Proof that antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn

JVL Introduction

In a pair of articles in Middle East Eye, Jonathan Cook takes up the story about Labour’s Code of Conduct on Antisemitism – reviled when it was introduced under Jeremy Corbyn but used, in secret, under Keir Starmer.

We repost the first article here in which he looks especially at some of the Labour Activists for Justice cases (for background see An appeal for funds for justice in the Labour Party)

The disclosure of this Code confirms the view so many of us held that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

In the second article (here) Cook wonders why the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbis’ office, the Jewish Labour Movement – all those who accused Corbyn and his team of the vilest racism for daring to interpret the IHRA definition of antisemitism  – are not up in arms now.

Not even a whimper…

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Fri 16 Apr 2021. Read the original here.

Labour disclosure ‘shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn’, activists say

Former leader’s disciplinary code, which was criticised by pro-Israel groups, is still being used under Starmer, party officials admit after court hearing

A group of Labour activists fighting through the courts to discover why they and others were investigated or expelled from the UK’s Labour Party for antisemitism say they have flushed out proof of bad faith from their accusers.

The group, who call themselves Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J), say the new disclosure confirms their claim that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

As a result, the number of cases of antisemitism in Labour was inflated, falsely feeding the public impression that the political party under Corbyn had attracted Jew haters, say the Labour activists.

The suggestion that groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement “weaponised” antisemitism against Corbyn is currently seen as grounds by Labour to suspend or expel members.

But according to LA4J, evidence revealed in their legal case has now vindicated that claim.

The activists note that Jewish groups that waged a campaign of attacks on Corbyn over an antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 are now “deafeningly silent” on discovering that Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has been secretly using exactly the same code.

When it was first published, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations erupted in outrage, alleging that the 16-point code was proof of “institutional antisemitism” in the Labour party – and even that Corbyn posed a threat to Jewish life in Britain.

But the admission by Starmer’s officials that they are using the same code of conduct to investigate members has gone entirely unremarked three years later.

That is despite a submission to the courts from Labour’s own lawyers that the code had been kept secret because its publication might prove “politically incendiary”.

LA4J point out that back in 2018 the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups insisted that Corbyn replace the code with an alternative, controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

According to the activists, the current silence of these Jewish groups, after Starmer’s officials have conceded that they are using Corbyn’s code rather than the IHRA definition, further indicates bad faith.

Despite public statements to the contrary, the organisations knew that the IHRA definition was unworkable for Labour’s disciplinary procedures back in 2018, LA4J say.

“If Labour believes that the code issued by Corbyn was ‘incendiary’, the question is where is the bushfire now, when Starmer’s team admit they are using the very same code,” Chris Wallis, a spokesman for LA4J, told Middle East Eye.

“One of the things this case suggests is that groups like the Board of Deputies hoped to weaponise antisemitism as a way to attack Corbyn.”

Disciplinary process ‘back to front’

The group’s legal action is due to reach the High Court in June. It will be the first wide-ranging legal examination of Labour’s disciplinary procedures relating to antisemitism. In October 2019, the High Court ruled that the suspension of then-Labour MP Chris Williamson for “bringing the party into disrepute” over antisemitism allegations was illegal, though the judge did not overturn a second suspension that ousted him from the party.

Eight party members, including three Jews, are pursuing the case after they were investigated for alleged antisemitism. LA4J estimates that at least 30 Jewish members of the party have been accused of antisemitism, some repeatedly.

Late last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s equalities watchdog, issued a report critical of Labour’s handling of antisemitism cases, especially over what it termed “political interference” by Corbyn’s office, which it said had resulted in “a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process”.

However, the EHRC found that in practice such interference chiefly harmed the interests of those accused of antisemitism rather than their accusers. Corbyn’s officials often tried to speed up investigations in the hope of ending the barrage of criticism from Jewish organisations.

LA4J argue that hundreds of members have been drummed out of the party in a process that has lacked the transparency and fairness demanded by the EHRC. The procedure, they say, has failed to provide those under investigation with an opportunity to challenge the allegations.

Most members receive a “notice of investigation” that typically cites social media posts as evidence of antisemitism. In some cases, members have been accused of sharing articles from prominent websites, such as Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, known to be harshly critical of Israel for its repeated violations of Palestinian rights.

No explanation is made in the notice of why party officials believe the posts to be antisemitic. Instead, it is required of those under investigation to demonstrate why their posts should not be considered antisemitic.

Chris Wallis

The notices also demand that members under investigation not publicise their case or the information that is being used against them. It is unclear whether they are even allowed to seek legal advice. Instead, they are encouraged to get help from a GP or the Samaritans to aid their “wellbeing”.

