Incompetence and deceit produce the Labour Party’s “antisemitism crisis”

The internal report into the Labour Party’s handling of complaints does not show a widespread, ‘systemic’, ‘institutional’, antisemitism, despite claims to the contrary. It shows real, localised issues. Even more it reveals that Party officers who claimed widespread abuse are the same people who, through incompetence or deliberate sabotage, failed over years to address incidents reported to them. Even worse, at the same time as overlooking antisemitism they were contributing to the abuse that BAME MPs and members were experiencing. Some of their comments reek of an ingrained racism that disgraces them and the Party they were employed to support.

The internal report into the Labour Party’s handling of complaints does not show a widespread, ‘systemic’, ‘institutional’, antisemitism, despite claims to the contrary. It shows real, localised issues. Even more it reveals that Party officers who claimed widespread abuse are the same people who, through incompetence or deliberate sabotage, failed over years to address incidents reported to them. Even worse, at the same time as overlooking antisemitism they were contributing to the abuse that BAME MPs and members were experiencing. Some of their comments reek of an ingrained racism that disgraces them and the Party they were employed to support.

The levels of incompetence revealed in this report are staggering. The Corbyn leadership was assured that problems reported were being dealt with. In truth they were not. They have a right to feel aggrieved and let down, as do we as Jewish members of the Labour Party.

What was going on between October 2015 and May 2018 was an unacceptable amateurism among party officials. This was combined with a hyper-factional orientation, a willingness to take complaints seriously only if they were directed against the left and a readiness to ignore or treat as secondary complaints of what look like self-evident and totally unacceptable antisemitism from those who were not on the left. The party machine was willing to pull out all the stops to exclude thousands of new members who had signed up before the second leadership election, accused generically of being “trots”. Their social media feeds were vetted in an attempt to find anything to disenfranchise them – for example, having voted Green in the past.

They were so busy hunting factional enemies on the left that they often decided not to act on some extreme cases of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. The instances of antisemitism have been highlighted by the establishment Jewish organisations and echoed in the media; when Muslim organisations raised incidents of Islamophobia their complaints have been largely ignored, as have complaints by Black groups.

There is a further story to tell, though. After 2018, with the appointment of a new General Secretary, the Party took on tackling antisemitism in its ranks with a vengeance. Most of the officers dealing with antisemitism in the first two years of Corbyn’s leadership left, for various reasons. A new expanded set of officers were appointed, together with advice from in-house and external lawyers. The historic backlog of complaints dating back to 2016 was re-examined. This was when some of the worst cases which had been overlooked came to light and were dealt with.

This confused situation was further muddied by the actions of complainants. For example, Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS) flooded the Party with inadequately specified complaints, at one point including 6,000 screenshots, and would typically submit each complaint multiple times.  (They did improve the format after September 2017.) Six or seven LAAS activists would often submit the same complaint, usually in a coordinated fashion. Another single individual was responsible for half of all antisemitism complaints, and a third of all antisemitism cases, in 2019. The report alleges he was highly abusive towards staff and sent many complaints that contained little or no evidence and were submitted in a format that hindered investigation.

Aside from these issues, there is no evidence in the Report to suggest that there were significantly larger numbers of people accused of antisemitism beyond those already known i.e. no reason to believe that “that Labour has a large and serious anti-Semitism problem among its membership”.

The number of members who were correctly identified as antisemitic is still unclear. What is clear is that in the four years from 2016 to 2019 the total number of complaints which resulted in ‘cases’ against members amounted to 0.2 % of the total membership of some 550,000. But this figure is the total:- 43% of these cases, nearly half, merited either no action or just a warning. The number of cases over the four-year period that were subject to further investigation, represented only 0.1% of the total membership, that is one in a thousand. Only 0.01% of the membership, that is one in 10,000 were determined to necessitate expulsion after full examination of their cases.

To put this in context,  a respected survey mounted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, published in 2017, and supported by the Community Security Trust (CST)  found that roughly one in three of the British population held some attitudes which Jews might find offensive or make them uncomfortable.  The same report found that, applying their methodology, 5%, or one in 20 of the population could be described as antisemitic.

This makes it rather surprising that Dave Rich of the CST (who appeared on the much criticised Panorama programme Is Labour Antisemitic? as an expert witness) wrote

When you get to the accounts of how the party dealt with antisemitism – or rather didn’t deal with it –- it’s shameful. British Jews suffered four years of harassment, insults and gaslighting for claiming the party had a serious problem – and we were right all along.

We say again, to be clear, one case of antisemitism is one too many and should be acted against. But reasonable people might consider that the CST would better turn its attention to the general British population in which antisemitism is demonstrably far more serious.

Indeed, it seems that too many of those happy to comment on the Report have only got through the first two hundred pages – or else they simply don’t understand numbers. Open Labour, for example, has said (13 April): “This report confirms that Labour has a large and serious anti-Semitism problem among its membership.” To describe the proportion of 0.1% or less as ‘large’ beggars belief.

