Review of David Renton’s Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis

JVL Introduction

In a recent publication David Renton looks at Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis and calls some left responses – particularly those of JVL – into question at many points.

In this review writer and activist Paul Field responds, challenging Renton on his main arguments.

That the issue of “antisemitism” became a crisis for Labour is not in doubt but the nature of that crisis is not examined by Renton who starts from the assumption that there “must have been tens of thousands” of antisemites in the Party.

This assumption simply does not stack up, and is challenged by all the available evidence. And Renton’s argument, when he examines the headline cases of activists Livingstone, Walker and Williamson is called seriously into question.

Finally, Field argues, Renton fails to place the issue in proper context,  both historically in terms of Labour’s relation to Israel and Zionism, and more specifically with regard to the war waged on the Corbyn project.


 

David Renton, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis: What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, Routledge 2021

Reviewed by Paul Field

This book has been welcomed by some on the left as a ‘forensic’ account which should be required reading for Labour activists.[1] Written by a self-declared socialist, historian and lawyer, it promises a rigorous analysis of the claims and counterclaims surrounding Labour’s antisemitism crisis. Unfortunately, it is anything but. It is one of the ironies of this book that it is most persuasive when discussing events that are unconnected to the Labour Party, including the rise of Trump and his Far-Right outriders in the US, and the relationship between Israel and right-wing antisemitic politicians and governments in Eastern Europe.

Tens of Thousands of Antisemites?

Renton states at the outset that he believes there “must have been tens of thousands” of antisemites in Corbyn’s Labour Party’ (p9). His evidence consists primarily of YouGov polling data referenced in the Home Affairs Committee 2016 report “Antisemitism in the UK”. He later claims that such polling data suggests that one in six, or 17%, of Labour’s members believe ‘Jews have too much power’ (p.193).

In fact, neither the Home Affairs Committee report nor the polling data it referenced made such a claim. Rather, the Report acknowledged “we are not aware of any polls exploring antisemitic attitudes among political party members”.[2] Unable to establish the extent of antisemitism within Labour, the report noted a “representative YouGov poll carried out in May 2016 found that Labour voters were no more likely than voters from other parties to express antisemitic attitudes.” The poll in question, which surveyed 396 Labour voters, found 6% agreed with the statement “Jews have too much influence in this country”. Likewise, 3% disagreed with the statement “A British Jew would make an equally acceptable Prime Minister as a member of any other faith”.[3]

This is consistent with the Pew Research Centre May 2016 survey which found 7% of people surveyed held negative opinions about Jews.[4]

Renton’s claim that one in six Labour members hold antisemitic views is on closer inspection derived from an earlier YouGov poll of Labour voters commissioned in December 2014 when Ed Miliband was Leader and Labour’s membership sat at just under 200,000.[5] It’s not clear why Renton cities a survey conducted before Corbyn was even Leader to claim that under his leadership the Party was overrun with tens of thousands of antisemites.

Relying upon the views of Labour voters as a guide to the opinions of Labour members is inherently problematic. ESRC research undertaken in 2015 showed that Labour’s membership is demographically very distinct from its voters in being predominantly male, graduates, and middle class. Where polling data exists concerning the views of Labour’s members it highlights significant differences to those of its voters. For instance, 5 million or 40% of Labour’s 2017 voters voted Leave in 2016 referendum compared to just 17% of its members.[6]

No less questionable, is Renton’s assertion that the national press would not have been able to publish so many articles about Labour’s antisemitism crisis if the problem did not exist on a significant scale. This is a “smoke” and “fire” argument. He misses the point that such coverage was part of what an LSE study described in 2016 as a “systematic attack” and “process of vilification” by the press on the Corbyn leadership.[7] Research undertaken by Glasgow Media Group highlighting the true scale of antisemitism complaints is a better guide to the scale of the problem. From April 2018 to February 2019, 1,106 specific complaints of antisemitism were received by Labour, of which just 673 (60%) regarded actual Labour members. The party membership stood at over half a million: the allegations, even if they were true, concerned around 0.1 percent of the total membership. The press coverage, consisting of more than 5,000 published articles over a 3-year period, succeeded in creating a public perception that as many as 34% of Labour members had been accused of antisemitism, three hundred times the actual number.[8]

Renton fails to address the misleading nature of much of this coverage. Instead, he compliments Stephen Pollard, editor of The Jewish Chronicle (JC), for the “care he took to expose left wing antisemitism” (p3). That the Independent Press Standards Organisation is currently considering launching a Standards Investigation into the JC, following 28 recorded breaches of the Editors’ Code and four libel defeats in the space of three years over its coverage, receives no mention.[9]

Livingstone, Walker and Williamson

Renton is highly critical of sections of the left. He accuses Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) of not being as serious about challenging antisemitism as the Jewish socialist organisation Jewdas because it refrained from calling for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone in 2016 (p105).