Wallis, a former BBC radio drama producer who has been under investigation since last year, is one of the eight members taking the party to court.

“The disciplinary process has been entirely back to front,” he said. “We were never told about the secret code being used to judge our cases and it was never explained how what we did was antisemitic. The assumption was that we were guilty unless we could prove otherwise, and we were expected to incriminate ourselves.”

‘Sickness’ in Labour

At a preliminary hearing in February, the Labour Party argued that the courts had no place adjudicating on its handling of antisemitism cases. However, the judge approved the High Court hearing for June and awarded costs against Labour.

In what appears to be an attempt to avoid a second adverse ruling, Labour officials made the disciplinary process more transparent last month by divulging how it assessed antisemitism cases.

Starmer’s officials published on the party’s website the same antisemitism code of conduct that had been drafted during Corbyn’s time as leader. They did so despite a submission from one of Labour’s senior lawyers during February’s court hearing that such an admission could prove “politically incendiary”.

That was because a wide range of Jewish leadership groups rounded on Corbyn and Labour over the code when it was first published in July 2018.

Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, set up to protect Jewish communities from antisemitic attacks, lambasted Corbyn in an article in the Guardian headlined “Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”.

A blog on the Trust’s website added that the code “brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles”.

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, both claiming to represent Britain’s Jewish community, stated that the adoption by Corbyn’s officials of the code would “further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement”.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a Labour party affiliate connected to the Israeli Labor party, argued that the code was “a get out of jail free card” for antisemites, and claimed it breached equalities legislation.

Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s chief rabbi, called the code “a watershed moment” for Labour and warned that it sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.

Dozens of rabbis backed him, accusing the Labour leadership of having “chosen to ignore the Jewish community”.

And the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel lobby group, argued that “the code seems to be designed to give free rein to certain forms of antisemitic discourse”.

‘It was about who was in charge’

But despite the outpouring of concern back in 2018, note LA4J, Jewish organisations have remained silent since Labour revealed that the same antisemitism code of conduct introduced under Corbyn is being used by Starmer’s officials in disciplinary cases.

Diane Neslen

“This was never about what was going on inside Labour, as was claimed,” said Wallis. “It was about who was in charge. The aim was to remove Corbyn at all costs.”

Labour’s stated goal in drafting the code in 2018 was to assist with ironing out problems in the IHRA definition, which was being aggressively lobbied for by leading Jewish groups.

In particular, Corbyn’s code provided additional context to help judge aspects of the IHRA’s 11 potential examples of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel.

The code warns that the IHRA text “is not a legal definition, and on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic”.

The Labour antisemitism code also emphasises a need for “respectful debate” between party members when talking about contentious political matters around Israel and warns that the party “will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”.

The concern among Corbyn’s team was that the definition would shift the focus of antisemitism away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel, and expose activists supportive of Palestinian rights to investigation.

The imprecision of the IHRA definition, and its politicisation of antisemitism, had already been widely criticised, including by a former Court of Appeal judge and the British parliament’s home affairs select committee.

Kenneth Stern, the chief architect of the IHRA definition, had also weighed in to note that it was unsuitable for use in disciplinary procedures and was being “weaponised” by elements of the Jewish community to stifle criticism of Israel.

Jewish organisations, on the other hand, argued that Corbyn was using the Labour code to avoid adopting the IHRA definition in full with all its examples, and implied that his motivation was to make Labour hostile to British Jews.

Facing the backlash, and concerted criticism in the media, Corbyn’s officials appeared to discard the code and instead adopted the IHRA definition in full a few weeks later, in September 2018.

Definition ‘not fit for purpose’

It is unclear whether Corbyn’s officials ever used the 2018 code to adjudicate in disciplinary cases. But LA4J say its adoption by Starmer’s officials – and their efforts to hide the fact that they were using the code – confirm that the IHRA’s definition was indeed unworkable.

Jenny Manson, a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up in 2017 to show support for Corbyn among Jewish party members and is now supporting LA4J, said that the weaknesses of the IHRA definition must have been clear to organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement and Board of Deputies.

Jenny Manson

“Their current silence shows that they must have known the IHRA definition wasn’t fit for purpose as it was,” she said. “The additional code of conduct was needed. They opposed it in 2018, it seems clear, only because they were looking to damage Jeremy [Corbyn].”

Although LA4J argue that the code is fairer than the IHRA definition, they also say it has been widely misused against members as officials have sought to placate Jewish groups accusing Labour of being institutionally antisemitic.

