An open letter to Anthony Julius

On 27 November Anthony Julius published An open letter to Sir Richard Evans in the New Statesman, saying that “Labour’s anti-Semitism cannot be disregarded”.

Worcester Constituency Labour Party Member, and  Jewish Voice for Labour Solidarity Member, Paul Mountain has sent an open letter in reply to Mr Julius.

In it he notes that Julius’s letter contains ” the most vituperative and intemperate personal attack on the Labour leader of the many that that I have read” before going on to rebut the specific allegations made against Corbyn and, by implication, party members more widely.

We reproduce it here.

7 December 2019

Mr Anthony Julius
c/o The New Statesman Standard House
12-13 Essex Street London WC2R 3AA

Dear Mr Julius

Antisemitism and the Labour Party
OPEN LETTER – FOR PUBLICATION

I write in response to your open letter to Sir Richard Evans, published in the New Statesman on 27 November, in which you challenged his publicly announced decision to vote Labour in the forthcoming general election.

I note that roughly the first half of your letter is devoted to the most vituperative and intemperate personal attack on the Labour leader of the many that that I have read, since the stories of his allegedly antisemitic attitudes started to circulate about 2 years ago.

As the second half of your letter mostly contains an exposition of the debilitating nature of anti-Semitism in today’s society, in this reply I wish to focus on the specific allegations that you have made against Mr Corbyn and, by implication, party members more widely.

At the start of your letter you approvingly quote Sir Richard’s claim that the “cancer of anti-Semitism . . . has infected” the Labour Party; and you go on to say that the “the party has become cruel, malicious, stupid and dishonest” and that “the cruelty . . . is persistent and extreme – death threats, shouted abuse at branch meetings, online trolling. The malice has been patent, incontinent and pervasive.”  You then list several categories of transgression and you say that “compelling evidence exists” of these matters.  However, you cite none, and you seem to assume that your readers will already be sufficiently familiar with it or that it is so ubiquitous as to need no further explanation.

If I have understood you correctly, I say now that I firmly disagree, and that evidence to the contrary is readily available to those who wish to consider it.  See for example: Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief.

You then launch into a thoroughly ad hominen attack on Jeremy Corbyn, honing in on what you describe as his “disparagement of ‘Zionists’ who, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony”.

You then refer to:

My friend David Hirsh [who] got it right: Corbyn was enjoying the old, sneery English view of Jews, and he was doing it to humiliate the Jews he was talking about. . . .the political requirement to humiliate the “Zionists” found its words in the anti-Semitic subconscious of an English middle-class man.

Then you make the direct and defamatory allegation that:

the least accomplished leader of the Labour Party is also its only anti-Semitic one.

(In passing, I wonder whether you seriously believe that Mr Corbyn ranks with Hugh Dalton and Ernest Bevin in this respect?  While neither of those two titans of the 1945-51 administration quite made it to the top, their role in shaping the post-war economic and social settlement was critical – and their anti-Semitism was undeniable.)

Even if the insults that you aim at Mr Corbyn are to be regarded as statements of mere opinion rather than hard fact, it is the lack of any recognition on your part that you might be mistaken, that you might be ever-so-slightly overstating your case, that is particularly alarming.   Please allow me now to give you some hard facts which are of direct relevance to the issues:

  1. When Jeremy Corbyn, as you put it, “disparaged Zionists”, he was using the word Zionist to refer to followers of a particular ideology. He was not referring to the Jewish people, nor even to Zionists in general, but rather to a handful of known right-wing Zionists who were present in the audience at the event in question.   As you are probably aware, these activists habitually disrupt meetings and barrack speakers whose views they oppose – and this is what Mr Corbyn was commenting upon.

    Moreover, these activists are part of an ignoble tradition going back several decades:  I vividly recall attending in summer 1984 a talk at the Hampstead Synagogue given by the late Eric Silver on his well-regarded biography of Menachem Begin.  From the start of the talk, members of the Ilford branch of Herut-UK persistently interrupted and barracked the distinguished speaker until he refused to continue and threatened to walk out unless they desisted.  So while Mr Corbyn’s clearly extemporised remarks about “lack of understanding English irony” may seem odd and clumsy, I recognise the type of conduct with which he was expressing his frustration; and your proposition that his language is clear evidence of an old-style, dyed-in-the-wool “sneery antisemite” is preposterous and offensive.