Livingstone’s defenders are accused of not being able to see beyond his record of opposing anti-black and anti-Muslim racism to condemn him for his comments about Hitler and Zionism. But what of Livingstone’s record of opposition to antisemitism itself? A more likely explanation of the support he received from JVL and others is an appreciation of his record combatting all forms of racism, antisemitism included. In addition to his achievements as Leader of GLC, and formation of Anti-Racist Alliance, under Livingstone’s mayoralty, London saw a sharp reduction in antisemitic hate crime, the launch of Jewish Policy Forum and introduction of public “Simcha in the Square celebrations of Jewish culture in Trafalgar Square each year.

Which is not to deny Livingstone’s comment that Hitler “was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews” was clumsy and inept. Livingstone later admitted to the Home Affairs Committee that he wished he had avoided referring to Hitler and Zionism altogether. He had been widely misquoted as having said “Hitler was a Zionist”, a claim he dismissed as “rubbish”. His words had caused offense to some and the whole affair had allowed Corbyn’s opponents to intensify their campaign against the left.

Irrespective of the accuracy of Livingstone’s basic claim that the Nazis favoured Zionism in the early 1930s as a means of expediting the emigration of Germany’s Jews to Palestine, and the fact this view is shared by mainstream historians, his intervention had been unhelpful and counterproductive.[10] But was it antisemitic? Renton thinks so. He contends that Livingstone was “blaming the victims”; and seemed to believe Israel “had been complicit in the Holocaust, even 15 years before any Israeli state was founded” (p.54).

That is a grotesque interpretation of Livingstone’s comments. Had Livingstone inferred such a thing he would have been universally condemned by the left as a Nazi apologist. In fact, Livingstone had distinguished, albeit clumsily, between the period in the early 1930s when he said Hitler “was supporting Zionism” from the period from 1941 when Hitler had “gone mad” and committed genocide.

If there was an implied criticism of the Zionist movement in Livingstone’s comments it was that by being prepared to enter into an agreement with the Nazis at a time when there was an effective international campaign led by Jewish groups to boycott Nazi Germany, the Zionist movement had failed to act in the interests of Germany’s Jews. Whether that is a fair criticism, and Renton points to the Jewish lives saved by the Haavara Agreement to argue it is not, it is very far from Livingstone blaming the Jews for the holocaust.[11]

As for Renton’s attempt to apply the civil law definition of racial harassment to Livingstone’s words, Zionism is not a racial or ethnic identity it is a political movement. A minority of German Jews were Zionists in 1933 and a minority of Zionists are Jewish in 2021. Even if Livingstone’s comments had unintentionally offended some Jewish people, any court would be obliged to consider whether “it is reasonable” for those people to have regarded their “dignity as violated” by Livingstone’s implied criticism of the Zionist movement in 1933. Any court would, one hopes, reject such a notion for the chilling effect it would have on the freedom to freely criticise the history of Zionism and by implication other political movements.

In Jackie Walker’s case, Renton chooses not to explore the comments for which she was suspended in October 2016 and expelled in 2019 but the allegations she was investigated and cleared of in May 2016, namely her discussion via social media of alleged Jewish involvement, “her relatives included”, in the slave trade. It should be uncontroversial that social media, by its very nature, is an imperfect, often instantaneous, means of communication. In the words of Dianne Abbott when she was pilloried for tweeting ‘white people love playing divide and rule’: ”Tweet taken out of context. Refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters”.[12]

In Walker’s case, the context, intention and meaning of her comments about the slave trade were examined in detail at a hearing by Labour’s South-East England organiser, Harry Gregson, in May 2016 and she was cleared of all charges of antisemitism. Why then devote an entire chapter to the historical inaccuracy of those comments while dealing in the most cursory way with the allegations for which Walker was expelled for in 2019? On this matter, Renton mentions only that Walker has repeatedly complained that Holocaust Memorial Day did not commemorate any genocides save for that of the Jews [p.71].

In fact, Walker’s critique of Holocaust Memorial Day is that is it does not commemorate other holocausts which preceded the Nazi genocide only those which followed it. It is a criticism that has also been made in the past by Armenian community organisations over the failure to commemorate the 1915 genocide and by those like Walker, who campaign for the ‘African holocaust’, in which 15 million Africans were enslaved and, in many cases, murdered (1.8 million died on the slave ships alone) and tens of millions more killed in Belgian Congo and elsewhere, to be properly remembered. For someone who frequently accuses the left of being blithe to offending Jewish sentiment, Renton shows a surprising disregard to the feelings of black people and anti-racist activists for whom this remains a burning injustice.

