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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 elected as leader in September 2015. After comments by Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone in 2016 resulted in their suspension from membership, Corbyn established the Chakrabarti Inquiry, which found that although Labour was not "overrun by anti-Semitism or other forms of racism", there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" and "clear evidence of ignorant attitudes."[1][2] The Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom in the same year and 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", but that the leadership's lack of action "risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic".[3]

In 2017, the party rules were changed to make the expression of hate speech a disciplinary matter. In 2018, Corbyn was challenged for querying in 2012 the removal of Freedom for Humanity, an allegedly antisemitic mural, in response to a Facebook post from the artist,[4][5] and for being a member in the past of, mainly pro-Palestinian, Facebook groups containing antisemitic posts. In July of that year, Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted a code of conduct that defined antisemitism for disciplinary purposes, which included the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition with modified examples relating to Israel.[6][7][8][9] In September of that year, the NEC added all 11 IHRA examples, unamended, to the definition of antisemitism, and included them in the Party's code of conduct.[10]

In February 2019, Labour issued information on the staffing for, and results of, investigations into complaints of antisemitism against individuals over the previous nine months, with around 250 members resigning, being expelled or receiving formal warnings. A week later, nine Labour MPs resigned from the Labour Party, most of whom then founded The Independent Group, citing the leadership's handling of allegations of antisemitism and of Brexit.[11][12][13]

The Jewish-Labour relationship

Historic

British Jews had coped with the increase in the Victorian era of antisemitic tendencies either by muting their distinctiveness or by emphasising their Englishness.[14] From 1880 to 1921, Britain's Anglo-Jewish community grew from 80,000 to 317,000 due to immigration from Eastern Europe and the high birth rate of the arriving population,[15][a] The figure rose to 450,000 in the following three decades, due to natural growth and the influx of refugees from fascism.[15] Though contemporary Britain ranks as one of the least antisemitic societies in the world,[b][c] antisemitism had been common throughout British society generally, and this was reflected in political parties, from Liberals to the Labour movement.[19] In the early 20th century, antisemitic conspiracy theories were promoted by figures of the anti-war Labour left during the Second Boer War, with Labour leader Keir Hardie asserting that Jews were part of a secretive "imperialist" cabal that promoted war.[20] 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".[21] John Burns, a Liberal Party socialist, speaking in the House of Commons in 1900, asserted that the British Army itself had become "a janissary of the Jews".[22] In 2019, historian and University of Buckingham Professor of Politics Geoffrey Alderman wrote in the Jewish Telegraph questioning "...hasn't anti-Jewish racism existed in the party since its creation, over a century ago? In the late 19th century, wasn't the trade-union movement... positively riddled with such prejudice."[23]

British Jews have traditionally supported the labour movement and party. The Jewish Labour Movement, the UK arm of Poale Zion, affiliated with the party in 1920.[d] Many prominent Labour leaders were sympathetic to the cause of Zionism, finding an affinity with the goals of labour Zionism, but were initially reluctant to press for parliamentary support for it regarding such matters as obstacles to Jewish immigration to Palestine, given the party's commitment to an anti-imperialistic policy. But in 1920 they gave unqualified support to both the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine.[25] The basic principles that evolved stressed (a) gradual growth of a Jewish homeland through selective immigration; (b) the formation of a binational society and (c) criticism of Zionism's separatist agenda.[26]

Postwar era

Ernest Bevin, who presided as Britain's Secretary of State during the period leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel, made many harsh remarks about terrorist aspects of Zionism and what he considered to be Jewish unwillingness to reach a compromise with Palestinians, and displayed a sympathy for the Arab cause. His remarks were often considered antisemitic, though evidence that these affected his political decisions regarding the Middle East is lacking.[27][e] Post World War Two support continued, in the expectancy that the Labour Zionist strand in Jewish state-building would lead to socialism and development in the Middle East generally. By the 1980s, with the election of Menachem Begin's Likud party, the emergence of messianic nationalism, neo-liberal economic reforms, the occupation of the West Bank and of the Gaza Strip, and the decline of the Israeli Labor Party, socialist goals were in decline in Israel. These factors coincided with a critical turn in English Labour views on Israel, and a concomitant sympathy for Palestinian aspirations for statehood.[29]

In the same decade, 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[30] Labour and Conservatives, which remained the case in 2010[31] when Labour appointed its first Jewish leader, Ed Miliband. He was elected after narrowly beating the runner up, his brother David 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".[32][f] Subsequently, Jewish support for Labour fell to an estimated 15% in the May 2015 general election (compared to 64% for the Conservatives).[34] After Miliband was defeated, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader. Unlike Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both patrons of the Jewish National Fund, Corbyn is a patron of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.[35] He had extensively campaigned for Palestinian rights[36] and came under sustained accusations of antisemitism. During the 2017 snap general election, held under his leadership, it is estimated that 26% of Jews voted for Labour.[37]

Labour views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and antisemitism

