Negotiating Labour’s Antisemitism Minefield

Before I started writing this I wrestled with whether I should write it. I’m not Jewish, I’m not an expert on antisemitism, so what do I know? And then I thought to myself, I’m a Labour member. I have a nose for injustice. I’m being called an antisemite in the street, for sitting in the passenger seat of a car that sports a Labour bumper sticker. Of course not everyone will agree with what I’m about to write but these are my thoughts laid out for those who are interested in reading them. This is me unpicking what ‘Labour’s antisemitism problem’ really means to me, and what we can do about it.
 Has Labour got an antisemitism problem?
Yes, in so much as any degree of antisemitism is a problem.
Less than 0.1% of Labour members have been disciplined for antisemitism over the past three years. This might seem like a relatively low figure, but unreported incidents mean it could be much higher than this, and in a
party that prides itself on being opposed to all forms of discrimination and prejudice, we should be aiming for 0.0000%. Of course this is a tall order but we don’t shy from tall orders on the left, like the eradication of homelessness, so let’s let our much maligned idealism guide us on this too. There is also a tendency by a small minority on the left to buy into conspiracy theories about shadowy, hugely wealthy figures running the world. This is not a giant leap from nazi propaganda about Jews running the world, and therefore needs to be challenged and avoided. We need to see it as a system we are striving to transform, rather than a few all powerful individuals who need to be overthrown. The understandable and passionate anger surrounding the actions of Israel can occasionally cross the line into Jew blaming, though of course it is NOT antisemitic to blame the state of Israel for its actions toward the Palestinians and the two should not be conflated. Those who do conflate it, should be condemned. We can educate ourselves to become more aware of antisemitism, and what constitutes questionable or offensive language, theories etc via organisations like Jewdas.
Does society have an antisemitism problem?
According to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, over a quarter of all Brits hold antisemitic views to some degree. So yes, it is a huge societal problem. According to hate crime figures in the UK, crimes related to antisemitism are on the rise, with 1382 incidents recorded last year,the highest figure since records began in 1984. Empathy and validation for the understandable fears Jewish people feel about antisemitism on the left and in society as a whole, are essential if we are going to move forward together.
Why is there so much focus on antisemitism on the left when research has proven its far more prevalent on the far right?
 
Because the left are close to power and the far right are not, is the short answer. Under Corbyn we have become a populist party with a strong vein of anti-Israel sentiment running through it. This is enough to trigger anxieties which stem from a collective trauma still recent in historical terms. Of course this fear will be exploited by those who don’t want to live under a Corbyn led government.
How should cases of antisemitism in Labour be dealt with?
As swiftly as possible and via education where possible, rather than expulsion, unless the person is closed off to being educated. Why? Because when antisemitism is not addressed within the party via education, all we are really doing is washing our hands of it, rather than tackling it as the societal issue it is.
Are some MPs, sections of the media etc, exaggerating and therefore exploiting the understandable fears around antisemitism?
Undoubtedly. The same MPs who try to insinuate the membership is made up of Trotskyite thugs, who spend all their days trolling hard working MPs online, are the same MPs who are now labelling the left as being intrinsically antisemitic. This is no coincidence. We are right to be angry about this, and we are right to call it out when we know it’s happening. However we should
not fall into the trap these people are deliberately setting for us where we grow so defensive, we deny there is any antisemitism on the left. I’m not saying that’s easy. As I mentioned earlier, only a week ago a complete stranger marched up to my friend’s car which sported a Labour sticker, and aggressively shouted ‘antisemites’ at us through the open drivers window. That was living proof that Labour is being so successfully stained as an antisemitic party, people assume you must be antisemitic if you are a member. That hurts and makes me angry because it’s wrong. Labour has a proud history of fighting racism and antisemitism and we are continuing that tradition under Corbyn. A small element with antisemitic views does not mean Labour is an antisemitic party, anymore than a few callous doctors means medicine is an uncaring profession. Fighting negative stereotyping is part of our political DNA, so why should we allow ourselves to be unjustly stereotyped? However we must still accept the exploitation of antisemitism and the existence of antisemitism are not either/or issues. Either the issue is being exploited, or there is no issue.
Both can co-exist, albeit uncomfortably alongside each other.
 
What makes you so sure it’s being exploited?
Apart from the fact it’s the same MPs who have denigrated Corbyn and his supporters from day one of his leadership and before, who are suggesting the party is a hotbed of antisemitism, they do often out themselves as exploiters through timing (ramping up the outrage just before key elections, and then falling relatively quiet after), or by inadvertent comments through which their agenda slips. For example, Thangam Debbonaire, an MP on Labour’s right, stated on Daily Politics that antisemitism in the Tory party is not her problem. As a Labour MP her concern was only with antisemitism in the Labour Party. Why would you only care about antisemitism in your own party? Doesn’t antisemitism within government ranks affect your constituents just as much, if not more than antisemitism in the Labour Party? Or is it the case that antisemitism in the Tory party is of no interest to you because you are not interested in damaging them electorally? The same goes for the right wing media. I tallied up 42 Labour/antisemitism based articles in the month preceding the local elections and only 3 since. If antisemitism is a huge problem in the Labour Party, why does it cease to be a huge problem the day after elections?
 There are many left Jews who are angry at antisemitism being exploited  in this way, and they are right to be, and deserve our support. There are also left Jews who are growing increasingly frustrated at the way the issue is slammed as merely a smear or a non issue. We need to ensure we call out the exploiters without denying antisemitism exists.
 
