At last a sensible article about the so called plague of Labour party antisemitism

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Mar 14 13:20:15 GMT 2019

Is anti-semitism cover for a much deeper divide in Britain's Labour party?
  Jonathan Cook
20 February 2019 16:30 UTC | Last update: 2 weeks 5 days ago

Breakaway MPs hope that smearing Corbyn will 
obscure the fact that they are remnants of an old 
political order bankrupt of ideas
The announcement by seven MPs from the UK Labour 
Party on Monday that they were breaking away and 
creating a new parliamentary faction marked the 
biggest internal upheaval in a British political 
party in nearly 40 years, when the SDP split from Labour.
On Wednesday, they were joined by an eighth 
Labour MP, Joan Ryan, and three Conservative MPs. 
There are predictions more will follow.
With the UK teetering on the brink of crashing 
out of the European Union with no deal on Brexit, 
the founders of the so-called Independent Group 
made reference to their opposition to Brexit.
The report decisively undercut their claims – not 
only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all
The chief concern cited for the split by the 
eight Labour MPs, though, was a supposed “anti-semitism crisis” in the party.
The breakaway faction seemingly agrees that 
anti-semitism has become so endemic in the party 
since Jeremy Corbyn became leader more than three 
years ago that they were left with no choice but to quit.
Corbyn, it should be noted, is the first leader 
of a major British party to explicitly prioritise 
the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s 
continuing belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

‘Sickeningly racist’?

Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who has highlighted 
what she sees as an anti-semitism problem under 
Corbyn, led the charge, stating at the 
Independent Group’s launch that she had reached 
“the sickening conclusion” that Labour was “institutionally racist”.
She and her allies claim she has been hounded out 
of the party by “anti-semitic bullying”. Berger 
has suffered online abuse and death threats from 
a young neo-Nazi who was jailed for two years in 
2016. There have been other incidences of abuse 
and other sentences, including a 27-month jail 
term for John Nimmo, a right-wing extremist who 
referred to Berger as "Jewish scum" and signed 
his messages, "your friend, the Nazi".
In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, the 
former Labour MP said the Independent Group would 
provide the Jewish community with a “political 
home that they, like much of the rest of the country, are now looking for”.
In a plea to keep the party together, deputy 
leader Tom Watson issued a video in which he 
criticised his own party for being too slow to 
tackle anti-semitism. The situation “poses a 
test” for Labour, he said, adding: “Do we respond 
with simple condemnation, or do we try and reach 
out beyond our comfort zone and prevent others from following?”
Ruth Smeeth, another Jewish Labour MP who may yet 
join a later wave of departures, was reported to 
have broken down in tears at a parliamentary 
party meeting following the split, as she called 
for tougher action on anti-semitism.
Two days later, as she split from Labour, Ryan 
accused the party of being “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism”.

Hatred claims undercut

The timing of the defections was strange, 
occurring shortly after the Labour leadership 
revealed the findings of an investigation into 
complaints of anti-semitism in the party. These 
were the very complaints that MPs such as Berger 
have been citing as proof of the party’s “institutional racism”.
And yet, the report decisively undercut their 
claims – not only of endemic anti-semitism in 
Labour, but of any significant problem at all.
That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home 
affairs committee, which found there was “no 
reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had 
more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

Anti-Semitism and Labour: Muzzling free speech 
silences rightful criticism of Israel

Nonetheless, the facts seem to be playing little 
or no part in influencing the anti-semitism 
narrative. This latest report was thus almost 
entirely ignored by Corbyn’s opponents and by the mainstream media.
It is, therefore, worth briefly examining what 
the Labour Party’s investigation discovered.
Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had 
been filed against Labour members over alleged 
anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online 
comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.
The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 
percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. 
Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

Intemperate language

There is the possibility past outbursts have been 
part of this investigation. Intemperate language 
flared especially in 2014 – before Corbyn became 
leader – when Israel launched a military 
operation on Gaza that killed large numbers of 
Palestinian civilians, including many hundreds of children.
Certainly, it is unclear how many of those 
reportedly anti-semitic comments concern not 
prejudice towards Jews, but rather outspoken 
criticism of the state of Israel, which was 
redefined as anti-semitic last year by Labour, 
under severe pressure from MPs such as Berger and 
Ryan and Jewish lobby groups, such as the Board 
of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement.
Seven of the 11 examples of anti-semitism 
associated with the International Holocaust 
Remembrance Alliance’s definition adopted by 
Labour concern Israel. That includes describing 
Israel as a “racist endeavour”, even though 
Israel passed a basic law last year stripping the 
fifth of its population who are not Jewish of any 
right to self-determination, formally creating two classes of citizen.
Illustrating the problem Labour has created for 
itself as a result, some of the most high-profile 
suspensions and expulsions have actually targeted 
Jewish members of the party who identify as 
anti-Zionist – that is, they consider Israel a 
racist state. They include Tony Greenstein, 
Jackie Walker, Martin Odoni, Glyn Secker and Cyril Chilson.
Another Jewish member, Moshe Machover, a 
professor emeritus at the University of London, 
had to be reinstated after a huge outcry among 
members at his treatment by the party.

