Barry Gilheany continues with his critique of the anti-Semitism he sees in the British Labour Party.


Part II: Timeline 2016-2019


With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Party Leader with a comfortable 61% to 39% victory over his challenger Owen Smith[1] in September 2016 and a better than expected performance by Labour in the General Election of 2017, an election called in a disastrous miscalculation by PM Theresa May to seek a popular mandate for her Brexit approach, Labour’s antisemitism crisis bubbled beneath the surface under the radar of a political system reeling from the shock impact of the vote for Brexit. But the crisis was to explode again into full view in the Spring of 2018 and this time there could be no hiding place for the Labour Party leadership.

Virtual Reality: Labour Antisemitism as an Art Form

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are acknowledged experts in their social media presentation and presence. To bypass the much derided “mainstream media”; Corbynistas have constructed a highly effective online media landscape of unashamedly partisan news outlets, journals and blogs including The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara Media, Evolve Politics and Vox Political plus Facebook groups. This Alt-Left echo chamber environment attracts traffic through clickbait mechanisms, the sensationalist headline leads the user to a myriad of dramatically written accounts of events and subjects taken almost wholly out of context. The monstering in the Canary piece “We Need to Talk about Laura” of the BBC Political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, a particular bete noire of Corbynistas, on the basis of a supposed youthful involvement in the Conservative Party and of one OFCOM criticism of her reporting of Corbyn’s reply to a question on whether police should be enabled to shoot to kill terrorists in the act of combat in the sake of the ISIS atrocities in Paris in November 2015 is perhaps the most famous example of their traducing of reporting standards in the service of this type of digital agitprop.

So, it was to be leakage from this Alt-Left media ecology that provided fresh grist to the mill for critics of Labour attitude to antisemitism in its own ranks. According to an investigation by the Sunday Times in early 2018, the twenty largest pro-Corbyn Facebook Groups had a combined membership of 400,000 people. It discovered that discussions on Jews, Israel and antisemitism in these groups often led to antisemitic comments, alongside denials of any sizeable antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party and allegation of smear campaigns by Zionists, “Blairites” or the “right-wing media”. The Sunday Times found thousands of posts endorsing antisemitic conspiracy theories, denying the Holocaust or inciting violence against Corbyn’s political opponents across the piece in their investigation of these groups. Several members of Corbyn’s own staff and that of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP belonged to some these groups. While there is no suggestion that any of them had posted or even seen anything antisemitic; such groups are indicative of the antisemitic discourse that is part of the culture of the mass movement that swept Corbyn to leadership of the Labour Party [2](Rich: pp.265-66).

In one the main unofficial Labour Facebook groups, Labour Party Forum which has around 16,000 members nine of whom are group administrators. One of these administrators, who were actually supposed to remove anti-Semiticc material, posted an article from the American far-right website Veterans Today that claimed that ‘the pagan Holocaust religion exalts the primacy of Jewish suffering’. Another posted a meme from the conspiracist David Icke about ‘Rothschild Zionist Israel’. A third wrote to a Jewish person on the group that ‘of course the persecution of the Jews was a perfect thing but like an abused child you have become the abuser’ (Rich: p.268) (Note the attribution of collective responsibility through the second person pronoun to ‘Jews’ and not merely the actions of the Israeli state). On being informed about the extent of anti-Semitic material on this site, this particular administrator responded by calling the complainant a ‘frothing Hasbara troll (‘hasbara’ is the name for pro-Israel public relations campaigns) and then wrote two hashtags: #Stop Israel and #Free Palestine (Rich: p.268).

However, it was not a Labour Party Facebook group that was to further make Jeremy Corbyn persona non grata with much of British Jewry but a pro-Palestinian group called Palestine Live set up as a closed group in 2013 and with over 3,000 members including many of the most prominent pro-Palestinian activists in Britain. Jeremy Corbyn was a member as were fellow Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Clive Lewis and Liberal Democrat expellees peer Baroness Jenny Tonge and MP, David Ward. In March 2018 David Collier, an independent blogger who writes extensively about antisemitism and extremism in the pro-Palestinian movement and who had infiltrated Palestine Live, published a 290-page report based on his analysis of all the posts in the group in the first two weeks of February 2018. What he found went much further than passionate opinion and debate about Israel/Palestine and included Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories taken from far-right, anti-Semitic websites.

All three of Palestine Live’s administrators regularly posted anti-Semitic material. The group’s founder and one of its administrators, Elleanne Green, posted material from the previously mentioned Veterans Today and The Ugly Truth whose strapline was ‘intelligent “antisemitism” for thinking Gentiles’. Other posts by Green included linking Israel to the 9/11 attacks and the ISIS attacks in France. Another group administrator, Tony Gratrex, posted several attacks attributing ‘false flag’ terror attacks in the UK, US and Europe to Israel. He posted a Holocaust denial article claiming that ‘somewhere between 100-150 thousand people died in Auschwitz, mainly as a result of disease and starvation, which was not a deliberate act on the part of the Germans, but rather the outcome of Allied carpet-bombing of Germany’s infrastructure’. The third administrator, Carol Foster, posted an apparently self-penned poem called the ‘The Jewish Lobby’ which ended:


“So, it’s really clear now is the hour
To rob these demons of their power”


Simply being a member of Palestine Live does not constitute a priori evidence of one’s antisemitism or of awareness of it in the group. Jeremy Corbyn did say that he had trawled through the group and had removed himself from the group. However, he was repeatedly tagged in posts by other users, particularly by Green, and sometimes replied. In October 2014, Corbyn’s office helped organise other Palestine Live activists to organise an anti-Israel meeting in Parliament at which visiting American writer Max Blumenthal was the guest speaker. When Blumenthal turned up late for the meeting, an impromptu speech was given by James Thring, a veteran far right activist who was present at the event. The following day, Corbyn wrote a comment on Palestine Live thanking his aide for helping to organise the meeting and apologising that he couldn’t attend in person (Rich: pp.269-73).

The next scandal to emerge after the Palestine Live expose placed Corbyn firmly at the centre of the Labour Party’s antisemitism imbroglio. It concerned his expression of support for the American graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, also known as Mear One after the removal of the large mural he had painted on a wall in Tower Hamlets, east London in 2012. Ockerman’s mural was a visual conspiracy theory about global inequality. It showed six old, white, wealthy men, some of whom looked like Jewish caricatures complete with big noses, playing Monopoly on a board that rested on the backs of darker-skinned, faceless people who represented the globally oppressed. Above them was the eye in the pyramid symbol a standard depiction by conspiracy theorists of the power of the Illuminati, Freemasons or other secret societies. Behind them was a scene of industrial dystopia with chimneys emitting fiery and toxic smoke into the atmosphere. A protestor stands to the side holding a placard reading ‘The World Order is the Enemy of Humanity’. Ockerman described it as ‘a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class, elite view and the Wizards of Oz’. He later clarified that the banker figures were a mixture of ‘class and privilege’ not of Jews’. (Rich: p.275)

After condemnation as anti-Semitic by all political sides in Tower Hamlets as well as by people from the Jewish community it was removed. Corbyn went onto Ockerman’s Facebook page to sympathise with the artist of the grounds of artistic freedom. Little attention was paid to his comment until the then Labour MP, Luciana Berger, in March 2018 saw images of the mural and Corbyn’s supportive comment for the first time, and requested an explanation from Corbyn’s office. After receiving no initial reply, she made her query public. Corbyn’s explanations for his behaviour six years earlier veered from initial protection of the mural on grounds of freedom of speech to then acknowledging that it was anti-Semitic and so agreeing with its removal. He pointedly refused to apologise for his initial support for Mear One and many prominent Jews such as the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard and the novelist Howard Jacobson claimed that Corbyn was either lying when he claimed not to have noticed that the mural was anti-Semitic or that if he didn’t realise that it as anti-Semitic it could only have been that he at least subliminally or subconsciously shared its portrayal of the Jew as ‘a bloodsucker’. Or that he was so mesmerised by a left-wing view of racism as signified by skin pigmentation and power that he only saw racism in the exploitation of the faceless workers in the mural.

