Smoke Without Fire: The Myth of a ‘Labour Antisemitism Crisis’

Note: This article by Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison features in an eBook on the ‘Labour antisemitism’ controversy edited by Jamie Stern-Weiner, forthcoming from Verso.

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2nd December: This FREE eBook is now available – click here to download it.

Smoke Without Fire: The Myth of a ‘Labour Antisemitism Crisis’

It has been prominently and persistently asserted that there is a ‘crisis’ of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The charge-sheet comprises three main allegations: that antisemitism in Labour is widespread, that it has become institutionalised, and that elected party leader Jeremy Corbyn is himself an antisemite.

This last claim—a recent invention even in the context of the ‘Labour antisemitism’ campaign—is the most tenuous, flying as it does in the face of Corbyn’s entire documented political career. From April 1977, when he helped organise the defence of Jewish-populated Wood Green from a National Front rally;[1] to the 1980s, when he headed Anti-Fascist Action and was arrested protesting apartheid in South Africa;[2] to June 2015, when he worked with antifascists to prevent a neo-Nazi march on Golders Green;[3] to his first day as Labour Party leader, when he spoke at a demonstration in support of refugees[4]—throughout his political life, Jeremy Corbyn has been a dedicated and principled anti-racist campaigner.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group recalls that it has ‘worked alongside Jeremy Corbyn in campaigns against all forms of racism and bigotry, including antisemitism, for many years’.[5] From the other end of the political spectrum, distinguished British Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman observes that, ‘[a]s a matter of fact, Jeremy Corbyn has an impressive demonstrable record of supporting Jewish communal initiatives’.[6] John Bercow, the Jewish former Conservative MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, testifies that, having known Corbyn over two decades, he has ‘never detected a whiff of antisemitism’ about him.[7] Joseph Finlay, one-time Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly and founder of several grassroots Jewish organisations, noted in 2018:

Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences. . . . Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983—a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. . . . Whenever there has been a protest against racism, the two people you can always guarantee will be there are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. . . . The idea that Britain’s leading anti-racist politician is the key problem the Jewish community faces is an absurdity, a distraction, and a massive error.[8]

Prima facie, the allegation that Corbyn is an antisemite is a libel that may be dispensed with.

The remaining two accusations against Labour—concerning prevalence and institutionalisation—substantially overlap, since if antisemitism barely existed in Labour it could scarcely have become ‘institutional’. The anti-Labour campaign therefore largely rests upon the empirical claim that antisemitism has become pervasive within the party’s ranks.

Let’s examine whether this allegation withstands scrutiny.

1. Is there an antisemitism crisis in Britain?

Allegations against Labour have gained force from and fed warnings of an antisemitism crisis in Britain more broadly.

But neither polls nor hate crime data reveal such a crisis.

Surveys consistently find that anti-Jewish animus in Britain is low relative both to other countries in Europe and to animus against other minority groups.

Fig. 1.  YouGov survey, May 2015.

It has also been stable over time: annual Pew surveys between 2004 and 2016 show no increase in anti-Jewish sentiment throughout this period.[9]

Proportion of the British population with an ‘unfavourable’ opinion of Jews

Fig. 2.  Adapted from Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project. Respondents were asked their opinions of Jews in general or, in 2009 and 2014-16, Jews in Britain.

Reviewing this data, the respected Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) emphasised in 2017 that:

levels of antisemitism in Great Britain are among the lowest in the world. British Jews constitute a religious and ethnic group that is seen overwhelmingly positively by an absolute majority of the British population: about 70% of the population of Great Britain have a favourable opinion of Jews and do not entertain any antisemitic ideas or views at all.[10]

Such antisemitic attitudes as do exist in British society do not appear to translate into socioeconomic discrimination. Most British Jews recognise that being Jewish closes few if any doors in contemporary Britain[11]—on the contrary, relative both to the general population and to other ethno-religious minority groups, ‘Jews are disproportionately wealthy, educated, and professionally successful’.[12] At the elite end of the spectrum, despite comprising just half of one percent of the population, British Jews made up around 10 percent of the 2014 Sunday Times Rich List[13] and are amply represented in our politics,[14] media,[15] and cultural life.

