Monday 3 September 2018

Labour and Institutional Anti-Semitism

The left took all nine seats in the 2018 NEC elections, and 38 out of 42 positions on the National Policy Forum. However, some cannot accept defeat with good grace. Particularly as Pete Willsman, he of the recorded NEC comments fame, got in ahead of the "independent" candidature of Eddie Izzard - though with significantly fewer votes than the other comrades who retained Momentum's endorsement. As matters Labour Party are somewhat febrile, can you tell what happened next? Ah yes, as night follows day there came the claims Labour is institutionally racist.

This is an absurdity that doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There are pockets of anti-semitism, certainly. Out of a mass membership of 550,000 we're bound to attract some people with unpleasant views. A party is only as good as the society that hosts it, after all. Yet consider this, is chucking out members for making anti-Jewish comments evidence for institutional anti-semitism? Would such a party find its complaints process crammed with hundreds of cases? Would an anti-semitic party sit down with establishment Jewish organisations, outfits who've already made their hostility to its left wing political turn pretty clear, to try and tackle anti-semitism? Is it a sign of extensive anti-semitism that the party has investigated the issue, produced a report with recommendations and saw them adopted by conference last year? And was Jeremy Corbyn cleverly misdirecting critics of his leadership when, well before 2015, he sponsored EDM after EDM condemning anti-semitism even though there was no political expediency in doing so? You have to be seriously misinformed or just plain dishonest to ignore this to make out Labour is some sort of anti-semitic cesspit.

None of this negates the stupidity of Pete Willsman. As a long-time activist and veteran of faction fighting, we should expect more. He has, however, apologised and accepted the necessity for some training around anti-semitism. Rightly so. If, after all, an apology to the Chief Whip is good enough to let Margaret Hodge off further disciplinary measures for her grotesque slander then saying sorry to the general secretary should be fine and dandy too. Gooses and ganders and all that. Though no way should Pete run on the Momentum slate next time - the left can and must do better than this.

But let's accept the premise of the Labour right for the moment. If Willsman is an anti-semite, there's a wee issue. When it comes to postal ballots, be they Labour ones or votes for "proper" elections, everyone who's had anything to do with electoral politics will tell you a large majority get filled out and sent back straight away. In the case of the NEC ballot, the contest opened on 26th July and the Willsman recording did the rounds on the 30th. Are we expected to believe the votes Willsman polled were an endorsement of anti-semitism before the fact? Please, don't insult our intelligence. True, rumours of his comments had done the rounds but they were hardly mass currency. To pretend they were is like expecting left wing members to have preternatural powers of detection, to possess a spidey sense or second sight alert to every whisper, every rumour that does the rounds.

Staying with the Labour right premise, if Labour was riddled with anti-semitism, wouldn't an openly "anti-semitic" candidate be expected to do better rather than significantly worse than his running mates?

Come on, it's poppycock. We know this, you know this. And what makes the whole thing even worse is those running with the attacks on Labour's supposed anti-semitism know it as well. For those segments of the Labour right who do this, it's less a case of political vacuity and more one of moral bankruptcy. The truth, which they still haven't faced up to, is one in which their politics has been soundly rejected. Their preference to leave the fundamentals of the old Thatcherite consensus intact is a woefully inappropriate "left" response to the fall out of the 2008 crash. Of course, if these people were properly rooted in constituencies Labour was founded to represent, if they knew how to struggle politically then they'd be aware of this and perhaps articulate their politics accordingly. Indeed, if we saw a genuine clash of ideas in the Labour Party that would be a good thing, not least because it would be an antidote to its shoddy, ramshackle and oft non-existent efforts at political education. But they don't and they won't. Instead we have the insults, the smears, the lies. Not because the right don't know any better, but because they can't be any better.


Darrell Kavanagh said...

The thing is, Phil, Willsman's outburst, however tactically naive, was in substance no different to your demolition here, of the idea that Labour is riven by antisemitism or institutionally antisemitic.

