Tackling antisemitism – not the Progress way

Immediately after the Parliament Square demonstration, Richard Angell, Director  of Progresss published a quck 10-point guide to “How Labour can start stamping out antisemitism” on the Progress website. It is billed – quaintly – as a “Web Exclusive”.

Glyn Secker looks at each of the ten points and finds them highly problematic. His responses are in italics below.

What can the Labour party do to better tackle antisemitism? Richard Angell offers 10 immediate steps to take the initiative

Richard Angell

March 27, 2018

First, tell Ken Livingstone he is out, never coming back and not welcome at any Labour party, leader’s office or affiliated trade union events ever again.

A first principle of any civilised organisation is that due process and natural justice govern the formal relations between members. An outside body demanding a member be summarily expelled says more about the outside body than the person concerned and their organisation.

Second, give the Compliance Unit the resources it need to process the complaints about antisemitism, ensure the National Constitutional Committee meets to hear the cases and write to everyone under investigation to demand of them that they make themselves available for hearings.

These bodies are the central components of the discredited disciplinary structure criticised in the Chakrabarti Report where recommendations, accepted by the NEC of the Labour Party, were made for radical reform.

Third, call a special meeting of the National Executive Committee to reaffirm the Labour party’s full support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and make clear that any engagement in Holocaust denial is not compatible with Labour membership – this is equally applicable to council candidate Alan Bull in Peterborough through to film maker Ken Loach.

The Party has adopted the IHRA definition, as published by the IHRA itself. ie. as with the IHRA itself it adopted the 38-word definition and did not adopt the eleven examples, seven of which reference criticisms of Israel as a form of antisemitism. The CAA ’s own Legal Opinion on the IHRA definition, which endorsed the IHRA definition, states clearly that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless it is informed by hatred of Jews. 

Fourth, Corbyn could make a speech to a Jewish audience or with the Jewish press, on antisemitism, its history and its various manifestations. Point out that anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitism but can be and often is – and that is not acceptable. Make clear that there are plenty of reasons to criticise  the state of Israel, its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza and the government of Israel – especially Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition – but none of them are should include antisemitism, age old antisemitic tropes or likening Israel to the Nazis or apartheid South Africa. Use of ‘Zio’ and Zionism as a pejorative word or term of abuse should lead to automatic suspension.

There is a fundamental contradiction in this paragraph:

It claims that it is reasonable to criticise the Occupation and the blockade of Gaza, but antisemitic to describe the material nature of the Occupation as having close parallels with apartheid. Many renowned scholars do. Many Israelis use the word with increasing frequency as the best they can find to described the reality. The demand is, in effect that the extreme physical oppression and the racist nature of that oppression may not be mentioned let alone argued against. The definition of what is antisemitic is being applied to sanitise Israel’s violations of its human rights abuses.

Five, establish a Twitter and Facebook profile that singles out antisemitic supporters of his leadership – Scott Nelson and the like – with a simple instruction: ‘Either delete your tweet or delete your Twibbon – you do not do this in my name.’ Every time one of these repugnant antisemites rears their ugly head send the message and keep doing it until they get the message. This one act could do a lot to clean up the Labour twittersphere and Facebook for Jewish members, councillors and members of parliament.

If Corbyn had time for this, it might be interesting, because it would highlight the vast majority of tweets which contain genuine criticisms of Israel, whilst performing an educational function for those which make the elision between Israel and Jew, a not surprising error, given Israel very publicly promotes itself as the representative of all Jews worldwide.

Six, implement the final recommendations of Shami Chakrabarti’s report.

If this is done in its full spirit, and there is no reason to suppose it would not be, the establishment of due process and natural justice will remove the abuse of the disciplinary system as a tool with which to attack the left.

Seven, commission the Jewish Labour Movement to do a full audit of the of the actions taken since Jan Royall’s report, Chakrabarti’s report, the home affairs select committee’s investigation, highlight any outstanding actions and any further recommendations they would include and instruct the chair of the equalities sub-committee of the NEC to personally see they are implemented.

The JLM is wholly unsuited to carry out any such whole party research and recommendations. It has a very narrowly defined identity: one of its aims is “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life” (which many Jews reject), it supports the Jerusalem Programme of the World Zionist Organisation, with its commitment to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, its funding of the illegal settlements and its belief in Eretz Yisrael – a Biblical reference generally understood as Mandate Palestine – which stretched from the coast to the Jordan river.  The JLM employs the whole of the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, including the 11 examples, 7 of which classify criticisms of Israel as antisemitic. The JLM is affiliated to the Israeli Laour Party which has racist and hostile policies to Palestinians, whose leader has said “the Arabs have to be afraid of us”.

The JLM may be entitled to hold these beliefs but not to claim to represent all Jews in the Labour Party. It is clearly a partisan body.

Eight, commission Jewish Labour Movement-led training for the NEC in modern antisemitism and unconscious bias like Labour Students have done. It should be compulsory and attended by the leader himself.

Proper education and training is highly desirable, but for the same reason under seven above, the JLM is wholly unsuited to provide it. Training has to be based on trust and free speech. However, at the JLM ’s training session at the Labour Party Conference in 2016 it secretly recorded the session and then, without the participants permission, posted the film on social media. It encouraged people to raise points and questions about the topics (e.g.  the Holocaust, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the IHRA definition of antisemitism), then having recorded their contributions splashed these across social media as examples of antisemitism. Having entrapped people in this way it is continuing to use this information to demonise them and to hound them out of the Party.  This was a violation of trust, of the principles of a learning environment and a gross abuse of power.

Nine, once and for all set up and independent complaints procedure, run by a third party that can deal with bullying, sexual harassment and that would include antisemitism. No one has confidence in the Labour party processes anymore, and rightly so, not least because the leader’s office cannot help themselves but interfere.

This is duplicitous. There is widespread agreement that the current disciplinary procedures are not based on due process and natural justice and are open to abuse. They have been exploited by the right wing in the Party to suspend very large numbers of Corbyn supporters. Now there is a new general Secretary the Chakrabarti recommendations will be put into place.

Ten, stop all attacks on the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been affiliated to Labour since the 1920s. That means making clear that JLM will not be stripped of its best practice awards, that JVL is not eligible for local or national affiliation, and asking Katy Clark to confirm that the relationship between JLM and the party, including its representation on the NEC through the socialist societies collective, will not be diminished by the democracy review.

It is unreasonable to demand a specific outcome of a Review that is still under way. Were there to be any changes made to rules and representation in relation to affiliated societies, these would affect organisations such as the Socialist Health Association, Fabian Society, SERA – Labour’s Environment Campaign, etc. The idea of the Review is about principle and values as well as good practice and not to protect or to attack any individual organisation.

Just because an organisation has been around for a long time does not mean that it is per se representative of the group it claims to represent or that it meets the criteria of financial transparency, internal democracy, or compliance with LP procedures or policy. These should be judged on merit. JVL has not called for the disaffiliation of the JLM, why should the JLM call for JVL to be banned from affiliation? Maybe it is because they realise that despite all their protestations, they do not represent all Jews in the Labour Party.