Nor are there rational grounds to fear the introduction of anti-Jewish policies in the foreseeable future. Quite the contrary. As former JPR director Antony Lerman writes, ‘Jews are the most secure, establishment-protected, privileged, and assimilated of the country’s minority communities’, and benefit from many ‘strong countervailing forces against antisemitism in the UK’. ‘To ignore this’, he argues, ‘is to fail to recognise that there is probably no place more secure for Jews anywhere else in the world’.[16]

It is true that the number of reports of antisemitic hate crimes has increased in recent years, consistent with the trend for other forms of hate crime: the number of hate crimes of all types recorded by police more than doubled between 2012/13 and 2018/19, and the increase in the number of reports of antisemitic hate crimes appears to be in line with increases in the number of reports of other forms of hate crime.

Increases in hate crimes reported to police over 3 years to end March 2019

Fig. 3.  UK Home Office hate crime data. ‘Antisemitism’ data is included in the ‘Religion’ category but also depicted separately.

But as with all forms of hate crime, one cannot assume that an increase in the number of reports means that there has been an increase in the number of real incidents. In fact, Crime Survey data ‘shows a fall in hate crime over the last decade’ and Home Office analysis concluded that the ‘increases in [recorded] hate crime over the last five years have been mainly driven by improvements in crime recording by the police’.[17] It is reasonable to assume that the same applies to hate crimes against Jews.

2. Has Labour antisemitism increased under Corbyn?

The case against Labour is premised on the claim that its purported ‘antisemitism crisis’ coincided with Jeremy Corbyn’s term as party leader. How else to explain what would otherwise appear a wholly opportunistic furore?

But no persuasive evidence has been presented to demonstrate that antisemitism within the Labour Party has increased since 2015.[18]

It might be argued that the frequency with which alleged instances of antisemitism within the party have been reported in the media and to Labour’s disciplinary apparatus since 2015 testifies to an increase in its prevalence. But, first, the increased frequency of allegations might simply be the result of the ongoing, concerted effort to uncover and publicise such evidence. Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby related that ‘dossiers’ of complaints had been submitted—most of which implicated individuals who turned out not even to be party members.[19] In addition, many of these allegations were made retrospectively about individuals who joined the party and/or comments made before Corbyn became leader. Already in June 2016, Shami Chakrabarti felt moved to urge ‘a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts and past comments’; in June 2019, Formby informed Labour MPs that ‘[m]any . . . complaints refer to social media posts that are up to 8 years old. One specific case . . . was a complaint . . . about someone who died in 2016’.[20]

It has been insinuated that far-left cranks signed up in droves to support the Corbyn leadership, and that antisemitism in Labour spiked as a result. But this has never been substantiated. The limited data at our disposal suggest that both halves of this claim are untrue: following the Corbyn surge, the average Labour member self-identified as fairly—not radically—left-wing,[21] while a 2017 survey (the largest of its kind ever conducted) found that ‘[l]evels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population’.[22]

5-8 ‘antisemitic attitudes’, %

Fig. 4.  Staetsky—JPR (2017)

And according to metrics[23] used by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA)—a group which has been highly critical of Labour—the prevalence of anti-Jewish prejudices appears to have declined across the political spectrum during Corbyn’s time as leader.

Voter endorsement of antisemitic statements declined between 2015 and 2017

Fig. 5.  Adapted from CAA/YouGov (2015) and CAA (2017). Survey questions were identical in 2016 and 2017; the 2015 survey used slightly different wording.

3. Is antisemitism worse in the Labour Party?

No survey measuring anti-Jewish prejudices among Labour and Conservative Party members has been published. Available data indicate that antisemitic attitudes are less prevalent on the Left and among Labour voters—from which constituencies Labour Party members are disproportionately drawn—than on the Right and among Conservative voters.[24]

Endorsement of 5 or more ‘antisemitic statements’ by political alignment

Fig. 6.  Adapted from Staetsky—JPR (2017). ‘Very Right-Wing’ included in ‘Right-Wing’ but also depicted separately.