Enough is not enough

For many in the Parliamentary Labour Party, in the Jewish community and in the media the mural controversy proved to be the proverbial last straw. For this issue did not concern Palestinian rights or Corbyn’s past associates but Corbyn’s support for an art piece brandishing one of the most universal of anti-Semitic leitmotivs – rich Jewish bankers with big noses seeking global domination. Three days after Berger’s tweet, with numerous condemnations from Labour MPs and a public apology from Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson and outcry in the media, the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies for British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council published an open letter to the Leader of the Opposition, ‘Enough is Enough’. It laid out the following indictment against Corbyn (which I will elaborate on and discuss in my next article):

When Jews complain about an obviously anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist. Hezbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hezbollah .

Rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood and invites him or tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found a alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them. Again, and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews.

The next day, 2,000 people gathered outside Parliament to protest in an unprecedented demonstration by Jews against antisemitism in one of Britain’s main political parties. Around forty Labour MPs attended to show their support, some of whom, including David Lammy and Stella Creasy, alongside Jewish community reps (There was a small counter-demonstration by the far-left antizionist Jewish Voice for Labour). At last Jeremy Corbyn recognised in a public letter to the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council that antisemitism ‘has surfaced’ in Labour and was more than a matter of ‘few bad apples’ souring the barrel. He acknowledged that the left has its own types of antisemitism and that ‘newer forms of antisemitism are sometimes woven into criticism of Israeli governments’ including comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany. He also apologised for his comment about the anti-Semitic mural. With the backing of this new line by Momentum; the left-wing activist movement created after Corbyn’s first leadership victory in September 2015, a corner appeared to have been turned for the Labour Party and the Jewish community. (Rich: pp.278-280).

Except that among Corbyn’s supporters in the Constituency Parties and in the social media outlets it was business as usual. Labour MPs who attended the demo in solidarity with the Jewish community began to be targeted for abuse in social media and faced deselection threats from local constituency activists. One MP, Thangan Debonaire, was summoned to a meeting of her local party in Bristol to ‘explain her actions’ and left the meeting visibly upset. As media coverage of the demo and mural intensified, the Facebook pages of The Canary and Skwawkbox became replete with comments such as ‘Just more shit from the 1% global elite who really make the decisions on what effects [sic] our lives., ‘Zionists run the BBC’. ‘This is what happen’s [sic] when Zionist Jews control our government’. Etc, etc. In the We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook groups (the biggest pro-Corbyn FB group with 68,000 members) a Labour Party member called Frances Naggs posted an ‘open letter to Jeremy Corbyn’ the day after the Jewish community demo which began “Yesterday we witnessed the full onslaught of a very powerful special interest group mobilising it’s apparent, immense strength against you’ (Rich: pp.281-83)

John McDonnell described the letter as deploying ‘an anti-Semitic stereotype that undermines not supports Jeremy and his determination to unite our communities’. It was a call that seemingly fell on deaf ears. For in the We Support Jeremy Corbyn group, Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews was described as ‘c…, a f…. Tory’, a ‘Zionist prick’, as a rat and as vermin.’ (Rich: p.283).

Corbyn’s solemn words in an Evening Standard article prior to a meeting with Jonathan Arkush giving ‘an apology’ for the ‘pockets of antisemitism’ in Labour and stating that ‘My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused’ were undermine when four days later he celebrated Passover at a dinner organised by Jewdas, a small group of vocal antizionist Jews who deny the existence of antisemitism in the Labour Party[3] . He embraced Jewdas in the full knowledge of its description of Israel as ‘a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of’ (Bower, 2019).

Parliament Speaks

This was the prelude to a three hour debate on antisemitism in the House of Commons on 17th April 2018; the first time the subject had been debated in Parliament’s history. It has to be stated that this was a government ploy to embarrass Corbyn (Bower: p.326)

Member after member from all sides of the House rose to condemn Labour antisemitism. Many were reduced to tears as Luciana Berger ended her harrowing speech referencing the hundred members of her extended family she lost in the Holocaust quoting the words of Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi: ‘An assault on Jews is an assault on difference, and a world that has no room for difference has no room for humanity itself’. Soon after, Corbyn departed the chamber failing to hear Ruth Smeeth’s description of the hatred directed towards her by his supporters. ‘The gallows would be a fine and fitting place for this dyke piece of Yid shit to swing from’ read one Corbynista recommendation. Another implored her to ‘Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity. Labour grandee Margaret Hodge declared ‘I have never felt as nervous and frightened of being a Jew as I am today’ Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary and long-time Corbyn ally, friend (and lover), sought to minimise the abuse suffering by her colleagues by equating it with the abuse she had experienced as a high profile black political figure [4] by accusing the Tories of leveraging party political capital from antisemitism. She defended her friend: ‘Nothing is gained by accusing the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition of being an anti-Semite”( Bower: pp.326-27) eliding the complaints from Jewish spokespersons that the issue of Labour antisemitism was less Jeremy Corbyn’s personal views on Jews, more the institutional culture of antisemitism in the Labour Party that he has allegedly presided over since becoming Leader.


To Define or not to Define

Another front in Labour’s antisemitism conflict opened up over the internationally accepted definition of antisemitism as drawn up the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). A later article will discuss the genealogy of the IHRA definition and its relationship to the specificity of Labour antisemitism. Suffice at this stage to state the IHRA definition with its eleven examples (which is legally non-binding) was adopted by the NEC in 2016 but who then deleted four of the examples which concern the State of Israel and the circumstances of its creation. These seek to define as anti-Semitic the denial of the right to self-determination e.g. by claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavour[5]; applying double standards by holding it to a higher standard of behaviour than that required by other democracies; questioning the national loyalties of Jews and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. The definition does make it clear though that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against other nations is not anti-Semitic (Hirsch: p.140). The irony of Gentiles attempting to redefine a definition of antisemitism drawn up by Jews was not lost on Jewish opinion. There was suspicion that Jeremy Corbyn did not want to sign up to the full IHRA definition as he, based on his long career of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel activism, as he would fall foul of it. Eventually the NEC adopted the IHRA definition in full.


Irony of Ironies

Still the revelations about Corbyn’s recent past continued to pile up. One concerned a photograph uncovered by the Daily Mail of him taking part in a wreath laying ceremony in Tunis in September 2014 to honour members of the Black September faction of the PLO who responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic games having earlier joined a delegation paying respects at a memorial to PLO members killed in the assault by Israeli jets on the organisation’s headquarters in September 1985. His retrospective refusal to apologise for appearing to honour the architects of an atrocity as infamous as the Munich Massacre outraged many outside the circle of Corbyn devotees who dismissed the outrage as an attempt to “smear him” (Lipstadt, 2019).

But what appeared to chill many Jews was a speech made by Corbyn to the Palestine Return Centre in 2013 reported by the Daily Mail at the end of August 2018. In this address he opined that British Zionists “clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, they don’t understand English irony”. (Lipstadt: p.66). Substitute “Jews” for “Zionists” or indeed any ethnic or migrant collective one wishes to think off (even or especially Irish) and then one hears a genteel, dinner table type of antisemitism/racism but every bit as cutting as the usual dogwhistle that only English people can articulate; not the voice of someone who claims that antiracism is the core of his political being.


