Antisemitism Open Letter – a rejoinder

JVL Introduction

Last week Team Momentum circulated an email subject line “The Rothschilds”  with a link to a rather good video about conspiracy theories and why we reject them.

But it also has a PS stating: Hundreds of grassroots Corbyn supporters have started an open letter supporting the leadership in proactive action on antisemitism – check it out here, and add your name if you agree!

This letter is highly tendentious. We offer some critical comments on it below. The original text is there, followed by comments in red.


Antisemitism Open Letter

We are Labour members who support Jeremy Corbyn in his leadership and the progressive, socialist programme and anti-racist principles of the Labour Party.

We have seen antisemitism from Labour members and supporters, online or offline. We recognise that as a movement we have been too slow to acknowledge this problem, too tolerant of the existence of antisemitic views within our ranks, too defensive and too eager to downplay it.

Note this fails to distinguish between antisemitism from Labour members and from those claiming to be supporters; from antisemitism at Labour meetings and on social media

We sincerely apologise to the Jewish community, and our Jewish comrades in the party, for our collective failure on this issue to date.

This ‘mea culpa’ compounds the imprecision by assuming a collective failure for which we all have to apologise

We believe that a small minority of antisemites are wreaking havoc in the Labour movement, alienating Jewish people, and sabotaging the Labour project. Some of these people are already expelled or otherwise suspended by the party, but remain active on social media.

In which case they are not the responsibility of Labour members and their expulsion is proof that the problem is being addressed – it seems Labour remains responsible even for those it has expelled!

Moreover, there is a much wider problem of denial about the problem, including shouting down those who raise it or take action.

A lot of this anger is provoked by the shameless instrumentalisation of the few cases that exist by those whose clear motive is the destabilisation of the party under its present leadership.

We are acutely aware that confidence in the left is at an all time low within Jewish communities. It is our goal to rebuild trust and relationships with our Jewish compatriots.

The major slump in Jewish support for Labour did not happen under Jeremy Corbyn but under Ed Miliband after his sharp condemnation of Israel’s assault on Gaza and his commitment to recognising a state of Palestine.

In addition, we understand our obligation to be sensitive to the concerns that have already been widely expressed. A particular issue is that many people, due to a general lack of education about antisemitism, are not recognising antisemitic tropes, and as a result often react defensively.

At last – a valid point!

We recognise that rising antisemitism in society at large, and in other parties, isn’t a reason to fall short here in the Labour Party.

Indeed. But it is a reason for putting Labour’s problem in its context instead of the poisonous claim that it is a uniquely Labour problem.

It is our party that has always led the fight against racism, which is why our failures are bitterly disappointing for Jewish members, and as such we affirm that there is no space for anti-Jewish prejudice and bigotry in our movement.

But what exactly are these failures? We are given no evidence, just expected to self-flagellate without knowing what we are to feel guilty about.

We must be at the forefront of eradicating antisemitism from our own spaces and movement, which is where we have the power to hold ourselves to the highest standard in order to make a real difference.

Part of the difficulty is that when speaking out about the injustices of the Israel-Palestine conflict, progressive and radical activists have faced allegations of antisemitism when they have either not been antisemitic or when they did not intend to be antisemitic and took care to ensure they were not using antisemitic tropes or rhetoric.

Indeed. And why is that?

At the same time, we acknowledge that we face real currents of unchallenged and somewhat normalised anti-Jewish oppression in our movements and society at large including at times alongside criticism of Israel.

True. But hard to qualify or deny without providing further ‘evidence’ of what remains to be proved. And surely impossible to assess or counter unless situated alongside an assessment of the prevalence of every other form of racism and bigotry as also reflected within Labour – which this text nowhere attempts to do, or even to recognise.

In order to resolve this we call on all members of the Labour movement to seek an end to bunker mentality, demonstrate maturity and prove why, as a party awaiting government, we can be trusted to face up to the challenges we encounter in bringing about significant change both within and outside of the movement.

It is our ambition to arrive at a place where we can hold ourselves accountable, continuing to address important challenges and having meaningful discussions about topics including the Israel-Palestine conflict. All of this whilst being true and committed allies to our Jewish compatriots in the fight against antisemitism.

Indeed; and we are also committed to motherhood and apple pie.

We are committed to proactively opposing antisemitism and antisemitic tropes wherever they occur and countering efforts to downplay concerns raised.

Could this mean continuing the witch-hunt against those who question the exaggerated narrative that Labour is ‘unsafe’ for Jews or that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’?

We want to work with the party to urgently assign resources, in consultation with the Jewish community, to expose and isolate antisemites active online purporting to support Labour;

Again, fine in principle but see above; this could be a carte blanche to help the Board of Deputies finger dissidents

to create and develop political education materials to assist in educating those who are ignorant of this subject and unaware of the nuances of antisemitism; to publish a dedicated page on the Labour Party website addressing antisemitism; to address both new and outstanding cases in a timely manner; and to raise up Jewish voices speaking out about their experiences; and to reiterate publicly and privately that dismissive attitudes and denial are part of the problem.

Again, fine but at the moment the BoD are refusing to engage with Labour on this until Labour signs up to their indefensible definition of the party as ‘institutionally Antisemitic’ and a Corbyn government as an ‘existential threat’ to Jewish life!

We understand that many Jewish members feel uncertain and have reservations, but we hope that you will stay in the Labour Party, so we can work with you and together eradicate antisemitism from our movement and society as a whole.

Amen…

But nowhere does this text indicate any awareness of the fact that this whole issue is being cynically manipulated to destabilise Labour…

Comments (4)

  • dave says:

    Thanks for this. And Momentum are supposed to be the leading edge of the Labour left? I think we should rename them – Inertia.

  • Jonathan Caplan says:

    I am petrified to walk in the street wearing a scullcap.
    I am also going to shave off my beard, an ultimate betrayal of my fath, because I have been the target of vile abuse.
    Is it safe to continue to live in this country as a practising Jew.
    I hope that those Jews who see me as old fashioned will empathise with my plight.
    I understand that for those Jews to whom Judaism is seen as reactionary and meaningless such feelings are over stated.

  • Neil Clarke says:

    Would I be classed as anti semetic because I watched the “Witchunt” documentary and what it expressed I believe that there is a universal attack on Jeremy Corbyn re Anti-Semitism

  • ColinL says:

    Mr Caplan you are fully entitled to your views but the issue of personal safety has to be assessed and considered rationally, without denying your view. In 2014 Maureen Lipman declared that it was no longer safe for Jews to live in the UK and she would have to flee to Israel. That had immediately followed the then Jewish Labour leader statement in support of an independent Palestine. He eventually cooled his ME policy brief Silence from Lipman and the Jewish Chronicle. 2016 Lipman pops up again saying she has to flee having not done so. Labour maintains its position and Lipman continues to say she has to flee.

    I live in the midst of an orthodox Jewish, Muslim, white area for over 20 years. It has those security guards wandering the predominantly Jewish (although mixed) streets. One day I stopped and talked to one of the guards to attempt to get an idea of what has been achieved by their presence. No change to reported violence or abuse of Jewish people which was almost non-existent by comparison to other ethnicities but what had happened was a reduction of burglaries balanced by an increase in districts outside of the patrol area. Go in peace and solidarity and caution removing your apparel it is possibly not necessary

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