Antisemitism: no justification for singling out Labour

Jennie Formby. Photo: LabourList

JVL Introduction

We asked Alan Maddison, who has been analysing antisemitic statistics over recent years,  to give us an update, following the release of fresh information by Jennie Formby.

The headline says it all.

Antisemitism: no justification for singling out Labour

Dr Alan Maddison
16 February 2019

Information on the precise number of reported allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party has just been made public.[1] This data has confirmed that previous media attacks on Labour have been grossly exaggerated.[2]

Headlines that proclaimed a belief that there was ‘no safe place for Jews in Corbyn’s Labour’, or that Labour needed, in the words of Marie van de Zyl, when Vice President the Board of Deputies of British Jews, to “drain the cess-pit of antisemitism”, have been shown to be totally contradicted by the evidence.

We discover that there have been reports of antisemitic abuse from a very small minority of Labour members, but no justification at all for the claims of it being rampant!

I have challenged such statements before, these now often taken-as-truth assumptions in much of the mainstream media, that only Labour had a particular “problem with antisemitism”.

But following the release of figures by Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party, last week, we are now in a position to make a further analysis.


What is the reality of antisemitism in the Labour Party today?

I had noted some time ago[3] that a survey into on-line antisemitic abuse had failed to pick up even a fraction those 25,000 abusive messages that Ruth Smeeth MP claimed to have received, and which, she implied, were mostly antisemitic and Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. As before the question was not whether Ruth Smeeth had been the victim of some terrible abuse, but in reality how much, and specifically how much from Labour members?

Yet two other prospective surveys indicated that whilst BAME MPs and Corbyn-supporting MPs got the heaviest abuse, Jewish MPs seemed to be relatively spared.

Now Jennie Formby’s figures provide further evidence that the relentless attacks on Labour have been wildly exaggerated. It seems of the thousands claimed, most – strangely – were never reported.

There were in fact 673 allegations against Labour members reported over the previous 10 months, not all involving recent events. One allegation concerned an 8-year old incident. The number reported seems modest – certainly in relation to the media hysteria last year –especially when we suspect significant trawling of internet by certain groups, trawling that could grossly inflate any numbers obtained simply from spontaneous reporting by victims themselves.

In addition to the 673 there were a further 433 allegations reported to Labour that did not in fact concern Labour members. Such errors of attribution have clearly inflated perceptions of how many genuine Labour members may be antisemitic.

Of these 673 linked to Labour members, 220 (33%) were rejected because there was insufficient evidence.

So in Labour we now have 453 allegations which seem to have been handled correctly and promptly. This represents 0.08% of our 540,000 members. It rather contradicts the myth that in Labour antisemitism is “rampant”, or that it has become a “cess-pit of antisemitism” or “an unsafe place for Jews”.


Making sense of it all

How should we interpret this 0.08% figure?

One guide can come from the biggest survey ever undertaken into antisemitism by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research.[4] The author, L Daniel Staetsky, found that 30% of some 4,005 responders agreed with one or more of 8 statements considered to be ‘antisemitic’, ranging from stereotypes such as ‘Jews think they are better than other people’ or ‘Jews get rich at the expense of others’ to Holocaust denial.

Of these responders, the vast majority (79%) also agreed with at least one positive statement about Jewish people, so, Staetsky said reasonably, could not be considered antisemitic.

He also suggested that antisemitism was more likely in those agreeing with 5-8 of the statements offered. This group was analysed according to their self-described political positioning in the chart below.

Source: Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain,
L Daniel Staetsky, Institute for Jewish Policy Research September 2017

For each group the upper and lower confidence limits are represented by the boxes in blue and orange respectively. The average 3.6 % prevalence (illustrated by the red dotted line) above was reported by Staetsky to be indistinguishable across the political spectrum from far left to fairly right, but almost 4 times higher (13%) for the far right.

So according to Staetsky’s report, around 30% of our UK society (excluding the far right) could quite easily express at least one antisemitic stereotype, usually without this being motivated by the hatred or hostility towards Jews that is more likely in only 3.6% of the population.

As Labour Party members have been assessed as very slightly to the left of Labour voters[5] we would expect a similar 30%/3.6% prevalence. These figures were as reported in the groups from the very left-wing to centre, where Staetsky found most Labour voters.

According to this and other surveys into antisemitism, Tory voters and members should in fact have a slightly higher prevalence of antisemitism than Labour,[6] so it was already surprising that Labour alone had come under such scrutiny and attack.

Of course not everyone will manifest their prejudices, and not all those that do will be reported. But, even so, and given the probability of internet trawling, the 0.08% prevalence of antisemitic allegations concerning Labour Party members seems low, and certainly does not suggest a widespread problem.


Handling the complaints

So if Labour does not have a particular problem with the volume of incidents, relative to society or other political parties, what about the alleged poor handling of complaints?

There had been previous comments about how long it took to deal with reported allegations. Jennie Formby provided a robust and detailed response to specific criticisms made by a handful of Labour MP [7] and described the significant improvements she and her team had put in place. Margaret Hodge MP was also informed that of the 200 dossiers she had submitted, involving 111 individuals, only 20 were found to be Labour Party members.