Last Posts


On 27 March 2019, the highest profile (after Ken Livingstone) and longest running Labour antisemitism case ended with the expulsion of Jackie Walker, the long-time Labour and Momentum activist, for conduct “grossly detrimental to the aims and values” by the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), the highest disciplinary body in the Party. She had suggested that Jews were the chief financiers of the African slave trade (repeating a debunked claim by the notorious black separatist and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan of the US Nation of Islam). During a training event in 2016, Walker had falsely claimed that Holocaust Memorial Day does not commemorate other genocides and at the same event she said ‘I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.’ The case presented by the party was about a repeated pattern of behaviour on the part of Walker over time, including many comments on social media. (Huffington Post 28th March 2019 ‘Anti-Semitic Activist Jackie Walker Expelled from Labour for Breaching Party Rules’) However, for many in the Jewish community and for the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) this was too little, too late as, in their opinion, Jackie Walker had been allowed to string out the disciplinary process for three years with the active connivance of Corbyn supporters and allies, foremost amongst them the now suspended Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, MP and that antisemitism was not explicitly referenced in the final ruling.

Two events over the first weekend in April 2019 crystallise the essence of Labour’s antisemitism travails under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The first was the revelations in the Sunday Times according to a leaked hard drive of emails and a confidential database last updated on 8th March that the: Labour Party has failed to take disciplinary action against hundreds of party members accused of antisemitism on Corbyn’s watch. Of 863 complaints overall, 454 (53%) were unresolved where no investigation has begun. There were 176 ongoing probes. Just 29 were referred to the National Constitutional Committee, the body empowered to expel members. Of 409 cases where a decision was reached, 191 members faced no further action and 145 received a formal warning which does not prevent members from standing as party candidates. Fever than 30 were expelled with the rest leaving the party of their own volition (Sunday Times, 7th April 2019 “Labour’s hate files expose Corbyn’s anti-Semite army’)

Amongst the members yet to be expelled are those who posted comments online like “Heil Hitler” and “Jews are the problem”. Among those readmitted were a sitting councillor in Lancashire who fulminated about “Jewish” media attacks and the Rothschild family and who told party investigators she meant “Jewish” as a “blanket term of description without any racist connotations.” A Labour official said a council candidate who accused Jewish MPs of being “Zionist infiltrators” met the threshold for suspension only for her then to rule that because he “is a candidate” he should not be suspended; he faced no action. Thomas Gardiner, a Corbyn ally and the chief of Labour’s governance and legal unit, reportedly in March thwarted efforts by a member of his staff to fast-track the investigation of a member who condemned two Jewish Labour MPs[6] for being “shit-stirring c** buckets” in the pay of Israel’. Reaction from Jewish Labour MPs was as outraged as it was predictable. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, said “The scale of the abuse, the depth of the hatred and the total lack of action by the Labour Party astonishing” adding that: “Jeremy presented me assurances that he does not intervene [in complaints]. This investigation proves that either he is lying to me or his office are lying to him”. As predictable as the 21st century bland, corporate-speak of a Labour Party spokesperson “The Labour Party takes complaints of antisemitism very seriously and are committed to rooting it out.” (Sunday Times, 7th April 2019).

The other event was the almost unanimous vote of no-confidence at the AGM of the JLM on Sunday 7th April in Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader over his handling of the antisemitism crisis in Labour. The JLM’s faith in the leadership, if it ever existed, would have been terminally damaged by the NEC’s decision to drop it as the official antisemitism trainer for the party which it has been for three years and outsourcing it to a department at Birkbeck College London.

Conclusion

To frame the British Labour Party’s almost existential crisis over antisemitism in terms of whether Jeremy Corbyn is personally anti-Semitic or whether it adds up to an organised smear campaign against a man with a lifetime of commitment to antiracism and human rights advocacy particularly for those of the Palestinian people is to ask the wrong questions. The correct set of questions to ask are to what extent has Corbyn enabled antisemitism or fostered an anti-Semitic culture in the Labour Party since becoming Leader and the particular manifestation of antisemitism prevalent in the Labour party and wider left culture. I have argued that the antisemitism that has been enveloping Labour is of the contemporary left vintage; a concatenation of anti-capitalism conspiracism positioning Jews as master manipulators of global finance in service of a New World Order and an antizionism originating in the former Soviet Union and which has been serviced by Islamist and far left pro-Palestinian advocates many of whom have a foundational animus towards the existence of the State of Israel (as opposed to support for a “two-state” solution for Israel/Palestine). Articulation of such sentiment does, however, often draws upon explicit anti-Jewish tropes and prejudices from the religious and cultural right; the ‘blood libel’, ‘Christ killers’, ‘child killers’, Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ disloyal to the countries they live in My next article will examine the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn through his background in pro-Palestinian activism and in the wider milieu of the ‘anti-imperialist’ Left and his supporters are embedded in the allegedly antisemitic culture of the party he leads.


Bibliography



(1) Bower, Tom (2019) Dangerous Hero. Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power London: William Collins

(2) Hirsh, David (2018) Contemporary Left Antisemitism London: Routledge

(3) Johnson, Alan Prof (2019) Institutionally Antisemitic. Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party Fathom Publications.

(4) Lipstadt, Deborah (2019) Antisemitism. Here and Now. London: Scribe.

(5) Rich, Dave (2018) The Left’s Jewish Problem. Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Antisemitism. Fully Updated London: Biteback Publishing.

Barry Gilheany has joined the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate member and encourages fellow labour movement colleagues concerned by Labour antisemitism issues to follow suit.

[1] a victory partially attributable to another influx of neophyte Corbyn supporters into the Party enraged by what they saw as coup attempt by embittered “Blairites” in the Shadow Cabinet and PLP. which brought total Labour Party membership to 600,000 plus; the largest social democratic/socialist mass party in Western Europe as Corbynistas never fail to point out.

[2] Belief in conspiracy theories are integral to this culture. One opinion poll in August 2015 found that 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters believe that the world is controlled by a secretive elite, compared to 13 per cent of the general population. Another poll in August 2016 found that 55 per cent of those supporting Jeremy Corbyn in that summer’s Labour leadership contest thought MI5 had been working to undermine Corbyn, compared to only 11 per cent who supported his challenger, Owen Smith. Fully 50 per cent of those who had joined Labour after Corbyn became leader in September 2015 agreed with the MI5 suggestion. Fully 35 per cent of Corbyn supporters even thought that some Labour MPs had been secretly planted in the party to undermine the Labour left.

The editor of the Canary, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, has appeared as a guest on the online radio show of the Manchester based conspiracist Richard Allen whose show is hosted on the website of the conspiracist-in-chief David Icke. She did not object when Allen claimed that ‘if we put Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in tomorrow, it won’t make a blind bit of difference; central bankers, Rothschild-controlled central banks control the world’ or when he said that ‘Israel has no right to exist’. At the end of the interview Mendoza told Allen ‘… everything you say comes from a place of wanting to make the world a better place’ (Rich: pp.266-67)

[3] A recent joke from Jewdas doing the rounds on Twitter concerning the numbers who signed the online petition to Parliament requesting the revocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism by which the UK has formally declared its intention to leave the EU, said that the number of signatures on the petition had been reported as rising from 5.9million to 7milion to avoid mentioning 6million (the actual final number of signatures on the petition) to avoid offending the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

[4] and horrendous and disgusting it certainly was, also replete with arboreal references e.g. “may you black monkey swing from a tree”)

[5] When posters appeared on London bus stops proclaiming that “Israel is a racist endeavour” at the height of the IHRA controversy they were condemned by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran the only parliamentarian of Palestinian heritage.

[6] Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth; according to Ruth Smeeth her mother saw the disgusting words in question before she did over her Sunday morning cornflakes.

⏩  Barry Gilheany has joined the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate member and encourages fellow labour movement colleagues concerned about Labour’s Antisemitism problem to do the same.