Now, I don't know Pete Willsman personally, but I do know that he's consistently fought the good fight for decades, throughout the dark days, while people like me gave up, and others just gave in to the supposedly inescapable logic of neoliberalism.

As such, he's been tempered in battle, as have Corbyn and McDonnell. Because of this, I trust them not to give in to fear or expediency. So I'll not be writing him off just yet. Especially as he was attacked by Tom Watson, which ought to be a badge of honour for anyone.

Obviously, a new generation will be taking over relatively soon, but they'll need to be develop the same kind of steel, and obstinacy, if they're not to be blown off course: there are worrying signs already of impressionistic liberalism and a desire to please all sides amongst some prominent Corbyn supporters.

The new generation needs to respect, and learn from, the proven old guard, especially on the most difficult issues, whatever their foibles: not to repeat history, but to build on it.

Speedy said...

Or of course you could accept the Labour Left is riddled with anti-semitism, only it doesn't recognise it as such? Anti-semite, moi?

Why has Labour refused to adopt the internationally recognised definition of anti-semitism - recognised by the CPS, no less? Yes, but... but what?

The same people (here, for example) who are happy to bandy around the word (or should that be euphemism) "Zionist" come down on people who criticise multiculturalism or Islam like a ton of bricks. Yet how can it be racist to criticise Islam (which is not a race but a belief) yet not be racist to use "Zionist" in the pejorative form, particularly when you know most Jews will be Zionists? And certainly most Israelis.

Talking about a Muslim conspiracy would evidently be racist, notwithstanding that Muslims aren't a race (but Jews are). In fact, we can play this game - you want an international Muslim conspiracy, just look at the influence of the Saudi's. And aren't they the home of Mecca and chair UN Human Rights?

Simples. In reality, the Left's conception of racism exists simply to serve its politics, not as an objective measure, which is precisely why it has been hoisted upon its own petard over the definition of anti-semitism.

It seems racism is only racism when it applies to certain races (or philosophies). The fact that this is racist is neither here nor there - the Left appears to believe it "owns" the concept of racism (which it has wielded to great effect in the past) and is the arbiter over who or what is racist, hence the dissonance over the definition. The sane world begs to disagree. The Left's current position could be described as Millwall - "they hate us and we don't care" - but it is no way to get elected.

I don't think the British voter cares much about anti-semitism (although it probably cares more than about Islamophobia), the hypocrisy or moral bankruptcy, but it is dominating a political discourse which should be about Brexit, austerity and the future, hence why the Tories are holding up in the poles.

Furthermore, despite the protests, one cannot escape the sense that those on the Left don't really care if a few hundred thousand Jews who "are probably Tories anyway" (Ken Livingstone) are upset when they look at how this will stand among the many more Muslim voters likely to choose their candidates. Are they calculating it won't do them any harm? Perish the thought!

On the whole, the UK Labour movement has avoided the dark stain of the far Left (by which I mean historic association with the crimes committed by its fellow travellers) but with the rise of this tendency, that callous authoritarian streak becomes evident, albeit in new (although not that new) forms. Win or not, this will not end well.

Dipper said...

Modern Labour is institutionally anti-semitic.

Modern Labour is based round identity, and part of that is that membership of a particular identity entitles you to a portion of the state's assets on the basis of your identity. So In effect, Labour is tackling racism by embedding racism in the state; you are now first and foremost not an individual with your own views, abilities, opinions, but instead a series of labels the state confers on you.

Whilst handing out opportunities based on race or other identities may be good for those identities under-represented in various institutions, the flip side is the same logic requires other identities have their representations capped; so for Jews in academic, cultural, legal, or other areas of activities where they have flourished in the UK up to now, the logic of Labours position is that they should have opportunities removed from them because they are Jewish. And that is anti-semitic.

Bay said...

Have you actually listened to Willsman's rant. He pretty much is saying the same as this blog post. So I'm not sure why you are so critical off him? Or is it that someone in a position of responsibility on the NEC is not allowed to say what you have just said? Or was it cos he was heated and aereated when he said it? Were you completely calm when you wrote what you wrote.