Diana Neslen, an 82-year-old Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for antisemitism and sanctioned by the party, said: “Even a quick look at [the code] suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused. Indeed, we should never have been investigated in the first place.”

LA4J hopes that, with the code no longer secret, Labour members will have a better chance to challenge current and future investigations conducted against them by party officials.

Neslen warned, however, that existing injustices needed to be addressed too: “What are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?”

She and LA4J have called for those suspended or expelled to have their cases reopened and the evidence reassessed in a transparent manner.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council were all approached by Middle East Eye for comment. None had responded by the time of publication.

According to LA4J, their court case highlights how little evidence there was for the claim that antisemitism within the Labour party had been an especial problem under Corbyn’s leadership.

Levels of antisemitism in Labour appear to be lower than in the wider British public, within which about five percent of people could “justifiably be described as antisemites”, according to research published by the Community Security Trust in 2017.

Corbyn’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, issued figures in April 2019 that showed disciplinary action had been taken against just 0.08 percent of Labour’s 540,000 members, even after the strict application of the antisemitism code and “political interference” by Corbyn’s officials in speeding up disciplinary proceedings.

During the latest legal proceedings, Labour has revealed equivalent figures for Starmer, relating to the period between May last year and last month. Although details about the investigations are not precise, in the worst-case scenario an even smaller percentage of Labour members were found to be antisemitic.

These figures, the LA4J argue, suggest that Labour has not had an “antisemitism problem” under either Corbyn or Starmer.

That impression is shared by most Labour members. According to a YouGov poll commissioned last month by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, a significant majority – 70 percent – believe that Labour does not have a serious problem with antisemitism.

Most appear to agree with Corbyn’s reaction to the Equalities Commission report that the claims against Labour were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. That statement led to Starmer expelling Corbyn from the Labour parliamentary party.

Comments (15)

  • Dave says:

    I must say I’m not clear what the issue is here. It has always been about weaponising antisemitism, and while there was a fuss made about Labour and the IHRA, which is still insisted on by the right, the code used has proved to be effective in drumming out socialists.

  • Linda says:

    No society is completely free of racists and racism.

    One of the many reasons I was furious about the weaponising of antisemitism to bring down Corbyn was because that campaign fired up existing anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli and antisemitic feelings.

    It’s very easy to stoke up prejudice, it’s extremely hard to reduce it. It may take years of sustained effort to get back the ground lost.

  • John Bowley says:

    Shame on a zionist establishment for being hypocritical and disingenuous, as many knew for a long time. Shame on the establishment archbishop who naively and also slyly backed a media pushed false version. Shame on the shameless establishment media, though telling whoppers is its trade. This bad lot never had loyalty to the Labour Party or to ordinary people – and it really shows. The Jewish Labour Movement is fraudulent in its use of the name Labour, to which it is ultra-hypocritically hostile. It is past time for the Jewish Labour Movement to be disassociated from or expelled. The JLM should have the honesty to have Zion in its title and to argue straight. And shame on Starmer for his dishonest politicing against the Labour Party.

  • Malcolm Bradstock says:

    Victims of Starmers witch hunt against non -Zionist JEWS should use the EHRC against Starmer just as he used it against Corbyn. But this time Starmer is much more guilty because of what the EHRC said in its report. He directly contravenes their conclusions and instructions.
    Non -Zionist Jews should also sue Starmerto get back the LP money that Starmer illegally used to buy the silence the traiors within the party exposed by the leaked report. And what about Forde?
    There is plenty here that would stand up in court. Years ago the courts vindicated Chris Williamson.
    Sue Starmer to get back our money the complainants can always give it back to the LP when it has cleaned up its act

  • Allan Howard says:

    I wonder why the BoD and JLM and the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council didn’t respond when approached by Middle East Eye for comment. Or why the CAA and the LAA and the Jewish newspapers haven’t said anything about the situation – ie the revelation.

    Anyway, no doubt the MSM have brought this ‘contrast’ to the attention of their readers and viewers and listeners…… Or perhaps NOT!

  • Anthony Sperryn says:

    When Starmer first became leader of the Labour Party, I got an email announcing the fact. I responded, saying that he had a chance now to clean up the Party and put in a new set of officials that was loyal to its members.

    That has not happened and so much has been done since then to alienate members and pervert its democratic processes, that many, like myself who, incidentally, had been suspended shortly after Starmer’s arrival as leader, have left the Party. We can’t be bothered with this rubbish, which is incapable of remediation. No way can I renew my sub., even if the party were to take it, under these circumstances.