We urge the Party to release a minimally redacted version of the Report. This will enable members to see that it is not ‘denial’ to assert that antisemitism has been exaggerated out of all proportion and that a whole Party has been brought into disrepute by a number of vociferous and wholly antagonistic individuals, aided and abetted by equally hostile journalists.

The academics Philo and Berry searched eight national newspapers published  between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019 and found there had been 5497 stories on the subject of Corbyn, Labour and antisemitism. This is over ten times more than the actual incidence of reportable cases of antisemitism in the Party and a hundred times more than the number of expulsions for antisemitism. That antisemitism has ‘weaponised’ in a factional political fight to block a democratically elected socialist government is confirmed by these extraordinary ratios.

As a final point, we should note that, as yet, nobody has questioned the Report’s veracity. Yet despite that no one who has been identified in the report as abusing their position has been served with notice of investigation, let alone suspended. Too many members have been drummed out of the Party on far flimsier evidence. Due process must be followed but due process depends upon the Party leadership actually starting the process.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the considerable assistance of Richard Kuper and Jonathan Rosenhead in writing this article

Comments (20)

  • Paul Smith says:

    The last paragraph speaks volumes. No time to run away.

  • RH says:

    “The number of members who were correctly identified as antisemitic is still unclear.”

    This is the heart of the matter : the total lack of transparency.

    There is a triple bind. Firstly, there is a general lack of information about the nature of the accusations made; secondly, we don’t know how many such accusations are based on the politically warped IHRA ‘examples’ (i.e. not ‘antisemitic’ in any meaningful sense); thirdly, there has been a marked lack of serious due process in cases that have reached a formal procedure.

    What we *do* know is that an astounding percentage of the cases that we have knowledge of the ‘celebrity’ cases) were not about ‘antisemitism’ by any forensic definition. We have members leaving the Party of their own accord and members being pushed out on the spurious catch-all grounds of ‘Bringing the Party into disrepute’.

    We also know that cases of alleged ‘antisemitism’ that have come before an independent process (Chris Williamson, Audrey White) have been laughed out of court (sometimes literally).

    Motes and beams. Can I respectfully suggest that constant reiteration of anodyne statements such as

    “…We say again, to be clear, one case of antisemitism is one too many ”

    .. aren’t necessary. It’s a given that genuine cases should be pursued. One death from Covid-19 is ‘one too many’ – but that statement tells us nothing about the severity of the infection.

  • dave says:

    Following on from RH, who is on my wavelength, I say the only coherent way forward is to firmly frame the issue as nothing to do with antisemitism, which should have been done from the start. It is not too late to do this because as we’ve seen it’s an ongoing ‘crisis’ being used to marginalise the left still further.

    When we have even ex-Tory ministers and Margaret Hodge now losing their patience with Israel it is clear that this is the way to go.

  • George Wilmers says:

    The authors state, apparently without conscious irony:

    “After 2018, with the appointment of a new General Secretary, the Party took on tackling antisemitism in its ranks with a vengeance. ”

    This statement would be more accurate if the word “antisemitism” were replaced by “allegations of antisemitism”.

    Unfortunately loyalty to Corbyn and his supporters within Labour HQ have induced the authors to be somewhat economical with sad truth. In fact, as is quite apparent from the methodology revealed in the last 103 pages of the report, the witch hunt against those falsely accused continued quite unabated after 2018. What is true is that it was conducted with far more bureaucratic efficiency than previously, and indeed it is clear that that was the primary concern of the new régime; there are plenty of references to “mistakes” made, but almost invariably they refer to cases where, in the opinion of those cited, the accused should have been found “guilty” but had been let off. Not the slightest concern is shown by the functionaries of the new régime for the fate of those falsely accused, nor for the effects of the Kafkaesque witch hunt methodology practised, which if anything actually got worse under the Formby regime. At least the treacherous Iain McNicol and Sam Matthews signed their letters to the accused and did not hide behind a cowardly cloak of anonymity.

    Do I need to remind Marion and Mike of the plethora of cases of ludicrous accusations pursued “with a vengeance” under the Formby inquisitorial régime? Why the silence? Have they already conveniently forgotten the outrageous inquisitions conducted since 2018 which have been scrupulously documented here on JVL’s own website?

    Perhaps I will be told that now is not a time to analyse inconvenient truths.
    But if not now, when?

  • Tim Barlow says:

    As a final point, we should note that, as yet, nobody has questioned the Report’s veracity.

    Nobody’s questioned Wikileaks’ veracity either, but that hasn’t helped Julian Assange much!