Renton’s accuses Chris Williamson of using his “social media account to amplify the audience of people with a track record of antisemitism”. His gives three examples. First, a retweet in April 2018 of Scott Nelsen, a Labour supporter with a large Twitter following, who 3 years earlier had posted an antisemitic comment and had since apologised. In the second case, Williamson attended a meeting at the Beautiful Days Festival at which social media personality Vanessa Beeley spoke. Williamson complimented her on her speech. Beeley has a track record of making conspiratorial statements about the malign influence of Zionists on British foreign policy towards Syria, among things. In December 2018 Williamson shared an online petition opposing the decision of Islington Council to ban Gilad Atzmon, the antisemitic Israeli born Jazz saxophonist, from playing at the Assembly Halls along with rock band The Blockheads. Williamson deleted the petition and apologised for posting it later that day when Atzmon’s track record of anti-Jewish racism was brought to his attention.

The accusation here is not that there was anything antisemitic about Nelsen’s 2018 tweet, Beeley’s speech or the notion of Atzmon playing his saxophone at a gig in Islington, which Williamson should not have endorsed. This was not a Mear One scenario in which Williamson failed to spot an antisemitic reference or trope and later apologised for the oversight as Jeremy Corbyn had done and which Renton is willing to excuse as a genuine mistake. Rather he damns Williamson for not knowing the track record of Nelsen, Beeley or Atzmon.

This criticism seems to misunderstand how most social media works. Users frequently have hundreds if not thousands of friends and followers. Likes, shares and retweets generally occur on their own merits, not after conducting a due diligence exercise into the person who posted or tweeted them. Nelsen, Beeley and Atzmon are not Tommy Robinson, David Irving or Nick Griffin. None of them are sufficiently well known for Williamson to be expected to have a detailed knowledge of their “track record”.

In Nelsen’s and Atzmon’s case, Williamson’s response when challenged was that he had not known that either had made antisemitic statements in the past. In the former case, he then pointed out that Nelsen had issued a full apology which seemed sincere and in the latter case he immediately deleted the petition in support of Atzmon and apologised for having shared it. To label Williamson a “Jew Baiter” and demand his expulsion by Labour Party, as the Jewish Labour Movement did was unwarranted. Likewise, to criticise those on the left who defended Williamson against such demands, as Renton does, is to endorse the use of guilt by association.

The Crisis in Context

Missing from this account is any historical perspective of its primary subject matter, the Labour Party and antisemitism. Renton acknowledges in passing that press coverage claiming British Jews had broken with Labour began not under Corbyn but his predecessor, Ed Miliband.[14] Miliband, who identified as a liberal Zionist, would have been the first Jewish Prime Minister since Disraeli if elected. He was accused by journalists of forfeiting the support of Jewish voters after he condemned “the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians” by Israel in its attack on Gaza in July 2014 and whipped Labour MPs to support a motion backing recognition of a Palestinian state in October 2014.

Likewise, an historical account would have noted that more egregious cases of antisemitism from prominent Labour politicians occurred under Tony Blair’s leadership without any disciplinary action being taken or demanded. Instances included a speech by Labour chairman Ian McCartney in February 2004 in which he compared Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin to Fagin from Dicken’s Oliver Twist, the issuing of election posters in 2005 depicting Michael Howard swinging a pocket watch reminiscent of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and superimposed Letwin and Howard’s faces on pigs and reports in December 2013 that Tam Dalyell MP had complained that Blair was “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”. Labour’s failure to act robustly in these cases received only muted criticism from communal organisations which claim to speak on behalf of British Jews. It did not result in Blair’s Labour being denounced as institutionally antisemitic by The Board of Deputies or referred to Equality and Human Rights Commission or its predecessor. Antisemitism aside, New Labour was regarded as a loyal friend and ally of British Jews by communal organisations because of its outspoken support for the state of Israel.

Blair’s refusal to condemn Israel’s crimes occurred in the context of a longer history in which Labour had backed the Zionist colonisation and destruction of Palestine in 1948 and stood with Israel throughout the ensuing refugee crisis and the successive wars which have seen it expand it borders since. As Paul Kelemen has shown it was not until the emergence of New left in the late 1960s, that the British left and Labour Party began to rethink the colonialist assumptions which underpinned its view of the Palestinians and support for Zionism. Labour politicians were more willing to openly support the Palestinian demand for self-determination and criticise Israeli aggression between 1970s and 1990s.[15] This all changed again in 1997 with New Labour. Peter Oborne and James Jones have explained:

“Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 1997 marked the turning point in British-Israeli relations. Tony Blair soon brought Britain into line with the American position, which was significantly more supportive of Israeli policies. This change of approach can be measured by the use of Britain’s vote as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The United States has used its veto at the UN Security Council forty times since 1972 over resolutions concerning Israel. The resolutions have focused on the settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and Israeli military action.