As the Home Affairs Committee—whose eagerness to malign Labour led it to misrepresent not just the facts but its own assembled testimony[25]—was therefore obliged to concede, ‘there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party’.[26]

4. Is antisemitism widespread among Labour Party members?

No evidence has been presented in support of claims that antisemitism is widespread within the Labour Party, while the only inquiries conducted into these allegations to date reached the opposite conclusion:

  • ‘I have received no evidence that the [Oxford University Labour] Club is itself institutionally antisemitic’—Royall Report, May 2016;
  • ‘The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism’—Chakrabarti Inquiry, June 2016.

It might be argued that the perception among most British Jews that antisemitism is pervasive within Labour constitutes sufficient evidence. But since only a minority of British Jews have personal experience inside the Labour Party, and since most British Jews opposed the party even when its leader was Jewish,[27] this perception more plausibly reflects the impact of consistently inaccurate and sensationalist reporting[28] on a constituency already disinclined to give Labour the benefit of any doubt.

Jewish members of the Labour Party are arguably in a better position to judge whether the allegations against it are justified. No survey of this group has been published, but it is clear that among them there is, at the very least, disagreement on the question. In written submissions collected over the course of a week in 2018, nearly 150 Jewish Labour members testified that the claims against Labour bore no relation to their own experiences in the party. Prominent ‘Labour antisemitism’-mongers themselves avowed, as recently as 2016, that they had ‘[n]ever experienced any incidence of anti-Semitism from within the party’.[29] These testimonies are difficult to reconcile with allegations that the party is over-run with antisemitism.

The volume of antisemitism-related complaints against Labour members has been cited as evidence that antisemitic discourse in the party is commonplace. A March 2019 survey asked the public to estimate the percentage of Labour members against whom antisemitism complaints had been made. The average response was 34 percent.[30] In reality, as of July 2019, the proportion of Labour Party members subjected to disciplinary procedures—i.e., summoned for a hearing in response to a complaint, but not necessarily found guilty—amounted to less than one-tenth of one percent.[31] As noted above, this figure did not reflect cases that arose through spontaneous reporting by victims but was the product of coordinated efforts to trawl through members’ social media histories for incriminating material.

Antisemitism: proportion of Labour members taken through
disciplinary hearings over four years

Fig. 7.  According to Labour Party general secretary Jennie Formby, reporting in July 2019, ‘Antisemitism-related cases that have been taken through the stages of our disciplinary procedures since September 2015 relate to roughly 0.06% of the Party’s average membership during this time’.

5. Has the focus on antisemitism been proportionate?

The intense political and media focus on antisemitism—one study counted nearly 5,500 articles across eight national newspapers between June 2015 and March 2019[32]—has conveyed the impression that antisemitism in Britain and/or on the Left is particularly severe. But putting the data on antisemitism in context shows that this is untrue. Other forms of prejudice are more prevalent across the political spectrum while increases in hate crime reports have been recorded across the full range of protected characteristics. (Figs. 1 and 3 above, 8 below)

Percentage with prejudice towards minorities, according to political
affiliation or voting preferences

Fig. 8.  Richard Wike et al., Pew Research Centre (11 July 2016); Staetksy—JPR (2017), endorsement of 5+ ‘anti-Jewish’ prejudices, Nancy Kelley et al., ‘Racial Prejudice in Britain Today’, NatCen (2017).

The limited data we have on party members’ prejudices also indicates that racism and bigotry are likely to be more widespread in the Conservative Party than in Labour.

Party members’ views on gay marriage

What sort of people would party members like to see more of in the Commons?

Figs. 9 and 10.  Survey of party members by Bale et al., January 2018.

