This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was originally published at The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE IDEAL CASE FOR STUDYING ANTISEMITISM: UK LABOUR
Antisemitism is rising in many places in the Western world. This creates a complex reality which is difficult to analyze. For the purpose of efficiently studying the many facets of contemporary hate promotion and some of the ways to fight against this phenomenon in a single organization, nothing in Europe can rival the British Labour party.
The main enabler of ongoing antisemitism in Labour is Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader since 2015. He has called representatives of Hezbollah and Hamas his “brothers” and “friends.” Corbyn has made donations to a Holocaust denier and welcomed another. He is a long-term anti-Israel inciter and a part-time antisemite.1 He and his close assistants hinder the full eradication of antisemites from the party. The Sunday Times claimed that Corbyn’s office has been involved in delaying or blocking at least 101 such complaints.2
Whenever it seems that one has a reasonably complete picture of the antisemitism in Labour, massive new data on this problem emerge. In March 2019, British scholar Alan Johnson, a Labour member, published a 135-page report which concludes that the party is institutionally antisemitic. Johnson divided antisemitism in Labour into three categories: socialism of fools, classic racial antisemitism, and antisemitism as anti-Zionism.3
Labour against Antisemitism is a campaign of activists. It has collected data for a report containing 15,000 screenshots showing examples of alleged antisemitism in Labour.4 This file was submitted in May to the Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC).5 The latter is a public body established by the Equality Act of 2006.
Later in May it became known that approximately 100,000 emails and WhatsApp messages from within Labour — collected by former party officials — would be submitted to the EHRC. This body has already undertaken the first step of a statutory inquiry into Labour’s handling of antisemitic complaints. It is expected to open a full inquiry into Labour in the coming weeks. Such an investigation of a party only happened once before. In 2010, the small cryptofascist British National party (BNP) was found guilty of racism.6 A possible EHRC report on Labour may take up to two years to complete. It is likely to provide one of the most profound analyses of antisemitism in a single organization ever in history.
Whitewashing of antisemitism as a technique can also be studied in the Labour party. One has to focus here on Labour members who made antisemitic slurs and have not been expelled from the party. Beyond that there are also those who target persons who expose the antisemitism. Jews who participate in this are most useful for whitewashing antisemitism. The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a small organization which supports Corbyn. Its secretary, Glyn Secker, addressed a pro-Palestinian rally in London. He said that the Jewish Labour Movement and Jewish MP Dame Margaret Hodge are a fifth column inside Labour and added: “Jews are in the gutter with these rats.”7
Rhea Wolfson is one of the two Jews in Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee. She wrote: “I’ve had the honor of working closely with Jeremy Corbyn, one of the most principled people in politics… Anyone who knows, has met, or worked with Jeremy Corbyn, as I know that he does not have a prejudicial bone in his body, and is utterly committed to tackling antisemitism, as he is against all forms of discrimination and oppression, which he has fought against all his life. My commitment to Labour is unwavering and I am proud of the work that Jeremy is doing to tackle antisemitism in politics and wider society.”8
The general British public however does not believe that Corbyn will ever be able to end Labour’s antisemitism crisis. Fifty percent of all voters agreed in May 2019 that Labour has a problem with anti-Jewish racism, up from 43% in a similar poll in February of this year. The number of those who deny that Labour has such a problem has fallen from 23% in February to 18% in May.9
Yet another major aspect for antisemitism research is the overlap in Labour between anti-Israel inciters and whitewashers of antisemitism. One example: former Labour Minister Clare Short wrote on her blog in July 2016: “The charge of antisemitism used against members of the Labour party critical of Israel is a ploy to detract from Israel’s breaches of international law.”10
The Labour party is also an ideal place to investigate what might be called smokescreening of the antisemitism issue, a subject rarely researched. The leaders of the party do not say “We protect antisemites whom we consider valuable to the party.” To the contrary, Corbyn has on many occasions said that the party will stamp out antisemitism.
When Jennie Formby became Labour’s General Secretary in the beginning of 2018 she promised that within a few months complaints would be dealt with. Many cases were not processed by that time and new ones kept emerging. In February 2019 she said that antisemitism cannot be stamped out totally: “I don’t think anyone can ever say that we can eradicate antisemitism completely and stop every single person from making … every single day someone else could join the party tomorrow and do something.” 11 This is however a marginal issue. The essence of the problem concerns antisemitic remarks by current members of the party, some of whom belong to it for many years.12
In view of the many cases of antisemitism in Labour and the faulty handling of the problem, there are also significant reactions against antisemitism in the party. Thus, one can also study methods to fight against hatred of Jews in a left-wing organization where the leadership refuses to eradicate antisemitism.
The strongest force within the party fighting antisemitism is the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) which has been part of Labour for almost a hundred years. However, even the JLM used an euphemism about Corbyn which helps creating a smokescreen. They made the statement that they have lost all confidence in Corbyn’s ability to kick racists out of the party.13 The fact is not that Corbyn however is not was unaunable to do so but instead prefersred to keep certain people who make antisemitic statements in the party. The JLM stopped short of making this clear.
Another interesting action against antisemitism in Labour was the decision by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is not Jewish, to join the JLM out of solidarity as an affiliate member.14 So too did Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.15 Many senior Labour personalities have come out against antisemitism in the party. Among these are former Prime Minister Tony Blair16 and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.17
3 Alan Johnson. Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party, 2019.