On Israel and Palestine, there has historically been a gap between US policy, being strongly supportive of Israel, and the other members of the Security Council. Between 1972 and 1997 inclusive, the UK and France voted the same way as China and the Soviet Union/Russia, and the opposite way to the US, on almost 80% of Middle East resolutions. The Labour government has subtly changed Britain’s approach. Since 2003, France has continued to vote the same way as China and Russia, but the UK has abstained on every Middle East resolution, which the US has vetoed. This suggests a growing reluctance to be seen to be contradicting US and by extension Israeli policy.[16]

The Pro-Israel Lobby

Renton neglects this vital context, preferring an account which begins in 2016 and draws on anecdotal evidence to claim Corbyn’s left populism awakened antisemitism among Labour supporters just as Trump’s right-wing populism had among Republicans. In the process he dismisses any talk of an Israel lobby playing a role in Labour’s crisis as an example of the antisemitism it seeks to deny. This is done through a straw man argument which caricatures those on the left who use such a term of accusing Labour’s opponents as having “been bought or in the pay of a foreign state (Israel)” (p.111).

In fact, this definition bears no resemblance to how the Israel lobby is commonly defined by its left-wing and liberal critics. Mersheimer and Walt define the Israel lobby as “the antithesis of a cabal or conspiracy”: rather it exists in the open as “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction… it is not a single, unified movement with a central leadership, and it is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that “controls” U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state”.

Renton does not seriously engage with this analysis. He selectively quotes from the authors’ 2006 London Review of Books article, which he accuses of containing a “conspiratorial logic”, rather than the 450-page book published a year later in which Mearsheimer and Walt responded to their critics.[17] Renton accuses them of overstating the power of Jewish voters, which make up just 2% of the US population, when in fact the authors make clear that the largest constituent part of the lobby is not US Jews, a growing number of whom don’t support the Lobby’s goals, but Christian Zionists (white evangelicals make up 23% of the US electorate). Christian Zionist politicians like former House Speaker Richard Armey have championed the Lobby’s cause in Congress and organisations such as Christians United for Israel mobilise public support for the actions of the Israeli government.

The Israel lobby acts like every other interest group and lobby, whether that be the gun lobby, the Miami-based Cuba lobby or the Saudi lobby in US or the India lobby in UK. In a demonstration of the latter’s power in 2019 UK election the Overseas Friends of BJP targeted 48 marginal seats in which it urged supporters to vote Conservative for Labour’s perceived criticism of India over Kashmir.

Renton restricts his comments to US and does not consider any of the evidence of how the Israel lobby operates in UK, including Peter Oborne and James Jones 2009 study for Open Democracy.[18] Their analysis highlighted that Conservative Friends of Israel was “beyond doubt the best connected, and probably best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups”, with 80% of Conservative MPs, CFI members. It also noted how Blair succeeded in making Labour more attractive to donors connected with Labour Friends of Israel, with Michael Levy the “key figure” in building these relationships, and of how he helped raise nearly £2 million for Labour Leader’s Office Fund, so that Labour did not go into 1997 election financially dependent on the trade unions. The authors point out “instead Labour became financially dependent on large donors, some of whom had very strong views on Israel”.

None of this is to suggest that Blair was bought by the Israel lobby. Blair has always been pro-Israel. He joined Labour Friends of Israel when he was elected to Parliament in 1983 and remained close to the group throughout his career. Likewise, it would be naïve to dismiss the role of the Israel Lobby in coordinating financial support to Parliamentary advocates of Israel and of actively seeking to undermine support for politicians who criticise the Israeli government’s human rights record towards the Palestinians, not least Jeremy Corbyn.

It is legitimate to examine the Israel lobby’s role, and that of its Parliamentary supporters, in weaponising allegations of Antisemitism against the Corbyn leadership. Corbyn was, and still is, considered a threat to Britain’s unconditional support for the Israeli state and was targeted for that reason. There was not a conspiracy between the Israel lobby and Labour Right to exaggerate the extent of antisemitism in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, there was a convergent interest. It was one shared with right wing corporate media and the British state. Refusing to address this reality, as Renton does, risks unintended consequences; as Oborne and Jones note “the culture of silence that surrounds this issue allows sinister conspiracy theories and, by extension, genuine antisemitism to thrive”.

What the Left Got Wrong?

Renton lauds Momentum founder Jon Lansman throughout the book. Lansman is praised for saying it was time Livingstone left politics altogether following his 2016 remarks. Labour’s error it is said was not pushing forward and making central people like Lansman who saw no need to make excuses for shameful behaviour (p.207). Lansman is quoted as saying the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) “were too excluded from decision-making” and that Corbyn should have asked Tom Watson to jointly chair a working group with proper Jewish representation to address the problem of antisemitism (213).

