After Corbyn reinstatement: now, a political offensive against antisemitism

Submitted by martin on 24 November, 2020 - 9:30 Author: Martin Thomas
The "Mear One" mural

Above: The "Mear One" mural: Jeremy Corbyn supported it when the local council led by Lutfur Rahman removed it, but then apologised

A panel of the Labour Party National Executive has (17 November 2020) reinstated Jeremy Corbyn after:

• he responded to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's legally-enforceable report (29 October 2020) finding the Labour Party culpable for antisemitism by saying that "the problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons" and conceding only that he could not claim "no antisemitism" in the Labour Party because of course there would be some "as there is throughout society"

• he was suspended from the Labour Party

• he rowed back, saying that "concerns about antisemitism are neither 'exaggerated' nor 'overstated'."

The panel also delivered a formal warning to Corbyn. Labour chief whip Nick Brown, and according to the Guardian, the panel too, have asked Corbyn to take down the 29 October Facebook post, and Brown has asked him to apologise.

Labour should now do what successive leaders, both Corbyn and Starmer, have repeatedly promised to do, but never done: launch a political and educational offensive against antisemitism in the party, with clear debates and local educational (not just "training") programmes as in Sheffield Heeley CLP.

After the NEC panel decision Keir Starmer declined to restore the Labour whip in Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn, though he said "I will keep this situation under review". Since then it has been said that the suspension is for three months. It looks like Starmer wants to extract a clearer rowing-back from Corbyn. It is a symbolic move, unlike the suspension which carried real weight, but not a helpful one. Local Labour Parties have been banned from debating the suspension, but are officially allowed to pass motions criticising the withdrawal of the whip: many have done.

A year and a half ago, Solidarity interviewed Dave Rich, head of policy for the Community Security Trust (CST, a Jewish community charity), and author of the book The Left's Jewish Problem - Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism.

He homed in on Labour leaders' "inability to recognise and understand antisemitism as it actually operates, unless it comes packaged as fascism" - the idea that if your mother joined the anti-fascist mobilisation at Cable Street in 1936, and you personally have opposed neo-Nazis and attacks on synagogues, then you can't be antisemitic however much you stereotype Israel and Jewish "lobbies" world-wide as the great hidden power behind right-wing politics.

"We're not just talking about changing processes", said Rich, "but changing a political culture, but there is still no recognition by the leadership of the Labour Party that they have any problem at all of an antisemitic political culture. All we hear is: it's just 0.1% of the membership, and we'll discipline them and throw them out..."

He advised us: "Educate yourself about contemporary antisemitism, about the tropes and the imagery. There's plenty of material out there. When you're educated, bring that into your political arguments when these issues come up. Speak up. Make the arguments... There's absolutely no reason why campaigning for Palestinian rights should go along with antisemitism. There are lots of people who campaign for Palestinian rights without being antisemitic or encouraging antisemitism".

As the suspension-reinstatement row reverberates through Labour, we must challenge antisemitic narratives about Corbyn's suspension. Those attribute it to "the power of the Zionist lobby", when in fact his initial statement did indeed show an "absolute blindspot", as Angela Rayner said, and read as if written to "dare" Labour to suspend him.

And the antisemitic narratives about Corbyn's semi-retraction - "Corbyn capitulates to Zionist lobby". In fact he would have done better explicitly to retract and apologise for the initial statement's blurred claim that the antisemitism problem in Labour is only the inevitable spillover into any large organisation of prejudices widespread in society, and has been presented as more only out of opportunist right-wing malice.

And the further antisemitic narrative about the lifting of the suspension, that it represents the victory of the righteous over "the Zionist lobby".

To object to suspension as a response to Corbyn's statement made sense even if you saw the "absolute blindspot" in it. To object to the ban (by Jennie Formby as general secretary in March 2019) on local Labour Parties even discussing such suspensions, and to the suspension of activists such as in Bristol West for discussing the suspension, is basic democracy. The Bristol suspensions should be lifted.

But many of the protests against the suspension said or implied that there was nothing wrong with Corbyn's initial statement. That shows the problem we still have to tackle.

Agitate, educate, organise! Debate the issues!


Submitted by Phil Pope (not verified) on Wed, 18/11/2020 - 21:02

Do you think the scale of antisemitsm in Labour was understated, overstated, or defined precisely as it is? Do you think there is more or less antisemitism in Labour than in other political parties or in society at large. As you have quoted the CST (which you generously describe as a community charity) you might want to refer to their research:…

Submitted by martin on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 11:29

In reply to by Phil Pope (not verified)

Antisemitism in Labour - "understated, overstated, or defined precisely as it is?", asks Phil Pope.