The origins of leftist antisemitism are contested.[g] Antisemitic attitudes are said to have been rare in the Labour Party in the 1980s.[39][40] In his 2012 book The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce, Manchester University's Paul Kelemen found no evidence suggesting that antisemitism played any role in the left's changing perceptions of the Israeli Palestinian conflict in that period.[41] He ascribed the shift to Israel's increasingly right-leaning politics and opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.[42] Dave Rich argued in his 2016 book The Left's Jewish Problem, that what he considers to be new antisemitism in the Labour Party had its origins in the early 1970s among Young Liberal British political activists concerned with the fate of Palestine.[43] Aberystwyth University's James R. Vaughn has maintained that the rise of anti-Zionism in the Labour Party has deeper roots going back to the creation of the Labour Middle East Council in 1969 by Christopher Mayhew as laying a foundation of radical anti-Zionism.[44][h] According to Rich, Mayhew founded the council in order to change the "pro-Israel" position of the Labour Party.[46]

Richard Seymour wrote in 2018 that "Palestinian rights have been a growing concern in the British Left since the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre"[47] when "the British trade union movement and the Labour Party began to break with Israel in response".[48] 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 British Anti-Zionist Organization (BAZO) activist Tony Greenstein.[49] 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.[50]

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.[51] 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.[51] 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.[52] He also found that anti-Israeli positions did not correlate generally with antisemitism, since the majority of those surveyed who were critical of Israel did not espouse an antisemitic attitude.[i] and that antisemitism on the left was no higher than that of the general population.[j]

Mark Seddon and Francis Beckett conclude that "(t)he debate has become toxic. It's all abuse and bullying and point-scoring. It long ago ceased to concentrate on protection of British Jews on one hand, and the creation of a better and more equal society in Britain on the other."[55] For Matt Seaton the controversy over Labour's attitudes to Jews and antisemitism is a proxy fight whose real conflict is one of a battle for the soul of the party waged between social democrats and traditional anti-imperialist socialists.[18]

2000–2015

Allegations of undue influence

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, stating that six of seven hawkish advisers to President George Bush were Jewish, close to Ariel Sharon's Likud and singling out Michael Levy, fundraiser for Tony Blair and his Middle East envoy. Eric Moonman stated he didn't think Dalyell, a close associate of Richard Crossman, antisemitic, but that his language could be taken as supportive of that outlook.[56][k]

In 2010,[l] Labour MP Martin Linton said, in reference to the Israel lobby, "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," while his Jewish fellow Labour MP Gerald Kaufman claimed right-wing Jewish millionaires had large stakes in the Conservative Party.[m] Responding to Linton's claim, 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."[56][58]

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".[59]

Posters

In the run-up to the 2005 United Kingdom general election, the Labour Party, under Tony Blair, tested a poster, designed by Trevor Beattie,[60] with party members. The poster depicted the faces of Conservative Party leader Michael Howard[n] and Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin, who are Jewish, superimposed upon the bodies of flying pigs. The slogan used on the poster was "The Day Tory Sums Add Up" and the image was an illustration of the adynaton, when pigs fly, traditionally used to imply that the object of the comment will never happen.[62][63][o] A second poster was of Michael Howard swinging a pocket watch on a chain with the slogan "I can spend the same money twice!" in a pose suggestive of stage hypnosis, where the subject is persuaded to accept false suggestions as true. Conservative backbencher Ann Widdecombe had suggested Howard, whose father was born in Romania, had an image problem as leader of the 2005 Tory campaign in that he had 'something of the night about him'. Labour strategists leapt at this by then depicting Howard as a Dracula figure swinging a hypnotic watch.[65] The pose was said by The Jewish Chronicle to be reminiscent of Shakespeare's Jewish, criminal, characters, the moneylender, Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice and the master pickpocket, Fagin, from Oliver Twist.[66] The posters prompted protests from Jewish groups but Labour denied any antisemitic intent. The posters were not used and the Board of Deputies of British Jews declined to raise the issue.[60]

Deir Yassin Remembered

Jeremy Corbyn and Jewish Labour MP Gerald Kaufman[67] have attended events of "Deir Yassin Remembered" (the massacre of over 100 Palestinian villagers in 1948), founded by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.[68][69] [70][71] 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.[72] It was reported that his views were known in 2005 and that he had written an article in 2008 entitled "My life as a Holocaust denier".[73][74][75]

Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader

On 14 August 2015, as Jeremy Corbyn emerged as a front-runner in the Labour Party leadership election, The Jewish Chronicle devoted its "front page to seven questions regarding Corbyn's record on antisemitism",[76] including 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);[77] and his failure to object to 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.[78]

Labour MP Diane Abbott defended Corbyn by calling his critics part of a "Westminster elite" afraid of Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda.[79] 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.[80]

2016

Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone

In April 2016, it was revealed that Labour MP Naz Shah had, during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, shared a graphic of Israel superimposed on the U.S. with the caption "Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict – relocate Israel into United States", adding the comment, "problem solved". Ken Livingstone defended Shah and said he had never heard anyone in the Labour Party say anything antisemitic. He 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."[81] Both were suspended pending investigation. After agreeing to apologise for bringing the party into disrepute and to engage with the Jewish community, Shah was reinstated.[82][83] In May 2016, American political scientist Norman Finkelstein (whose graphic was shared by Shah) described the controversy as "obscene". Referring to those on the right of the Labour Party allegedly using the scandal to undermine 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?"[84] After being suspended for a year, Livingstone was suspended from standing for office or representing the party at any level for a further year after a hearing in April 2017 by the National Constitutional Committee, for breaching a rule relating to prejudicial and detrimental conduct.[85] In May 2018, he resigned from the party, saying the issues surrounding his suspension had become a distraction.[86] 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."[87] In the wake of the furore, the Labour Party suspended 56 members for statements alleged to be antisemitic, pending investigation. They comprised: 0.4% of the parliamentary group, 0.07% of Labour councillors, and 0.012% of the Party membership.[88][89]