  1.  In February 2019 Dr David Hirsh (of Goldsmiths College University of London), whom you call your “friend” and whose hostile opinions of Mr Corbyn you quote approvingly, publicly described my friend Mrs Jenny Manson (co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, whose mother was a Russian-Jewish refugee from the pogroms and whose father was an English-Jewish engineer) as a “Jew-baiter”.

    Now, you and Dr Hirsh may not agree with many of Jenny’s opinions; but you can take it from me that, unlike Dr Hirsh, Jenny is unfailingly courteous and generous-spirited in all her dealings with both her supporters and opponents.   So I ask you now, do you agree with me that Jenny is entitled to a public apology from Dr Hirsh?

  1. I refer now to your claim that across the Labour Party, “signalling anti-Semitic views is acceptable”, whether by the party leader or anyone else. In order to consider how one should spot and call out antisemitic views among Labour members, I refer to the case of Chris Neville, a party activist in Bury South CLP, whom Mr Gideon Falter, the CEO of Campaign Against Antisemitism (a registered charity counting among its patrons a former Archbishop), denounced in the Jewish Telegraph as an antisemite simply because:
    • Mr Neville tweeted (in moderate language – no insults or swearing) that the claim made by Frank Field MP in his resignation statement, that Jeremy Corbyn had facilitated a culture of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, was “a false narrative”;
    • shortly after Israeli Embassy official Shai Masot was exposed as an agent provocateur who was out (in his own words) to “take down” not only Labour MPs but a Conservative (Sir Alan Duncan) for being too pro-Palestinian, Mr Neville tweeted, “it concerns me deeply the influence that Israel has on UK politics”; and
    • Mr Neville challenged the widely reported (and false) claim that Mr Corbyn laid a wreath at the grave of terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972.

In other words, Mr Falter denounced Mr Neville as an antisemite merely for defending Labour leader against that very charge, and not for saying anything recognisably antisemitic himself.  This truly is the Crucible Syndrome in action, in which one is accused of witchcraft merely for defending the person so accused.  And I would also ask, would you (or Mr Falter) have denounced Mr Neville as a racist Russophobe if, after learning of the scale of the financial contributions made by Russian oligarchs to the Conservative Party in recent years, he had tweeted “it concerns me deeply the influence that Russia has on UK politics”?

  1. One of the stories within this broad topic that has gained much support in the media is that “two Jewish MPs [Dame Louise Ellman and Ms Luciana Berger] have been bullied out of the party” – as 24 VIPs from the arts and cultural sector put it a letter to The Guardian explaining why their “concerns about anti-Semitism mean that we cannot vote Labour”.

    I refer you now to the adjudication of IPSO in the case of Audrey White v Jewish Chronicle published on 29 November, in which the story that the Jewish Chronicle and other publications have promoted and amplified since early 2019, that Dame Louise Ellman was a victim of antisemitic bullying and harassment at the hands of her Constituency Labour Party, is exposed as false.

    IPSO found no evidence whatsoever that Dame Louise’s Jewish identity and heritage were at any stage insulted; CLP members were consistently respectful in their dealings with her; and political differences between CLP members and the sitting MP centred on the issues, not the personalities.

  1. Finally, I return to your approval of Sir Richard’s remark that the “cancer of anti-Semitism . . . has infected” the Labour Party.  I take this to be an emotionally-worded version of the now widely repeated accusation that the Labour Party is “institutionally antisemitic”; and I understand the phrase “institutionally antisemitic” to mean that the party is infused from top to bottom with anti-Jewish feeling; or, to quote Gideon Falter again, as reported in the Jewish Telegraph:

Anti-Semitism does not reside merely at the top of the party, but throughout – party functionaries and council candidates are as much a part of the problem as the Labour leadership when it comes to anti-Semitism.

