Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article on the Labour party whitewashers of antisemitism co-authored with Irena Kuruc, is an extended version of an article which appeared in the Algemeiner.
The Multifaceted Antisemitism Whitewashing in the British Labour Party
Manfred Gerstenfeld and Irene Kuruc
In 2016 the UK was the first country to adopt for domestic use the antisemitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).1 Yet, many actions of the chairman of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, prove that this definition covers only part of the actions which can be considered antisemitic.
Corbyn was elected as Labour’s leader in September 2015. He is not only a long term anti-Israeli inciter but has also been involved in many issues just outside the borderlines of antisemitism as defined by the IHRA. In 2009, Corbyn called the terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah, his ‘friends’ and welcomed their representatives to the British parliament.2 He has for many years attended meetings of an organization headed by Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen. To this body he also donated money.3
Soon after Corbyn was elected he appointed former Labour Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to a senior position in the party as co-chair of the party’s defense review.4 Livingstone was later suspended because of antisemitic remarks. Corbyn also appointed Guardian journalist, Seamus Milne, as Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, a synonym for “spin doctor.”5 In 2007, this Hamas supporter called the creation of Israel a ‘crime.’6
Corbyn has been a member of three closed internet groups which disseminated antisemitic postings. In 2012 he also supported the maker of an antisemitic mural on Facebook. He apologized for this in 2018.7
The first Jewish group Corbyn sat with in 2018 was the extreme left-wing group, Jewdas, where he attended a Passover Seder. This organization called Israel a “steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed off.”8 Corbyn recently said that vile antisemitism must be eradicated. Such vileness however characterizes the expressions of a substantial number of people he has promoted in the party, called his friends or associated with.
In the massive number of articles on Labour antisemitism one important phenomenon has received little or no attention: the diversity of the antisemitism whitewashing in the party. It is debatable whether Labour is riddled by elected antisemitic representatives. There is no doubt however that the party is greatly permeated by whitewashers of antisemitism.
A poll of paying Labour members in March 2018 found that 47 percent said that antisemitism was a problem, but the extent of the problem was exaggerated “to damage Labour and Jeremy Corbyn or to stifle criticism of Israel.” A further thirty percent said that antisemitism was not a serious issue. 61% percent thought Corbyn was handling the antisemitism claims well. Only 33 percent thought he was handling them badly. 9
An important act of partial whitewashing of antisemitism by Labour was its investigation ordered by Corbyn in 2016. The investigator, Shami Chakrabarti, started her muddled report by writing that the party was not overrun by antisemitism or other forms of racism. This was a dilution tactic. Nobody had charged that there was racism in the party beyond antisemitism.10 Chakrabarti only acknowledged an “occasionally toxic atmosphere.”11
Several leading Labour personalities have consistently denied or belittled the importance of antisemitism in the party. One is Len McCluskey the head of the UK’s largest trade union, Unite. This organization is also the main financier of the party. Furthermore, he also accused the Israeli Labour party leader Avi Gabbai, who broke off relations with Corbyn, of a “cynical and outrageous smear” against the Labour leader. 12 Implicit in this is that McCluskey supports the idea that an Israeli social democrat should maintain relations with a man who mixes with genocidal antisemites and a Holocaust denier.
Another prominent whitewasher is long-term Labour MP, Diane Abbott. A special place among the whitewashers is set aside for MP Chris Williamson who took it upon himself to defend the Jewdas “sewage statement” about Israel.13 Extreme leftist filmmaker Ken Loach has suggested that Labour MPs who joined the demonstration against party antisemitism should be kicked out of the party.14
The arguments used to whitewash or deny antisemitism in Labour are of varying nature. If one tactic does not seem to make an impact, the whitewashers shift to another. The simplest is to find a Jewish Labour party member who declares that he or she has never experienced antisemitism in the party. This is a classic ‘strawman’ tool. One answers an accusation nobody has made: that all Jews in Labour experience antisemitism.
An ancient nonsensical rehashing of one popular defense can be summarized as “We are antiracists thus we cannot be antisemites.” In the same category is the claim that the perpetrators of antisemitism are victims of smears by those who expose them. Another common defense is that the antisemitism accusations are a plot by the party’s anti-Corbyn moderates to sully his image. Forty academics at British universities, among which are also extreme Israeli leftists, accuse the media of framing Corbyn with antisemitism.15 However, whatever motivations there are of some of those who expose antisemitism in Labour doesn’t change the hateful facts.
Yet another method of whitewashing is to accuse the accusers. After the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council organized a protest against Corbyn’s behavior 2,000 of the party leader’s supporters backed an open letter suggesting that the organizers had used their “immense strength” to “employ the full might of the BBC” in order to launch an “onslaught” against Corbyn.16 The Tsarist authors of the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion would have approved of this letter.
Another argument is that Labour antisemitism isn’t new. This is true. There were already extreme expressions of antisemitism by elected representatives under Corbyn’s Jewish predecessor, Ed Miliband.17 That only brings to light the major failure that this was not publicized at the time. Yet, another false argument is that antisemitism concerns only a few elected members of the party.
Labour had expected to make major wins in the May 3 local elections. Its gains were however modest. This may have been partly due to the antisemitism debate. The resulting disappointment may provide additional impetus to the party’s whitewashers of antisemitism.
Thanks to Corbyn’s close relationship with antisemites and the desire of Labour members to defend both their leader and party, a panorama has developed on how to whitewash that which is pitch black. Exposing these tactics provides additional insights into how problematic the UK Labour party is. It is even more important because Labour may win the next parliamentary elections. Beyond that, exposure of the whitewashing techniques helps to understand similar processes in many other areas in the Western world where antisemitism flourishes.