Yet within and in relation to the Labour Party, discussion and reform of complaints procedures appears to have been driven predominantly by antisemitism-related concerns. This same one-eyed fixation is evident in broader public debate: thus, even as the campaign to impose a Working Definition of Antisemitism upon the Labour Party generated a protracted national controversy, analogous efforts to promote a Working Definition of Islamophobia[33] attracted near-zero media interest. This despite prima facie credible allegations of institutional barriers to Muslim mobilisation within the Labour Party,[34] compelling evidence of anti-Muslim prejudice in the Conservative Party,[35] and authoritative findings of anti-Muslim discrimination in the UK more broadly.[36]

Disproportionate attention to antisemitism, even as other forms of racism are significantly more widespread, and on Labour, even as bigotry is worse in the Conservative Party, misrepresents the real distribution of prejudice and discrimination in Britain and fosters perceptions of an antisemitism ‘crisis’ which are wholly unwarranted.

Conclusion

It has never been in dispute that anti-Jewish attitudes exist within the Labour Party. Such attitudes—along with ten thousand other varieties of bigotry and prejudice—exist in every political party, as they do in the society from which mass memberships are drawn. The recent heated debate has centred around the altogether more serious allegation that antisemitism in Labour has become widespread and institutionalised. Faced with claims that Labour antisemitism poses an existential threat to Jews, on the one side, and arguments that antisemitism is neither widespread nor institutionalised in the party, on the other, it might be tempting to split the difference and assume that the truth lies somewhere in between. But those who care about the fight against antisemitism and other forms of bigotry should avoid this lazy assumption and look instead at the data.

There were no witches in Salem; Jewish elders did not gather in a graveyard at night; a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy did not target Nazi Germany. The allegation that Labour is rife with antisemitism is of a piece with these fantastic antecedents. To judge by the available evidence, the truth of this controversy lies not in the middle but at one pole: there is no ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’. Should new evidence be unearthed which demonstrates that antisemitism is widespread within the Labour Party, the issue will doubtless warrant renewed attention. In the meantime, the rational response to a baseless allegation is to dismiss it.


Jamie Stern-Weiner is a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford. He is the editor of Moment of Truth: Tackling Israel-Palestine’s Toughest Questions (OR Books, 2018) and Antisemitism and the Labour Party (Verso, forthcoming).

Alan Maddison is a Strategic Analyst and associate member of Jewish Voice for Labour.

Endnotes:

[1] Keith M. Flett, ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s Role in Organising Opposition to Fascism at “The Battle of Wood Green 23rd April 1977”, kmflett.wordpress.com (21 April 2017). Cf. Keith M. Flett, ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s Long History of Fighting Fascism: The Battle of Wood Green 23rd April 1977’, kmflett.wordpress.com (28 March 2018). The author is a historian and convenor of the London Socialist Historians Group.

[2] On the Principles of Political Violence and the Case of Anti-Fascist Action, MA thesis (Manchester: 2012), pp. 29, 44; Ben Riley-Smith, ‘Jeremy Corbyn: Arrest for Protesting Apartheid Shows Why I Am Ready to Lead Britain’, Telegraph (29 April 2017).

[3] Early Day Motion 165 (22 June 2015); ‘Jeremy Corbyn MP, Diane Abbott MP, Len McCluskey & Many More Back UAF Unity Statement “No to Nazis in Golders Green” Sign Up Today!’ Unite Against Fascism (25 June 2015).

[4] Jon C. Stone, ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s First Act as Labour Leader Will Be to Attend a Protest in Support of Refugees’, Independent (12 September 2015).

[5] Jewish Socialists’ Group, ‘Oppose Antisemitism and Malicious Accusations by Supporters of the Tory Party’ (26 March 2018).

[6] Geoffrey Alderman, ‘Horrors! Corbyn’s a “PM in Waiting”—Accept It’, Jewish Telegraph (18 April 2019).

[7] https://twitter.com/toryfibs/status/1192553878807621635?s=21. Against this clear and consistent record, Corbyn’s critics muster a handful of alleged infractions which comprise, in their totality, hypocritical smears-by-association, out-of-context remarks that are open to benign as well as sinister interpretation, non-sequiturs, and straight-up misreporting. See the website of Jewish Voice for Labour for details: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/rebuttals/.

[8] Joseph Finlay, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an Anti-Racist, Not an Anti-Semite’, Jewish News (26 March 2018).