Why doesn’t antisemitism and racism in the Tory Party get a fraction of the exposure Labour are getting over antisemism?
 
 
Because they are Tories, and no one in the establishment or on the Labour right wants to give them a hard time.
 
But aren’t we falling into their trap if we say the left have a problem with antisemitism, when statistics show we are not rife with it?
No. Falling into their trap is denying we have any problem with antisemitism at all, because firstly, that’s not true. How could we be spared a problem so prevalent in society? And secondly, denial of its very existence feeds into the fears of Jewish people who need reassurance that we do take it seriously. I actually think Jeremy Corbyn has it right when he cites the actual statistics whilst acknowledging the problem exists. That way we are not denying the issue, but we are putting it into context.
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21 comments

  1. A6er · May 22

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

    Like

  2. Sid · May 22

    0.1% of 600,000 is 600! Have more than 500 Labour Party members been disciplined?

    Sid

    Like

    • chelleryn · May 22

      Bear in mind we have not had this huge membership for that entire 3 years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sid · May 23

        ((In case you didn’t see it))
        How many have been disciplined/sanctioned, to get to your 0.1% figure?

        Like

    • chelleryn · May 23

      I don’t know. I am quoting Jeremy Corbyn who said in a recent article it was 0.1% over the past three years. He did not say how many this equates to, and because of the shifting number of members over that 3 years, I cannot work it out mathematically.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sid · May 22

    Reblogged this on SidLabour.

    Like

    • Sid · May 23

      Thanks

      All I can think is Corbyn should have said “It is “less than” 0.1% of the membership”

      But thank you, again

      Sid

      Like

      • Sid · May 23

        ”So let me be clear. People holding those views have no place in the Labour Party. They may be few — the number of cases over the past three years represents less than 0.1 per cent of Labour’s membership of more than half a million — but one is too many.

        We are taking action. In the past fortnight more than 20 individuals have been suspended from party membership, and more are being investigated. But we have not done enough to get to grips with the problem, and the Jewish community and our Jewish members deserve an apology. My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused.“
        Jeremy Corbyn 24th April 2018

        FOUND IT‼️

        Chelleryn, found it in the Evening Standard‼️

        Liked by 1 person

  4. bebbingtonmark · May 22

    Well thought out , and calmly delivered . Covers the points that are important , without attacking too many of those that we know are the enemy within.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sid · May 22

    How many have been disciplined?

    Like

  6. pauleustice · May 22

    Well argued. The problem is historical and very complex. Similarly, the problem in Israel is not from being Jewish but from being settlers, often from Eastern Europe and the US. American Christians herding native groups into reservations were no different. Anyone using reason to explain history is likely to be abused by those incapable or unwilling to understand complex problems when slogans and smears win more votes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hilary Temple · May 22

    Thorough and very fair. The antisemitism thing was ramped up as Tory support wobbled – we forget how right-wing our media are.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jonk · May 23

    Thank you for a well thought out analysis. I have leant towards a view of the coverage given the issue of antisemitism in the Party as being a propaganda tool of the right wing media but that’s been adjusted by this article. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Diogenes · May 23

    Excellent Chelley be even better if the questions were bolded or in a small bold font ie between tags

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Finola Brophy · May 23

    A clear exposure and explanation of the issues. Thank you for a balanced article that accepts there is antisemitism within the Labour Party (though proportionately much less than Parties on the Right) as well as highlighting the hidden and not so hidden agendas that are exploiting Labours mismanagement of this issue.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. johnlewis2013 · May 23

    Very well put. I suspect that you speak for many in the Labour Party who are fed-up with the “Labour is anti-Semitic” smears and the weaponisation of the issue to get at JC.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. cadxx · August 20

    As someone who regularly writes on the Internet I have been first amazed and secondly confused at why otherwise intelligent people fall for the anti-Semitism double speak. It seems if you don’t agree with Israeli genocide you are anti-Semitic and so to be a friend of Jews you need to hate Arabs. So it follows is that most of the UK public are anti-Semitic? At very least there is a logical problem here that should be addressed by Labour leaders.
    Weaponised anti-Semitism is a good sword and like all good swords it cuts both ways. It throws a spotlight on the Jews that was never there and if others are like me they will have a good look at those who are doing the accusing.
    I’ve seen no comment from the C of E on this subject, but of course they are bound and gagged by the Bible.

    Like

    • Hilary Temple · August 20

      Yes, it’s the lazy conflation of “anti-Israeli policy” and “anti-Jewish” that riles me.
      Although our right-wing media are clearly using every weapon they can find against Corbyn, I’m finding his refutations less than clear. We are talking politics here, which is dirty and uses PR. I’m not saying he should use underhand techniques but someone needs to advise him on how his responses come across to the general public who have no particular reason to believe him. Otherwise we shall simply have more “Corbyn = JC” adoration and this is not what is going to win a GE.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Negotiating Labour’s Antisemitism Minefield | SidLabour

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