I think the fact that he was taped and vilified for a few sentences that are NOT anti semitic (but expressed disbelief and amazement about the claim that labour is full of anti Semitism) will have effectively made people on the NEC to scared, now, to say what you have just written in this blog.

Chevin said...

Is this based on what Pete Willsman actually said, or on what people said he said?

Daniel said...

I'm a chronic procrastinator so didn't send in my vote until after the Willsman contraversy so didn't vote for him. Instead found another candidate that was pro party democracy.

Jim Denham said...

Re Willsman:
Willsman circulated his report of the 17th July NEC meeting to all CLP secretaries on 20th July.

With the exception of the reference to “Trump-fanatics”, everything in the tape-recorded clip was in his own report. The references to the letter from the 68 rabbis and the ‘hands up if you’ve ever seen antisemitism in the Labour Party’ are in the report, more or less verbatim.

What’s clear from Willsman’s report of the NEC meeting (buttressed by what is known of Willsman’s general politics) is:

- Willsman does not understand the forms of contemporary antisemitism. He therefore believes that there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party. The belief is genuinely held but completely wrong.

- Proceeding on that basis, Willman needed to find, from his own point of view, an explanation for criticisms of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The answer he came up with was that it’s a bunch of right-wingers who want to do in Labour.

- Some of these right-wingers are members of the Jewish community: “Some of these are people in the Jewish community (who) support Trump, they’re Trump fanatics, and all the rest of it.” (Anyone who’s ever heard Willsman speak will know his bombastic style)

(He also, presumably, picked up second-hand snippets of information which he then used, albeit inaccurately, to flesh out his line of argument:

So: He doesn’t understand contemporary antisemitism, consequently denied its existence, and concluded that allegations that it exists are made in bad faith by right-wingers with ulterior motives.

But Willman’s approach only sums up the way that a lot of other people on the left view the arguments about left antisemitism. In fact, I’ve read far worse (albeit not from people on the NEC or standing for then NEC).

If that had been the litmus test of whether or not we should have still voted for him, then, logically, there must be a whole lot of other Momentum candidates (e.g. at regional and more local level) that we should not be backing either.

Boffy said...

By "modern form of anti-Semitism" of course, is meant anti-Zionism. That was indicated by Johnathan Sacks comments on the Marr Sow in Sunday where he said that the vast majority of Jews in Britain are Zionists, and so when Jeremy Corbyn had criticised "Zionists" for not understanding irony, he was really criticising British Jews, and suggesting they were not really British.

This is the crux, because it is actually Zionists like Sacks who are the ones who equate Zionists with Jews, as he did in this interview, and who thereby make any criticism of Zionism instantly anti-Semitic. IN fact, Corbyn had been referring to specific Zionists, not even Zionists in general, and the fact that Sacks was prepared to take those comments out of context illustrates exactly what is going here, and why such a fuss is being made over this half of an example in just one of the attached examples to the IHRA definition, and which many others have referred to, including the HOC Select Committee, as being inadequately formulated, so as to present a danger to free speech.

What is really going on, and what this is all about is not anti-Semitism, but is shown by all those anti-Labour protesters who turned up at the NEC today bedecked in the Israeli flag. It is not about anti-Semitism, but about the potential for a Corbyn led Labour Party to no longer settle for ineffective criticism of the racist policies, and foundation of the state of Israel, and its attacks on Palestinians, and the possibility that unlike previous British governments Labour and Tory, it might actually take the commitment to Two States seriously, and try to bring it about, rather than sitting back whilst Israel bombs Palestinian children, and occupies more and more Palestinian land on the West Bank, making a Two State solution increasingly impossible.

Anonymous said...


Do you know how many countries have adopted the IHRA "internationally recognised" definition of anti-semitism *in full*??

Eight - yes that's right EIGHT, out of almost 200 in the whole world. And these do not include Israel's biggest pal the USA.

I don't blame you for not knowing this, mind, since precisely nobody in the MSM thinks it worth reporting.

John said...