Antisemitism: How The Oldest Hatred Became The New Discourse Of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party (2)

Barry Gilheany continues with his critique of the anti-Semitism he sees in the British Labour Party.


Part II: Timeline 2016-2019


With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Party Leader with a comfortable 61% to 39% victory over his challenger Owen Smith[1] in September 2016 and a better than expected performance by Labour in the General Election of 2017, an election called in a disastrous miscalculation by PM Theresa May to seek a popular mandate for her Brexit approach, Labour’s antisemitism crisis bubbled beneath the surface under the radar of a political system reeling from the shock impact of the vote for Brexit. But the crisis was to explode again into full view in the Spring of 2018 and this time there could be no hiding place for the Labour Party leadership.

Virtual Reality: Labour Antisemitism as an Art Form

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are acknowledged experts in their social media presentation and presence. To bypass the much derided “mainstream media”; Corbynistas have constructed a highly effective online media landscape of unashamedly partisan news outlets, journals and blogs including The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara Media, Evolve Politics and Vox Political plus Facebook groups. This Alt-Left echo chamber environment attracts traffic through clickbait mechanisms, the sensationalist headline leads the user to a myriad of dramatically written accounts of events and subjects taken almost wholly out of context. The monstering in the Canary piece “We Need to Talk about Laura” of the BBC Political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, a particular bete noire of Corbynistas, on the basis of a supposed youthful involvement in the Conservative Party and of one OFCOM criticism of her reporting of Corbyn’s reply to a question on whether police should be enabled to shoot to kill terrorists in the act of combat in the sake of the ISIS atrocities in Paris in November 2015 is perhaps the most famous example of their traducing of reporting standards in the service of this type of digital agitprop.

So, it was to be leakage from this Alt-Left media ecology that provided fresh grist to the mill for critics of Labour attitude to antisemitism in its own ranks. According to an investigation by the Sunday Times in early 2018, the twenty largest pro-Corbyn Facebook Groups had a combined membership of 400,000 people. It discovered that discussions on Jews, Israel and antisemitism in these groups often led to antisemitic comments, alongside denials of any sizeable antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party and allegation of smear campaigns by Zionists, “Blairites” or the “right-wing media”. The Sunday Times found thousands of posts endorsing antisemitic conspiracy theories, denying the Holocaust or inciting violence against Corbyn’s political opponents across the piece in their investigation of these groups. Several members of Corbyn’s own staff and that of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP belonged to some these groups. While there is no suggestion that any of them had posted or even seen anything antisemitic; such groups are indicative of the antisemitic discourse that is part of the culture of the mass movement that swept Corbyn to leadership of the Labour Party [2](Rich: pp.265-66).

In one the main unofficial Labour Facebook groups, Labour Party Forum which has around 16,000 members nine of whom are group administrators. One of these administrators, who were actually supposed to remove anti-Semiticc material, posted an article from the American far-right website Veterans Today that claimed that ‘the pagan Holocaust religion exalts the primacy of Jewish suffering’. Another posted a meme from the conspiracist David Icke about ‘Rothschild Zionist Israel’. A third wrote to a Jewish person on the group that ‘of course the persecution of the Jews was a perfect thing but like an abused child you have become the abuser’ (Rich: p.268) (Note the attribution of collective responsibility through the second person pronoun to ‘Jews’ and not merely the actions of the Israeli state). On being informed about the extent of anti-Semitic material on this site, this particular administrator responded by calling the complainant a ‘frothing Hasbara troll (‘hasbara’ is the name for pro-Israel public relations campaigns) and then wrote two hashtags: #Stop Israel and #Free Palestine (Rich: p.268).

However, it was not a Labour Party Facebook group that was to further make Jeremy Corbyn persona non grata with much of British Jewry but a pro-Palestinian group called Palestine Live set up as a closed group in 2013 and with over 3,000 members including many of the most prominent pro-Palestinian activists in Britain. Jeremy Corbyn was a member as were fellow Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Clive Lewis and Liberal Democrat expellees peer Baroness Jenny Tonge and MP, David Ward. In March 2018 David Collier, an independent blogger who writes extensively about antisemitism and extremism in the pro-Palestinian movement and who had infiltrated Palestine Live, published a 290-page report based on his analysis of all the posts in the group in the first two weeks of February 2018. What he found went much further than passionate opinion and debate about Israel/Palestine and included Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories taken from far-right, anti-Semitic websites.

All three of Palestine Live’s administrators regularly posted anti-Semitic material. The group’s founder and one of its administrators, Elleanne Green, posted material from the previously mentioned Veterans Today and The Ugly Truth whose strapline was ‘intelligent “antisemitism” for thinking Gentiles’. Other posts by Green included linking Israel to the 9/11 attacks and the ISIS attacks in France. Another group administrator, Tony Gratrex, posted several attacks attributing ‘false flag’ terror attacks in the UK, US and Europe to Israel. He posted a Holocaust denial article claiming that ‘somewhere between 100-150 thousand people died in Auschwitz, mainly as a result of disease and starvation, which was not a deliberate act on the part of the Germans, but rather the outcome of Allied carpet-bombing of Germany’s infrastructure’. The third administrator, Carol Foster, posted an apparently self-penned poem called the ‘The Jewish Lobby’ which ended:


“So, it’s really clear now is the hour
To rob these demons of their power”


Simply being a member of Palestine Live does not constitute a priori evidence of one’s antisemitism or of awareness of it in the group. Jeremy Corbyn did say that he had trawled through the group and had removed himself from the group. However, he was repeatedly tagged in posts by other users, particularly by Green, and sometimes replied. In October 2014, Corbyn’s office helped organise other Palestine Live activists to organise an anti-Israel meeting in Parliament at which visiting American writer Max Blumenthal was the guest speaker. When Blumenthal turned up late for the meeting, an impromptu speech was given by James Thring, a veteran far right activist who was present at the event. The following day, Corbyn wrote a comment on Palestine Live thanking his aide for helping to organise the meeting and apologising that he couldn’t attend in person (Rich: pp.269-73).

The next scandal to emerge after the Palestine Live expose placed Corbyn firmly at the centre of the Labour Party’s antisemitism imbroglio. It concerned his expression of support for the American graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, also known as Mear One after the removal of the large mural he had painted on a wall in Tower Hamlets, east London in 2012. Ockerman’s mural was a visual conspiracy theory about global inequality. It showed six old, white, wealthy men, some of whom looked like Jewish caricatures complete with big noses, playing Monopoly on a board that rested on the backs of darker-skinned, faceless people who represented the globally oppressed. Above them was the eye in the pyramid symbol a standard depiction by conspiracy theorists of the power of the Illuminati, Freemasons or other secret societies. Behind them was a scene of industrial dystopia with chimneys emitting fiery and toxic smoke into the atmosphere. A protestor stands to the side holding a placard reading ‘The World Order is the Enemy of Humanity’. Ockerman described it as ‘a mural that depicted the elite banker cartel known as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Morgans, the ruling class, elite view and the Wizards of Oz’. He later clarified that the banker figures were a mixture of ‘class and privilege’ not of Jews’. (Rich: p.275)

After condemnation as anti-Semitic by all political sides in Tower Hamlets as well as by people from the Jewish community it was removed. Corbyn went onto Ockerman’s Facebook page to sympathise with the artist of the grounds of artistic freedom. Little attention was paid to his comment until the then Labour MP, Luciana Berger, in March 2018 saw images of the mural and Corbyn’s supportive comment for the first time, and requested an explanation from Corbyn’s office. After receiving no initial reply, she made her query public. Corbyn’s explanations for his behaviour six years earlier veered from initial protection of the mural on grounds of freedom of speech to then acknowledging that it was anti-Semitic and so agreeing with its removal. He pointedly refused to apologise for his initial support for Mear One and many prominent Jews such as the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard and the novelist Howard Jacobson claimed that Corbyn was either lying when he claimed not to have noticed that the mural was anti-Semitic or that if he didn’t realise that it as anti-Semitic it could only have been that he at least subliminally or subconsciously shared its portrayal of the Jew as ‘a bloodsucker’. Or that he was so mesmerised by a left-wing view of racism as signified by skin pigmentation and power that he only saw racism in the exploitation of the faceless workers in the mural.