Inquiries

Following the suspensions, Corbyn commissioned an inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in April 2016, led by Shami Chakrabarti, a barrister and the former head of the human rights advocacy group Liberty. She joined the Labour Party when appointed to, she said, show that she had members' interests and values at heart.[90] The inquiry had two deputy chairs: Jan Royall, who was also investigating allegations of antisemitism at Oxford University Labour Club, and David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. In 2007, Feldman was a signatory to Independent Jewish Voices, which in May 2016 described some allegations of antisemitism within Labour as "baseless and disingenuous", and Chakrabarti said he distanced himself from this comment.[90]

In June, the inquiry reported that it had found "no evidence" of systemic antisemitism in Labour, though there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere", and made 20 recommendations, including outlawing offensive terms and improving disciplinary procedures.[48] Responses comprised both acceptance and criticism. Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: "It's a strong platform for the party to ... set a gold standard in tackling racism and anti-Semitism." John Mann MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism, called it "hugely significant". The Jewish Leadership Council and Community Security Trust jointly welcomed aspects of it.[91] The Board of Deputies of British Jews said: "We hope that the implementation of this report will be rigorous and swift."[92] Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also called for a "full and unhesitating implementation of the report's findings".[93]

Chakrabarti was Labour's sole nomination to the House of Lords in David Cameron's August 2016 Resignation Honours. She became a peer in September and the following month was appointed Shadow Attorney General. Commentators were immediately more critical, with the report being described as a "whitewash for peerage scandal" by the Board of Deputies of British Jews[94][95][96] while British author Howard Jacobson called the 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",[97] and suggested that the peerage was showing contempt for those who had raised issues over antisemitism in the party.[98]

In April 2018, Chakrabarti accepted that some recommendations had not been implemented and said that the new Labour Party General Secretary, Jennie Formby, would make this a priority.[99]

Following allegations of antisemitism within the Oxford University Labour Club, an inquiry was launched by Labour Students, chaired by Jan Royall.[100] The party's National Executive Committee accepted the report in May 2016. 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, there was also "no evidence the club is itself institutionally anti-Semitic".[101]

In October, the all-party House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee held an inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom.[3] 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 party." However, it was critical of Corbyn's response to antisemitic incidents against Labour MPs and described the Chakrabarti inquiry as "ultimately compromised".[3] 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".[102]

Jackie Walker

In May 2016, the vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, who describes herself as of being mixed Jewish and African descent and whose mother was Jamaican, was investigated by the party over private comments she made on Facebook exaggerating the role of Jews in the Atlantic slave trade. No further action was taken following the investigation.[103] Jon Lansman, the chair of Momentum, defended her against these claims, describing the media campaigning against Walker as "a 'lynch mob' whose interest in combating racism is highly selective".[104]

Following the September 2016 Labour Party conference, when Walker asking in a training session why Holocaust Memorial Day did not include pre 1940 genocides such as the Atlantic slave trade, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA union, said their funding of Momentum would be reconsidered if Walker failed to be removed from her position.[105] On 3 October 2016, the organisation's steering committee decided she should cease being vice-chair, but would remain a member of the committee.[106] Lansman now wrote that they considered Walker's comments about Holocaust Memorial Day "to be ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive" but not antisemitic.[104] Walker was also told that she would be the subject of a further investigation by the party and was consequently suspended from party membership.[107] Walker said that she "utterly condemn[s] antisemitism", that her words were taken out of context and 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."[108] She was expelled from the party for misconduct in March 2019.[109]

Alleged accommodation to Muslims

In May 2016, Baroness Ruth 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".[110] In the same month, 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".[111]

2017

General election

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 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.[112][113]

The significance of the Jewish vote was argued to have manifested in the "Bagel belt", consisting of four seats in north-west London with a dense Jewish population: Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Chipping Barnet and Harrow East.[114][115][116] Early predictions held that they would see upset victories for Labour,[117] but the Labour "surge" was weaker in them than elsewhere, and Labour failed to capture them.[117][115] 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."[118] 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 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, below the 9.8 point average increase.[119]

Annual Conference

During the 2017 Labour Party Conference, new rules proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement and supported by Jeremy Corbyn were adopted on hate speech. Previously, party members could not be disciplined for “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions”. Under the new rules, those who express antisemitic or other forms of hate speech, including racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia, or other "conduct prejudicial to the Party", can be disciplined.[120]

Critical letter

In November 2017, British authors Howard Jacobson, Simon Schama, and Simon Sebag Montefiore in a letter to The Times, said "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".[121][122]

2018

Events from previous years

Talk by Hajo Meyer

In January 2010, during the UK's Holocaust Memorial week, 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", where Israel was compared to the Nazis.[123] Meyer said "Judaism in Israel has been substituted by the Holocaust religion, whose high priest is Elie Wiesel."[124] In August 2018, Louise Ellman MP told the BBC that she was "absolutely appalled" at Corbyn for chairing Meyer's talk.[125] When asked about his involvement with the meeting, Corbyn said 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. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused”.[123][124]