What is 'contemporary' anti-semitism? is it different from normal anti-semitism? or is it just what you say it is in order to be able to call someone an anti-semite?

CCAAC said...

The IHRA is clearly adding insult to Palestinian injury and is specifically intended to close down free speech and is intended to suppress criticism of a nation that systematically brutalises on a daily basis and does so while systematically dehumanising its victims with endless racist tropes along with racist policies. The Palestinians are literally viewed as sub human vermin in need of pest control. Answers on a postcard how all this helps in the fight against genocide and racist mass murder!

If we assume anti Semitism = anti Zionism, and modern anti Semitism means exactly that, then it is impossible to call Labour an intuitionally anti Semitic party given the hoops it goes through to defend the racist settler state and also given so many of its members are part of an organisation called Labour friends of Israel. How could any intuitionally anti Zionist party allow for such an organisation to exist?! To be honest how any genuine leftist party would allow such a thing is a complete mystery to me. In fact why there even is this thing called X friends of Israel is baffling to me, where are the X friends of Chad for example?

Now if Corbyn was somehow brave enough to disband this apology for ethnic cleansing, racism, oppression and systematic brutality and changed Britain’s foreign policy from being supportive of Israel to be hostile to it then at that point you could say the labour party was institutionally anti Zionist.

Alas and unfortunately that day has not arrived and almost certainly won’t under a Corbyn leadership, a leadership that will have enough on its hands dealing with attacks by all the institutions of the ruling elite as well as sabotage from his own MP’s. Labour will go down the McDonnell route, stop worrying about foreigners and concentrate on Britain first. Now where have I heard that phrase before!

Incidentally even if every nation on earth adopted the IHRA definition the left should universally reject it. Issues like this are good in a way because issues like this remind us of all the fake leftists. Anyone thinking the left should adopt the IHRA definition can be immediately be disqualified from being a leftist, see the committees definition of a leftist under its section, The left fought the fucking holocaust, the right supported it (TLFFHRS definition).

So under the TLFFHRS definition anyone supporting the IHRA definition is automatically on the right politically.

Dipper said...

Instead of saying "Israel" or "the state of Israel": Just say "The Israeli government". Easy.

asquith said...

Tom Mapfumo said...

This is what the Institute of Jewish Policy research had to say on the matter in September 2017 in its 86 page report on Antisemitism in the UK - "Looking at the political spectrum of British
society, the most antisemitic group consists of
those who identify as very right-wing. In this
group about 14% hold hard-core antisemitic
attitudes and 52% hold at least one attitude,
compared again to 3.6% and 30% in the general
population. The very left-wing, and, in fact, all
political groups located on the left, are no more
antisemitic than the general population. This
finding may come as a surprise to those who
maintain that in today’s political reality, the
left is the more serious, or at least, an equally
serious source of antisemitism, than the right. "

It concluded that Antisemitism was not common in the UK, one of the best countries in the world to be a Jew. I do think, as the Orthodox Jews do that much of the recent furore has been caused by "Secular Zionists" who have behave irresponsibly.

Tmb said...

From the moment Corbyn became leader, it became obvious the establishment and their various toadies, right wing clones and lickspittles were out to get him. It was ten steps beyond blatant, and it simply showed how much the MSM, the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Guardian are propaganda, and tied to the establishment. From 'Brickgate' to 'Crapcoup', to the almost daily attacks from the 'left liberal' Guardian, and now the anti-Semitism charges to charges of racism, it has been non stop. It hasn't just shown Labour supporters and genuine left wingers the bias against them and so towards democracy, it has shown millions of disinterested people the nature of our corrupted establishment, and institutions like the press, media, law and even fake Labour MPs.

The resentment I feel towards these people is quite high, because they have almost all acted in bad faith, simply because they despise left wing politics and the fairness it brings. What has this country done to deserve a vile establishment bent on increasing its wealth and power, and MPs of the calibre of Chukka Umunna, Boris Johnson and many others who couldn't be more unprincipled, cavalier and careerist if they tried? We need a sea change, and I think many other people think so, too.