Enough is not enough

For many in the Parliamentary Labour Party, in the Jewish community and in the media the mural controversy proved to be the proverbial last straw. For this issue did not concern Palestinian rights or Corbyn’s past associates but Corbyn’s support for an art piece brandishing one of the most universal of anti-Semitic leitmotivs – rich Jewish bankers with big noses seeking global domination. Three days after Berger’s tweet, with numerous condemnations from Labour MPs and a public apology from Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson and outcry in the media, the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies for British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council published an open letter to the Leader of the Opposition, ‘Enough is Enough’. It laid out the following indictment against Corbyn (which I will elaborate on and discuss in my next article):

When Jews complain about an obviously anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, Corbyn of course supports the artist. Hezbollah commits terrorist atrocities against Jews, but Corbyn calls them his friends and attends pro-Hezbollah .

Rallies in London. Exactly the same goes for Hamas. Raed Salah says Jews kill Christian children to drink their blood and invites him or tea at the House of Commons. These are not the only cases. He is repeatedly found a alongside people with blatantly anti-Semitic views, but claims never to hear or read them. Again, and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews.

The next day, 2,000 people gathered outside Parliament to protest in an unprecedented demonstration by Jews against antisemitism in one of Britain’s main political parties. Around forty Labour MPs attended to show their support, some of whom, including David Lammy and Stella Creasy, alongside Jewish community reps (There was a small counter-demonstration by the far-left antizionist Jewish Voice for Labour). At last Jeremy Corbyn recognised in a public letter to the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council that antisemitism ‘has surfaced’ in Labour and was more than a matter of ‘few bad apples’ souring the barrel. He acknowledged that the left has its own types of antisemitism and that ‘newer forms of antisemitism are sometimes woven into criticism of Israeli governments’ including comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany. He also apologised for his comment about the anti-Semitic mural. With the backing of this new line by Momentum; the left-wing activist movement created after Corbyn’s first leadership victory in September 2015, a corner appeared to have been turned for the Labour Party and the Jewish community. (Rich: pp.278-280).

Except that among Corbyn’s supporters in the Constituency Parties and in the social media outlets it was business as usual. Labour MPs who attended the demo in solidarity with the Jewish community began to be targeted for abuse in social media and faced deselection threats from local constituency activists. One MP, Thangan Debonaire, was summoned to a meeting of her local party in Bristol to ‘explain her actions’ and left the meeting visibly upset. As media coverage of the demo and mural intensified, the Facebook pages of The Canary and Skwawkbox became replete with comments such as ‘Just more shit from the 1% global elite who really make the decisions on what effects [sic] our lives., ‘Zionists run the BBC’. ‘This is what happen’s [sic] when Zionist Jews control our government’. Etc, etc. In the We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook groups (the biggest pro-Corbyn FB group with 68,000 members) a Labour Party member called Frances Naggs posted an ‘open letter to Jeremy Corbyn’ the day after the Jewish community demo which began “Yesterday we witnessed the full onslaught of a very powerful special interest group mobilising it’s apparent, immense strength against you’ (Rich: pp.281-83)

John McDonnell described the letter as deploying ‘an anti-Semitic stereotype that undermines not supports Jeremy and his determination to unite our communities’. It was a call that seemingly fell on deaf ears. For in the We Support Jeremy Corbyn group, Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews was described as ‘c…, a f…. Tory’, a ‘Zionist prick’, as a rat and as vermin.’ (Rich: p.283).

Corbyn’s solemn words in an Evening Standard article prior to a meeting with Jonathan Arkush giving ‘an apology’ for the ‘pockets of antisemitism’ in Labour and stating that ‘My party and I are sorry for the hurt and distress caused’ were undermine when four days later he celebrated Passover at a dinner organised by Jewdas, a small group of vocal antizionist Jews who deny the existence of antisemitism in the Labour Party[3] . He embraced Jewdas in the full knowledge of its description of Israel as ‘a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of’ (Bower, 2019).

Parliament Speaks

This was the prelude to a three hour debate on antisemitism in the House of Commons on 17th April 2018; the first time the subject had been debated in Parliament’s history. It has to be stated that this was a government ploy to embarrass Corbyn (Bower: p.326)

Member after member from all sides of the House rose to condemn Labour antisemitism. Many were reduced to tears as Luciana Berger ended her harrowing speech referencing the hundred members of her extended family she lost in the Holocaust quoting the words of Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi: ‘An assault on Jews is an assault on difference, and a world that has no room for difference has no room for humanity itself’. Soon after, Corbyn departed the chamber failing to hear Ruth Smeeth’s description of the hatred directed towards her by his supporters. ‘The gallows would be a fine and fitting place for this dyke piece of Yid shit to swing from’ read one Corbynista recommendation. Another implored her to ‘Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity. Labour grandee Margaret Hodge declared ‘I have never felt as nervous and frightened of being a Jew as I am today’ Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary and long-time Corbyn ally, friend (and lover), sought to minimise the abuse suffering by her colleagues by equating it with the abuse she had experienced as a high profile black political figure [4] by accusing the Tories of leveraging party political capital from antisemitism. She defended her friend: ‘Nothing is gained by accusing the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition of being an anti-Semite”( Bower: pp.326-27) eliding the complaints from Jewish spokespersons that the issue of Labour antisemitism was less Jeremy Corbyn’s personal views on Jews, more the institutional culture of antisemitism in the Labour Party that he has allegedly presided over since becoming Leader.


To Define or not to Define

Another front in Labour’s antisemitism conflict opened up over the internationally accepted definition of antisemitism as drawn up the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). A later article will discuss the genealogy of the IHRA definition and its relationship to the specificity of Labour antisemitism. Suffice at this stage to state the IHRA definition with its eleven examples (which is legally non-binding) was adopted by the NEC in 2016 but who then deleted four of the examples which concern the State of Israel and the circumstances of its creation. These seek to define as anti-Semitic the denial of the right to self-determination e.g. by claiming the State of Israel is a racist endeavour[5]; applying double standards by holding it to a higher standard of behaviour than that required by other democracies; questioning the national loyalties of Jews and drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. The definition does make it clear though that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against other nations is not anti-Semitic (Hirsch: p.140). The irony of Gentiles attempting to redefine a definition of antisemitism drawn up by Jews was not lost on Jewish opinion. There was suspicion that Jeremy Corbyn did not want to sign up to the full IHRA definition as he, based on his long career of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel activism, as he would fall foul of it. Eventually the NEC adopted the IHRA definition in full.


Irony of Ironies

Still the revelations about Corbyn’s recent past continued to pile up. One concerned a photograph uncovered by the Daily Mail of him taking part in a wreath laying ceremony in Tunis in September 2014 to honour members of the Black September faction of the PLO who responsible for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic games having earlier joined a delegation paying respects at a memorial to PLO members killed in the assault by Israeli jets on the organisation’s headquarters in September 1985. His retrospective refusal to apologise for appearing to honour the architects of an atrocity as infamous as the Munich Massacre outraged many outside the circle of Corbyn devotees who dismissed the outrage as an attempt to “smear him” (Lipstadt, 2019).