Renaming of Holocaust Memorial Day

In January 2011, a motion was submitted to rename Holocaust Memorial Day to "Genocide Memorial Day", supported by 23 MPs, mainly from the Labour Party and including 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".[126][127][128]

John A. Hobson foreword

In 2011, Corbyn wrote the foreword for a republication of the 1902 book Imperialism: A Study, by John A. Hobson, which contains the assertion that finance was controlled "by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience" who "are in a unique position to control the policy of nations". In his foreword, Corbyn called the book a "great tome" and "brilliant, and very controversial at the time". Corbyn was criticised for his words in 2019, after his foreword was reported by Conservative peer Daniel Finkelstein in The Times.[129][130][131] Corbyn responded that the language used to describe minorities in Hobson's work is "absolutely deplorable", but asserted that his foreword analysed "the process which led to the first world war" which he saw as the subject of the book and not Hobson's language.[131]

Hobson was also cited and praised by previous Labour leaders.[132] In 2005, Gordon Brown said in a Chatham House speech: "This idea of liberty as empowerment is not a new idea, JA Hobson asked, 'is a man free who has not equal opportunity with his fellows of such access to all material and moral means of personal development and work as shall contribute to his own welfare and that of his society?'"[133] Tony Blair described Hobson as "probably the most famous Liberal convert to what was then literally 'new Labour'."[134]

Response to mural

The 2012 Freedom for Humanity was a street mural painted in east London by American artist Mear One. The artwork depicted what Mear One described as an "elite banker cartel" of the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Morgans and others sitting around a Monopoly-style board game on the backs of men with dark complexions.[135][136] 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".[137] In response, Mear One denied that the mural was antisemitic; he said that the mural was about "class and privilege", and pointed out that the figures depicted included both "Jewish and white Anglos".[136][138] Mear One also said that: "Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are" (in reference to the Rothschild and Warburg banking families).[139][140] According to historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, as well as contemporary local media, the Jewish caricatures resembled the imagery used by Der Stürmer in Nazi Germany.[140]

Corbyn, who responded to a post from the artist lamenting the mural's removal and referencing freedom of expression, before it had been criticised in the media, asked "Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller(sic) destroyed Diego Viera's mural because it includes a picture of Lenin,"[141] referring to Nelson Rockefeller's destruction of Diego Rivera's Man at the Crossroads fresco in 1934.[137] In March 2018, Labour MP Luciana Berger set off a firestorm of controversy when she tweeted about the post, asking Corbyn why he had questioned the mural's removal.[142] 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".[143][142] Berger said the response was "wholly inadequate".[141] 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."[144][145] 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".[146] 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.[147]

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".[148] 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,[149] demanding that Corbyn does more to tackle anti-Jewish feeling in Labour Party ranks.[150] Jewish Voice for Labour organised a smaller counter-demonstration.[150] 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."[151] 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."[152] 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.[153]

Comments about certain Zionists

In a January 2013 meeting in Parliament, 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]".[154] Pro-Israel activists at the meeting then challenged Hassassian.[154] 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.[155] Corbyn went on to say that these "Zionists" had approached Hassassian and "berated him afterwards for what he had said",[155] 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".[156] His comments were accused by some of being coded antisemitism, including by Labour MPs Luciana Berger, Wes Streeting, Mike Gapes, Catherine McKinnell,[155][156] and political strategist John McTernan.[157] A number of Conservative MPs reported Corbyn to the parliamentary standards watchdog over the comments.[158] Historian Deborah Lipstadt, writing in The Atlantic, asserted that Corbyn had crossed the line from anti-Zionism to antisemitism.[159] However, Corbyn's remarks were defended by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who argued that the comments were "taken out of context".[156] 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".[155]

Membership of Facebook groups

In March 2018, it was reported that, in 2014, Corbyn and some of his staff had been members of three private Facebook groups, including "Palestine Live" and "History of Palestine", containing antisemitic posts. A spokesman said that Corbyn had been added to the first two groups by others, had little involvement in them, and had either left them already or left following the reports. The Labour Party stated that a full investigation would be undertaken and action taken against any member involved.[160][161][162][163][164][165][166][167]

Facebook groups

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 posts in Corbyn-supporting private Facebook groups, including frequent attacks on Jews and Holocaust denying material.[168][169] The 20 largest pro-Corbyn private 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.[170] Many of the posts criticised Labour MP Luciana Berger and Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.[171][169] 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 groups containing abusive posts.[172][173] Subsequently, Corbyn deleted his own personal Facebook account that he had set up before becoming Labour leader, although his official page remained.[174]

Christine Shawcroft resignation

In late March 2018, Christine Shawcroft, the recently appointed[175] head of the Labour Party's disputes panel resigned from the panel after it emerged she had opposed the suspension of Peterborough council candidate Alan Bull who in 2015 had shared an article to a closed facebook group which suggested that the Holocaust was a hoax, to "invite discussion and debate". "I'm not an anti-Semite, I am not a holocaust denier - I support equal rights for Palestinian people," Bull later said.[176][177] 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.[178] Subsequently, a group of 39 Labour politicians, both MPs and peers, in an open letter to Corbyn called on him to suspend her from Labour's National Executive Committee.[179] Two days later, on 1 April, she resigned from the committee.[180]

