Allegations of Antisemitism in the Labour Party

The Chakrabarti Inquiry was an inquiry
into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the British Labour Party in
2016, and the reason the inquiry was held by the party was because there had been
a whole series of Labour Party members and activists, including quite senior
people, who had allegedly made antisemitic remarks, and some of them
had been suspended from the party and some had even been kicked out, and this
reached a head in April 2016, when a Labour Member of Parliament, Naz Shah,
who is the MP for Bradford West, was revealed to have put various statements
on Facebook in 2014 at the time of the conflict in Israel and Gaza which many
people considered to be antisemitic. One such statement was a map of Israel
superimposed on to the United States of America, with a title saying: “A proposed
solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – relocate Israel into the United
States,” and she had endorsed this idea and made a joke about it on Facebook and
other comments as well. These emerged in 2016 and after two days of prevarication,
the party suspended her membership and launched an investigation into her
comments. Then the very next day, Ken Livingstone, who is one of the best-known politicians in this country and a very senior figure in Labour Party politics
for 30 years, went on to the BBC to defend Naz Shah, and in so doing made
some really quite outrageous comments about Hitler and about Zionism. He said
that Hitler was supporting Zionism in the 1930s and only after that, he, in
Livingston’s words “went mad” and ended up murdering six million Jews, and he also
claimed, as Ken Livingston often claims, that there is some kind of conspiracy to
use the smear of antisemitism, as he sees it, to silence criticism of Israel.
Ken Livingstone was then also suspended from the party and in order to really
put a stop to this snowballing even more, the party announced an inquiry,
and it was going to be headed by Shami Chakrabarti who had just recently
resigned as the head of one of Britain’s leading human rights organizations. So
that was the immediate cause, but really what had happened before then was that
there had been a drip-drip effect of lots and lots of Labour Party people
allegedly making antisemitic comments, and there was a whole question about
antisemitism around the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn himself. The Labour Party
has a long tradition of support from British Jews, and has long upheld a
lot of things that British Jews really care about, including support for Israel
over many years. But in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the party,
and he comes from the hard left of British politics, from an anti-Zionist
left, from a left which is extremely hostile to Israel and to Zionism, which
really does not have much connections to the Jewish community at all. And Jeremy
Corbyn himself, at the time that he was standing for the leader, was accused of
endorsing or sharing platforms with various unsavory people, some of whom
were accused of Holocaust denial, others of making various antisemitic comments.
Corbyn himself was on video in 2010 making a speech in which he called Hamas
and Hezbollah his friends, and he described Hamas as a movement for social
justice and political justice, which coming from someone on the left is
language that really means an ideological connection, and Corbyn didn’t
answer these questions very well, in fact he didn’t really like being asked them,
and so this whole question of antisemitism hung around the Labour
Party. It came to a head in April 2016 with the suspensions of Naz Shah and Ken
Livingstone, it made antisemitism a national political story in Britain, a
headline story for the first time in decades, and to try and get control of
the story the party launched the inquiry. Now sad to say it didn’t work, partly
because the content of the inquiry report didn’t really go deep enough into
the problem. It addressed some of the symptoms, it talked about some of the
language the people shouldn’t use. For example it recommended that it was
not a good thing for Labour Party members to compare Israel to Nazi
Germany or to use the word “Zio” as an insult, which you think would be pretty
obvious things for an anti-racist party, but it didn’t really go into the
question of why these things have become prevalent in parts of the left, and
whether it’s connected to a really obsessive emotional hatred of Israel
that exists in some parts of the left. The issue of antisemitism
never went away, there was a kind of continuous bubbling up of
stories emerging, some of them old, some of them new, some of them about the
structures of the Labour Party failing to deal properly with with antisemitism,
some of them about things that Corbyn had said and done, and it bubbled up again
and it kind of increased, certainly the Jewish community became
more worried because Corbyn became more powerful. There was a video emerged from
Jeremy Corbyn, when Corbyn had been recorded really denouncing a couple of
people who he called “Zionists”, and he said the Zionists don’t understand the
irony that the Palestinian ambassador was employing, and he said they’ve lived
in England all their life but they still don’t seem to understand English irony.
And again it becomes then a matter of interpretation, and Corbyn said this was
just about language, but many many people saw in that statement a kind of othering
of British Jews, of saying that British Jews live here but they’re not
really of us, and that was quite a big event. The Jewish community, having
had a kind of remarkable degree of unity and consensus, began to say
that it’s important for them that Labour adopts the IHRA definition of
antisemitism, which is a framework, a set of guidelines to help Labour decide,
understand, what is antisemitic and what isn’t. And of course the anti-Zionist
activists hate IHRA because IHRA is explicit that certain kinds of hostility
to Israel should be understood to be possibly or potentially antisemitic. The
formal adoption of IHRA, I think calmed everything down again a little
bit in the way of Chakrabarti, and in the time after that in the autumn, the
fall of 2018, the Brexit issue came to the fore again and became a
kind of really compelling discussion. It’s now the very beginning of
January 2019, and we have no idea
what’s going to happen. What frightens me in terms of antisemitism
is this – that the events in the Labour Party have been creating, educating a
cadre of activists to believe that the Zionists are their key enemy, the
Zionists or the Jewish community stand between us and socialism, between us and
our best chance in a generation to have JC – Jeremy Corbyn – in power. And on the
right the discourse also can be seen as a kind of conspiracy theory – we’re being
run by Europe, by the EU, by the foreigners, the elite, the cosmopolitan
elite, the citizens of nowhere, are bringing in immigrants to undercut labour, and
this whole discourse about cosmopolitans and citizens
of nowhere, and the elite from the cities, who are really in charge, is itself not
antisemitic but it’s very close to an antisemitic narrative. So there’s a
cadre on the left educating itself, its formative political
experience is that the Jews stand between us and socialism, and there’s a cadre
on the right educating itself to believe that the
will of the people is being betrayed by a globalist, anti-democratic, cosmopolitan,
citizen of nowhere elite. And I think if there’s a political and/or
economic crisis then this pair of cadres of political people, which have been created
over the last few years, might grow and get a hearing and become powerful and
important, and I think either of them could develop into much more explicitly
antisemitic movements, that’s the danger I see.

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