"These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one's eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened ... and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late" - George Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942)
On April 7, the Sunday Times carried a front page lead story claiming that the Labour party has failed to take action against hundreds of members accused of antisemitism. The story was apparently based upon leaked emails and a database from Labour’s HQ.
The details were shocking, including members posting online comments like “Heil Hitler”, “Fuck the Jews” and “Jews are the problem.” The article also alleged that (named) members of Corbyn’s office and Labour HQ had – despite previous denials - insisted on an “overview” of cases and in one instance had “frustrated” efforts to fast-track an investigation.
Surely, the main concern for socialists ought to be whether or not the allegations are true – not the motives or style of the Sunday Times or, indeed, of the Labour official who allegedly leaked the information?
But, no: two days later the Morning Star’s editorial, opening with heavy sarcasm, responded by accusing the Sunday Times and the Jewish Labour Movement of a conspiracy:
“Doubtless it was a complete coincidence, but a conference of the Jewish Labour Movement at the weekend passed a motion of ‘no confidence’ in Jeremy Corbyn on the very day that the front page of the Sunday Times screamed: ‘Labour’s hate files expose Corbyn’s anti-semite army’.
“According to the latter, the leaked contents of a mystery hard drive and database reveal a backlog of delays, obstructions and improper interference in the party’s investigation into complaints of anti-semitism against hundreds of Labour Party members.
“According to to JLM delegates, this confirms that the party is ‘institutionally anti-semitic’ and that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘unfit for office’ as a prospective prime minister.”
The editorial goes on (again, with heavy sarcasm) to suggests that “it can only be a matter of days, therefore before the JLM disaffiliates from the Labour Party... after all no decent person would want to remain in a voluntary organisation that is guilty of much more than espousing objectionable policies...?”
The issue which seems to exercise the Morning Star in particular is the suggestion that Labour at present might be “institutionally antisemitic”, as though such a suggestion is simply an outrage.
Institutional racism was defined by William Macpherson in the 1999 Lawrence report as: "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people”.
Macpherson did not say that if somebody says they experience racism it must be true. Neither did he say that victims of racism have the right to define their own oppression (in the sense that whatever the definition, no-one else can question it). But he did say that victims of racism should be taken seriously: something that the Morning Star consistently refuses to do when dealing with claims of antisemitism within Labour.
Instead, the Morning Star perpetuates the conspiracy theory that “combating anti-semitism is not the primary motivation... No, their prime motivation is becoming clearer by the week. It is to prevent a rare parliamentary champion of the rights of the Palestinian people from achieving the highest political office in Britain... This has been the common aim of leading lights in the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel and their associates in the Israeli embassy...”
So there we have it: the default assumption about allegations of antisemitism within Labour is that they are made in bad faith, motivated by hostility to the Palestinian cause and probably directed by the Israeli embassy.
Except that tucked away in the middle of the editorial is this: “What appears to be undeniable is that no action has yet been taken against some individual party members whose comments about Jews or Israel are reprehensible, whether born of ignorance, prejudice or both.”
What a pity that the Morning Star’s conspiracy theory about the Sunday Times, the JLM and the Israeli embassy (a conspiracy theory that itself verges on antisemitism) completely obscures its small-print admission that the central claim made by the Sunday Times is, in fact… true.