As it happens, I am a non-Jew who can recognise “institutional anti-Semitism” when I see it.  For example, it took the Roman Catholic Church (into which I was born and baptised) until 1965 to declare formally that “the Jewish people were not responsible for the death of Christ” and to decide that it was time to stop requiring the faithful to pray every Good Friday for “the conversion of the Jewish people”.   This was “institutional anti-Semitism”, and only with the advent of the Second Vatican Council did it begin to be challenged.   When it comes to secular politics, however, and speaking as one who joined the Labour Party as a student in 1981, I can say quite confidently that of the 500,000+ people from all walks of life who now make up its membership, virtually none of them would touch the Labour Party with a bargepole if it were, in fact, “institutionally antisemitic”.

Yours sincerely

Paul Mountain
Member, Worcester Constituency Labour Party
Solidarity Member, Jewish Voice for Labour

cc.

Sir Richard Evans
Ms Jenny Manson
Ms Audrey White
Mr Chris Neville

Comments (8)

  • Daniel Vulliamy says:

    Bravo, and thank you, Paul.

  • LINDA SAYLE says:

    Thank you for this letter Paul. I would add to your comments about the “English irony” comments that the disruptive Zionists at the meeting had cornered Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Diplomatic Representative, and were explaining to him the history of Palestine – it was in this context that Corbyn referred to their failure to understand irony.

  • Dear Comrade Paul (if I may),
    I was elated when I read your excellent reply to Anthony Julius as it expresses what should have been communicated in no equivocal terms by Labour’s officialdom to all and sundry long ago. Instead, a witch hunt was allowed to take place and many Corbyn supporters were thrown under the bus. BTW: I was expelled from the Party for two years in 2018. The reason: ‘antisemitism’ (i.e. criticising on Twitter the State of Israel, its atrocious policies in the occupied territories and its outrages involvement in British politics). I happen to have been born into a family of Holocaust survivors. This was hardly taken into account by those who adjudicated my case.
    Suffice it to say that they were concerned primarily with my support of Jeremy Corbyn and did not let common sense to stand in their way. Herewith the account of my experience at Labour’s Kangaroo Court :
    https://labourbriefing.org/blog/2018/4/23/cjanr1izd9qmjeuak2r0tpmruex8k9

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    What a fantastic letter Paul Mountain! I couldnt agree more and how shameful for a Cambridge graduate like Julius to demean himself by indulging in such unsubstantiated accusations. I have been a Labour Party member for 30 years and never encountered antisemitism until the Israel lobby entered the fray to undermine the first effectively socialist leader we’ve had in 50 years. Its not really antisemitism that’s being attacked but socialism, and socialist Jews have always met ferocious opposition within the Jewish community. Its time Anthony woke up and smelt the coffee.

  • Mike Cushman says:

    It is helpful to remember a previous occasion when Julius flew fact-free. Julius represented Ronnie Fraser in his case against his trade union, UCU. A case that distracted many senior officers of the union from their daily task of representing and protecting the union’s members. A cost Fraser and his advisors seemed unconcerned about.

    Julius appeared to believe that his persuasive skills were so great that the lack of evidence for Fraser’s case was of little import. The findings of the Employment Tribunal are a joy to read. Every element of the case Julius made was dismantled; the ‘evidence’ of key witnesses was examined and found nugatory and fanciful. The witnesses who had their considerable egos trashed by their days in court included; Jeremy Newmark (who later left his post with the Jewish Leadership council under a dark and heavy cloud); Dennis McShane MP (who served time in gaol over his parliamentary expenses); and John Mann (who has been ennobled in Johnson and appointed ‘antisemitism czar’ despite his fiercely anti-Roma remarks which attracted police interest).

    BRICUP published an analysis of the case which can be downloaded from http://www.bricup.org/FraservUCU.pdf

    Relying upon such flimsy support for his case and covering it up with bluster tarnished Julius’s reputation as a competent lawyer; he seems determined to repeat the experience.

  • Michael Levine says:

    If the LP was institutionally ant–Semitic I would expect to see statements inciting prejudice against Jews in it official literature. Also I would expect the expulsion of Jews from the LP. None of these is evident.

  • John Spencer says:

    Michael Levine is not quite right. The witch-hunt began with Moshe Machover, briefly expelled then rescued by a storm of protest including no fewer than three Fields Medal winners.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    Not sure we want a contest for who has the dubious honour of being first in the witch-hunt, but I think Jackie Walker has a very good claim to it.

Comments are now closed.