Watson is a long-standing member of Labour Friends of Israel, who defied the Labour whip in 2014 requiring Labour MPs to vote in favour of a Palestinian state. The JLM, is an affiliate of World Zionist Organisation, and sister organisation to the Israeli Labour Party. Its values include promoting “the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”. Both regard anti-Zionism as antisemitism. It seems likely that granting Watson and JLM greater decision-making powers would have simply brought forward the purge of anti-Zionists, and in particular anti-Zionist Jews, which has taken place since Keir Starmer became Leader. At the time of writing, 11 of JVL’s 17 Committee members are suspended with Jewish JVL members being subject to “actioned antisemitism complaints at a rate 20 times greater than non-Jewish Labour members.”[19] The approach favoured by Renton would have fatally undermined Corbyn’s credibility on the left and with those who support freedom for Palestine.

What then should Corbyn have done? A socialist response would have consisted of calling an inquiry in 2016 led by a distinguished jurist such as retried Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley and to require the inquiry, as part of its terms of reference, to set out a definition of antisemitism, which the Chakrabarti report failed to do. Sedley has written about the flaws of IHRA definition.[20] Freed of a definition unfit for purpose (and never designed to be used in such cases) and replaced with one that defined antisemitism as racism against Jews as Jews, Labour could have begun acting against the real cases of antisemitism in its ranks. Antisemites should have been expelled. Fulltime officials found to have deliberately delayed or frustrated taking action to investigate complaints should have been disciplined and where appropriate dismissed. Members who repeatedly made false and malicious allegations of antisemitism, like the one member who lodged more than 2,000 unfounded complaints between 2018 and 2020 (a fifth of all received), should have been investigated under the disciplinary process themselves (p 64). At the same time a mass programme of internal political education should have been undertaken by the Party and by groups such as Momentum, with local branches encouraged to help the establishment of local antiracist groups in their area. Between 2015 and 2019, the Far Right was on the march again, with the EDL and its offshoots often mobilising thousands with counter-protests a fraction of their size. Momentum was nowhere to be seen on these anti-racist protests.

Labour with its half a million members, could have provided vital resources and have mobilised tens of thousands for antiracist marches like it did for CND marches and rallies in 1980s. A Labour Party regarded as the bedrock of the broader anti-racist movement would have had the stature and moral authority to speak over the heads of hostile unelected communal organisations like the Board of Deputies to the wider Jewish community. Rather than being constantly on the defensive and forced to apologise for alleged antisemitism in Labour’s ranks, Corbyn should have taken control of the narrative and made a series of speeches on issues like Israel/Palestine in which he spoke directly to the concerns of British Jews. In doing so he would have been directly addressing the 73% of British Jews who consider Israel’s approach to peace to be damaging its standing and the 75% who consider illegal settlements in West Bank as a major obstacle to peace (p.33).

[corrected version posted at 12.25pm; modified 9.00pm]

Footnotes

[1] Mike Phipps, ‘Labour and antisemitism: did the Left Lose its bearings?’ Labour Hub, 13 September 2021

[2] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report, ‘Ant-Semitism in UK’, 13 October 2016, para. 120, p46.

[3] You Gov / Tim Bale Survey Results, Fieldwork 2-3 May 2016.

[4] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/question-search/?qid=490&cntIDs=&stdIDs=

[5] You Gov / Campaign Against Antisemitism Survey Results, Fieldwork 21st-22nd December and 5th-6th January 2015.

[6] https://esrcpartymembersproject.org/tag/labour/

[7] London School of Economics, Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press, July 2016.

[8] Jacobin, “How Labour Became Antisemitic: An interview with Greg Philo”, 10.05.2019

[9] https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/w/ipso-urged-to-investigate-jewish-chronicle-over-systemic-breaches-of-the-editors-code-of-practice

[10] See for example Saul Friedlander, “Nazi Germany and The Jews”, London, 2009, p26-27.

[11] An alternative view which highlights the success of the boycott and its potential to destabilise the Nazis when they had not consolidated their strength is given in T Greenstein, ‘Why Ken Livingstone was right’, The Weekly Worker, 23 June 2016 .

[12] Andrew Sparrow, ‘Diane Abbott apologises over Twitter racism row’, The Guardian, 5.1.2012.

[13] Charlie Hore, “In Loving Memory of America”, Socialist Review, April 2019.

[14] Richard Philpot, “Jews Against Miliband”, The Spectator, 18 April 2015.

[15] Paul Kelemen, “The British Left and Zionism: A History of a Divorce”, Manchester University Press, 2012.

[16] Peter Oborne & James Jones, “The Pro-Israel Lobby in Britain”, Open Democracy, 13 November 2009.

[17] John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”, New York, 2007, p.5.

[18] See footnote 16

[19] Middle East Report, “Kier Starmer’s Labour is ‘purging’ Jews critical of Israel, says new report”, 10 August 2021

[20] Stephen Sedley, “Defining Antisemitism”, London Review of Books, 4 May 2017.

