Promoting a hierarchy of racism – Labour’s antisemitism Action Plan

JVL Introduction

Tony Booth, a member of JVL’s education group, has decades of experience of engaging in anti-racist, anti-discriminatory education.

Here he identifies a central weakness in Labour’s Action Plan for dealing with antisemitism – a privileging of antisemitism over all other forms of discrimination.

This flaw, he says, also afflicted the investigation into Labour antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to which the Action Plan responds.

It is likely, he warns, that it will institutionalise unfair, unequal treatment and deepen the difficulties with complaints procedures.

Tony Booth writes on New Year’s Eve

It is not easy to respond to the Labour Party’s Action Plan to “drive out antisemitism”, produced to implement recommendations of the EHRC report on Labour antisemitism. It is unlikely to be welcomed in the hierarchical authoritarian culture being promoted by Labour’s leaders and General Secretary which attempts to curb discussion of important and contentious issues by Party members. It is unpleasant to feel that any offer of dialogue will be ignored and so this pushes one’s style of response to match the Party leadership’s combative tone.

While for the moment, some in the Labour Party are prepared to have their thoughts and actions directed from above, others of us insist on exercising our critical faculties. The “Action Plan” can only seem reasonable within the context of the particular gallery to which it is playing, comprising those who have come to accept the normality of approaching discrimination in the Party and in society more widely as viewed through the BIG LIE of rampant Labour antisemitism. The authors of this document have produced a monster; a thoroughly racist plan, which would be shredded if it were submitted for a rigorous equalities assessment. It encourages a discriminatory response to virtually all “protected characteristics” under the Equalities Act 2010.

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner wrote the foreword and must take responsibility for the document as a whole. They fail to realise that by making “rooting out antisemitism” their “number one priority” they establish a hierarchy of racism and discrimination, which is itself cringingly discriminatory against all vulnerable groups including against Jews. By asking Jews to buy into such a hierarchy they imply that we are inherently racist, eager to put our self-interest before the welfare of our comrades.

This readiness to stereotype us is paralleled by another persistent trope that they unthinkingly deploy. It is baffling that even in promoting their macho, zero tolerance, approach, Starmer and Rayner think that some forms of antisemitism don’t matter. Within the one page of their foreword they refer to “the Jewish community” three times as a single entity and this is repeated elsewhere in the document. Jews like other ethnic and religious groups form multiple communities containing people of varied opinions and identities.

The use of allegations of antisemitism for factional purposes is also antisemitic yet it pervades the actions of the leadership. Keir Starmer provided a bizarre example when he implied that antisemitism was involved in the very suggestion that it has been factionalised. He used this new definition to suspend Jeremy Corbyn and then exclude him from the Parliamentary Party by withholding the “whip”. He was followed, in a nadir for the Party, in the guidance issued by General Secretary David Evans to officers of Constituency Labour Parties as he blamed his curtailment of Party democracy on the sensitivities of Jewish members:

Motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the Parliamentary Labour Party) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.

My reaction as a Jew on reading that document was one of shock. I saw it as evil; as using us as pawns in the factional moves of the leadership to silence the left of the Party and encourage resignations. If this casual, banal, antisemitism is the standard that the leadership sets, what expectations can we have that criteria for determining antisemitism in responding to complaints will be carefully formulated and applied? What faith can the Party put in the way the chosen Jewish Labour Movement will conduct what the EHRC report and the Labour Party action plan often refers to as ‘training’?

Following the EHRC

The Labour leadership are not alone in falling into a racist trap. The EHRC were already wriggling in that pit by failing to relate the extent of antisemitism in the Party to the incidence of other forms of racism and discrimination in Labour and elsewhere. Their report ended up promoting a hierarchy not only of racism but of political parties too.

