Monday, 16 July 2018

Labour and anti-Semitism: enough really is enough

anti-Semitism rally
The original #EnoughisEnough demo against anti-Semitism, March 2018
What with the Cabinet crisis, NATO summit, Trump visit and World Cup, it is easy to pass over some events in the Labour Party which could be accurately described as momentous. And not in a good way.

Last week may have been the week where the Corbyn leadership really crossed the Rubicon on anti-Semitism. Or worse, in fact: it took its already highly-questionable position and doubled down.

Perhaps for the first time, serious, sensible and non-partisan people are describing Labour as “institutionally anti-Semitic”. And it’s not hard to see why.

First, there was the installation of ex-Livingstone adviser as chair of the NEC Disputes Panel, the party’s first political (as opposed to staff) filter of anti-Semitism cases once they have been escalated from the party’s Compliance Unit.

You may remember that the post was vacated by Christine Shawcroft, forced to step down after, you’ve guessed it, a row about anti-Semitism. You might also reasonably have thought that the party might be keen to ensure a replacement with squeaky-clean credentials, in the wake of that, the huge backlog of cases and the previous Chakrabarti Report fiasco. But no.

Enter NEC member Claudia Webbe. Webbe was not only Ken “Hitler” Livingstone’s adviser, back in 2005 she actually defended him on record after the shameful “concentration camp guard” episode, when he racially abused an Evening Standard journalist.

As a result of that episode, you may remember, he was actually suspended from office for four weeks, for bringing the London mayoral office into disrepute (incidentally, with hindsight, it has been a terrible indication of the state of Labour on this issue that it has since taken another thirteen years to remove him from the party).

And not just that, Webbe was also chair of a party conference session that, as Progress’ Richard Angell put it, “allowed anti-Semitic tropes to be uttered unchallenged”. She spoke alongside the deeply unpleasant Jackie Walker, still suspended from the party for (alleged) anti-Semitism, pending a final judgement.

And naturally, like her party leader, she has appeared on PressTV, the English-speaking mouthpiece of the Iranian government. Not an organisation well-known for its love of Jews to start with, but currently also busy constructing conspiracy theories around Labour’s current crisis, naturally painting it as a dastardly Zionist plot.

But even this might have been bearable, were it not for the party’s even-worse gaffe, a couple of days later, in “tweaking” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

The IHRA definition, according to the New Statesman, is used in the UK by “the Crown Prosecution Service, College of Policing, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, National Union of Students, and 124 local authorities, including scores of Labour-held councils such as Haringey and Greater Manchester.”

Much of it has been adopted. But four key points were not. The net result is, naturally, a demonstrable weakening of the criteria which might deem a comment or an act anti-Semitic.

Labour defends it as an “improvement” – they even add a few extra points which are not in the IHRA. But it is difficult not to see these as a smokescreen, for two obvious reasons.

One, who on earth are the Labour Party to tell Jews what’s anti-Semitism and what isn’t? And two, what is your motivation for changing a perfectly well-accepted definition in the first place?

The second of these has a clear answer: it is being changed because of the long-held obsession among far-leftists that Jews are using anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel (even though the IHRA definition itself explicitly makes the opposite point, that it’s fine to criticise Israel, as long as those comments aren’t anti-Semitic).

And the answer to the first is equally worrying: of course Labour is not better-qualified than the Jewish community itself to define what constitutes racism against its members. In fact, this goes directly against a cross-party consensus on this matter in the UK: since the Macpherson Report into the murder of black schoolboy Stephen Lawrence, politicians of all stripes have accepted that the best-placed people to judge what is or is not racism are the victims of that racism.

Labour has now broken with this consensus, over its leadership’s obsession with Israel. It is engaging, if you like, in “Jewsplaining”: explaining to Jews that the party knows much better than they do what is a racist comment.

It is difficult to overstate how damaging this lowering of the bar is, after recent months’ successive incidents involving the party and anti-Semitism. Naturally, it has been condemned by the Jewish Labour Movement, Board of Deputies and so on.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about how Labour’s tolerance of extremism would one day do for us. The post featured a then only modestly-known backbencher, Jeremy Corbyn, and his defence of hate preacher Raed Salah.

Today, under his leadership, it is now reduced to rewriting definitions so that the extremists will not look so extreme. It is the Ministry of Truth, 2018.

If that were not bad enough in itself, think about what it says about that leadership and the way in which it operates; although it is neither is it terribly surprising, given the literal Stalin apologists (Milne and Murray) present at the top table.

Corbyn's changing of the definition of anti-Semitism is like an authoritarian head of state about to fall foul of the law, who, instead of trying to win the argument, simply changes the law. It is, essentially, an act of bad faith and of demagoguery.

No, common decency dictates that Labour cannot soften its definition without cementing the view of the Jewish community about its institutional racism.

It goes without saying that Labour MPs, if they truly care about their party, cannot let this happen. They should and must take action. If, that is, the “enough is enough” of March’s demo is to be a genuine call to arms for Labour’s moderates, and not just a convenient slogan.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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