 

 

 

 

Comments (17)

  • Dave says:

    As it is published by Routledge, David Renton’s book has a veneer of academic respectability that it does not deserve, as Paul Field makes clear.

    I’m not sure going into detail on Livingstone, Walker and Williamson achieves much as it is a de facto position that none of them have any track record in anti-Jewish behaviour and they are instead examples often cited devoid of context (Ken’s comments were about Naz Shah, which in turn were partly about Norman Finkelstein’s joke about relocating Israel to Kansas…). Suffice it to say that a serious authority, as Renton claims to be, should know context and where real antisemitism lies.

    The key material, as Field highlights, is about the connection between the the symbiosis between the west and Israel in fomenting the antisemitism ‘crisis’, the real prevalence of antisemitism on the left and in Labour, and the failure of Corbyn and co to get to grips with the smear – the latter I think has fuelled this new wave of ‘left antisemitism’ narratives such as Renton’s.

    I hope Paul Field will also review Daniel Randall’s new Confronting Antisemitism on the Left: Arguments for Socialists, which builds on Steve Cohen’s That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic from the 1980s, and which I’ve reread, finding that one of its grounds is that the left just doesn’t recognise the ‘oppression’ of British Jews…

    Randall’s book adds historical material about the left but I imagine loses its way in the modern context as Renton’s book does (to put it mildly). I’ve not read Randall’s book but have read Renton’s articles, which have been used in his book I think.

    Link to Randall:
    https://www.nopasaran.media/confronting-antisemitism-on-the-left

  • Jan Brooker says:

    Nothing I really disagree with in the article BUT Paul could have gone further in noting that even mentioning an *Israel Lobby* became a LP offence, even though there is such a wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_lobby_in_the_United_Kingdom : ‘Israel lobby in the United Kingdom’ ~ to wit.
    > Similarly, there is a generally-accepted term for the African Holocaust within much of the Black community: *Maafa*, again with a wikipedia entry; which expands further on the terms meaning: ‘African Holocaust, Holocaust of Enslavement, or Black Holocaust’ : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maafa
    > Even an allusion to the term Maafa is a LP offence, as it “belittles the Holocaust” ~ one of the 4 charges on my proud, Black African partner’s *charge sheet*. So, Black members are not allowed to refer to their own history in the Labour Party.
    > In my reckoning this makes the LP an accomplice to the *belittling* of the experience of African/Caribbeans within the Labour Party, which leads many to assert that there is a *prioritisation* of one form of racism over another WITHIN the LP.
    > Renton seems to have lost the plot over the issue. I write,also, as a former IS/SWP member, of c.20 years’ standing, 30+ years ago ~ also charged more recently by the LP of 3 of their standard AS/racism [shorthand] accusations; even though with a 40+ year record of fighting racism and fascism: as both Rock Against Racism key person in Hull, and Hull Trades Council Anti-Fascist Coordinator, in the late 1970s/early 1980s ~ up to the present day of bringing £Millions or resources to the Black and Arab communities of Toxteth, Liverpool, and getting the most multi-cultural Youth Club re-opened in the same area [and finding the funding for ALL the staff for its first 12 years].

  • Adam says:

    Excellent article, however you should know that Dave very much opposed Atzmon at that period and was a lone voice in the SWP.

  • Ieuan Einion says:

    There’s a lot of “how many angels are there on the head of a pin” here. As a working class communist I would take most things offered by Eton boys who join the SWP with a massive pinch of salt. They’re two to the dozen and, with few exceptions, they generally revert to petit-bourgeois form.

    I may be also one of the few working class communists who had the pleasure of meeting Renton’s uncle Timothy. He had been demoted from defence to arts minister and I asked him what he knew about culture and art. “Not a lot,” he admitted, “but I have nearly an acre of roses” adding “that surely qualifies me as a man of culture.”

    It’s great that someone is prepared to take down his nephew peg by peg, complete with numerous footnotes, never mind that such references spell Keir as Kier.

    All my political antennae suggest to me that the likes of Renton jnr. are best ignored and not graced with footnotes.

    I stand with Ken and against the zionist entity.

  • MR BARRY J SAY says:

    <>
    I remember some of the polls at this time. I was a YouGov subscriber, but the questions were so polarising, so black and white, that I could not work out how I should answer. I also concluded that the polling drove division by demanding contributors defined their position dividing contributors between sheep and goats, so to speak.

  • Jem Coady says:

    Livingstone’s Hitler remark was, as noted above, to do with his rebuttal of allegations of antisemitism against Naz Shah. It’s seldom been reported in full, either then or since. What he actually said was that anti zionism is no more an indication of anti semitism than support for zionism is of being pro jewish: witness Hitler’s support for zionism* in the 30s before he…etc etc. *60,000 Jews were indeed allowed to leave Nazi Germany until 1939, following the Havaara agreement of 1933.

