Despite signs that tackling Labour antisemitism was at last being addressed in 2017, hopes will remain unfulfilled until significant signs of action are shown by the leadership. Here are five actions that would send a clear message that the recent positive steps are more than just a cynical attempt to win back Jewish voters in London and elsewhere.
1.Admit the scale of the problem.
The issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party has been dismissed by left wing journalists, union leaders and shadow cabinet ministers (including Diane Abbott and Chris Williamson), each employing their own version of David Hirsh’s Livingstone Formulation to deflect attention. Yet the ‘antisemitic sewage’ just keeps on coming. Earlier this week, the Labour Party appeared in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s global list of ten worst antisemitic incidents – for the second year running.
The Labour Party won’t deal with the problem until it, and we, are honest about the scale of the situation: Labour Against Antisemitism has reported over 6,000 cases to the compliance unit in just over a year and the rate isn’t slowing (in fact the opposite). Measures put in place are yet to have any significant impact; words are not being followed with decisive actions. That must change.
2.Promote the IHRA definitionand raise awareness around what it means.
The IHRA definition was adopted in full by the NEC in December 2016, but the only confirmation remains this article by Alice Perry. Members are confused as to what the accepted definition of antisemitism is, whether it has been adopted, and whether it is used by the NEC in disciplinary cases.
To remedy this, a large internal education programme could introduce the IHRA definition as the cornerstone of tackling antisemitism. Every member should be emailed a copy of the definition, and this could be accompanied by information about the JLM rule change, why it was introduced and how it will be enforced.
It won’t eradicate the culture of antisemitism but it will indicate that rules exist, and that the party is willing to recognise and police those rules.
3.Proscribe Free Speech on Israel/Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL).
JVL launched at the Brighton Conference, claiming to be a radical ‘anti-Zionist’ Jewish group within the Labour Party. Their launch party at the conference was attended by Len McCluskey; it is rumoured that Unite is affiliated to them.
However, as followers of the excellent @JVLWatch will know, JVL is a front for the controversial ‘Free Speech on Israel’ group, who created huge upset when a speaker at their meeting at the Brighton Conference asked ‘Holocaust, yes or no?’
Both groups are opposed to the JLM (despite the fact that the JLM retains a far larger support of Jewish Labour Party members), and both groups are equally hostile to Labour Friends of Israel. Both groups contain a large number of Labour Party members either suspended or expelled. As recently as last Saturday their Secretary, Glyn Secker, was filmed making antisemitic slurs at a London rally.
Diverse opinions are welcome within the Labour movement, but groups that have at their centre an ideology that runs counter to the aims of inclusivity, justice and equality can be no part of our movement.
4.Re-open the Chakrabarti Inquiry.
The Chakrabarti Inquiry, and Report, was a mess: the changing focus of investigation from antisemitism to other forms of racism, the collection of evidence from a range of informed Jewish and non-Jewish figures which was ignored, the launch and the appalling abuse of Ruth Smeeth MP, and the many questions raised subsequently surrounding the awarding of a peerage to Chakrabarti. (For more on this The Whitewashed Project is an important and vital resource).
These might have been forgivable had the Report’s recommendations led to positive outcomes. However, the necessity of Labour Against Antisemitism proves it has failed. A new inquiry, independently managed and given firm and far-ranging powers of investigation, could work with the NEC and others in identifying the scale and nature of the problem and, most importantly of all, offer an effective resolution to the problem.
5.Jeremy Corbyn to speak to a Jewish newspaper.
On the day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015 the Jewish Chronicle’s front page demanded that he answer seven key questions (he was the only leadership candidate not to speak to the paper) - he has failed to do so. This theme was more recently taken up again in a Twitter thread by journalist Daniel Sugarman, who noted that no Jewish newspaper has yet been granted an interview with the leader.
There can be no reconciliation between Corbyn’s past and his apparent embrace of Zionism without his answering questions on some of his previous positions. His bravery might be rewarded with a new sense of trust.