As someone with quite a large stake in the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (I was accused of it last year, and again in the national newspapers last month, despite being innocent of any wrong-doing) it dismayed me that I had to sit out some of the latest developments without comment.
I couldn’t do anything about it; I was a long way away from my desk, having been asked to act as a taxi service for a relative whose heart pacemaker needed checking.
I was dismayed by the news coverage I was able to catch.
The BBC seemed keen to go back as far as the Naz Shah affair, broadcasting the two images she tweeted that were allegedly anti-Semitic (but in fact weren’t) – once again allowing the fact that one of the images was of that most famous of civil rights campaigners, Martin Luther King, pass without comment. The segment also misreported Ken Livingstone’s defence of Ms Shah. While it was true that he said Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism in Germany in the 1930s, the report was misleading in that it encouraged the viewer to believe that this was not true. In fact, the Nazi party in Germany did indeed support the German Federation of Zionists at that time, in a plan to transport German Jews to what was then British Mandate Palestine (and is now Israel). If that had not happened, scores of thousands of Jewish people would not have escaped persecution and would almost certainly have died in the extermination camps. You see, just because they helped some Jews out of Germany (in a deal that improved their standing internationally), that didn’t mean the Nazis didn’t hate Jews.
The demonstrations outside Parliament on March 26 had been prompted by the sudden appearance on the news agenda of a Facebook post by Jeremy Corbyn from 2012 – six years ago – in response to a street artist complaining about the effect on free speech of his mural being removed. Without having seen the mural properly, and thinking this was a free speech issue, Mr Corbyn had asked why it was being done. This, in the minds of some, was enough to tar the Labour leader with the brush of anti-Semitism. Of course, it isn’t – but Mr Corbyn was quick to set the record straight. Nevertheless, opportunists among his critics organised a protest against what they described as his poor handling of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and Mr Corbyn received a strongly-worded letter from the Tory-supporting leader of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the leader of the Jewish Leadership Council (whose political stance remains unknown to me).
The letter freely mixed anti-Semitism with criticism of the government of Israel and with opposition to Zionism in a way that showed up its authors’ political motivations demonstratively – to the detriment of their argument.
But the falsehoods aren’t only on the accusers’ side, unfortunately:
I have asked in at least 8 different chats today for any evidence of labour’s anti-semitism problem. So far, not a single response.
The papers and the BBC disgust me, using an issue like this as a political lever. Sad days.
— eddie mckeown #NHSLove (@eddiemck) March 27, 2018
Yes I'm not getting any answers to that question either. Anti Semitism isn't automatically there just because they say so!
— Han (@HanDusty12) March 27, 2018
But it is there. Labour’s disputes panel (a sub-committee of the National Executive Committee) deals with allegations of anti-Semitism all the time and there are plenty that are undeniable.
Like all large organisations, Labour attracts people who have many other opinions and beliefs, besides support for the party’s main policies. I recently met a man from southeast England who had been a Labour councillor (briefly), and who was also shockingly racist about people of colour, as I understand the current vernacular describes them.
Of course the party attracts anti-Semites. So does the Conservative Party; so do the Liberal Democrats. Labour is simply a far larger organisation, and may expect to have a larger number (although not necessarily a larger proportion) of anti-Semites among its ranks, to be weeded out.
I said as much in 2016, in response to a commenter to This Site called ‘Ben’: “I’m not pretending there isn’t a problem, though. I’m simply not pretending it’s a big problem.”
My words were then taken out of context by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, to claim that I said it wasn’t a big problem if Jews were omitted from a list of those who were persecuted and killed in the Holocaust. As you can see, this was a lie.
And it is why I take exception to Mike Katz, deputy chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, who wrote on LabourList: “It’s certainly not something that any other minority group would be expected to tolerate[:] Not believing the victim in line with the Macpherson principle, but second-guessing their motivation.”
When someone takes my words and twists them in order to pretend that they mean something entirely contrary to their original meaning, I am entirely justified in guessing that their motivation is dishonest. That is what the Campaign Against Antisemitism did to me and if Mr Katz wants to be taken at his word, then he needs to take the matter up with his fellows in that organisation.