[9] Cf. L. Daniel Staetsky—Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A Study of Attitudes Towards Jews and Israel (September 2017), p. 11.

[10] Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, p. 5.

[11] In a 2017 survey, 63 percent of British Jews agreed that ‘Non-White people don’t have the same opportunities and chances in life as White people, as they are held back by prejudice and discrimination’. Only 16 percent endorsed the equivalent statement for ‘Jewish people in Britain’. Andrew Barclay et al., ‘Political Realignment of British Jews: Testing Competing Explanations’, Electoral Studies 61 (2019), pp. 4-5.

[12] Norman G. Finkelstein, ‘The Chimera of British Anti-Semitism (and How Not to Fight It If It Were Real)’, Verso Blog (21 August 2018). Cf. the references in Finkelstein, ‘Chimera’, footnote 15. These aggregates conceal significant intra-communal disparities; see, e.g., Jonathan Boyd—JPR, Child Poverty and Deprivation in the British Jewish Community (March 2011); Sarah Abramson et al.—JPR, Key Trends in the British Jewish Community: A Review of Data on Poverty, the Elderly and Children (April 2011).

[13] Sandy Rashty, ‘Wealthiest Jews in Britain were Born Abroad, Super-Rich List Reveals’, Jewish Chronicle (15 May 2014). This tallies only Jews born in the UK; if all Jewish residents are factored in, the figure comes to nearly 20 percent.

[14] In 2015, it was reported that, whereas Jews comprised approximately 0.5 percent of the population, approximately 3.7 percent of MPs (24 of 650) were Jewish. Jewish individuals have ascended the heights of even this rarefied sphere: Jewish MPs at one point comprised a quarter of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet, while both front-runners in the 2010 Labour Party leadership contest were Jewish. See Jerry Lewis, ‘UK Parliament May Have Fewer Jewish MPs after Election’, Jerusalem Post (1 May 2015); Barclay et al., ‘Political Realignment of British Jews’, p. 2.

[15] A 2016 Reuters Institute survey tentatively found that ‘all religious groups are under-represented in the population of UK journalists with the exception of Buddhists and Jews. Muslims are most under-represented, followed by Hindus and Christians’. Neil Thurman et al., Journalists in the UK (2016), pp. 10-11.

[16] Antony Lerman, ‘The Labour Party, “Institutional Antisemitism” and Irresponsible Politics’, openDemocracy (21 March 2019); Antony Lerman, ‘When Jews Are Just Fodder for the Tory Propaganda Machine’, openDemocracy (9 November 2019).

[17] UK Home Office, Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2018/19 (15 October 2019), pp. 1, 7.

[18] As Labour’s membership more than doubled in size, it is plausible that the absolute number of antisemites within its ranks increased—the surprise would be were it otherwise. But the claimed increase in the proportion of members who are antisemitic has not been substantiated.

[19] Jennie Formby, ‘Email to Labour MPs’ (February 2019).

[20] Shami Chakrabarti, The Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry (30 June 2016), p. 2; Formby, ‘Email’. Cf. Jamie Stern-Weiner, ‘Jeremy Corbyn Hasn’t Got an “Antisemitism Problem”. His Opponents Do’, openDemocracy (27 April 2016).

[21] Labour members placed themselves at 2.2 on a spectrum between 1 (left) and 10 (right): roughly half-way between the centre and the far-left pole. The JPR found that people identifying as ‘fairly’ (as against ‘very’ or ‘slightly’) left-wing were least likely to harbour an ‘anti-Jewish’ prejudice and among the least likely to harbour five or more such prejudices. Tim Bale et al., Grassroots—Britain’s Party Members: Who They Are, What They Think, and What They Do (January 2018), p. 11; Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, p. 45.

[22] Staetsky, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, p. 6.

[23] The treatment of endorsed ‘anti-Jewish prejudices’ as a proxy for ‘antisemitism’ is problematic, for reasons elaborated in Finkelstein, ‘Chimera’ as well as Jamie Stern-Weiner and Alan Maddison, ‘Stereotypes Should Be Discussed, Not Sanctioned’, Verso Blog (19 July 2019). Data from the JPR and CAA premised on this metric is used in this article advisedly.