Unthinking prejudice

Alan Maddison, who has been conducting 
statistical research on anti-semitism for a 
pro-Corbyn Jewish group, Jewish Voice for Labour, 
put the 0.08 percent figure into its wider social 
and political context this week.
He quoted the findings of a large survey of 
anti-semitic attitudes published by the Institute 
for Jewish Policy Research in 2017. It found that 
30 percent of respondents from various walks of 
society agreed with one or more of eight 
anti-semitic views, ranging from stereotypes such 
as “Jews think they are better than other people” to Holocaust denial.
Four-fifths of those who exhibited a degree of 
anti-semitism also agreed with at least one 
positive statement about Jewish people
However, lead researcher Daniel Staetsky 
concluded that in most cases, this was evidence 
of unthinking prejudice rather than conscious 
bigotry. Four-fifths of those who exhibited a 
degree of anti-semitism also agreed with at least 
one positive statement about Jewish people.
This appears to be the main problem among the 
tiny number of Labour Party members identified in 
complaints, and is reflected in the predominance 
of warnings about conduct rather than expulsions and suspensions.

Far-right bigotry

Another of the institute’s findings poses a 
particular problem for Corbyn’s opponents, who 
argue that the Labour leader has imported 
anti-semitism into the party by attracting the 
“hard left”. Since he was elected, Labour membership has rocketed.
Even if it were true that Corbyn and his 
supporters are on the far-left – a highly 
questionable assumption, made superficially 
plausible only because Labour moved to the 
centre-right under Tony Blair in the late 1990s – 
the institute’s research pulls the rug out from under Corbyn’s critics.
It discovered that across the political spectrum, 
conscious hatred of Jews was very low, and that 
it was exhibited in equal measure from the “very 
left-wing” to the “fairly right-wing”. The only 
exception, as one might expect, was on the “very 
right-wing”, where virulent anti-semitism was much more prevalent.
That finding was confirmed last week by surveys 
that showed a significant rise in violent, 
anti-semitic attacks across Europe as far-right 
parties make inroads in many member states. A 
Guardian report noted that the “figures show an 
overwhelming majority of violence against Jews is 
perpetrated by far-right supporters”.

Supporters of overseas war

So what is the basis for concerns about the 
Labour Party being mired in supposed 
“institutional anti-semitism” since it moved from 
the centre to the left under Corbyn, when the 
figures and political trends demonstrate nothing of the sort?
A clue may be found in the wider political 
worldview of the eight MPs who have broken from Labour.
All but two are listed as supporters of the 
parliamentary “Labour Friends of Israel” (LFI) 
faction. Further, Berger is a former director of 
that staunchly pro-Israel lobby group, and Ryan 
is its current chair, a position the group says 
she will hold onto, despite no longer being a Labour MP.
So extreme are the LFI’s views on Israel that it 
sought to exonerate Israel of a massacre last 
year, in which its snipers shot dead many dozens 
of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza in a 
single day. Faced with a social media backlash, 
it quietly took down the posts.
The eight MPs’ voting records – except for Gavin 
Shuker, for whom the picture is mixed – show them 
holding consistently hawkish foreign policy 
positions that are deeply antithetical to 
Corbyn’s approach to international relations.
They either “almost always” or “generally” backed 
“combat operations overseas”; those who were MPs 
at the time supported the 2003 Iraq war; and they 
all opposed subsequent investigations into the Iraq war.

Committed Friends of Israel

In one sense, the breakaway group’s support for 
Labour Friends of Israel may not be surprising, 
and indicates why Corbyn is facing such 
widespread trouble from within his own party. 
Dozens of Labour MPs are members of the group, 
including Tom Watson and Ruth Smeeth.
Smeeth, one of those at the forefront of accusing 
Corbyn of fostering anti-semitism in Labour, is 
also a former public affairs director of BICOM, 
another stridently pro-Israel lobby group.
None of these MPs were concerned enough with the 
LFI’s continuing vocal support for Israel as it 
has shifted to the far-right under Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu to have stepped down from the group.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Anti-semitism has taken centre stage in the 
manoeuvring against Corbyn, despite there being 
no evidence of significant hatred against Jews in 
the party. Increasingly, it seems, tangible abuse 
of Jews is of little interest unless it can be related to Corbyn.
The markedly selective interest in anti-semitism 
in the Corbyn context among the breakaway MPs and 
supposed anti-semitism watchdogs has been starkly on show for some time.
Increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, there 
has been an ever-greater indulgence of the 'right 
kind of anti-semitism' – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters
Notably, none expressed concern at the media 
mauling of a left-wing, satirical Jewish group 
called Jewdas when Corbyn was widely attacked for 
meeting “the wrong kind of Jews”. In fact, 
leading Labour figures, including the Jewish 
Labour Movement, joined in the abuse.
And increasingly in this febrile atmosphere, 
there has been an ever-greater indulgence of the 
“right kind of anti-semitism” – when it is directed at Corbyn supporters.
A troubling illustration was provided on the TV 
show Good Morning Britain this week, when Tom 
Bower was invited on to discuss his new 
unauthorised biography of Corbyn, in which he 
accuses him of anti-semitism. The hosts looked on 
demurely as Bower, a Jewish journalist, defamed 
fellow Jewish journalist Michael Segalov as a 
“self-hating Jew” for defending Corbyn on the show.

