There can be no doubt that dealing with – and being seen to deal with – the scourge of antisemitism in the Labour party is vital. Both in itself, of course, and for the future of the party. As indeed is dealing with other forms of racism.
When the scale of the problem first came to prominence, there was a degree of disbelief – and therefore complacency – in the party. How could the Labour Party possibly be afflicted by antisemitism? After all, the whole ethos of the party is to oppose discrimination and to support religious tolerance, to fight the divisions promoted by the far-right and to promote solidarity of all people irrespective of their religion or ethnicity. For many, it was only when a steady stream of horrific cases came before the Labour Party NEC that the realisation dawned that this was indeed a deep seated problem.
For my own part, since I joined the NEC in October 2017, I have always supported taking firm action. I was one of those who voted for Labour to adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitism (to think we could rewrite it and improve it was bound to be misunderstood) and I voted for the proposal in July 2019 for a fast-track procedure for immediate expulsion from the party in blatant cases (as the length of our disciplinary procedures was increasingly portrayed as not taking action). I have also supported firm action on the individual cases wherever warranted (which it usually is). And I have supported independent oversight of our procedures.
Some people felt the problem was exaggerated for political reasons by opponents of the party or of the leadership. But it’s not because your political opponents make the most of a problem, that you don’t have a problem. And not dealing with it, or dealing with it insufficiently, is wrong in itself and also harmful to the party’s reputation.
Pointing out that other political parties also have antisemitism and other forms of racism, including islamophobia, and indeed far more so than the Labour party in some cases, is also not a good defence. Labour must set a higher standard for itself.
It is, of course, only a small minority of members who are antisemitic or racist. But the Labour Party has had over half a million members, so if even just 00.1% were antisemitic, it would mean some 500 cases to be dealt with – a significant number able to do untold damage to the party’s reputation. In fact, there have been more complaints about individuals than that, though over 1000 turned out to be about people who were not actually party members, and a few hundred were investigated and no evidence (or insufficient evidence) was found. The stats are devilishly complicated, not least because of the two-stage procedure with an initial finding of a case to answer by an NEC panel, followed by referral to the National Constitutional Committee for action (hence the need both to speed up procedures and to have a fast-track procedure where the evidence is manifest), and because, in many cases, those accused resign from the party before a decision is reached, and because some take or threaten legal action to delay proceedings. But from April 2018 to June 2019, the cases looked at resulted in some 20 expulsions and over 60 resignations.
Gradually, belatedly, the party is getting to grips with the problem. Yet there are still many cases, not apparently dealt with, or still pending, that rightly or wrongly get media and political attention. We have to do better!
I mentioned that there are some who naturally want to make the most of this to attack the Labour Party, not with constructive criticism, but determined for political reasons to find anything they can to demonise Labour. That’s bound to happen in modern politics, but it does not help us one iota to deal with the problem.
I was myself, to my surprise, recently attacked in a lengthy series of tweets by a certain “NudderingNudnik” (doesn’t want to give his real name) who seems, from his tweets, to find fault wherever he can with Jeremy Corbyn in particular and other Labour members from time to time.
He asks whether I “have always been hostile to the legitimate concerns of British Jews”! He has had nothing better to do with his time than troll through thousands of tweets that I have, over time, not retweeted, but “liked”, to find tremendous fault for me doing so in certain cases. Here are a few examples:
- Liking a tweet about Johnson’s new government which says: “An anti-abortion Minister for Health, a pro death penalty Home Secretary, a homophobic Minister for Education, a banker for Chancellor, a racist, sexist liar for Prime Minister – If that’s preferable to you than a Corbyn government, you are the problem“. This is a political argument that you are free to agree with or disagree with. But for ” NudderingNudnik” it is apparently antisemitic because those who disagree must include a high percentage of British Jews, and therefore the tweet is obviously antisemitic, and therefore anyone who “liked” it must be too! For my inability to follow this set of non sequiturs, my apologies.
- The tweet was by Kerry-Ann Mendoza, who was recently on BBC Question Time, because she is editor of an online publication which, apparently, has carried articles that have been “vocal & hostile left wing voices” attacking British Jews. Now, it’s true that I do not look up the CV of everyone whose tweet I might “like” and certainly don’t check all the articles of any publication they are involved with. For this my apologies.
- Next up, he complains that I liked a tweet criticising James Cleverly, the new Tory party Chair, for claiming that the Tories abolished slavery, on the incorrect ground that William Wilberforce was a Tory MP. That seems perfectly reasonable to me, but “NudderingNudnik” finds fault on the ground that the tweet was posted by Socialist Voice which, he says, is an account of a certain Scott Nelson who is, apparently, a “Corbyn activist” (Again, my apologies for not knowing who manages the Socialist Voice account, not knowing Mr Scott Nelson, and not knowing that it is wrong to even “like” a perfectly reasonable tweet without first finding out who currently manages the twitter account in question and investigating their history).
- Then, he criticises me for giving a “like” to a tweet that posts an opinion poll putting Labour in first place. Why? because Momentum retweeted it! Again, apologies for not knowing that opinion polls putting Labour in first place are disqualified if retweeted by Momentum!
- Finally, he objects to me liking a tweet that starts by saying: “A rise in antisemitism in the UK is a very serious matter.” Why does he object? Because it also says that it is absurd to blame this on Jeremy Corbyn, that antisemitism is also “horrifyingly, rising in other countries” and that “most AS by far comes from the Far Right” and that“hysterical targeting of Corbyn undermines the necessary fight against real AS”. I presume it is the reference to Corbyn that he disagrees with – surely he agrees with the rest – but even if you are critical of Jeremy Corbyn, you surely accept that the rise in AS can hardly be attributed entirely to him! Yet “NudderingNudnik” says that this tweet is to “blame & mock the victim & battle the reality of racism”. My apologies for not being able to read between the lines as well as he can, to see that what someone means is, apparently, the opposite of what they say!
“NudderingNudnik” concludes from all this and similar extrapolations that “ordinary members & supporters of Labour are being radicalised into anti-Jewish racism…or has Richard Corbett always been hostile to the legitimate concerns of British Jews & now finds that he can gently endorse & promote these racist views?”!
Such a preposterous suggestion reveals that he is not really interested at all in helping the Labour Party deal with antisemitism and still less with helping those, like me, who have argued that the party needs to do so more vigorously. Instead, he spends countless hours finding tweets that have been “liked” and reading meanings into those likes that do not exist. His target is not fighting antisemitism, but discrediting the Labour Party, and doing so not by rational argument, but by deliberate distortion.