The EHRC did recognise that some comparative judgements had to be made to assess whether the complaints procedures of the Party discriminated against Jews. Finding that antisemitism complaints had been handled less well than complaints about sexual harassment they concluded that discrimination had occurred. We have cast doubt on this conclusion in another article for JVL in which we question the improvement claimed in practice for sexual harassment cases. But to reach such a conclusion we would also need to enquire into complaints about other areas of discrimination to do with, for example: sexism; disablism; other forms of racism; and Islamophobia. Did they too fall short compared to the handling of sexual harassment allegations? The authors of the EHRC report would have had a strong hint that something was amiss in responding to racism in the Party had they attended to allegations of overt racism by Labour Party staff towards Black Labour MPs in the leaked report into the handling of complaints by the Legal and Governance Unit at Labour Headquarters. It is possible that the EHRC might have discovered through wider investigation that such complaints were more frequently delayed, lost and mishandled than antisemitism complaints.

At one point in the foreword, there is a glimmer of recognition by Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner that there is something distasteful and counterproductive about singling out antisemitism as the most important form of discrimination. They say that the “independent process” being established will “investigate complaints of antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexual harassment and any discrimination based on protected characteristics.” This is not followed through. The action plan is entirely focussed on responding to antisemitism. It therefore lays the Party open to accusations of unfair, unequal treatment and is a recipe for institutionalising racism and discrimination.

The action plan promises that a new section on making antisemitsm complaints will be placed on the Labour Party website by the 31st of December 2020. It is not there. It would be good to think that the Labour leadership have realised that a change of strategy is required and have anticipated my train of thought and wish to turn over a new anti-racist leaf. Perhaps for them as for the rest of us, tomorrow marks a new beginning.

Happy New Year,

Tony Booth, December 31st 2020.


Comments (13)

  • Dave says:

    Tony Booth is right that the plan plays to those who “have come to accept the normality of approaching discrimination in the Party and in society more widely as viewed through the ‘big lie’ of rampant Labour antisemitism”.

    As I’ve said many time the only way of making sense of this is to accept it isn’t about antisemitism. Tony Greenstein has written extensively on this. They have an answer then: denialism… So yes trying to steer this into the context of racism generally is fine as far as it goes, which isn’t far as they won’t wear it because the ‘big lie’ is much too useful.

    The action plan is better named:

    Driving out socialism from the Labour Party


  • Harry Law says:

    “This Action Plan will help us act decisively against antisemitism in all its forms”.
    Could one of those forms be criticism of Israel? Maxine Peake was abused by Starmer who accused her of disseminating anti Semitic tropes, then promptly sacked R L Bailey from her Front bench job for tweeting approval of that tweet, the tweet referred to the Israeli state, in particular its Security services, that is patently not anti Semitic, in fact it was Starmer himself who was being anti Semitic. Israel is neither a Jew nor the representative of the Jewish people collectively wherever they may reside or think. Starmers conflation of all Jews with actions of the state of Israel is in breach of example 11 of the IHRA…”Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. Will Starmer suspend himself, or at least go on a JLM course?

  • David Hawkins says:

    I think it goes beyond prioritising anti Semitism. It also applies different standards to different types of racism.
    Allow me to explain. If I went to a Labour Party meeting and shouted “Zio” at a Jewish member, I would certainly be fast tracked to expulsion.
    But it is perfectly OK to be a “Friend” of a State that as a matter of State policy demolishes schools, houses, water pipes and roads, does nothing when Olive groves are uprooted and maims and kills unarmed protestors.
    When policemen kill unarmed black civilians in America, Keir Starmer bends the knee in protest but when Israeli Soldiers do exactly the same thing to unarmed Palestinians, Starmer does nothing.
    I am deeply offended by the support for state racism implicit in being a Friend of Israel but my offence or the offence of Palestinian Labour Party members seems to count for nothing.
    Please let’s be direct about this. The Labour Party behaves as if it thinks that some human lives are more important than other human lives.
    I believe as a socialist that the lives of my Jewish and Palestinian Sisters and Brothers are just as important as my own. Not more important, not less important but equally important.
    I honestly despair that every single Labour Party member and especially its leader doesn’t appear to agree with me.
    And I issue a warning. Once the Labour Party starts behaving as if the lives of some of our Jewish comrades are more important than other comrades then that could be the start of real anti Semitism and that I hope is something we all want to avoid.