The current blow-up in the Labour Party started with Jeremy Corbyn choosing (when he could just have kept quiet) to respond to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report by saying that he did not accept "all its findings" and his opponents had "dramatically overstated" the issue.

The EHRC report, whatever about Alasdair Henderson (who worked on it) being a right-winger, made no estimate of "how big" antisemitism has been in Labour. Taking a selection of complaints, it found that accredited Labour representatives (National Executive members, councillors) had made antisemitic statements without adequate redress, and more generally that there was no reliable process for complaints.

That's not overstating. Instructively, no-one in Labour has been ready to advocate challenging the findings in court, the only real way to do so.
But the EHRC report should be discredited by *other* people having "overstated"? Why?

Corbyn's basis for claiming overstatement was a poll in which, taking out numerous "don't knows", people gave an average figure of 34% for the number of Labour members facing complaints of antisemitism. The real figure, said Corbyn, is 0.3%.

As a maths teacher, I'm sure the 34% figure tells us mostly about how my comrades in the trade and myself fail on teaching about percentages and about "Fermi problems" (making good large-number estimates on scrappy information. No wonder about that, because Fermi problems aren't in English maths school syllabuses, whereas a heap of soon-forgotten clutter is. But that's another story).

If people had been asked to choose between 2, or 20, or... up to 200,000 and 2,000,000, for the number complained against, the average answer would not have been 200,000 (around 34%), but probably closer to 2,000 (around 0.3%).

Corbyn's response said "even one antisemite is too many", as if it might have been three or four. That was understatement. So was his message that antisemitism exists in Labour only because Labour is a large organisation in an imperfect society.

Phil refers to a report by Daniel Staetsky available on the CST website which found that the proportion of people describing themselves as "very left-wing" who held many antisemitic views (on the level of "Jews think themselves better than others", or "have different interests from the rest of the people in Britain") was only slightly higher than the proportion among slightly-left or centre people holding them, and much smaller than among "very right-wing" people.

So it's all a fuss about nothing? But as Staetsky rightly says: "One might assume that those on the far left of the political spectrum would be more likely to hold anti-racist ideas than the population as a whole..."

And Staetsky specifically doesn't consider antisemitism of the form that tags Jews who have a reflex (if critical) identification with Israel as "Zionists", interpreted as meaning "praetorians of the right and of racism". We have made some progress in pushing back that sort of antisemitism, especially among younger people in the left, but, no, its prevalence among the older "1980s returners" types is not overstated.

Rhodri Evans, London

Submitted by Alexander Pavlovich (not verified) on Sat, 21/11/2020 - 15:21

The interview from 2019 with Dave Rich cited above reduces "Jewish anti-Zionists" to "another form of the conspiracy theory". If you want to "Debate the issues!" as you say, don't try to formulate a politics that seeks to reconcile on common ground between various political camps. Israel is a big problem, and the solution is revolution within it. Any attempt for political organizations to intervene into the actual discussions and currents within my community itself will inevitably be reductive, or conciliatory with confused and reactionary elements among us. The correct course of action is to, instead of separating antisemitism and us-israeli imperialism from class struggle, to combine it and identify the way forward for Israel/Palestine - through socialist revolution and workers government.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 30/11/2020 - 18:02

Alexander Pavlovich says “Israel is a big problem”. What does that mean? Israel – the imperialist policy of the Israeli government – is a big problem for the Palestinians. The idea that Israel, a militarily strong but in fact very small country, is a “big problem” in the wider world is precisely a staple of obsessive, disproportionate “anti-Zionist” narratives on the left, in turn a culture medium in which antisemitism can breed.

Yes, there needs to be a revolution inside Israel, to create a workers’ government and begin to build socialism. In the first instance, even a more limited internationalist, class-struggle upheaval which can derail Israel’s war machine, end the occupation and halt the march of Israeli society to the right.

But in Britain the obsessively “anti-Zionist” left is not concerned with a revolution, or class struggle, in Israel.

The “way forward for Israel-Palestine” is absolutely through class struggle and socialist politics. This does not contradict the idea of national self-determination; in fact, self-determination is an essential part of the program to unite Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian-Arab workers in struggle. That’s why we advocate “two states”, the right to self-determination for both peoples – with the Palestinians granted the same rights the Israelis currently enjoy.

I’m not sure what Alexander means when he argues against attempts to “intervene into the actual discussions and currents within my community” (meaning Israel?) Surely solidarity and discussion with internationalists and socialists among the Israelis as well as the Palestinians is necessary to build a movement which can engage in effective class struggle and, eventually, actually make a socialist revolution?

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