This week saw the release of the EHRC (Equality and Human Right Commission) report, investigating how the Labour Party dealt with accusations of antisemitism in the last few years. Immediately after this was released, the current Labour Leader, Keir Starmer, suspended Jeremy Corbyn, who was in charge during the period studied in the report. A dark irony of this event was that Corbyn seems to have been suspended without any normal disciplinary process, on the basis that he didn’t make sure proper disciplinary processes were carried out on his watch. Make of that what you will.
I have been very concerned about the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party for several years. A year ago, in order find out what exactly was going on, I read the entire House of Commons Select Committee report on antisemitism (click on the link to download the pdf), which came out in 2016. The report makes for interesting reading.
The Select Committee report examines general antisemitism in the UK and shows that it, sadly, does exist. The report then focusses on events within the Labour Party. It studies the tweets of Naz Shah who, to paraphrase her comments, thought that Israel would be better off relocated to the United States. I found her comments to be naive and inflammatory but not antisemitic. Instead, her comments seemed to be a crass attack on the political movement of Zionism and the Israeli government. The report then focussed on the comments of Ken Livingstone, who pointed out that Hitler did a deal with Israel in the 1930s. I would agree with the report, when it says, on page 45, that Livingstone’s comments were ‘unwise, offensive and provocative’, but as far as I know, what he said was historically correct. It is very important that people are able to report about historical events, however unpopular they may be. If it becomes impossible to talk about any upsetting historical events, then we have lost the freedom of speech.
On page 39, the report states that the Labour Party member Vicki Kirby did make clearly antisemitic comments. To my knowledge, she was rightly suspended over those repulsive comments. After Kirby’s abusive tweets, I was surprised to discover that the select committee investigation did not uncover any further examples of antisemitic behaviour from within the Labour Party. The report does state that Ruth Smeeth complained of bad treatment but there’s no supporting evidence, based on what I read, to indicate actual antisemitism towards her from within the Labour Party. She was clearly unpopular with some of her colleagues and her allegiance was questioned but that isn’t antisemitism.
The investigators, compiling the Committee Report, were clearly aware of the very few number of actual acts of antisemitism that they uncovered in the Labour Party. The report states, on page 46:
‘120. Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.’
The report then makes a key point. On page 50, it states:
‘We broadly accept the IHRA definition, but propose two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate. The definition should include the following statements:
It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.’
I was worried, when I began reading the Select Committee report, that it would show bias but I was impressed with its thorough, balanced investigation. Unfortunately, the mainstream British media did not pay attention to its findings. Instead, Jeremy Corbyn was repeatedly accused of antisemitism for years. This was a big factor in him losing the General Election last year (2019). I believe that at least some of the powerful people who encouraged this media storm were doing it to attack Corbyn, stop him becoming Prime Minister and more generally, kill off any chance that a left-wing leader would take charge in Britain.
To complete this article, I would recommend that everyone watch this video message from Andrew Feinstein. I found his speech moving, intelligent and vitally important.