  • Yes this is a good review. I’m not sure that such a concentration on the Israel lobby is merited but that is Paul’s choice not mine.

    I have minor disagreements. Some of the answers to the questions that people gave to the survey that Renton quoted are not necessarily anti-Semitic. It is, e.g. a fact that there is a Jewish preponderance in media, not least Hollywood. Is it anti-Semitic to mention such a fact?

    There is also not necessarily a correlation between antisemitic answers to questions and whether or not the person who holds such a belief is anti-Semitic. Ironically it was Dave Rich who made this point in response to the crude Ca mpaign Against Antisemitism conclusions that 40% of British people were anti-Semitic.

    Anshel Pfeffer (and Geoffrey Alderman) also made the same point that saying that British Jews were more loyal to Israel is again not anti-Semitic. Some British Jews do see their first loyalty to Israel. That is the whole point of Zionism and it is why Netanyahu described himself in Paris as the Prime Minister of the Jewish people.

    I agree however with Ieuan Einion that Renton is returning to his old Etonian roots. His book is a disgrace and not one any socialist would or could write. His exoneration of Stephen Pollard is a disgrace. Pollard has made a profession out of exonerating real anti-Semites, from Michal Kaminski to Jacob Rees-Mogg. Pollard has effectively endorsed Orban’s campaign against George Soros. About this Renton says nothing.

    Paul also fails to mention that the book is strewn with errors.

    I have just finished a review of my own which will appear in Weekly Worker and my blog! I am glad that I read Paul’s review after completing my own.

  • I’d also like to add that Renton rejoined the SWP in 2008, at precisely the time that the SWP’s love affair with Atzmon was at its height. Clearly antisemitism did not weigh that heavily on his shoulders. I’m not aware of anything that Renton did to make his opposition to that relationship clear.

    There are also a number of references to Ha’avara, the trade agreement between the Jewish Agency and the Nazi state. Let us be clear. This agreement was not made to save Germany’s Jews but the wealth of the German Jewish community. Just 22% of applicants for palestine certificates were German. 20,000 applicants between 1933 and 1939 came from countries like the USA and Britain where Jews were not in danger.

    The Zionist policy on immigration had always been one of selecting the few out of the many. Unless you were able to support yourself immigrants over the age of 35 were not included and certainly not the elderly.

    It is also wrong to say that 50K or more German Jews were saved by Ha’avara. Most German Jews came in under the existing system of certificates. Just 20K utilised Ha’avara but they were the richest Jews who could have gone anywhere since £1,000 (which is what they needed to enter Palestine without a certificate) would have got you entry to many countries.

    As Edwin Black makes clear in his book The Transfer Agreement it is possible that the Boycott could have toppled the Hitler regime in the winter of 1933. Ha’avara was instrumental in defeating the boycott and stabilising the regime.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    Sir William Macpherson of Cluny defines all discrimination using his own personal criteria as being a perception problem to be defined by any alleged victim. This appears to me to be somewhat arbitrary defining reality as being in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps another dilemna is defining precisely what anti-Semitism is; what constitutes being Jewish (i.e. a race; a religion; a separate nation) & whose definitions should be accepted by whom? Perhaps Jews really are God’s chosen people & therefore a special case, different from any other?
    Speaking as a ‘pleb’ from a working class background, I have always had a problem with ‘the great & the good’ interpreting what is right & wrong; good & bad or acceptable & unacceptable. The House of Lords is a constant reminder of class privilege which has again manifested itself in the EHRC quango which appears totally unaccountable & like David Renton, made up of public school chums from chambers.

    • Mike Cushman says:

      David Feldman dealt with this misreading of Macpherson

      “It is sometimes suggested that when Jews perceive an utterance or action to be anti-Semitic that this is how it should be described. In the UK this claim looks for support to the 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, written by Lord Macpherson of Cluny. There Macpherson wrote that ‘a racist incident’ is ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’ If we look at the context in which this quotation appears, it is unambiguously clear that Macpherson intended to propose that such racist incidents require investigation. He did not mean to imply that such incidents are necessarily racist. However, Macpherson’s report has been misinterpreted and misapplied in precisely this way. Its authority has been thrown behind the view that such incidents should, by definition, be regarded as racist. In short, a definition of antisemitism which takes Jews’ feelings and perceptions as its starting point and which looks to the Macpherson report for authority is built on weak foundations.”

      https://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/professor-feldman-macpherson-definition/

  • Shiraz Hussain says:

    What a brilliant review. And how shameful that this book should be touted as ‘required reading’ for people on the left or anyone else, when it does not get its facts right and offers nothing but more vilification of good socialists who have always strongly opposed racism.

  • Anti-fascist says:

    Renton is a political scab who is now on the opposite side to genuine socialists and anti-fascists.

    What the motives are for his latest somersault are only he can know.

