Yes, Labour must confront antisemitism!

Submitted by cathy n on 2 November, 2020 - 1:45 Author: Keith Road
starmer speech

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into the handling of complaints of antisemitism in the Labour Party, published on 29 October, confirms what Solidarity has argued for many years about a large swathe of what thinks of itself as the left.

We were arguing that even before that swathe reassembled itself within the Labour Party and gained extra weight after 2015.

"The horrible truth that has to be faced is that large parts of the ostensible left is — for all practical purposes — antisemitic, hostile to Israel’s very existence. That it endorses and circulates malice-ridden accounts of the history of Zionism and Israel and that from that comes emotion-ridden hostility to Jews who defend Israel and refuse to see it as racism and imperialism incarnate. That is, most Jews alive..."

Solidarity with Palestinian rights is needed. The root-and-branch hostility to Israel and to Jews which taints and misdirects sentiments of solidarity is not that solidarity, but a corrupt substitute for it.

The report is a serious piece of work. Its focus is to get the Labour Party to comply with a Legal Notice issued to it. It is primarily about Labour's complaints process, at least for antisemitism. Keir Starmer has confirmed he will put together the required action plan to implement the EHRC's instructions within six weeks.

Pretty much no one within Labour has explicitly challenged the conclusions of the report. No one has proposed a court challenge against the EHRC, the only alternative to accepting its conclusions. In other words, no one is willing to put to the test of rigorous sifting of evidence the idea that complaints of antisemitism have been a smear against the left, made up by the right for factional gain.

As we wrote long ago, first of all "what is needed in the Labour Party is a drive to educate the party and politically beat down the ideologues of an absolute anti-Zionism that becomes barely distinguishable from antisemitism. That is what a responsible leadership should do." Debate, confront, re-educate! Keir Starmer shows no sign of doing that. The internationalist left must take the lead, building on first steps as in Sheffield Heeley Labour Party, which has run its own series of educational discussions on the origins, history and manifestation of antisemitism on the left.

The EHRC report calls for "an independent complaint system". We do not know what that would look like. Proposals will have to be judged on their own merits. But even a much clearer and fairer complaints system will not eradicate antisemitism from the labour movement without a political offensive.

The EHRC report points to a lack of awareness, competence, and understanding of antisemitism in the Governance and Legal Unit, but the issue is much bigger than one of training for the staff who work there.

There needs to be open debate. Many on the Labour left believe that there is some attempt to silence criticism of the Israeli government, though in fact all the complaints examined in the EHRC report are about hostility to Jews or to Israel in general, not about specific criticisms of Israeli policies and actions. Local parties should organise debates and draw out the issues which have given cover to antisemitic ideas.

Jeremy Corbyn’s statement after the publication of the report was crass, and, as Angela Rayner rightly said, further proof that he has an “absolute blindspot and a denial” on the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party.

Erratically but unmistakeably, Corbyn has given effective cover to antisemitism by trying to discredit complaints, suggesting that they are just artefacts of right-wing preconceived hostility to himself, and he has gone along with people around him who are left antisemites.

Corbyn jumped into making a statement at a time when he could have just quietly accepted the EHRC conclusions and, if he had criticisms, explained them later and in a considered way. He chose to respond on the day the report was published, disputing no detail but airily dismissing "its findings". He repeated the claim that complaints had been exaggerated out of preconceived malice, a claim which the report had identified as one of the major vectors of antisemitism in the Labour Party, via its use for out-of-hand discrediting of Jewish members complaining of abuse. Reportedly, he refused to back down when friends remonstrated. His actions were tantamount to daring the Labour Party machine into suspending him.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has taken that as a lever to push complaints to the Labour Party about other members of both Corbyn and Starmer Shadow Cabinets.

As we said back in 2016, "anti-semitism in the labour movement needs to be rooted out", but the Labour Party's "Red-Queen-in-Alice-in-Wonderland off with their heads regime [continuing since the first purge of suspected Corbyn supporters in 2015] is not the way to do it." That regime has accelerated again since Starmer's leadership victory, with large numbers of suspensions (often with no specified charges, and most nothing to do with antisemitism) over recent months, and a ban from Labour Party HQ on local parties even discussing them.

Corbyn's suspension should be opposed. His statement should not be excused. His friends should insist that he at least apologise for it. Those in the Labour Party who talk of quitting, or even of linking up with outfits like Chris Williamson's notional "Resistance Movement", should think about an apt comment from the writer Dave Renton: "for everyone ripping up their membership cards, do you really want to be part of something new, whose sole shared experience is resisting allegations of antisemitism?"

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