But what appeared to chill many Jews was a speech made by Corbyn to the Palestine Return Centre in 2013 reported by the Daily Mail at the end of August 2018. In this address he opined that British Zionists “clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, they don’t understand English irony”. (Lipstadt: p.66). Substitute “Jews” for “Zionists” or indeed any ethnic or migrant collective one wishes to think off (even or especially Irish) and then one hears a genteel, dinner table type of antisemitism/racism but every bit as cutting as the usual dogwhistle that only English people can articulate; not the voice of someone who claims that antiracism is the core of his political being.


Last Posts


On 27 March 2019, the highest profile (after Ken Livingstone) and longest running Labour antisemitism case ended with the expulsion of Jackie Walker, the long-time Labour and Momentum activist, for conduct “grossly detrimental to the aims and values” by the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), the highest disciplinary body in the Party. She had suggested that Jews were the chief financiers of the African slave trade (repeating a debunked claim by the notorious black separatist and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan of the US Nation of Islam). During a training event in 2016, Walker had falsely claimed that Holocaust Memorial Day does not commemorate other genocides and at the same event she said ‘I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.’ The case presented by the party was about a repeated pattern of behaviour on the part of Walker over time, including many comments on social media. (Huffington Post 28th March 2019 ‘Anti-Semitic Activist Jackie Walker Expelled from Labour for Breaching Party Rules’) However, for many in the Jewish community and for the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) this was too little, too late as, in their opinion, Jackie Walker had been allowed to string out the disciplinary process for three years with the active connivance of Corbyn supporters and allies, foremost amongst them the now suspended Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, MP and that antisemitism was not explicitly referenced in the final ruling.

Two events over the first weekend in April 2019 crystallise the essence of Labour’s antisemitism travails under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The first was the revelations in the Sunday Times according to a leaked hard drive of emails and a confidential database last updated on 8th March that the: Labour Party has failed to take disciplinary action against hundreds of party members accused of antisemitism on Corbyn’s watch. Of 863 complaints overall, 454 (53%) were unresolved where no investigation has begun. There were 176 ongoing probes. Just 29 were referred to the National Constitutional Committee, the body empowered to expel members. Of 409 cases where a decision was reached, 191 members faced no further action and 145 received a formal warning which does not prevent members from standing as party candidates. Fever than 30 were expelled with the rest leaving the party of their own volition (Sunday Times, 7th April 2019 “Labour’s hate files expose Corbyn’s anti-Semite army’)

Amongst the members yet to be expelled are those who posted comments online like “Heil Hitler” and “Jews are the problem”. Among those readmitted were a sitting councillor in Lancashire who fulminated about “Jewish” media attacks and the Rothschild family and who told party investigators she meant “Jewish” as a “blanket term of description without any racist connotations.” A Labour official said a council candidate who accused Jewish MPs of being “Zionist infiltrators” met the threshold for suspension only for her then to rule that because he “is a candidate” he should not be suspended; he faced no action. Thomas Gardiner, a Corbyn ally and the chief of Labour’s governance and legal unit, reportedly in March thwarted efforts by a member of his staff to fast-track the investigation of a member who condemned two Jewish Labour MPs[6] for being “shit-stirring c** buckets” in the pay of Israel’. Reaction from Jewish Labour MPs was as outraged as it was predictable. Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, said “The scale of the abuse, the depth of the hatred and the total lack of action by the Labour Party astonishing” adding that: “Jeremy presented me assurances that he does not intervene [in complaints]. This investigation proves that either he is lying to me or his office are lying to him”. As predictable as the 21st century bland, corporate-speak of a Labour Party spokesperson “The Labour Party takes complaints of antisemitism very seriously and are committed to rooting it out.” (Sunday Times, 7th April 2019).

The other event was the almost unanimous vote of no-confidence at the AGM of the JLM on Sunday 7th April in Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader over his handling of the antisemitism crisis in Labour. The JLM’s faith in the leadership, if it ever existed, would have been terminally damaged by the NEC’s decision to drop it as the official antisemitism trainer for the party which it has been for three years and outsourcing it to a department at Birkbeck College London.

Conclusion

To frame the British Labour Party’s almost existential crisis over antisemitism in terms of whether Jeremy Corbyn is personally anti-Semitic or whether it adds up to an organised smear campaign against a man with a lifetime of commitment to antiracism and human rights advocacy particularly for those of the Palestinian people is to ask the wrong questions. The correct set of questions to ask are to what extent has Corbyn enabled antisemitism or fostered an anti-Semitic culture in the Labour Party since becoming Leader and the particular manifestation of antisemitism prevalent in the Labour party and wider left culture. I have argued that the antisemitism that has been enveloping Labour is of the contemporary left vintage; a concatenation of anti-capitalism conspiracism positioning Jews as master manipulators of global finance in service of a New World Order and an antizionism originating in the former Soviet Union and which has been serviced by Islamist and far left pro-Palestinian advocates many of whom have a foundational animus towards the existence of the State of Israel (as opposed to support for a “two-state” solution for Israel/Palestine). Articulation of such sentiment does, however, often draws upon explicit anti-Jewish tropes and prejudices from the religious and cultural right; the ‘blood libel’, ‘Christ killers’, ‘child killers’, Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ disloyal to the countries they live in My next article will examine the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn through his background in pro-Palestinian activism and in the wider milieu of the ‘anti-imperialist’ Left and his supporters are embedded in the allegedly antisemitic culture of the party he leads.


Bibliography



(1) Bower, Tom (2019) Dangerous Hero. Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power London: William Collins

(2) Hirsh, David (2018) Contemporary Left Antisemitism London: Routledge

(3) Johnson, Alan Prof (2019) Institutionally Antisemitic. Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party Fathom Publications.

(4) Lipstadt, Deborah (2019) Antisemitism. Here and Now. London: Scribe.

(5) Rich, Dave (2018) The Left’s Jewish Problem. Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Antisemitism. Fully Updated London: Biteback Publishing.

Barry Gilheany has joined the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate member and encourages fellow labour movement colleagues concerned by Labour antisemitism issues to follow suit.

[1] a victory partially attributable to another influx of neophyte Corbyn supporters into the Party enraged by what they saw as coup attempt by embittered “Blairites” in the Shadow Cabinet and PLP. which brought total Labour Party membership to 600,000 plus; the largest social democratic/socialist mass party in Western Europe as Corbynistas never fail to point out.

[2] Belief in conspiracy theories are integral to this culture. One opinion poll in August 2015 found that 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters believe that the world is controlled by a secretive elite, compared to 13 per cent of the general population. Another poll in August 2016 found that 55 per cent of those supporting Jeremy Corbyn in that summer’s Labour leadership contest thought MI5 had been working to undermine Corbyn, compared to only 11 per cent who supported his challenger, Owen Smith. Fully 50 per cent of those who had joined Labour after Corbyn became leader in September 2015 agreed with the MI5 suggestion. Fully 35 per cent of Corbyn supporters even thought that some Labour MPs had been secretly planted in the party to undermine the Labour left.

The editor of the Canary, Kerry-Anne Mendoza, has appeared as a guest on the online radio show of the Manchester based conspiracist Richard Allen whose show is hosted on the website of the conspiracist-in-chief David Icke. She did not object when Allen claimed that ‘if we put Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in tomorrow, it won’t make a blind bit of difference; central bankers, Rothschild-controlled central banks control the world’ or when he said that ‘Israel has no right to exist’. At the end of the interview Mendoza told Allen ‘… everything you say comes from a place of wanting to make the world a better place’ (Rich: pp.266-67)

[3] A recent joke from Jewdas doing the rounds on Twitter concerning the numbers who signed the online petition to Parliament requesting the revocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the mechanism by which the UK has formally declared its intention to leave the EU, said that the number of signatures on the petition had been reported as rising from 5.9million to 7milion to avoid mentioning 6million (the actual final number of signatures on the petition) to avoid offending the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

[4] and horrendous and disgusting it certainly was, also replete with arboreal references e.g. “may you black monkey swing from a tree”)

[5] When posters appeared on London bus stops proclaiming that “Israel is a racist endeavour” at the height of the IHRA controversy they were condemned by Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran the only parliamentarian of Palestinian heritage.