Take no notice Hannah. It was another Tory scam, and it went pear shape because hardly anyone turned up! People are not stupid and they're putting two and two together, and realising what an evil conniving bunch of twats the Tories are! https://t.co/LUpfz2xgHO
— richard oneill (@silverrich39) March 27, 2018
Let’s be fair – a lot of people turned up. Many supported the claim that anti-Semitism was a huge problem and that Jeremy Corbyn was ineffectual in combating it, but many others – including representatives of Jewish organisations – came to say the exact opposite.
Robert Peston – who fell foul of me a few weeks ago while discussing this subject, and had to read out a clarification in the following edition of his programme – entered the fray with the following:
Although @jeremycorbyn was clear yesterday that Labour has an antisemitism problem, the comments on my blog show that many of his supporters believe that to suggest such is a smear. Depressing https://t.co/6gPPzYL36x
— Robert Peston (@Peston) March 27, 2018
I haven’t read the blog comments in question so I can’t really comment except to say that it would be a smear to suggest that Labour is riddled with anti-Semites, as I understand some people who should know better, such as Labour MP John Mann, are suggesting. Here’s Tom Clark of my fellow Leftie blog, Another Angry Voice:
The problem Mr @Peston, as you well know, is the way mainstream media (yourself included) have whipped up a huge storm over this, yet repeatedly ignored the numerous stories of outrageous Tory bigotry and bullying from the last week alone 1/8 https://t.co/LQi4JEIL7r
— Another Angry Voice (@Angry_Voice) March 27, 2018
Unfortunately there’s a false argument in there – as Mr Clark is effectively saying “But Tories!” He is right to point out that Conservatives are responsible for huge amounts of racism and bigotry – and that’s even if you remove Boris Johnson from your calculations – but the issue is Labour anti-Semitism and it would have been better (in This Writer’s opinion) if he had concentrated on the fact that the mainstream media have made a huge issue of this without actually showing any examples of Labour anti-Semitism at all.
Also damaging for the anti-Corbyn argument is the following:
Tory commentators (almost all not Jewish) claimed the Corbyn supporters at the counter-demo by Parliament were Anti-Semitic. Well these are some of the people they labelled Anti-Semitic. pic.twitter.com/lc8j887Ch8
— The Pileus #RefugeesWelcome (@thepileus) March 27, 2018
This is, of course, grievously damaging to the anti-Corbyn, anti-Semitism accusers. The stereotype of the self-hating Jew is, of course, anti-Semitic in itself. So if anybody was suggesting Mr Corbyn’s Jewish supporters were anti-Semites, then they were themselves guilty of anti-Semitism. And it was noticed:
The number of insults we get from Tory supporters, mostly non-Jews for backing Labour shows how toxic this debate is. Non-Jews talking down to Jews on the issue of Anti-Semitism as if our voice not only does not matter but how dare we even speak out.
A new low for the Tory party
— Workers of Zion (@WorkersofZion) March 26, 2018
See the following, also:
This week saw a record Tory low with some of their supporters labeling Jews who back Corbyn as Anti-Semitic, even though many are the grandkids of Holocaust survivors.
However do you think this record is their limit or do you think the Tories can go even lower?
— Workers of Zion (@WorkersofZion) March 27, 2018
When I voted, the tally stood at 99 per cent for “Yes, they can go lower”. Telling!
Possibly the most balanced comment on LabourList came from Joseph Finlay of Jewish Voice for Labour. He wrote: “Ideological individuals and groups, aided by the Conservative Party and the right-wing media have helped create a narrative in the Jewish community that Labour is riddled with antisemitism. This is not and has never been the case. There are undoubtedly individuals within Labour who have said or posted offensive things, and the party has rightly taken action against them.”
Yes – but Labour has also wrongly taken action against entirely innocent individuals such as myself, who have been attacked with lies. You can see that for yourself in the example I used in this very article.
That’s why, when Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson, who happens to be a Jew, commented on Twitter about the current efforts to combat Labour anti-Semitism, I challenged her:
That's really good. And what action is being taken to combat and punish false, frivolous and politically-motivated accusations?
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) March 27, 2018
There had been no response at the time of writing.
That is a real shame because, for all Mr Katz’s posturing, there are plenty of false accusations flying about.
And false accusations tend to increase anti-Jewish sentiment; people see that innocents have been accused by people with a political motive, and react against that.
So a robust campaign against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party won’t achieve anything – until Labour acknowledges that false, malicious and opportunistic claims are also made, and launches a robust policy to root out, discredit and expel those who are responsible for them.
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