  • Sheldon Ranz says:

    JVL web says: We are approving the comment below as an exception, despite it being well over the normal length (300 words max) for comments. This decision does not signfy agreement with the arguments made but, in the light of the Renton review, it is only proper that they should be aired. This is not an invitation to open a debate on the Mear One mural.

    This is where Renton gets it wrong in Chapter 7, “Seeing No Evil: Corbyn and the Mear One mural”:

    1) In referring to the six men in the mural seated around the table, Renton writes, “Mear drew at least two of them with outsized noses, on accordance with a long-standing myth that Jews are recognizable by their large noses and lips.” First, the myth is that all Jews have hooked noses, not “outsized” noses. Secondly, Renton assumes that Kalen Ockerman (Mear One) had no clue as to how the two Jewish bankers at the table, Mayer Amschel Rothschild and Felix Warburg, actually looked like in real life and so just followed some pre-arranged anti-Semitic formula, providing no evidence that Ockerman used this methodology. In fact, Rothschild did sport such a nose (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayer_Amschel_Rothschild) and it would have been no big deal for Ockerman to have researched this from reputable sources. Upon closer inspection, Warburg’s ‘hook’ is less prominent in the mural than Rothschild’s, which reflects an attention to biographical detail consistent with the real-life Warburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_M._Warburg)

    2) “In anti-Semitic stereotypes, Jews are…meeting in secret gatherings…” The mural violates the stereotypes on several key fronts. First, the mural does not depict a secret meeting. The meeting’s location is in an open area, against a backdrop of nuclear power plants and political demonstrations. Secondly, most of those seated around the table are not Jews.

    3) One of the demonstrators in the mural carries a placard that says, “The New World Order is the Enemy of Humanity.” Renton implies that this is also anti-Semitic because “the term New World Order has been repeatedly employed by the far right, by the likes of Pat Robertson and Alex Jones.” In fact, the term ‘New World Order’ was introduced into the modern political lexicon back in 1991 by US President George Bush to justify American entry into the Persian Gulf War. It has been used ever since as shorthand to describe American imperial designs primarily by liberals and the left. That is the political environment where Americans like Ockerman and I come from.

    4) As stated earlier, most of the six men seated at the table are Gentile. This is the point that Mear One’s attackers refuse to seriously grapple with, especially Renton. With Rothschild and Warburg sitting on the table’s periphery, the four Gentiles sitting between them, in the center on the table, are John Rockefeller, JP Morgan. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Aleister Crowley. The first three were bankers; Crowley’s a bit of an odd duck; wealthy like the others, to be sure, but also an occultist, and a notorious anti-Semite. Why would Mear One target him as one of the bad guys if he himself were an anti-Semite? [NOTE: Crowley’s been experiencing a small revival in the US of late, having been depicted as a villain facing off against the heroic sorcerer John Constantine on the TV program DC’s Legends of Tomorrow]

    5) Taking a deeper dive into the positioning of the men seated around the table, the Gentiles constitute the inner circle, appearing to discuss important matters amongst themselves, while the two Jews are outside the inner circle. In organizations, it’s the inner circle that calls the shots; that’s where the real power lies. The mural aligns well with a common Marxist analysis of how some Jews have been absorbed and then marginalized within the Gentile ruling class.

    6) Renton sees Rothschild counting money in the mural and cries,”Stereotype!” But Warburg is also Jewish and is not counting money . An oversight on Mear One’s part? Did he run out of paint? Given the theme that Mear One is likely following, what’s happening is that the bosses think that counting their money is beneath them, a menial chore, so they’re giving their Jews busy work. The way the inner circle sees it, Rothschild and Warburg should just be grateful it allows them to be anywhere near their table.

    Overall, the message of the mural is anti-capitalist, with a message that Jews are expendable to the ruling class and have an extra incentive to resist assimilation.

  • Rory O'Kelly says:

    The ‘Labour Party antisemitism’ narrative is a conspiracy theory and should be handled in the same way as any such theory. Starting from the assumption that anything which a lot of people believe must have some element of truth in it and then trying to work out what that element is leads one down a rabbit-hole from which there is no escape. The right way to approach conspiracy theories is to start from a working assumption that the whole thing is complete nonsense while remaining open-minded and alert to any actual solid evidence which may be put forward.

  • Simon Lynn says:

    Nb I do not think Renton (p3) compliments Stephen Pollard at all……it is clearly a critique of Pollard ignoring antisemitism from the right in contrast to ‘the care he took to expose left-wing antisemitism…’

    I think we need to be more reflective in learning from this period….

  • I have just posted the following on my blog

    Blaming the Victims of Racism & Exonerating their Perpetrators – The Upside Down World of David Renton

    Book Review – Labour’s Anti-Semitism Crisis
    What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It
    David Renton

    https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2021/10/blaming-victims-of-racism-exonerating.html

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