Revenge of the Blairites

So what is the significance of the fact that the 
Labour MPs who have been most outspoken in 
criticising Corbyn – those who helped organise a 
2016 leadership challenge against him, and those 
who are now rumoured to be considering joining 
the breakaway faction – are heavily represented 
on the list of MPs supporting LFI?
For them, it seems, vigorous support for Israel 
is not only a key foreign policy matter, but a 
marker of their political priorities and 
worldview – one that starkly clashes with the 
views of Corbyn and a majority of the Labour membership.
Anti-semitism has turned out to be the most 
useful – and damaging – weapon to wield against 
the Labour leader for a variety of reasons close 
to the hearts of the holdouts from the Blair era, 
who still dominate the parliamentary party and parts of the Labour bureaucracy.
Perhaps most obviously, the Blairite wing of the 
party is still primarily loyal to a notion that 
Britain should at all costs maintain its 
transatlantic alliance with the United States in 
foreign policy matters. Israel is a key issue for 
those on both sides of the Atlantic who see that 
state as a projection of Western power into the 
oil-rich Middle East and romanticise Israel as a 
guarantor of Western values in a “barbaric” region.
Corbyn’s prioritising of Palestinian rights 
threatens to overturn a core imperial value to which the Blairites cling.

Tarred and feathered

But it goes further. Anti-semitism has become a 
useful stand-in for the deep differences in a 
domestic political culture between the Blairites, 
on one hand, and Corbyn and the wider membership, on the other.
A focus on anti-semitism avoids the right-wing 
MPs having to admit much wider grievances with 
Corbyn’s Labour that would probably play far less 
well not only with Labour members, but with the broader British electorate.
Anti-Semitism and Labour: Jeremy Corbyn must stop 
apologising and start fighting back
As well as their enthusiasm for foreign wars, the 
Blairites support the enrichment of a narrow 
neo-liberal elite, are ambivalent about austerity 
policies, and are reticent at returning key 
utilities to public ownership. All of this can be 
neatly evaded and veiled by talking up anti-semitism.
But the utility of anti-semitism as a weapon with 
which to beat Corbyn and his supporters – however 
unfairly – runs deeper still.
The Blairites view allegations of anti-Jewish 
racism as a trump card. Calling someone an 
anti-semite rapidly closes down all debate and 
rational thought. It isolates, then tars and 
feathers its targets. No one wants to be seen to 
be associated with an anti-semite, let alone defend them.

Weak hand exposed

That is one reason why anti-semitism smears have 
been so maliciously effective against 
anti-Zionist Jews in the party and used with 
barely a murmur of protest – or in most cases, 
even recognition that Jews are being suspended 
and expelled for opposing Israel’s racist policies towards Palestinians.
This is a revival of the vile “self-hating Jew” 
trope that Israel and its defenders concocted 
decades ago to intimidate Jewish critics.
The Blairites in Labour, joined by the ruling 
Conservative Party, the mainstream media and 
pro-Israel lobby groups, have selected 
anti-semitism as the terrain on which to try to 
destroy a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because it is 
a battlefield in which the left stands no hope of 
getting a fair hearing – or any hearing at all.
But paradoxically, the Labour breakaway group may 
have inadvertently exposed the weakness of its 
hand. The eight MPs have indicated that they will 
not run in by-elections, and for good reason: it 
is highly unlikely they would stand a chance of 
winning in any of their current constituencies outside the Labour Party.
Their decision will also spur moves to begin 
deselecting those Labour MPs who are openly 
trying to sabotage the party – and the members’ wishes – from within.
That may finally lead to a clearing out of the 
parliamentary baggage left behind from the Blair 
era, and allow Labour to begin rebuilding itself 
as a party ready to deal with the political, 
social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

The views expressed in this article belong to the 
author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Jonathan Cook
Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in 
Nazareth since 2001, is the the author of three 
books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is 
a past winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special 
Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be 
found at:
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'From South America, where payment must be made 
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participation in Bormann companies that when 
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pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
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well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

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