In fact as confirmation of the prompt handling of cases, most of the 453 allegations have now been dealt with and only the most serious cases, 24 in all, have yet to be finalised.

Some of those wishing for instant and severe sanctions seem to be confused about the Macpherson Report’s recommendations,[8],[9]  wrongly thinking that the victim’s belief that they have been subject to a racist attack is enough, in itself, to condemn any alleged perpetrator. The Macpherson rule applied to reporting, recording and sensitive treatment of allegations by police, as a basis for investigation – not the abandonment of justice!

There have also been criticisms that Labour’s sanctions may have been too lenient, yet those complaining do not have the evidence concerning the nature of any allegations.

A total of 146 written warnings (rather than suspensions or expulsions) were issued. We can reasonably assume that these were related to unintentional and less abusive comments as can happen with just under 30% of the population according to the JPR survey. When the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry[10] was presented we learnt that there was no evidence of widespread antisemitism in Labour, but there were some offensive comments often borne out of ignorance (e.g. blaming all Jews for Israeli Government violations of Palestinian rights). In suchcases written warnings seem appropriate.

In all, 42 cases (9% of total) were referred to the NCC. These are likely to be related to cases judged to be expressions of intentional, serious and abusive antisemitism.So far there have been 12 expulsions.

Any confirmed case of antisemitism or abusive language in Labour is unacceptable and each has to be dealt with both fairly and promptly. This is now clearly happening. Claims of a widespread or poorly managed problem are certainly contradicted by this recently available evidence.


Is antisemitism being weaponised?

Some are convinced that the true motivation for the relentless attacks on Labour are nothing to do with fighting antisemitism, but rather a campaign to silence support for Palestinian human rights and to prevent Jeremy Corbyn ever getting the keys to number 10.

Some have suggested a disproportionate number of anti-racist, pro Palestine and Jewish members have been targeted, and if true would lend support to this idea. The relative inattention to other forms of racism, for which hate crimes are 70 times more prevalent in wider society than those for antisemitism,[11]  is another indication that this has never been about protecting victim groups.

The Tory Government has enjoyed the distraction this unwarranted campaign against Labour has provided in the media when the focus should have been on their hostile environment against our 10 million ethnic minority citizens, the Tory abuse of the human rights of disabled people and the 30,000 avoidable deaths caused by cuts to the NHS and social care. All these hardships have been inflicted on so many of our most vulnerable while wealth has been accumulated for the few richest in our society.

When a right wing journalist worries that our democracy is under threat,[12] and some in Labour’s ranks contribute to that process, there is something deeply wrong.

Whilst we must continue to fight antisemitism everywhere, it should not be right-wing Jewish people in Parliament square shouting ‘enough is enough’ at Labour; it should be millions of victims of Tory imposed hardships that this despicable campaign against Labour in the media has facilitated.


[1] Jennie Formby provides numbers on Labour antisemitism cases, Sienna Rodgers, Labour List, 11 February, 2019

[2] Labour’s antisemitism data: a genuine problem – and media exaggeration, JVL via Skwawkbox, 12 February 2019

[3] Searching for the truth about on-line abuse allegations, Alan Maddison, Jewish voice for Labour, 28 February 2018

[4] Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain, L Daniel Staetsky, Institute for Jewish Policy Research   September 2017

[5] Britain’s party members: who they are, what they think, and what they do, Tim Bale, Paul Webb, Monica Poletti, Grassroots, Mile End Institute, January 2018

[6] Antisemitism Barometer 2017, Campaign Against Antisemitism, April 29th 2018

[7], Jewish Voice for Labour via Skwawkbox,12 February 2019

[8] The Lawrence Report: Sir William Macpherson’s Recommendations, The Independent, 25 February 1999

[9] The “MacPherson Principle”, David Pavett, Jewish Voice for Labour, 15 July 2018

[10] The Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry Report, The Labour Party, 30 June 2016

[11] Source:  Hate Crime, England and Wales, 16 October 2018, Home Office, Statistical Bulletin 20/18

[12] Peter Hitchens quote, BLOT REPORT, March 2018

Comments (3)

  • Carol Ross says:

    Good article. But I would like more information about the political and vested interest groups who are behind the ‘antisemitism’ campaign to undermine a Labour Party led by Corbyn. And more about the difference between critisising Isreal and being antisemitic!

  • Yvonne Reape says:

    Pro Palestinians often identify with the underdog but being so doesn’t necessarily indicate that they are in the right. Peace makers try to see both sides of the story.
    What constitutes Palestine? Are we talking about the West Bank (Samaria) and the Gaza strip? To be Palestinian is a political designation. They don’t accept Israel. Israel are not occupying their own country but should look after all Israeli’s, Hebrew and non-Hebrew. I’m all for equal opportunities in Israel.

  • Phil Donelan says:

    Can you explain what constitutes being antisemitic ?
    I sympathise with the plight of the Palestinians, I am also critical of the Israeli goverment Illegal policy on settlements on the occupied territories. I have no problem with Jewish people at all.
    But expressing these views, I think I would be classed as antisemitic. I really feel that this is an organised campaign against the Labour party.

Comments are now closed.