Unheard Jewish voices

IssueDecember 2020 - January 2021
Feature by David Rosenberg , Jewish Voice for Labour, Truth Defence

On 29 October, just six months after he stepped down as leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour party for his reaction to a report on antisemitism in the Labour party issued earlier in the day.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) claimed that Labour was responsible for ‘unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination’ and three breaches of the Equality Act (2010) including ‘political interference in antisemitism complaints’.

Aaron Bastani of Novara Media pointed out that Corbyn’s suspension was itself a case of political interference which ‘starkly deviated from recommendations made in the [EHRC] report’.

Despite his support for the EHRC recommendations, the new Labour leader Keir Starmer said on 30 October, about Corbyn’s case: ‘I’m not going to shy away from difficult decisions....We made a very difficult decision yesterday.’

Below are some responses from Jewish members of Labour.

Jewish Voice for Labour

We are well aware that the EHRC was charged with investigating antisemitism in the Labour Party.

It is our contention that this cannot be done meaningfully without placing it is a wider context of racism more generally, in the party and society.

So, the Report’s failure to look at how antisemitism cases have been treated in comparison with other cases of racism is a severe failing.

As Jewish activists, we are acutely aware of the widespread prevalence in our society of, in particular, Islamophobia and of anti-Black racism – highlighted by Black Lives Matter and the Windrush Affair.

In these circumstances, and as a matter of principle, there is a terrible danger of singling out antisemitism from other forms of racism as if we were in a racism Olympics as to which group suffers most.

We want to stress, once again, the importance of treating all forms of racism – including antisemitism – together, as well as in their specificities.

Yet again we have the airwaves, print and digital media consumed by the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party; the whole of Thursday’s Newsnight and one of the top two items on every news bulletin. However, once again, the experiences of Palestinian – and, indeed of Black and Asian – people are not addressed.

For example, it may be a coincidence but there have been serious consequences from releasing this long-awaited report from the EHRC less than 48 hours after the Report and recommendations made by the Doreen Lawrence Review.

This Review, commissioned by Keir Starmer, looked into the disproportionate impact of COVID on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Its final section is entitled ‘Ending Structural Racism’.

This Report has been almost entirely eclipsed in the media by the EHRC’s Report.

The difference in levels of media coverage is staggering.

We are left with the potentially dangerous conclusion that the EHRC Report – not even on antisemitism but about how complaints of antisemitism have been dealt with – is deemed to be of more interest to the public than the fact that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities have a COVID death rate four times that of other groups.

It is the deep and extensive structural racism across the whole of our society that means they are disproportionately represented in high risk front line occupations.

And if Black and Asian people are missing from the narrative, so too are Palestinians. The dominance of the issue of Labour Party antisemitism over the past five years, the ‘impossible to resist’ adoption of the IHRA’s [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s] working definition on antisemitism, with all its 11 examples, have led to the near impossibility of Palestinians’ experience of racism at the hands of the Israeli State being given the attention it needs.

The people most active in continually raising the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party were largely, but not exclusively, supporters of Israel.

Those accused and their defenders were largely, but again not exclusively, defenders of Palestinian rights.

The pro-Israel lobby in the UK is highly professional, well-resourced, and has much more support in the print and broadcast media than has the pro-Palestinian lobby which largely relies on social media to campaign.

Social media can be ill-disciplined and we recognise that some posts fell into antisemitic stances which were, rightly, condemned as being wrong in themselves and unhelpful to the cause they wished to support.

What has also not been given any attention is the torrent of abuse aimed by Israel’s supporters at their opponents which was never, in our experience, challenged from their side; indeed each post seemed only to inspire further and more wounding insults in some sort of grisly competition.

Jewish supporters of Palestinian rights seemed particularly targeted and sometimes dismissed as ‘not really Jews’ (as in JINOs – ‘Jews in name only’) and even as kapos*. We are not aware of any complaints made about this being upheld and we consider such accusations to be deeply antisemitic.

JVL will publish our detailed and thoughtful critical analysis of the EHRC report shortly. The purpose of this statement is to emphasise the importance of hearing Palestinian voices and allies speaking and acting in support of justice for Palestinians. British Palestinians issued a statement to the Labour Party about this and could not get any Labour Party journal to publish it.

We would hope that the mainstream media and the Labour Party will be as unflinching and relentless in their commitment to expose the lack of justice and equality for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members of our community, including Palestinians, as they have been in pursuing this agenda.

May they do this without the distortions that have characterised their supposed concerns for Jewish people.

* Those prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps whose job was to brutally make prisoners do forced labour.

The detailed Jewish Voice for Labour response to the EHRC report is damning: jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk
Truth Defence

The EHRC’s investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party failed to give due consideration and weight to vital evidence it was made aware of. This evidence flatly contradicted some of its key findings, especially in relation to the role of the former leadership under Jeremy Corbyn.

As a result, the report rehashed a dominant and demonstrably false narrative that laid the blame for failures in the handling of complaints with the former leadership.

In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Corbyn introduced unprecedented and wide-ranging reforms that dramatically improved a legacy complaints system that was not fit for purpose.

If anything, his efforts to expedite investigations and escalate sanctions were hampered by factionally-motivated staff who were in control of the process until Jennie Formby took over as General Secretary in 2018.

It is vitally important that the EHRC is held to account for its flawed investigation and erroneous conclusions, both to correct the historical record and learn the right lessons from Labour’s painful recent past.

This is essential not just for the future of the Labour Party but for the fight against antisemitism and all forms of racism everywhere.

We [Truth Defence] are supporting a group of Jewish members of the party – which include Truth Defence directors and co-founders Justin Schlosberg and Andrew Feinstein – who are seeking to mount a formal legal challenge to the EHRC’s ruling.

Truth Defence is a collective of activists, lawyers, creatives, journalists, academics and citizens concerned about the spread of misinformation online, in traditional media, and in political advertising and campaigning: www.truthdefence.org

David Rosenberg

As a Jewish member of Islington North CLP, I know my MP, Jeremy Corbyn as a 100 percent solid ally in the fight against anti-semitism and fascism.

It is shameful that on the day when the party should be stepping up its challenge to rising racism that it has suspended the MP who has done more than any other to fight for a just and multicultural society where all minorities feel valued.

I support EHRC’s recommendations to improve procedures, education and training on anti-semitic incidents, to speed up and make transparent the handling of cases, to fully implement [former shadow attorney general Shami] Chakrabarti’s proposals, and rebuild work with Jewish stakeholders.

But who caused the delays, especially between 2015–18? Who sabotaged the implementation of the Chakrabarti Report? Not Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership team.

They were being sabotaged by the bureaucracy running the party’s Law and Governance Unit who were fighting a factional war against his leadership.

The content of the [EHRC] report is thin, repetitive and legalistic and rests on two cases of members who were ultimately expelled under Corbyn’s leadership.

It does not define ‘anti-semitism’ or ‘Jewish stakeholders’. Many Jewish Labour Party members who disagree with the Jewish Labour Movement’s right-wing politics, and are not Zionists, are surely stakeholders too.

But we have not been consulted by the ‘new leadership’ despite several requests to meet with them.

While Labour tears itself apart on these matters, anti-semitism and racism generally in British society are increasing under the auspices of the party of the hostile environment, that the EHRC have shown no desire to investigate.

David Rosenberg is a member of the Jewish Socialists Group. This statement was originally published in the Morning Star on 31 October.