Jewdas Passover event

In April 2018, 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".[181][182] 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."[183] Corbyn was criticised by the Jewish Leadership Council for attending the event.[182][184] 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?"[185] A number of Labour MPs criticised his decision to attend.[186] Charlotte Nichols, Young Labours' women's officer and member of Jewdas, commended Corbyn for attending the event,[187] arguing that it was "absolutely right" for Corbyn to "engage with the community at all levels"[188] and that many of the event attendees "are absolutely part of the 'mainstream community'".[189]

Meeting with community leaders

In April 2018, following a meeting with Corbyn to discuss antisemitism in the Labour Party, the Jewish Leadership Council and the board of deputies said "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".[190][191] 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.[192]

Criticism by other Labour parties

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 of "my responsibility to acknowledge the hostility that you have shown to the Jewish community and the antisemitic statements and actions you have allowed".[193]

In September 2018, Femke van Zijst, spokesperson of the Labour Party of the Netherlands, declared that her party found "recent reports worrisome" about Corbyn and the growth of anti-semitism in the Labour Party of the United Kingdom.[194]

Working definition of antisemitism

Criticism of the working definition

In December 2016, Labour adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism.[10] In May 2017, Stephen Sedley said: "Anti-Semitism, where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech, is generally illegal. Criticism of Israel or of Zionism is protected by law. The IHRA working definition conflates the two by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic".[195] Labour formally adopted the definition at its September 2017 Conference. Jewish Voice for Labour's Jonathan Rosenhead described it as 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".[196][197] The organisation saw the change as an "anti-democratic restriction on political debate",[198] and offered their own definition.[199]

In July 2018, 39[200][201][202] left-wing Jewish organisations in 15 countries, including six in the UK, declared that the definition 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".[203][204] Writer and scholar of antisemitism Antony Lerman said "Jewish leaders claim exclusive rights to determine what is antisemitism, potentially putting Jewish sentiment above the law of the land. The fundamental principle that IHRA is so flawed it should be abandoned, not tinkered with. The answer to hate speech is more speech, not suppression of offensive views".[205][206]

Revised working definition

In July 2018, Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) adopted a new code of conduct defining antisemitism for disciplinary purposes, intended to make the process more efficient and transparent.[207] It included the IHRA definition, but amended or omitted four of the eleven examples, all relating to Israel,[208][209][6] and adding three others.[210][7] Two examples were described, not as antisemitic, but as wrong, "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", or to be resisted, “comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. The omitted examples were "the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor" and “Requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations”.[211][212]

Jennie Formby, the general secretary, said the code supplements the definition "with additional examples and guidance", creating "the most thorough and expansive Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism introduced by any political party in the UK".[213] NEC member Jon Lansman said "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."[214][207]

Criticism of revised definition

The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council said 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".[215] Margaret Hodge MP told Corbyn he was a "fucking anti-Semite and a racist."[216][217] Law lecturer Tom Frost said the code ignored the Macpherson Principle that "A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person."[218] On 16 July, over 60 British rabbis, including Harvey Belovski, Laura Janner-Klausner, Danny Rich and Jonathan Wittenberg said that Labour had "chosen to ignore the Jewish community", that it was "not the Labour party's place to rewrite a definition of antisemitism", and that the full definition had been accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and 124 local authorities.[219][220] Later in July, in an unprecedented move, three UK Jewish newspapers, The Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph, carried a joint editorial saying that a Corbyn government would be an "existential threat to Jewish life" in the UK[221][222] which according to David Patrikarakos, the most drastic step taken by the Anglo-Jewish community since Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews back into the country in the 1650s.[223] The former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in turn stated that Labour's antisemitism was causing British Jews to consider leaving the country.[224][225] Several Jewish groups, left-wing, religious minorities, and numerous public intellectuals have disputed the claims.[citation needed] The newspapers also stated that "Had the full IHRA definition with examples relating to Israel been approved, hundreds, if not thousands, of Labour and Momentum members would need to be expelled." A Labour spokesman said the party posed "no threat of any kind whatsoever to Jewish people".[226]

Defence of revised definition

Human rights solicitor Geoffrey Bindman said that "The new code of conduct on antisemitism seeks to establish that antisemitism cannot be used as a pretext for censorship without evidence of antisemitic intent in line with the view 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."[227] Geoffrey Robertson QC made a similar point.[228][229] Philosopher and scholar of antisemitism Brian Klug said "The IHRA code 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."[8][230]

Outcome and media review

In September 2018, all 11 examples were accepted by the NEC, while Jeremy Corbyn said that they would not prevent criticism of the Israeli government or advocating Palestinian rights.[10] Also in September 2018, the Media Reform Coalition examined over 250 articles and broadcast news segments covering the issue, and found over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting. The research found evidence of "overwhelming source imbalance", in which Labour's critics dominated coverage which failed to include those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition, and omitted contextual facts about the IHRA definition, concluding these were "systematic reporting failures" disadvantaging the Labour leadership.[231]

Other events

In August 2018, veteran backbencher MP and former Minister Frank Field resigned the Labour whip over a "culture...of nastiness". He retained his party membership, announcing that he would sit as an "independent Labour MP".[232] It was suggested by Owen Jones that the resignation had little to do with antisemitism,[233] and Andrew Grice (a columnist for 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.[234][235]