[24] Staetsky—JPR, Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain, p. 42 (‘[t]he political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears . . . a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population’); CAA, Antisemitism Barometer 2017 (London: 2017), pp. 6, 19 (‘Labour Party supporters are less likely to be antisemitic than other voters’).

[25] Compare the quotation from Ken Livingstone’s testimony in para. 97 with its representation in para. 199 of Home Affairs Committee (HAC), Antisemitism in the UK: Tenth Report of Session 2016-17 (16 October 2016). At one point during a witness examination, Chuka Umunna MP’s questioning was so flagrantly partisan that he had to be reprimanded by the Chair: ‘It is an inquiry into antisemitism . . . This is not a seminar on Momentum or the way in which the Labour party operates’. This was one of the ‘cross-party’ Committee’s Labour members. See HAC, Oral Evidence: Antisemitism, HC 136 (4 July 2016), Q352. For critical analysis of the HAC Report, see David Plank, ‘Antisemitism in the United Kingdom’: House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, HC 136—A Critique (2 November 2016).

[26] HAC, Antisemitism in the UK, para. 120.

[27] Dan Hodges, ‘Labour’s First Jewish Leader Is Losing the Jewish Vote’, Telegraph (30 October 2014); Oliver Wright, ‘Labour Funding Crisis: Jewish Donors Drop “Toxic” Ed Miliband’, Independent (9 November 2014); Marcus Dysch, ‘Huge Majority of British Jews Will Vote Tory, JC Poll Reveals’, Jewish Chronicle (7 April 2015); Robert Philpot, ‘How Ed Miliband Lost the Jewish Vote’, Spectator (18 April 2015); Ben Clements, ‘Religion and Voting at the 2015 General Election’, British Religion in Numbers (23 July 2015). Cf. Ben Clements, ‘Religious Affiliation and Party Choice at the 2017 General Election’, British Religion in Numbers (11 August 2017); Alan Maddison, ‘Labour’s Performance in the Top 10 Jewish Constituencies’, Political Sift (28 April 2018).

[28] Justin Schlosberg and Laura Laker—Media Reform Coalition, Labour, Antisemitism and the News: A Disinformation Paradigm (September 2018); Greg Philo et al., Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief (London: 2019).

[29] Jewish Labour Movement vice-chairs Sarah Sackman and Mike Katz, ‘Why the Board Was Wrong to Stereotype Our Party’, Jewish News (26 March 2016). Chuka Umunna MP similarly testified in October 2016 that ‘I have not seen one incident of antisemitism in almost 20 years of activism within my local Labour Party in Lambeth’. Chuka Umunna, ‘Clause IV Tells Us to Live in “Solidarity, Tolerance and Respect” but Labour Has Failed on Anti-Semitism’, LabourList (16 October 2016).

[30] Greg Philo and Mike Berry, ‘Believe It or Not’, in Greg Philo et al., Bad News for Labour, pp. 3-4.

[31] Sienna Rodgers, ‘Jennie Formby and Tom Watson Exchange Letters in Antisemitism Row’, LabourList (12 July 2019).

[32] Philo and Berry, ‘Believe It or Not’, p. 1.

[33] All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, Islamophobia Defined: The Inquiry into a Working Definition of Islamophobia / Anti-Muslim Hatred (London: November 2018), pp. 56-57.

[34] See, e.g., Chakrabarti, The Chakrabarti Inquiry, pp. 25-26.

[35] Nicholas Mairs, ‘Most Tory Members Believe Islam Is “A Threat to British Way of Life”, Poll Finds’, PoliticsHome (8 July 2019); Peter Oborne, ‘Boris Johnson Is Incapable of Dealing with Tory Islamophobia’, Middle East Eye (14 November 2019); ‘General Election 2019: Stourbridge Resignation over Islamophobia Claims’, BBC News (14 November 2019). Cf. Lizzie Dearden, ‘Islamophobic Incidents Rose 375% After Boris Johnson Compared Muslim Women to “Letterboxes”, Figures Show’, Independent (2 September 2019).

