Anti-semitism — a top-down perspective

Submitted by Matthew on 19 October, 2016 - 10:49 Author: Ira Berkovic

On 16 October, a Home Affairs Select Committee on antisemitism criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of recent controversies within Labour, but also found that “no reliable empirical evidence to suggest there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than in any other party”.

The Committee report, which was dominated by Tory MPs, has been criticised for focusing too heavily on allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, and within that, on instances of online abuse, to the exclusion of analysing increases in antisemitic attacks elsewhere. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community groups complained that they were not invited to give evidence. The witnesses called to give evidence to the committee were also exclusively male.

The Jewish Socialists Group said that, in a year when the Tory party was clearly implicated in pandering to racism, in the London mayoral elections and the comment of many Tory MPs about immigration, the Tory-dominated Committee had no anti-racist credibility.

Corbyn is accused of creating a “safe space” for “those with vile attitudes towards Jews”. While some of Corbyn’s politics on the Middle East, including his association with the Islamist Raed Saleh, display a softness towards antisemitic variants of “anti-Zionism”, his explicit advocacy of a two-states settlement and his opposition to blanket boycotts of Israel also put him at odds with the “absolute anti-Zionism” which Workers’ Liberty has argued has antisemitic implications.

Corbyn said: “The Committee heard evidence from too narrow a pool of opinion, and its then-chair rejected both Chakrabarti’s and the Jewish Labour Movement’s requests to appear and give evidence before it. Not a single woman was called to give oral evidence in public, and the report violates natural justice by criticising individuals without giving them a right to be heard. “The report’s political framing and disproportionate emphasis on Labour risks undermining the positive and welcome recommendations made in it.

“Although the Committee heard evidence that 75 per cent of antisemitic incidents come from far right sources, and the report states there is no reliable evidence to suggest antisemitism is greater in Labour than other parties, much of the report focuses on the Labour Party.” Some of the report’s recommendations, including around the use of the term “Zionism”, echo those already made by Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry within Labour. Like Chakrabarti, the Select Committee report says that free speech on Israel/Palestine and Zionism must be maintained.

Some of the report’s recommendations, such as its suggestion that Vice Chancellors’ club Universities UK produce a guide for students on how to “sensitively” campaign around Israel/Palestine issues, seem frankly bizarre. They reflect the generally bureaucratic and top-down perspective of the Committee, which looks to administrative action from institutions — whether Twitter (to deal with online abuse), the Labour Party leadership, or Universities UK — to deal with the problem of antisemitism, rather than political education.

Workers’ Liberty has argued for a militantly confrontational attitude to rising antisemitic hate crime, as part of a politics of direct-action anti-fascism, as well as a political analysis of a distinct “left antisemitism” implied by far-left common sense on Israel/Palestine and Jewish nationalism. We have no faith in Tory MPs to properly analyse the problem, or propose solutions.

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