[6] Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth; according to Ruth Smeeth her mother saw the disgusting words in question before she did over her Sunday morning cornflakes.

⏩  Barry Gilheany has joined the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate member and encourages fellow labour movement colleagues concerned about Labour’s Antisemitism problem to do the same.


27 comments:

  1. This seems to be a thoroughly ethical position that other states should follow.

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  2. Israel's behaviour can hardly be said to have improved since the time this call was made

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  3. Anthony

    Thanks for your comments.

    When clicking on your link, I could not access it but I assume it relates to Bolivia's designation of Israel as a "terrorist state". Fair enough. Can we then look forward to a similar designation for one or more of the following not exclusive list of states: Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Burma, Indonesia, Phillipines not to mention Eva Morales' near neighbour the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro.

    Israel's behaviour is completely tangenitaL to the announcement this week that thde Labour Party is to be formally investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for institutionalised racism and the suspension of NEC (hopefully leading to expulsion but don't hold one's breath) member Pete Willsman for alleging that an Israeli Embassy agent is responbsible for the campaign against antisemitism in the Labour Party.

    This is the Labour Party that imposed swift justice on Alastair Campbell for his post factum admission that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats (like tens of thousands of Labour Remain voters) yet takes three years to expel serial antisemitic offenders like Jackie Walker, whose Leader's Office intervenes to prevent Holocaust deniers such as council candidate Andy Bull from being deselected and reversed a decision to puruse sexual asault allegations against Corbyn acolyte David Preston (son of John "Two Jags" Prescott. It is in the Leader of the Opposition's Office that much of the party's problems exist staffed as it is by a Stalinist clique (Seumas Milne, Andrew Murray and others) and relatives and cronies of the Magic Grandpa.

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    1. Barry - yes, it did relate to Bolivia's designation as a terrorist state. There are lots of others who fit the bill. There is nothing in what you say that detracts from the accuracy of the Bolivian position on this. If mass murder of civilians is not terrorist what is? And what if Pete Willsman believes that there is an Israeli embassy staffer behind the campaign? It is hardly beyond the Israeli state to do such. At worst Willsman is wrong. Bull insist he never denied the Holocaust but reposted an article that denied it. Nothing wrong with that. I retweet posts all the time, because they are interesting (even because they are ridiculous) not because they are right. The Labour Party should root out Anti Semitism where it exists but given the level of threat posed by Israeli war criminals to innocent Palestinian lives, should the greater emphasis not be on preventing that?

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  4. It would be far better for the author to use his energies enquiring what Margaret Oppinheimer Hodge knows about the systematic rape of children under her watch at local council level. Come to think of it Corbyn could be asked too. Needless to say both sides never seem to throw this sort of dirt at each other which speaks volumes.


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  5. Anthony

    Because there is an ongoing threat to civilians from ISIS and to dissidents and ethnic and religious minorities in Muslim majority countries, does that mean there should be no investigation into the widespread incidences of hostility to Muslims and Islam in the Conservative Party. I most certainly believe that the EHRC should look at the Tory Party in thius respect.

    Pete Willsman's comments, as well as being factually inaccurate, play into a old antisemitic trope about Jews about loyal to a foreign state. I know from personal esxperience that he is an unpleasant bully, If the likes of Andy Bull or anyone else retweets racist or other hate material without explaining if they agree with it then it is legtimimate to draw the conclusion that they agree with it.

    A good way of preventing Palestinian civilian deaths would be for Hamas to stop launching missiles into Israel. Stopping the Labour party from dealing with the racists in its ranks will not make an iota ofdifference to whatever happens in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

    I have no problem with the exposure of war crimes wherever they occur. It is just that certain elements of the Left such as the Corbyn clique focus exclusively on alleged Israeli crimes; never do the words "I condemn the war crimes of Assad and Putin" fall from their lips. That's what I call a manifestation of contemporary left antisemitism.

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  6. Barry - my observation was not about investigations per se but about weight. The existence of murder is no reason for police not to investigate burglary. But they cannot think burglary is a greater threat than murder.

    Islamophobia, like antisemitism, is often the ruse to suppress criticism of something powerful unjust people want to shield from criticism.

    People work for foreign powers all the time. Why it should be any different for Jewish people I have no idea. You seem to want to plead special circumstance: that Jews alone should not be subject to the allegation. You will not get a free pass on that.

    There is a trope if ever I heard one - the cause of Israeli terrorism in Gaza is Hamas rockets. A trope so well rubbished as Israeli terrorist PR that it merits no further comment, but which deprives your argument about the use of tropes of any credibility. The way to stop Israeli terrorism in Gaza is massive international pressure and condemnation of that terrorism, even though the terror state will label that as antisemitism.

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  7. Anthony

    I do not use the term "Islamophobia" to describe the widespread and growing anti-Muslim prejudice and hatred across Europe and especially among the British far-right and even the Tory Party; I prefer the term anti-Islam.

    I am not arguing for special dispensation for any races, ethnicities or cultures; I am merely making the point that the allegation that Jews work for foreign powers or are disloyal (where have we heard that word before?) has a long provenance e.g. the 'rootless cosmopolitan' of Stalin vintage. Similar allegations are made about religious minorities such as the Bahias in Iran and minority ethnic groups like the Rohyinga in Burma.

    The point I was trying to make about Hamas rockets is that Hamas cannot be totally absolved for responsibility for the ongoing misery in Gaza. You may not believe, but I actually abhor the ways in which Israel overreacts to attacks on its territory and the strangulation of Gazan economy and society caused by the blockade. Not least because of gthe fuel it provides to the growing antisemitism across Europe. To deny that Hamas bears any responsibility is actually to deny agency to Palestinians.

    How to bring all

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  8. Barry - I am anti-Islam as are you - just as we are anti-Christianity and anti the rest of the religious systems that try to control people's lives. Perhaps anti-Muslim is what we object to rather than anti-Islam.
    The allegation that Jews work for foreign powers is quite distinct from a particular Jew working for a foreign power. It is like saying Jews are child killers - wholly wrong. But there are individual Jews who are child killers (I guess the Israelis lock their paedophile killers up like most other nations) about whom it is not a trope to point out that fact. Pete Willsman should be called out on the inaccuracy of his allegation, not labelled an anti-Semite because of it.

    Hamas of course bears some responsibility - but Hamas ceasing its attacks would not halt Israeli aggression or the occupation.

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  9. Anthony

    I am not anti-Islam no more than I am "anti" any religion. As an atheist and humanist I oppose fundamentalist and patriarchal interpretations of religion such as the anti LTGB+ protests outside that primary school in Birmingham. I need to make that clear.

    The trouble with Pete Willsman's allegations is that, rightly or wrongly, many (but not all) Jews see that the narrative about the antisemitism allegations about Labour being a plot against Corbyn orgnanised by the Israeli embassy feed precisely into ancient beliefs about Jewish loyalty to the countries they live in.

    There is no disagreement among any of us, especially JLM members, that the occupation of the West Bank should end (Israel actually withdrew from Gaza in 2005).

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  10. Barry - as an atheist and humanist I oppose all religions seeing them as essentially malevolent. There is nothing wrong in being anti-belief systems. It is as fine to be anti religion as it is to be anti climate change denial bodies of thought.

    In terms of Willsman's right to hold an opinion or to further free inquiry it doesn't matter what the majority of Jews believe. What people believe can always be challenged. If Willsman is right then the majority of Jews are wrong. It really is that simple. He is not saying they are all foreign agents but that one is a foreign agent.