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Obviously I agree with almost all of Marion and Mike’s article and, to be sure, you can’t cover everything in a short article. But I’m unhappy with the following statement being made without qualification: “The number of members who were correctly identified as antisemitic is still unclear.”
    There is here an implicit equivalence between antisemitic incidents and antisemites or people who are antisemitic.
    The old joke says “The fact that I boil an egg doesn’t make me a chef.” In other words, in this context, a person tweeting, retweeting, sharing or liking a message that is antisemitic may not be an antisemite. When I asked someone in my CLP who had retweeted some nonsense about the Rothschilds which had certainly come from an antisemitic source – an act for which she was given an “administrative suspension” – the comrade said she didn’t know the Rothschilds were Jewish. She was eager to go on record as apologising for her tweets and unreservedly dissociating herself from such ideas. This comrade was not an antisemite when she tweeted her nonsense but deserved to be reprimanded and helped in her education. By the time the notice of “administrative suspension” (Kafka-speak for punish before you investigate) arrived, she had become better informed and felt ashamed at her ignorance.
    This person was, I concede, guilty of supporting an antisemitic view some years ago, but even then she would have been appalled at the idea that she might be considered an antisemite.
    I am sure Marion and Mike don’t believe in a “zero tolerance” approach. That is why their statement needs qualification.

  • Mike Cushman says:

    @George Wilmers Fair enough we should have written “took on allegations of antisemitism…” in that sentence. However I hope it is clear from the rest ofthe article that we were talking about just that.

  • Martin Thornton says:

    excellent work

  • Trish O'Hara says:

    First they came for the socialists…

  • Trish O'Hara says:

    Good people have been suspended whilst Jenny Formby was in post. One was a popular candidate for NEC BAME. He was suspended 2 days before voting close with 73 clps supporting him. He is a muslim. Why didn’t Jenny deal with the racism and Islamophobia? I am sorry- so many people have been let down. And why was attacks from right wing Jews against left wing Jews not dealt with – that has been the worst antisemitism I have seen within the party. And why has Margaret Hodge not been expelled? I am sorry – but the party is corrupt to the core. My party.

  • Ann Miller says:

    It would be good if this text – and the comments beneath it – received a wide circulation. It’s an excellent summary of a document that few will have read in its entirety.

  • Brian Hanson says:

    Thank you guys for being the “wrong kind of Jews”. You are a credit to the Labour movement, and a beacon of truth in this very dirty smear campaign. KEEP THE LEFT BOOT IN and don’t let the BoD grind you down.

  • Patricia Wheeler says:

    This is a very good critique. Why have so many people swallowed the Big Lie that the Labour Party is full of antisemites?

  • Tom Blacker says:

    I’m at the point where my membership is in the balance. The Labour Party can no longer be trusted. An election was deliberately lost because Corbyn was the Leader of the party; democracy was undermined. This is a shameful state of affairs. If no action is taken against those responsible, and no-one who really has the party at heart replaces Jenny Formby, I will leave the party I have voted for all my life. I’m sickened by these revelations.

  • Steve says:

    Thank you JVL, you have given me a new outlook and helped to lessen the frustration of being accused of racism by association. Those right wing accusers that fuelled the false allegations are guilty themselves of creating AS feelings towards our Jewish community and should be held to account. This strategy goes across party ideologies, it is entirely a class war that has used the Jewish members of our nation as cannon fodder. The new Labour leadership seem not to have the balls to stand up to those accusers, the same thing is going to happen to them if they do not grow a pair.

  • Nick Pile says:

    In my opinion this account ought to be required reading for the new leadership of the Labour Party. Needless to say it won’t be, and we will still have a battle on our hands to make sure the report is not quietly buried under the cover of the coronavirus emergency.

  • Kim Chenoweth says:

    Thank you, most profoundly.
    I do hope that these findings are given maximum public exposure, and in the detail you have shown here.

  • Leah Levane says:

    Very useful analysis and the points in the comments section, eg by George (Wilmers) are well made. We (JVL) know better than most that even amongst that small number that were accused and even expelled, were many who were wrongly accused and so the narrative that the Party had a serious problem with antisemitism was accepted, despite evidence to the contrary and the damage done by sidelining (at best) the racism and Islamophobia will take a long time to redress…. will serious and very overdue attention be now given to winning back the confidence of BAME communities? I sincerely hope so

  • Greg Douglas says:

    It is unrealistic to expect the new Labour leader to be impartial on the issue of Antisemitism in the party. Among all the reactionary pressures on him one cannot discount his own family’s influence, which is why he accepts Zionism unreservedly,and why he accepted the BOD’s pledge demands.I don’t expect him to seriously examine the content of the leaked document either. How it was leaked is his main issue.

  • Doug says:

    Vexatious claims of anti semitism are hate crimes and should be prosecuted
    Anyone using such claims as a political weapon do not care a jot about anti semitism or holocaust denial
    Who was it who said the holocaust is Israel’s get out of jail card
    Israel cares not a jot
    What other country uses live ammunition against innocent men, women and children
    New General Secretary of Labour party will be elected in 10 days, who is our candidate

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