This piece by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) and republished here with the author’s consent.
DISSENT IN LABOUR INCREASES AFTER BBC ANTISEMITISM DOCUMENTARY
The BBC Panorama documentary1 on antisemitism in the British Labour party, broadcast on July 10, has unleashed a torrent of reactions. A number of these are important new developments. Yet on the one side in Labour remains party leader Jeremy Corbyn, those who do not want to fight antisemitism effectively (the “smokescreeners”) and the antisemitism whitewashers, and on the other side are those who want to stamp out the party’s institutional antisemitism.
The dissent in Labour has significantly increased. One spectacular sign of it was a full-page advert paid for by 67 Labour peers – several of them former ministers – in the left-wing daily, the Guardian. The signatories represent about one-third of all Labour Lords. They accused Corbyn of not having defended Labour’s anti-racist values. The key statement of the advert was: “The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective or race, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation (*except, it seems, Jews).” It added: “This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.”2
It is telling that these Labour peers did not write an open letter. They were apparently trying to maximize their audience in regard to their dissent on antisemitism with Corbyn. Quotes from the advert were picked up by a variety of other British media outlets.
An additional front of dissent opened between Labour staff and the party’s leadership. Staff members, affiliated with the major GMB trade union, voted 124 in favor, with only 4 against, for a motion condemning the Labour press office’s response to the BBC documentary. The motion said that it was “unacceptable for an employee’s workload or the culture of an organization to cause staff to have breakdowns or to contemplate suicide” Several whistleblowers have claimed extreme stress caused by the leadership on the BBC program.3
Baroness Hayter is Labour’s Deputy Leader in the House of Lords. She is one of the signatories of the peers’ advertisement. Hayter said that Corbyn’s inner circle was like the last days of Hitler in his bunker where “you stop receiving any information into the inner group which suggests that things are not going the way you want.”4 A Labour spokesman described the comments as “deeply offensive.” Corbyn fired Baroness Hayter from the party’s front bench. Yet only the party’s peers can sack her as Deputy Labour leader in the House of Lords.5 In the House of Lords, Hayter remains sitting on Labour’s frontbench ignoring Corbyn’s decision.6 Another former Labour minister Lord Mandelson, who has also been a European Commisisoner said that he feels “dirty” staying in a Labour Party in which “no effective action” is being taken against people holding antisemitic views.7
As a reaction to the peers’ advertisement, a local Labour party expelled one of its signatories, Lady Armstrong.8 She was Chief Whip under Prime Minister Blair. This was a symbolic vote as only the Labour leadership can expel party members. Shadow justice minister, MP Gloria Depiero, who left Labour’s front bench, announced that she would not be standing at the next general election as the party has a “lack of tolerance.”9
MP Dame Margaret Hodge wrote an article in the Guardian. The occasion for this article was that one year had passed since her face-to-face encounter with Corbyn in the parliament’s lobby. There, she called the Labour leader “a racist” and an “antisemite.” Hodge wrote that her politics have been defined by her Jewish identity in a way that she never imagined. She added that she never thought she would become a victim of Jew-hatred from the hard left. Hodge also wrote that in the year that has passed, the situation within the party has deteriorated dramatically and that the antisemitism crisis in Labour had spiraled out of control.10
Former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was asked in a BBC interview whether he would vote for the party in elections amid the rows on Brexit and antisemitism. Referring to the antisemitism issue, Blair indicated that it would be difficult.11
Matthew Turner, head of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, said that there is currently a real and ongoing issue of antisemitism within the party. He said “We must now take the fight to antisemitism within our own ranks. We cannot ignore it or fail to deal with it properly.”12
The National Executive Committee of Labour (NEC) is backing a proposal by Corbyn to fast track expulsions of members in the most serious antisemitism cases. It was decided that a new internal panel should be set up to take up rapid action against the worst offenders. The shadow cabinet is also backing this proposal. Yet Labour Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, wants automatic expulsion of party members where there is “irrefutable evidence of racism and discrimination.”13 In the meantime a page of information on antisemitism was added to the party’s website.
The parliamentary head of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), MP Ruth Smeeth said “There is still no independence. In fact, arguably political power over antisemitism cases is going to be consolidated by political supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.” 14 Mike Katz, the JLM Chair said “Nothing short of a fully independent process, first asked for by the Jewish community way back in April 2018, is even going to begin to suggest that the party leadership really cares about tackling institutional anti-Jewish racism.”15
Dave Rich of the Jewish Defense organization CST wrote: “Labour still talks about antisemitism as a problem of ‘a small number’ of members with the wrong ideas, who can be persuaded to change their views with a leaflet and a video or two. In fact it is a problem of political culture and institutional racism, and a leadership that wants us to believe they can turn the problem around without ever addressing their own role in creating it.16
The antisemitism debate is apparently hampering pro-Palestinian activism and extreme attacks on Israel in Labour. This became clear from an earlier article by former Minister Peter Hain.17 Another former Minister, Clare Short, a fanatic anti-Israel inciter, wrote a letter to the Financial Times claiming that the root of the antisemitism problem is the “growing awareness, injustice and suffering inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians.”18 As usual among the extremist lookers away of major Palestinian criminality, there wasn’t a word in her letter about the genocidal intentions of the largest Palestinian party, Hamas and the glorification of the murder of Israeli civilians by the Palestinian Authority.
Labour has made public the information that 625 antisemitic complaints had been received during the first six months of 2019, and that eight party members have been expelled.
In the past three years it has become clear that under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become institutionally antisemitic.19 A report from the Community Security Trust (CST) found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain rose in the first half of 2019. The document states that anti-Semitism in the opposition Labour party was a contributing factor.20
One Jewish activist David Collier has complied a factual report which concludes: “The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader in September 2015 established the toxic environment which enabled the growth of rampant anti-Zionist hostility and inevitably antisemitism.” Collier also discovered a “clear pattern” supporting the “general assumption” by commentators that “the Labour party was invaded by extremists when Jeremy Corbyn became leader”.21
Nevertheless, a substantial percentage of the Labour membership is at least partly in denial about Corbyn’s role in causing this. A poll by The Times found that 70% of Labour members admitted that antisemitism was a genuine problem in the party. Yet only 48% opined that Corbyn had fared either fairly badly or very badly on the issue. Only 27% agreed that Corbyn should step down now. More than 80% thought that Corbyn had the right leadership priorities for the country.22
The party is thus full of supporters of Corbyn who in the past has called genocidal antisemitic terrorists “friends” and “brothers” and is himself a part time antisemite.23 Yet many of those opposed to the party’s leadership’s lack of desire to confront antisemitism prefer to fight within the party rather than leave it. Therefore the battle of antisemitism in the party is unlikely to go away in the near future.
19 Alan Johnson. “Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party,” 2019.