    One ought not to be sentimental about a political party and we now need a new one that puts its members’ interests first. This also means getting out of the market fundamentalist (neo-liberal) rut. People are under too much pressure in their lives to spend much of their time politicking and need to be able to trust their political party. The Labour Party has, demonstrably failed in its duty to its members and it is time for it to be put in the dustbin.

  • Anthony Baldwin says:

    Perhaps Linda should explain how the necessary criticism of the daily actions of Israel in contravention of both the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention which brought so many of us into the shadows of Labours secret disciplinary process can be thought to be actions which ‘stoke up prejudice’.
    Perhaps she has never been in the Kafkaesque position of being accused by an ‘unknown person’ of something that was obviously not anti-semitic by any assessment other than that of the unjustifiably conflationary clauses of the IHRA Definition extension.
    The process of being ‘tried’ at a distance, whether found guilty or not, has to revised and those against whom the charges were based on those extension clauses should now receive apologies from the Party.
    Given the £600,000 payment to people who were behind the attempts to derail the Party’s success in the 2017 GE it may also be just that a Committee should be set up with the purpose of agreeing compensatory payments to those charged in respect to the damage done to their sense of self worth and to their characters in public life.
    If this seems flippant they could ask my wife just what damage was caused to my life when I received my letter and had to fight to save my membership of the Party.

  • The organisation ‘Campaign Against Antisemitism’ (CAA) happens to be to the best of my knowledge – a registered charity. Given the above, should the CAA keep its charitable status?.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    I wonder what Hodge Mann Berger Smeeth Austin Woodcock Streeting Freedland et al, and indeed Starmer himself are Thinking. Or maybe avoiding is more correct .Like the Forde Report that Starmer is sitting on. They appear to hope it will go away..
    It is a sad commentary on the state of Labour party when we are suffering from one of the most currupt Governments in history running or more correctly ruining the country.
    The whole so called Anti-Semitic crises was about A/S being misused and weaponised for political purposes. The object to get rid of a descent possible PM and descent man. It is totally Obscene.

  • Peter Johnson says:

    Having been expelled on April 13 after 5 months of ‘investigation’ when none of my written defences i submitted were even acknowledged as having even been read, i now want these heinious charges (anti- Semitism/advocating Genocide ‘- agaist who, i don’t know) to be heard in a British Court of Law. As a Registered Nurse of 34 years, my Professional Body, the Police etc need to be informed; afterall, who wants an apparent “advocate of Genocide” in any sort of caring role in their community ?

  • Doug says:

    Do not leave the party, in fact redouble your efforts and recruit new members in good time for a leadership challenge
    They want you to leave
    Bankrupting the party is certainly a strategy but only if it is aimed at those individuals responsible for the fraud
    Are there other legal challenges, can Forde be challenged and forced to publish
    MSM and toilet papers are a regulatory challenge, bleed them dry and put them out of business
    Bring BBC back in house, they should be the beacon for standard’s in media and journalism
    Celebrate what was achieved under JC and build on it
    But above all else, never ever give in

  • Linda says:

    @Anthony Baldwin

    Hi Anthony, You’ve misinterpreted me – perhaps I didn’t express myself clearly.

  • Peter Johnson says:

    “Don’t leave the Party, Doug” – they are expelling us.

  • Margaret West says:

    This whole thing is beyond satire. The “new” guidelines are presented in the
    “new” documents which are supposed to increase our confidence in the complaints procedures (see https://labourlist.org/2021/03/labour-seeks-to-boost-confidence-in-complaints-process-via-new-documents/).

    The Complaint Handling Handbook is dated March 2021 but nowhere acknowledges the Corbyn administration for the “new” code. Perhaps Corbyn and those who contributed to the code should sue for plagiarism?

    We are told that existing cases will be handled using “the current system” – I wonder what that is!

    Incidentally Ive tried the URL I quoted above but got “Not Found 404” as a response ..

    Curioser and curioser ..

    [JVL adds: We’ve tried the url and it does work. Give it another go…]

  • Margaret West says:

    Sorry to confuse – the Labour List url is ok – the problem is
    the url referenced by Labour List and which contains the “incendiary” code:

    https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Labour-Party-Complaint-Handling-Handbook.pdf..

    but the other 2 documents with links on the Labour List DO work – viz:
    https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Labour-Party-Complaints-Policy.pdf
    and
    https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/March-2021-Disputes-Report.pdf

    But they might “sort” the problem with the complaints handling handbook soon after Ive posted this. It will be interesting to see if anything has changed!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Read our full comment policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.