In November, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick announced that they had been passed details of allegations of antisemitic hate crimes by Labour Party members and had a duty to look into them.[236][237][238] In March 2019, three former members were arrested for allegedly "publishing or distributing material likely to stir up racial hatred". They had been previously subject to disciplinary action by the Labour Party.[239]

Jeremy Corbyn's responses

In March 2018, 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".[240] In the same month, Corbyn also said that he would not tolerate antisemitism "in and around" Labour. "We must stamp this out from our party and movement", he said. "We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused."[241]

In August, he said that antisemitism was a "problem that Labour is working to overcome". He said 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,[242][243] saying: "People who dish out anti-Semitic poison need to understand: You do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement."[244] In the same month, Corbyn said that the notion that he or Labour posed an "existential threat" was "overheated rhetoric", but agreed that factions of the Labour Party had issues with antisemitism and that there was work to be done for Labour to regain the trust of British Jews.[245][246]

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 Orbán's hard-right government the next day".[247]

In February 2019, Corbyn reiterated, "As leader ... I wish to set out my own commitment along with that of the wider shadow cabinet as the leaders of the Labour Party in parliament to root out antisemitism. I am determined we will defeat racism wherever we see it and I know that antisemitism is one of the oldest, nastiest and most persistent forms of racism."[248] A week later, he said in Parliament, “(Antisemitism has) no place whatsoever in any of our political parties, in our lives, in our society".[249]

2019

Internal processes

In April 2018, the Labour General Secretary, Jennie Formby, announced that a team of lawyers had been seconded to handle disciplinary cases and that a new post of inhouse general counsel had been advertised "to advise on disciplinary matters and improvements to our processes".[250]

In September 2018, the NEC approved a doubling of the size of the party's key disciplinary body, the National Constitutional Committee, in order to speed up the handling of antisemitism claims.[251]

In February 2019, Formby announced to Labour MPs that, of the complaints about antisemitism received by the party since April 2018, 400 related to individuals who were not party members. Of the remaining 673 complaints, there was insufficient evidence of a breach of party rules in 220 cases. The 453 complaints where there was sufficient evidence represented 0.08% of Labour's 540,000 membership.[252][253] Some related to social media posts dating back a number of years. Investigations had resulted in 12 expulsions and 49 resignations from the party and 187 formal warnings, while some complaints received recently were still under investigation.[254] Some Labour MPs questioned the accuracy of the data.[255]

Formby noted that the Governance and Legal Unit had suffered during 2018 from a high level of staff sickness and departures, which was addressed in part by secondments. She also said that the unit was now back to full strength and that the size of the unit will be more than doubled.[256]

Later in the month, it was announced that Lord Falconer had been invited to examine Labour's processes in order to increase transparency about how antisemitism cases are considered.[257] Formby asked that a request by Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Tom Watson MP to Labour parliamentarians, asking that complaints about antisemitism be copied to him for monitoring, be disregarded on the grounds that this would disrupt the official process and be in breach of data protection law.[258]

In March, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said it was considering launching a formal investigation into whether Labour Party's handling of antisemitism complies with equalities law and asked it to take action alongside them to improve its processes. This followed complaints the Commission had received from the Jewish Labour Movement and the Campaign Against Antisemitism.[259]

Later in the month, the Labour Party announced that staff and leading members would be enrolled on a course on antisemitism planned by Birkbeck, University of London.[260]

In May 2019, Labour NEC member Jon Lansman wrote that leaked emails "...suggest that former compliance unit officials from the Labour right may have delayed action on some of the most extreme and high-profile antisemitism cases, including Holocaust denial, allowing a backlog of cases to build up that would damage the party and Jeremy's leadership."[261]

Resignation of MPs

In February 2019, The Independent Group, a breakaway group of MPs, was formed by seven Labour MPs citing their dissatisfaction with the Labour leadership's approach to Brexit and to allegations of antisemitism in the party, they were joined by four more MPs, including three from the Conservative Party.[262] Two more Labour MPs resigned within days.[263][264][265] One of the original seven, Luciana Berger, said that Labour had become "sickeningly institutionally racist".[266][267] Two days later, Corbyn said in Parliament, in response, "(Antisemitism has) no place whatsoever in any of our political parties, in our lives, in our society".[268] Four of the MPs had recently lost votes of no-confidence brought by their constituency parties,[269][270] while two such motions against Berger had recently been withdrawn.[269]

Rebuttals

Labour movement activists

In September 2017, general secretary of Unite the Union, Len McCluskey said that the row "was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn".[271] He stated that he had never heard antisemitic language at a party meeting, 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."[271]

In December 2017, Momentum founder Jon Lansman categorised antisemitism in the Labour Party into three forms: petty xenophobic remarks, of which he "[doesn't] think there's much" in the Party; old-school blood libel type antisemitism, which, according to Lansman, is "extremely rare"; and 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".[272]

Jewish activists and organisations

Some left-wing Jewish groups have disputed the antisemitism claims. These include Jewish Voice for Labour,[273][274] Jews for Justice for Palestinians,[275] Jewish Socialists' Group,[276] Jewdas[277] and Independent Jewish Voices;[278] 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.[279][280][281]

In August 2015, dozens of prominent Jewish activists signed an open letter criticising The Jewish Chronicle for what they viewed as its "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.[282]

