Despite the comprehensive discrediting of the false allegations of widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party, this lie refuses to die, and has been more recently supplemented by further “misogynist bullying” and “Trotskyist infiltration” smear campaigns as further bases to undermine Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The two latest manifestations of the ‘antisemitism story’ have been in the concocted furore over the nomination of Shami Chakrabarti as a Life Peer, and in a deranged rant by Corbyn opponent Michael Foster in the Daily Mail on August 13.
Foster, a show business agent and Labour donor, decried the 2000 people who attended a Corbyn rally in the small Cornish town of Camborne (where he stood as Labour candidate in the last election) as “disciples” in an “evangelical crowd” embracing “a brand of politics alien to this country”. He went on to describe Corbyn’s supporters as “Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers)”, which the Mail (the paper which supported fascism in the 1930s) helpfully illustrated with a picture of Hitler at a 1935 Brownshirt rally in Munich. Foster rounded off his bizarre attack by claiming that he was denounced as a conspiracy theorist, which he argued was an inherently antisemitic claim.
Foster’s article was widely mocked, (see http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-nazi-stormtroopers-article-in-daily.html) and even the Board of Deputies – the self-proclaimed “voice of British Jewry” – described the comparison with Nazis as “inflammatory”. However, the BoD went on to effectively endorse Foster’s views, and once again attacked the Chakrabarti inquiry. Such attacks are becoming routine, and the refusal of Chakrabarti to endorse most of the wild accusations against the Labour Party is itself being used as evidence that the party is in some way institutionally antisemitic.
The narrative being promoted is that Chakrabarti deliberately whitewashed the Labour Party and ignored evidence of antisemitism, in return for which she was rewarded by Corbyn with a life peerage. This is false on every level.
From the moment that Chakrabarti issued her report, Israel’s apologists went on the warpath. Indeed, they were so angry that they used the press conference to launch yet another concocted claim, this time directed at Corbyn himself. This claim, relating to remarks allegedly made by former black sections activist Marc Wadsworth to a Jewish Labour MP, was quickly exposed as groundless, but not before it too had caused damage by shifting the focus of media discussion onto Wadsworth as another stick to beat Jeremy Corbyn. This allowed the media, the Labour right wing and the Jewish establishment to avoid a serious engagement with the impressive report by Chakrabarti – produced to a very tight deadline. Corbyn was also falsely accused of equating Israel with ISIS – another easily refuted lie, which nevertheless was repeatedly published and circulated.
The report opens with a clear declaration that “the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism”, thus undercutting at a stroke the repeated mantra which led to the establishment of the inquiry. Chakrabarti did recommend that “the word “Zio” should have no place in Labour Party discourse”; but for most purposes this only affects people battling with a Twitter character limit. She also recommended that “Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular”, and “to use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. Both of these are sensible advice in most circumstances, provided they are not interpreted as an outright ban.
These linguistic warnings are the only crumbs of comfort that Israel’s supporters can draw from the report. The rest is a stark indictment both of their actions, and of the Labour Party’s (lack of) process in this and other disciplinary matters.
Chakrabarti refused to enter into the specifics of the current charges, pointing out that her role was not to conduct a disciplinary hearing, but to produce “a statement of principles and guidance about antisemitism and other forms of racism”. Emphasising that “there is not, and cannot be, any hierarchy of racism”, Chakrabarti implicitly rejected the demands from some pro-Israel and Jewish establishment bodies that she recognise antisemitism as somehow distinct from other forms of racism, and the entire report is framed in an anti-racist perspective. Chakrabarti repeatedly notes the difficulties encountered by black and ethnic minority members, as well as by women, LGBT and differently abled people.
The report does not fall into the elephant trap of trying to define antisemitism, and despite pressure from supporters of Israel Chakrabarti pointedly did not endorse, nor even refer to, the discredited “EU Monitoring group working definition” which sees all criticism of Israel as either overt or covert antisemitism.
Another strength of the report was the way in which Chakrabarti confronted and rejected the misrepresentation of the recommendation in the Macpherson Report on recording of racist incidents. The “Jewish Leadership Council”, for instance, called on her to recognise that “a racist attack is defined by its victim”. Chakrabarti, however, insisted that “an incident should be recorded as ‘racist’ when perceived that way by a victim”, but that “it will be for the investigation and any subsequent process to determine whether any complaint was ultimately well-founded”.
In response to many of the complaints submitted to her, Chakrabarti noted that “complaints and disciplinary procedures are wanting. They lack sufficient transparency, uniformity and expertise in delivery”. In particular, she criticised the situation in which many people were immediately suspended, and details given to the press. Chakrabarti recommended that suspension be the exception rather than the rule, that people subject to investigation be informed directly rather than via press leaks, and that details be recorded of complainants in order to discourage “trawling exercises or fishing expeditions” by “hostile journalists or political rivals”.
Chakrabarti also criticised the use of “special measures” against local parties. Noting the scandal that some parties in Birmingham have been subject to such measures for up to 23 years, Chakrabarti condemns “the enduring image of hundreds of BAME Labour members in one part of a city being denied democracy and autonomy, with little in the way of procedural protection, and the likely message this sends, whilst a handful of their white neighbours enjoy full membership rights down the road”, and recommends that such procedures not be used against any local party for more than six months without review by the NEC.
Chakrabarti sets out proposals for a new “clear and transparent” disciplinary procedure in the Labour Party. She further recommends a “statute of limitations” preventing permanent trawling through members’ old social media postings, calls for a wider range of sanctions including warnings and apologies as well as suspension and expulsion, and opposes calls for a lifetime ban. The detailed proposals are a significant improvement on the current arbitrary procedures, and are long overdue.
In discussing training, Chakrabarti explicitly opposes “narrow anti-racism training programmes” as “patronising and insulting” rather than “empowering and exciting”. In doing so, she resists the demand from the “Jewish Labour Movement” for a key role in such training. Despite its neutral-sounding name, the Jewish Labour Movement is actually an explicitly Zionist body; it is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation, and membership requires signing up to the principle of “the centrality of the State of Israel in Jewish life”.
As such, it excludes many Jews from membership, and cannot legitimately claim to represent the interests of Jewish Labour party members unless they already support the JLM’s Zionist agenda. But it is also regarded as a Socialist society within the Labour Party and therefore has the right to send delegates and submit motions to local General Committees, and to other rights of membership. This not only reinforces the general feeling of marginalisation that non-Zionist Jews are often subject too but even more to the point, suggest that they do not really belong in the Labour Party.
In fact the voices of diversity within the Jewish community in Britain have been growing over for many years. The Jewish Socialist Group was set up in 1974, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians was set up at the turn of the millennium. Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to be elected leader of the Labour Party led to the formation of a loose network – Jews for Jeremy – which expected its work would be over at the close of the contest but which has in fact had to return to activity several times over the last year as the false slurs of antisemitism surfaced time and again.
As Israel’s attacks on Gaza are stepped up to a pitch higher than any since August 2014 and Corbyn’s re-election campaign moves into its final phase the autumn will inevitably include discussions on how best to step up solidarity with the Palestinian people, how to make sure the Chakrabarti recommendations are implemented and whether to try and develop a collective voice for non-Zionist Jews within the Labour Party.