply unpleasant and dishonest about your McCarthyite guilt by association technique. Jeremy Corbyn's parliamentary record over 32 years has consistently opposed all racism including antisemitism." Signatories to the letter included Laurence Dreyfus, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Ilan Pappé, Michael Rosen and Avi Shlaim.
A number of left-wing Jewish groups have disputed the antisemitism claims. These include Jewish Voice for Labour, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Socialists' Group, Jewdas and Independent Jewish Voices; all of whom have said that accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party have a twofold purpose: firstly to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel in order to deter such criticism and secondly to undermine the Labour leadership since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.
In April 2016, Richard Kuper, spokesperson for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, expressed the view that while "there is some antisemitism in and around the Labour party – as there is in the wider society in Britain" and "there is clearly also a coordinated, willed and malign campaign to exaggerate the nature and extent of antisemitism as a stick to beat the Labour party" under Corbyn. In the same month, Ian Saville, a Jewish Socialists' Group and Labour Party member, said he is "disturbed" by the way antisemitism has "been taken up as a proxy with which to attack the left in the Labour Party."
In April 2016, the Jewish Socialists' Group released a statement which expressed the view that antisemitism accusations were being "weaponized" in order to "attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a "problem" of antisemitism". It continued to say "A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism." The statement summarised "The Jewish Socialists' Group sees the current fearmongering about antisemitism in the Labour Party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents."
Later in the month, 82 "Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party and of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership" wrote an open letter to The Guardian stating that they "do not accept that antisemitism is 'rife' in the Labour party" and that "these accusations are part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week." The Jewish members and supporters included Miriam David, Ivor Dembina, Professor Stephen Deutsch, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Stephen Marks, Charles Shaar Murray, Ian Saville and Lynne Segal.
In December 2017, Jewdas suggested that allegations of antisemitism within Labour are a political plot aimed at discrediting the party and called the recent reaction to allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party a "bout of faux-outrage is greased with hypocrisy and opportunism" saying it was "the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party."
In March 2018, Joseph Finlay, the former Deputy Editor of Jewish Quarterly magazine and co-founder of a number of grassroots Jewish organisations, wrote a post in the Jewish News defending Corbyn, describing him as "one of the leading anti-racists in parliament" he went on to state; "Antisemitism is always beyond the pale. Labour, now a party of over half a million members, has a small minority of antisemites in its ranks, and it suspends then whenever it discovers them. I expect nothing less from an anti-racist party and an anti-racist leader." He continued, "There are many threats to Jews – and we are right to be vigilant. These threats come primarily from resurgent nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and a Brexit narrative that seeks to restore Britain to a mythical age of ethnic purity. The idea that Britain's leading anti-racist politician is the key problem the Jewish community faces is an absurdity, a distraction, and a massive error."
In April 2018, Jenny Manson, Chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, in reference to the survey conducted by Campaign Against Antisemitism said: "Evidence including very recent evidence commissioned by a Jewish body suggests the very worst antisemitism is still on the right, on the far right and always has been."
In May 2018, the Palestinian-Israeli Socialist Struggle Movement issued a statement on the issues of antisemitism and Jeremy Corbyn stating that they "view Corbyn as a strong opponent of antisemitism and see the attacks being made on him for what they are: attempts to discredit a left-wing politician who has put forward a manifesto seen by capitalists as too radical in favour of working class interests... The smear campaign against Corbyn is a dangerous attempt to sabotage the struggle for left and socialist solutions..."
In September 2018, an open letter was signed by 29 rabbis from London Haredi communities stating that they were "shocked to learn about those that are claiming in the media that the Jews of Britain are outraged towards the Labour Party’s respected leader, Jeremy Corbyn." and went on to state that they had "no connection whatsoever" with what they described as "these irresponsible remarks". The letter was reproduced by a Twitter account calling itself "True Torah Jews" which is linked to the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic group. The authenticity of the signatories was initially dismissed as fake by the Jewish Community Council of North London, but they later backed down. However, the two activists who took responsibility for the letter, Shraga Stern and Naftoli Friedman, said it is genuine and claimed to have gained an extra five signatures since the letter was published, taking the total to 34.
In May 2016, Israeli historian and Oxford University Professor of International Relations Avi Shlaim argued that "charges of Jew-hatred are being deliberately manipulated to serve a pro-Zionist agenda." In the same month, Norman Finkelstein said: "The only plausible answer is, it's political. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the factual situation; instead, a few suspect cases of antisemitism – some real, some contrived – are being exploited for an ulterior political motive. As one senior Labour MP said the other day, it's transparently a smear campaign." In January 2017, John Newsinger, professor of history at Bath Spa University, wrote: "There has been a sustained attempt made to discredit the Corbynites by alleging that they are somehow responsible for the Labour Party having a serious problem with anti-Semitism, that the Labour left and the left outside the Labour Party is, in fact, anti-Semitic... There are two points worth making here: first that the allegations are politically motivated smears, perpetrated by people completely without shame, and second that they do considerable damage to the real fight against anti-Semitism." Also in 2017, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky said: "I wholeheartedly support the right of anyone to criticise Israel without being branded antisemitic. That goes in particular for Jackie Walker."