In April 2016, Richard Kuper, spokesperson for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, said that, while "there is some antisemitism in and around the Labour party – as there is in the wider society in Britain", "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.[283] In the same month, Ian Saville, a Jewish Socialists' Group and Labour Party member, said he was "disturbed" by the way antisemitism had "been used to attack the left in the Labour Party."[283][284]

In April 2016, the Jewish Socialists' Group said 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 added "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" The statement concluded "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".[285]

Later that 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."[286][287][288] The Jewish members and supporters included Miriam David, Ivor Dembina, Professor Stephen Deutsch, Selma James, Miriam Margolyes, Charles Shaar Murray, Ian Saville and Lynne Segal.[286][289][290]

In December 2017, Jewdas suggested that the allegations are aimed at discrediting the party[181] and called the reaction to them a "bout of faux-outrage 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".[291]

In March 2018, Joseph Finlay, the former deputy editor of Jewish Quarterly magazine and co-founder of several grassroots Jewish organisations, wrote in the Jewish News defending Corbyn, describing him as "one of the leading anti-racists in parliament", and that; "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. ... 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."[292]

In May 2018, the Palestinian-Israeli Socialist Struggle Movement said 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".[293]

In February 2019, over 200 Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party signed a letter published in The Guardian, calling the party under Corbyn an "a crucial ally in the fight against bigotry and reaction" and Corbyn's campaigning consistently in support for "initiatives against antisemitism". They also welcomed Labour's support for "freedom of expression on Israel and on the rights of Palestinians". They felt that the "disproportionate focus on antisemitism on the left, which is abhorrent but relatively rare." The Jewish members and supporters included Prof David Epstein, Mike Leigh, Prof Michael Rosen, Prof Avi Shlaim, Gillian Slovo, Prof Annabelle Sreberny, Walter Wolfgang, Peter Buckman, Erica Burman, Keith Burstein, Miriam David, Michael Ellman, Nick Foster, Susan Himmelweit, Selma James, Ann Jungman, Frank Land, Gillian McCall, Helen Pearson and Ian Saville.[294][295][296]

Academics and researchers

In April 2016, independent researcher Jamie Stern-Weiner's review of the cases of antisemitism found that some were represented in the media in a way that treated comments about "Zionists" as being the same as Holocaust denial and comments about antisemitic conspiracy theories.[48][297] 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."[48][298] 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."[299]

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."[300] 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."[301]

In April 2018, 42 senior academics wrote to The Guardian condemning anti-Corbyn bias in coverage of the debate and 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.[302]

Later that April, 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."[303] 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".[304]

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."[230] In October, he wrote: "It appears that two different objectives are being conflated by Jewish leadership: confronting antisemitism and toppling Corbyn."[305] 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."[306] 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."[307]

In October 2018, Goldsmiths, University of London-owned Media Reform Coalition published a report[308] on the coverage of the 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", which over-represented critics of Labour, failed to report on those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition and excluded "contextual facts about the IHRA definition." A group including Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach, and Brian Eno wrote to The Guardian protesting against the newspaper's reporting.[231] In November the report's main author Dr Justin Schlosberg, wrote an open letter to the Reader's Editor of The Guardian (whom the report had been critical of) criticizing the newspaper's lack of reporting or comment on the research, despite it being "endorsed by a wide range of experts as well as public figures." and having "sparked considerable debate on social media platforms and attracted significant attention from independent media outlets."[309]

In March 2019, Neve Gordon, Professor of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev wrote: "the real point of contention ... is not about whether the party should tolerate anti-Semitism, but about what anti-Semitism is."[310][311]

Journalists and authors

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 [of conduct] had barely seen the light of day before it was being condemned in the harshest terms by all and sundry..."[205] 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."[206]

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."[312] 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."[313] American scholars Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, in August 2018, called the criticism of Corbyn and Labour 'insane' and 'hysteria' and 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.[314] 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."[47] In February 2019, Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook noted that a Labour Party report by Jennie Formby providing numbers on Labour antisemitism cases "decisively undercut" the claims of Corbyn's critics "not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all".[253]

In April 2019, historian and University of Buckingham Professor of Politics Geoffrey Alderman wrote in the Jewish Telegraph that Jeremy Corbyn "has an impressive demonstrable record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives"[23] In May, he wrote in The Spectator that "I will agree that from time to time, as backbench MP and party leader, Corbyn has acted unwisely. But the grounds for labelling him an anti-Semite simply do not exist."[315]

Surveys and studies

General population

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) commissioned YouGov to survey British attitudes towards Jews.[316] The 2017 survey found that supporters of the Labour Party were less likely to hold antisemitic views than those of the Conservative Party or the UK Independence Party (UKIP), while those of the Liberal Democrats were the least likely to hold such views. 32% of Labour supporters endorsed at least one "antisemitic attitude", as defined by the CAA, compared to 30% for the Liberal Democrat, 39% for UKIP supporters, and 40% for the Conservatives.[316][317] Further analysis by the blog Evolve Politics of the survey data revealed that, among Labour Party supporters, antisemitism had declined between 2015 and 2017.[318]

A Populus poll during August 2018 found the wider British public did not pay much attention to the prominent news coverage over antisemitism in the Labour Party. No more than 5% rated it as the news story they had noticed most.[319]