[36] Jacqueline Stevenson et al.—Social Mobility Commission, The Social Mobility Challenge Faced by Young Muslims (London: September 2017).

Comments (27)

  • Rita Craft says:

    I write this on the day that the Chief Rabbi smears the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn again – and hits the headlines.
    Is it that none of this detail of the true situation regarding antisemitism in Britain has ever been brought to the Rabbi’s attention?
    What are we to do in face of such blatant ignorance by an influential community figure?

  • The likes of BBC/ITV/Sky journalists ought to be briefed about this and other reports. Are they giving the context regarding the Chief Rabbi’s support for Johnson?

  • Rachel Sharp says:

    What I find shocking is that the excellent research in this article and the whole book by Greg Philo et al: Bad news for labour with its comprehensive research base has not been referred to by anyone on the BBC or the Guardian so far in their discussions of the Rabbi in the Times. The silence on alternative views just adds to the disinformation around.

  • John says:

    The real point is that all this muck raking is having the effect intended.
    On BBC tonight, Andrew Neil cited a rubbish poll conducted by Survation and paid for by the so-called and self-styled Jewish Leadership Council in which it claimed that 87 per cent of the entire UK Jewish community thought Jeremy Corbyn was an antisemite.
    You can see the contents of this shoddy poll at https://www.survation.com/new-polling-of-british-jews-shows-tensions-remain-strong-between-labour-and-the-british-jewish-community.
    I do blame Labour and Jeremy Corbyn for not taking this smear campaign seriously and taking every opportunity to rebut it.
    As Len McCluskey correctly pointed out, this bunch of Tory stooges will never take “Yes” for an answer.
    It was no accident that the Chief Rabbi timed his announcement on the same day that Labour issued its Race and Faith manifesto and on the day when Andrew Neil interviewed Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Steve Griffiths says:

    Absolutely spot on, about the most conclusive account I’ve ever read – and there’s loads of excellent material. And yes, it gets to a tiny audience. I’ve felt for a while now that there must be a strong specifically-focused movement to defend democracy – it hangs by a thread. JVL and those whose work they quote are quite frankly the foremost heroes of the defence, though the Corbyn-led movement is full of admirable activists. But it’s the media that make the destruction of democracy a viable prospect. There needs to be a grassroots movement that really goes for the media on a big scale – a kind of Coalition for Media Reform that reaches as far as the local Spar shop with its free Suns, and the Brexit areas in a way that does not patronise or alienate. The CMR is not equipped at the moment to do this; and it needs to be a movement without the constraints of a political party, perhaps loosely associated with Labour. A bit like the Anti-Nazi League, though the challenge is immeasurably greater. Can we do this please? Thank you so much JVL for all your work.

  • All of this is entirely impressive and unfortunately besides the point.

    The campaign we are seeing is not based on evidence nor is it rational or logical. It is an Establishment campaign based on ruling class/capitalist interests.

    If there were even an iota of truth behind the fake antisemitism campaign then we wouldn’t see the whole of the Tory press, to say nothing of the BBC and Andrew Neil etc. line up behind it.

    If antisemitism were really the name of the game then the Tories links with fascist parties in the European Parliament would long ago have made the news agenda.

    The real crisis is in the abysmal response of the Labour party, and that includes Corbyn to this attack. By accepting there was some truth in it Corbyn has made a rod for his own back.

    I am doubtful now whether anything can lay this campaign to rest apart from Labour’s defeat on December 12th, a defeat which is looking increasingly likely.

  • June McClinton says:

    A brilliant record, and one to keep. Thank you Jewish Voice for Labour.
    JC4PM NOW.

  • Chris Proffitt says:

    Another excellent article putting anti semitism in context. What really worries me is that the efforts to make anti semitism an issue particularly by the media may actually cause a backlash and give an excuse for hate crime to explode…a case of unintended consequences and a self fulfilling prophecy.
    Keep up the good work in putting this in context.

  • Norman says:

    Superb analysis. Facts have been the victim in this ongoing smear campaign, this will help put the issue in perspective.