In April 2018, 42 senior academics wrote an open letter to The Guardian condemning what they viewed as an anti-Corbyn bias in media coverage of the antisemitism debate, they suggested that "Dominant sections of the media have framed the story in such a way as to suggest that antisemitism is a problem mostly to do with Labour and that Corbyn is personally responsible for failing to deal with it. The coverage has relied on a handful of sources such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and well-known political opponents of Corbyn himself." They continued: "It is not 'whataboutery' to suggest that the debate on antisemitism has been framed in such a way as to mystify the real sources of anti-Jewish bigotry and instead to weaponise it against a single political figure just ahead of important elections. We condemn antisemitism wherever it exists. We also condemn journalism that so blatantly lacks context, perspective and a meaningful range of voices in its determination to condemn Jeremy Corbyn." The academics included Lynne Segal, Annabelle Sreberny, Beverley Skeggs, Gary Hall, Neve Gordon, Margaret Gallagher, Maria Chatzichristodoulou, Jill Daniels and Ruth Catlow. Jane Dipple, one of the signatories to the letter, was investigated for sharing antisemitic posts on social media.
Later in the same month, Israeli historian and socialist activist Ilan Pappé stated that "Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and the Labour Party, until his election, was a pro-Israeli bastion..." and "there is anti-Semitism among all British parties – and much more on the right than on the left." He continued: "It is not the Labour Party that is infested with anti-Semitism; it is the British media and political systems that are plagued by hypocrisy, paralysed by intimidation and ridden with hidden layers of Islamophobia and new chauvinism in the wake of Brexit."
In May 2018, Stephen Sedley, a former Court of Appeal judge dismissed the charge that the Labour Party is "institutionally" or "culturally" antisemitic. He wrote that "an undeclared war is going on inside the party, with pro-Israeli groups such as the Jewish Labour Movement seeking to drive out pro-Palestinian groups like the Jewish Voice for Labour by stigmatising them, and Corbyn with them, as anti-Semitic." He believes that outside bodies like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council – "neither noted for balanced criticism of Israel" – weigh in, aided by "generous media coverage". In July 2018, philosopher and scholar of antisemitism Brian Klug wrote: "It's paradoxical if, at the moment Labour wakes up to the necessity of combating antisemitism in its ranks, it is shouted down because of its failure to deal with it in the past." In August 2018, Lorna Finlayson, a lecturer in political philosophy at the University of Essex stated that "No one has yet produced any evidence either that antisemitism is more prevalent in the Labour Party than elsewhere in British society (within the Conservative Party, for instance), or that its incidence within Labour has increased since Corbyn became leader."
In July 2018, writer and scholar of antisemitism Antony Lerman wrote: "It's hard to believe, after the battering Labour has experienced over the issue of antisemitism in the party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader and the fact nothing the party has done has succeeded in fully placating its critics, that officials expected anything approximating universal approbation. But the new code had barely seen the light of day before it was being condemned in the harshest terms by all and sundry..." In September, he noted "...The default mode of almost all the mainstream media is to take as given that the party is institutionally antisemitic" and "the ever wilder doubling-down on painting Corbyn an antisemite and the increasingly desperate attempts to oust him from the leadership using hatred of Jews as a weapon with which to achieve this."
In August 2018, Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy called Corbyn "a paragon of a leftist, one who has fought his whole life for the values he believes in." He added: "Leave the incitement campaign against Corbyn and wish him luck: He's a man of conscience, and I hope he'll be Britain's prime minister. It could be good for Israel as well." In the same month, American scholars Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein went public calling the campaign attacking Corbyn and the Labour Party over the issue of antisemitism not only 'insane' and 'hysteria' but one led by powerful interests, with Chomsky arguing that the aim is to undermine Corbyn's attempt to create a political party responsive to the electorate, and Finkelstein asserting that, given the lack of evidence, the campaign was a calculated hoax.
In the same month, writer Richard Seymour wrote: "...allegations that Labour is institutionally antisemitic, or that Corbyn himself is a racist, cut against, rather than with, the grain of what people already suspect to be true. Those who dislike Corbyn overwhelmingly think he's a politically correct peacenik, not a Jew-hater."
In April 2016, independent researcher Jamie Stern-Weiner's review of the cases of antisemitism suggests, even some of these examples were tendentiously represented in the national media, so that in some cases at worst crude or tone-deaf comments about "Zionists" were treated as equivalent to antisemitic conspiracy theory and Holocaust denial. As of May 2016, just 0.4% of the parliamentary party, 0.07% of the councillors, and 0.012% of the membership had been suspended for antisemitism, which was a total of 56 just people.