A study into contemporary antisemitism in Britain by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in September 2017 study found that those on the political left were no more likely than average to hold antisemitic attitudes, but were more likely to hold anti-Israel attitudes, especially those on the far-left.[320] 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 went on, "The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population."[320] 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 such 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."[321] 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."[52]

British Jews

In 2017, Campaign Against Antisemitism commissioned a poll of 1,864 British Jewish adults.[322] 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 MPs, party members, or supporters.[323]

A poll by The Jewish Chronicle prior to the 2017 general 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.[324]

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.[325]

Labour Party members

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."[326] 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, while 19% said it was a serious issue.[327]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ This large expansion led to anxieties within the middle-class Jewish community that the influx of East European Jews, with their different culture, might have negative repercussions on their own status. As a result measures were adopted to limit their immigration and assist the departure of these new Jews onwards towards the United States[16]
  2. ^ 'levels of antisemitism in Great Britain are among the lowest in the world. British Jews constitute a religious and ethnic group that is seen overwhelmingly positively by an absolute majority of the British population: about 70% of the population of Great Britain have a favourable opinion of Jews and do not entertain any antisemitic ideas or views at all.'[17]
  3. ^ 'Corbyn aside, there is certainly anti-Semitism in Britain, but it remains predominantly a phenomenon of the traditional polite-snob anti-Semite—found more in England’s shires, suburbs, and golf clubs than on its metropolitan streets. One partial exception to this is the strong anti-Israel feeling, which sometimes shades recklessly into what certainly sounds like Jew-hate, among a minority of hotheaded British Muslims.'[18]
  4. ^ There was a division of labour between Poale Zion and Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the general Zionist movement, who lobbied in Britain for support for a Jewish state on the grounds that the latter would conform to the liberal capitalist model that would serve the interests of the British Empire: 'The British, he wrote in 1924, "have come to realize that they have very little to lean on for protection of the jugular vein of the British Empire, except a Palestine peacefully developed and economically and politically stable. They begin to realize that such a Palestine can only be brought into effect if Jewish enterprise is allowed free course in that country".'[24]
  5. ^ British officials of the Mandatory administration dealing with the conflicting demands of the Arab and Jewish communities were conscious of the potential international reverberation of their decisions particularly in the US and in Musli countries. They were inclined to see the Zionists as more troublesome, endlessly petitioning with new demands and calling the administration to account on the basis of the Mandate and the Balfour Declaration. If the Zionist movement's demand in Palestine was turned down at the first port of call its representatives were likely to raise the matter at a higher level, if necessary all the way up the chain of command to ministers in London. With antisemitism endemic among colonial officials, as among all sections of British society, they often expressed their resentment at attempts to outmanoeuvre them in racist terms. Yet, if this was an overtly hostile form of racism by comparison with the apparently more benign, paternalistic and version directed at the Arabs, British rule nonetheless maintained the political and economic framework that favoured Jewish nation-building at the expense of Arab interests.'[28]
  6. ^ 'For much of the Jewish community, Miliband was a blank sheet when he was elected Labour leader. This is not altogether surprising. His parents, wrote Miliband in 2012, ‘defined themselves not by their Jewishness but by their politics’ and they brought up their boys outside the community.'[33]
  7. ^ 'Our focus in this book is on the contested origins of left antisemitism.'[38]
  8. ^ Both Bevin and Mayhew (the latter later defected to the Liberal Party), had been subject to death threats by the Stern Gang in the 1940s.[45]
  9. ^ 'We have discovered that anti-Israel attitudes are not, as a general rule, antisemitic. This is to say that a significant proportion of those who hold anti-Israel attitudes, a majority in fact, do not espouse any antisemitic attitudes'[53]
  10. ^ '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. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is two to four times higher compared to the general population. Although the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre, the far right remains marginal in British politics in general, as well as on the broader political right.'[54]
  11. ^ 'Mr Dalyell's career includes a close alliance with the late Richard Crossman, a passionate Zionist who believed that all gentiles - including himself - are anti-semitic at some level.'[57]
  12. ^ According to a documentary in 2009 by mainstream journalist Peter Oborne the British press underreported the influence of a Jewish Lobby in Britain, and 80% of Conservative MPs were members of the Conservative Friends of Israel, the best funded of Westminster lobbying groups.[56]
  13. ^ The British Liberal Party's Baroness Tonge had, some years earlier (2006), asserted that 'The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party'. Likewise Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan in 2014 stated that despite UK rules forbidding political funding from abroad, in his view an exception was made for Israel, and later added that "the United States is in hock to a very powerful financial lobby which dominates its politics."[56]
  14. ^ When Howard made an unsuccessful bid in 1997 to become Prime Minister, it was alleged he was the victim of a widespread antisemitic whispering campaign by Conservative backbenchers and members of the constituency workers. In his 2004 comeback he argued for a programme blatantly hostile to immigrants while rebuffing accusations he was racist as impossible, since he himself was the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors.[61]
  15. ^ Kushner argues:'A closer reading of these images, however, reveals a more nuanced situation. In the case of the two little Jewish pigs, the direct connection to the Judensau is coincidental: if anything, the images managed to make Howard and Letwin endearing. Yet if the point that the Conservative figures on tax and spending simply did not add up-hence pigs might fly-it was insensitive of the Labour spin doctors not to show some awareness that to connect Jews to pork, the subject of past Christian fascination, crude humour and physical persecution, lacked an element of sensitivity.'[64]

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Further reading