  • Martin Fahey says:

    Thank you for this Tony, you have highlighted well some of the basically antisemitic approach of the leadership itself.
    Unfortunately I’m not as hopeful as you that these very nasty people have the grace to turn a new, anti racist leaf.

  • Pauline Baker says:

    Thankyou for a well written article. I find stopping anyone making a remark about or criticising any action of Israel discrimination in the extreme. If I criticise Trump or American policy I am not labelled anti American. Nor if I criticise Saudis leader I am not anti Saudi. So how if I criticise what is happening in the West Bank am I suddenly labelled Anti Semitic. This policy is wrong. I think within Labour we could find many anti German, anti French and anti Moslem. What are we doing about any of these?

  • Jack T says:

    Tony Booth with his comments about a hierarchy of racism shows that Starmer’s ‘action plan’ has little to do with fighting actual antiSemitism.

    Because in the eyes of the public, the Israel Lobby were particularly successful in smearing Corbyn and Labour as antiSemitic, the Starmer/Rayner plan is just a public relations exercise, to show how ruthless they are in getting rid of ‘antiSemites’. I couldn’t be bothered to read the plan but I bet there’s nothing in it to show that they have targeted left wing Jews who support the Palestinians!

  • Felicity De Motta says:

    Thank you so much for your humane & enlightened response to the nefarious actions & report by the leadership of a sadly very diminished political party, namely the LP of which I am a member. I will remain in the Party to support those people wrongly accused, to campaign for fair & just policies and to fight for a return to the integrity we had as a party between 2015 & 2019.

  • Mike Dixon says:

    Excellent analysis; are CLPs going to be able to discuss and pass motions on this report or will that be deemed out of order & anti Semitic?

  • Glenn says:

    Just wanted to say JVL have been magnificent throughout the whole sorry saga and a Labour Party that should feel blessed to have such principled, brave and steadfast citizens amongst its members but exiles them in a cowardly fraudulent ‘anti racist’ purge deserves to be fully exposed and shamed. Thank you Tony and all at JVL for standing firm for all genuine anti racists and against these criminal allegations

  • steve mitchell says:

    Thank God there are people who are prepared to tell the truth.

  • DJ says:

    I agree we should oppose any promotion of a”hierarchy of racism”. The problem here comes down to something even more fundamental. The key issue is what constitutes anti semitism. What did the EHRC actually investigate? Was it antisemitism or was it criticisms of the racist state of Israel? Is Labour’s plan about driving out antisemitism or anti zionism? I think you all know the answers to these questions. If you believe the state of Israel must be defended at all costs you are guilty of anti Palestinian racism. The adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism to include criticism of the state of Israel is tantamount to the endorsement of Jewish supremacy over the Palestinians. In effect it amounts to supporting one form of racism to deal with another form of racism. It suggests that the best way to deal with antisemitism is to establish a “Jewish state” at the expense of another group, the indigenous Palestinian population.

  • jim gault says:

    So refreshing to hear this stated clearly. The adoption of IHRA was a rare mistake by JC made under overwhelming pressure. I too wonder if discussion of this response by Tony Booth will be ‘permitted’ by our bureaucracy….

  • Chris Bean says:

    I would like to thank you and people like you for contributions like this.

    I am not a Jew (brought up Church of England and now Agnostic), but in the present political climate I am unable to freely make my own views known on the subject of anti-Semitism which concur with yours without potentially serious personal repercussions.

    However, your narratives allow me to present these issues for which I am so very grateful. In this struggle against Prejudice, your contributions are particularly valuable, so please continue to do so.

Comments are now closed.