In October 2018, Goldsmiths, University of London-owned Media Reform Coalition published a report on the coverage of revised Labour's code of conduct on antisemitism examining "over 250 articles and broadcast news segments." It reportedly found "over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting." In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the research found evidence of "overwhelming source imbalance" in which critics of Labour's code of conduct dominated coverage, failed to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition and excluded "contextual facts about the IHRA definition." A group of people, including Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach, and Brian Eno wrote to The Guardian protesting against the newspaper's reporting on the issue.
Campaign Against Antisemitism
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) commissioned the polling firm YouGov to carry out a survey into the British population's attitudes towards Jews. The 2017 survey found that supporters of the Labour Party were less likely to hold antisemitic views than supporters of the Conservative Party or the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and supporters of the Liberal Democrats were the least likely to hold antisemitic views. 32% of Labour supporters endorsed at least one antisemitic attitude, compared to 30% of Liberal Democrat supporters, 39% of UKIP supporters, and 40% of Conservative supporters. Further analysis by the blog Evolve Politics of the survey data revealed that among Labour Party supporters, the level of antisemitic prejudice had declined between 2015 and 2017.
CAA also commissioned a poll of 1,864 British Jewish adults in 2017. A majority believed that the Labour Party was too tolerant of antisemitism. Of those surveyed, 83% (in 2016 this was 87%) stated that racist sentiments were not adequately challenged by Labour members of parliament, party members, or supporters. CAA said of the poll "It is important to note that there is no evidence that parties' supporters favour a soft approach to antisemitism. The failure to deal robustly with antisemitism is more likely to be a result of a failure to recognize and understand the many guises of modern antisemitism", and followed increasing criticism of Corbyn's attempts to fight anti-Jewish sentiment within the party.
YouGov have surveyed Labour Party members for The Times . In May 2016, a poll found 5% of Labour members thought that antisemitism is a bigger problem in Labour than in other parties and 47% agreed that it was a problem, but "no worse than in other parties." In March 2018, a poll showed 77% of Labour members believed the charges of antisemitism to be deliberately exaggerated to undermine the leader or stop criticism of Israel and 19% said it was a serious issue.
Jewish Chronicle polls
A poll by The Jewish Chronicle prior to the 2017 election found that just 13% of Jews intended to vote for Labour, and that when asked to rank the degree of "antisemitism among the political party's members and elected representatives" between 1 (low) to 5 (high), Jews ranked Labour at 3.94, compared with 3.64 for UKIP, 2.7 for Liberal Democrates, and 1.96 for Conservatives. A 2018 Jewish Chronicle poll found that more than 85% of British Jews think that Corbyn is antisemitic and that there are high levels of antisemitism in Labour.
According to polling by Populus, during August 2018 the wider British public did not pay much attention to the controversy over antisemitism in the Labour Party, despite it receiving prominent news coverage. According to polling by the firm, no more than 5% of the public rated it as the news story they had noticed the most.
In September 2018, a Survation survey found that 85.9% of British Jews considered Jeremy Corbyn antisemitic, and 85.6% considered the Labour party to have "high" or "very high" levels of antisemitism within the party's members and elected representatives. This compares to 1.7% and 6.1% for Theresa May and the Conservative party respectively. This was an increase from 69% who considered the party to have "high" or "very high" levels of antisemitism in 2017.
Institute for Jewish Policy Research
A major study into contemporary antisemitism in Britain was published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in September 2017. The study found that those on the political left were no more likely than average to hold antisemitic attitudes, but were more likely than average to hold anti-Israel attitudes, especially those on the far-left.
When discussing the link between political views and antisemitism, the study found that "Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the 'slightly left-of-centre,' the 'fairly left-wing' and the 'very left-wing' – exhibit higher levels of anti Israelism than average."
It continued: "However, in relation to anti-Israel attitudes, the very left-wing lead: 78% (75–82%) in this group endorse at least one anti-Israel attitude, in contrast to 56% in the general population, and 23% (19–26%) hold 6–9 attitudes, in contrast to 9% in the general population. Elevated levels of anti-Israel attitudes are also observed in other groups on the political left: the fairly left-wing and those slightly left-of-centre. The lowest level of anti-Israel attitudes is observed in the political centre and among those who are slightly right-of-centre or fairly right-wing." The report however found that "....anti-Israel attitudes are not, as a general rule, antisemitic; but the stronger a person's anti-Israel views, the more likely they are to hold antisemitic attitudes. A majority of those who hold anti-Israel attitudes do not espouse any antisemitic attitudes, but a significant minority of those who hold anti-Israel attitudes hold them alongside antisemitic attitudes. Therefore, antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes exist both separately and together."
The study stated that in "surveys of attitudes towards ethnic and religious minorities... The most consistently found pattern across different surveys is heightened animosity towards Jews on the political right..." and that "The political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears in these surveys as a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population."
- Antisemitism in the United Kingdom
- Racism in the UK Conservative Party
- Islamophobia in the UK Conservative Party
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