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  11. Anthony

    Pete Willsman provided absolutely no evidence to support his allegations that the Israeli Embassy got 80 odd rabbis to claim that there is antisemitism in the Labour Party. He has previously ranted about "Trumpian Jewish fanatics". If he wants to make such inflammatory statements he should back them with solid evidential proof or else fuck out of the Labour Party.

    On a related issue, I was glad to see on Twitter a Justice for the 96 group refusing George Galloway's congratulatory tweet to Liverpool because of the antisemitic slur aimed at Spurs. This "obnoxious cretin"; this "excuse for a human being" properly belongs on the Alt-Right along with his friends Nigel Farage and Steve Bannnon.

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  12. Barry - that is an issue of not providing evidence. It is not evidence of it being anti-Semitic to accuse a specific Jewish person of working for a foreign power. There are Jews who do just as there are Catholics and Muslims who do. There is nothing wrong with Willsman or anybody calling for the 69 Rabbis or however many it was to provide evidence that anti-Semitism in Labour is widespread and severe. If he had said Trumpian Catholic fanatics would there have been such an orchestrated outcry? There are Jewish Trump fanatics but it is wrong to say they are Trump fanatics merely because they are Jewish. They are fanatics because they support a terror state whose war crimes are being facilitated by Trump. Many who fit in that band are Christian.

    I am not a fan of Galloway but his defence was that there were Spurs fans who were flying the Israeli flag in the crowd which showed an affiliation to a "racist state". Had Liverpool supporters been flying the Swastika and Galloway have responded by saying No Nazi flags on the cup, it would not have got a mention.

    Neither privilege nor persecute Jews while bearing in mind that they must be protected from those who seek to do them harm.

    Spurs fans often term themselves the Yid Army and PC mobbery wants to clamp down on them as well.

    I would be more concerned with Galloway's role in Respect - which in my view was facilitating and enabling theocrats who hated gays, Jews, women, atheists, humanist, secularists et al.

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  13. I see the campaign against anti-Semitism much as I do the campaign against BDS - in large part orchestrated to silence criticism of a terror state.

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  14. Anthony

    With (R)espect, I totally agree with the last paragraph of your second last post and totally disagree with your last post.

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  15. Anthony

    Regarding Galloway's straw man defence about if Liverpool fans displaying swastikas; it is illegal to display swastikas; it is not illegal to display the flag of any legitimate national political entity (although as the case of Celtic fans flying Palestinian flags it may fall foul of UEFA regulations on the dispaly of politcal emblems).

    If Galloway is drawing an equivalence between the swastika and the Israeli flag then he is an even greater cunt than I imagined. It is his hatred of the State of Israel that led him in into that unholy alliance with the clerical fascists of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the SWP and tankies in Respect. And this is before his current bromance with Nigel Farage and Steve Bannon. Galloway and the way he stirred communal divisions in Bow and Bethnal Green and Bradford West when seeking election does real harm to the cause of Palestinian rights.

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  16. Barry - Galloway made no reference to swastikas. I raised that as an example. It is not illegal to fly the flag of the Parachute Regiment either but we know for what vile purposes it is flown. Israel is a terror state that wages mass murder against Palestinian civilians. I am drawing an equivalence between the Israeli flag and the Nazi flag on the basis of crimes against humanity and war crimes which is a feature common to both.

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  17. Anthony

    Equivalence between Israeli crimers and tnose of the Nazis are so wide of the mark for the reasons that I have recounted so many times. Although i am no more pleading for exemption from crticism for Jews and the State of Israel than I would for Leeds United; I do believe that Gentiles should be vdery careful about invoking Nazism and the Holocaust in contexts where they so obvioulsy do not apply.

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  18. Barry what you have recounted so many times is your own opinion. Which is fine but not binding. My opinion is entirely different. The similarities are war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by both Nazi and Israeli regimes. To fail to recognise that is to give preferential treatment to Israeli war crimes. I give no such preference. I am quite right not to do so. I do not subscribe to the notion of our war crimes are better than yours; our crimes against humanity are in a superior moral category to your crimes against humanity.

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  19. Barry - I do not write as a Gentile but as a human. As such it is proper that I comment on war crimes against humans by other humans. No privileging of Non Gentiles. The cultural relativism in that is repellent.

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  20. Anthony

    No war crimes are better than any other war crimes. But Nazism and its crimes were uniquely and irredeemably evil in intent and exterminatory execution whether it was the Shoah, the T4 programme which eradicated the mentally and physically disabled, the genocide of the Roma, Gypsies and Sinti, the mass m urder of gays and 3m Russian POWs. I will always object to the trivialisation and relativisation of the crimes of Nazism particularly in contexts like the Alabama abortion law which the global abortion rates are compared to the aggregate of Nazi crimes, the Rwandan, Armenian and Cambodian and other genocides.

    I do not seek to bind anyone on this forum to any of my views but when pro-Palestinian advocates (by no means all) or "pro-life" campaigners invoke Nazi comparisons, I switch off.

    "No privileging of non Gentiles" could so easily be extended to "no privileging of non-whites" or "non-heterosexuals" or "non-disabled" and the consequent dismissal of the millenial long persecution of these outgroups.

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  21. Anthony

    I will deal with Nazi-Israel analogies in more detail in an articl on the connections between antizionism and antisemitism. For now, I will cite what the UK Jewish advocacy organisation the Community Security Trust says about them. They record incidents equalting Israel to Nazi Germany as antisemitic because the equation has a 'visceral capacity to offend Jews on the basis of their Jewishness' and 'carries a particular meaning for Jews because of the Holocaust'.

    I do not believe that it is your intention when you compare Israeli crimes to those of the Nazis ... but I do believe that is the intention of others.

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  22. Barry - Israeli crimes against the civilian population of Gaza are irredeemably evil. Nazi war crimes were not unique, Hutu Power were every bit as bad in their exterminationist policy against the Hutus. Their rate of killing in three months surpassed the Nazi rate.

    Yet despite Israel’s refusal to reveal its ties with the regime throughout the 90s, documents published ... reveal that throughout the 1960s and into the 70s, Israel was well aware of the severity of the crisis in Rwanda, as well as the danger of bloodletting in the country. Still, it reportedly continued to support the dictatorship.

    The Israeli state is evil. A nation that had its roots in crimes against its own humanity had a lot to teach the world about such crimes but what it has done is to teach the world how to perpetrate crimes against humanity.

    I will always object to genuine points of commonality between Nazi War crimes and crimes against humanity and those of Israel being dismissed as trivial. They are substantive - the victims of Israeli war crimes have every right to have their case put on a par with the victims of the Nazis.

    As for the Community Security Trust trying to minimise the evil of the Israeli state with its false accusations of anti-Semitism, what chutzpah. Comparing Nazi war crimes with Israeli war crimes offends not their Jewishness but their hypocrisy.

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  23. The idea that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic is largely the construct of right wing Blairites and their friends in tbe Tory media. Richard Seymour's brilliant book on tbe rise of Corbyn shows that zionist propagandists saw anti semitism as Corbyn's Achilles hell even before he won the 1st leadeship election. I think this sort of right wing tripe has no place on a supposedly progressive website.

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  24. Should we deprive people of access to different ideas Vincent and also deny them the opportunity of you debunking ideas you don't agree with? The progressive content of this blog lies in its willingness to promote free inquiry.

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  25. My position is straightforward Antony. We should not provide a platform for supporters of zionist apartheid and their genocidal campaign perpetrated on the people of Palestine.

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  26. We are not no-platformers here Vincent, seeing in it a serious threat to free inquiry. People are free to make up their own minds about these matters and do not require me or you to do it for them.

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