  • ruby lescott says:

    Thank you so much for all this information. I’m not Jewish but it breaks my heart that we, and especially you, have to fight this, and may even lose the election because of it. I will try to spread this article as much as I can.

  • Terry Kelly says:

    Puts Andrew Neil’s attack on Corbyn in perspective. He has nothing to apologise for.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I don’t understand how an article like this can go through all that analysis without actually defining what it sees as antisemitism. It quotes Jennie Formby’s analysis and the far-right Campaign Against Antisemitism surveys without remarking that both of them include criticism of Israel within their definition of antisemitism, the former using the definition to suspend and expel pro-Palestine activists and the latter to smear the Labour Party and its members. This means that both their estimates of the “size of the problem” are likely to be several times too high.

  • Rob Pearson says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for clarifying the current debate.

  • James McGuire says:

    Thank you for this excellent article which is invaluable in drawing together the evidence in a very well organised and coherent way. The comments too are of great interest.

    I am responding to one of them, by Tony Greenstein. I agree that part of the reason for the growth of this set of myths was the acceptance by Jeremy Corbyn that there was some basis to it. But I’m writing to ask what else you suggest he could have done. A separate and compounding factor in this was the accusation from several members of the PLP concerning the rise of anti-Semitic abuse, blaming Corbyn for it, in their efforts to discredit him. When Chris Williamson said, in my opinion rightly, that Labour had been too apologetic about its process of responding to accusations, he was widely and repeatedly quoted as having said the party had been too apologetic about antisemitism.

    In such a context and climate of distortion, what could have been done to stop this escalating to its currently feverous pitch?

  • Bob Knowles says:

    Excellent article, but preaching to the choir.
    The current right-wing antisemitic slander of the Labour Party should have been stifled at birth ( i.e. when Jeremy Corbyn became leader) !
    But when even The Guardian publishes a letter (15/11/19) from such popular notables as John le Carré, Simon Callow, Joanna Lumley and others urging people not to vote Labour – and then, I’m reliably informed, refuses to publish a rejoinder from JVL signed by an equal number of distinguished academics and writers – we can see the scale of the misinformation rife in our politically naive country.
    I completely agree with Tony Greenstein that Jeremy Corbyn made a rod for his own (and his party’s) back by making what I presume he considered to be a reasonable concession about there being isolated cases of a/s in the Labour Party ( as in other parties too) and that he was determined to sort them.
    Mistake!
    I think Chris Williamson was right to oppose that concession, because the fear of and hostility towards a Corbyn-led government in a Johnson- infected UK, a Trumpean US and Netanyahu’s Israel are clearly relentless and cynical.
    I’ve been a Labour Party member and activist for nearly 50 years in the Midlands and London and – like most of us – have never come across antisemitism in the party.
    But the Corbyn cabinet made that drastically wrong first move – it conceded, and can now only repeat that concession to a deaf or sneering media.
    ( So can someone please remind me – what DOES Seamus Milne do for a living?)

  • Jeff Allison says:

    Thank you. I found this analysis extremely helpful. The article is a thoughtful corrective to the prevailing cacophony. I will be sending a link to those of my Jewish friends who seem to have taken leave of their senses of late.

  • Colin Dixon says:

    Thank you. As a non Jew with much to thank and admire in my many contacts with individual Jews and not to mention my boundless admiration for the vast contribution to humanity’s well-being emerging from within the wider international Jewish community over the centuries (just to mention the glaringly obvious such as Einstein, Freud, Marx and Trotsky as well as the multitude of doctors, writers, comedians etc etc), I have found the campaign against Corbyn and Labour disgusting sinister and dangerous to all of us including of course those who identify with the wider Jewish communities. I particularly condemn the hypocritical and cringe making position of the Guardian and Channel 4 and those individuals therein who have no excuse in ignorance or oppression for this conduct. They will bear some of the responsibility for the outcome of this election should as repeatedly self-fulfllingly predicted, Johnson and his fellow Tory left-overs win. I remain a severe and educated opponent of the state of Israel and condemn all those who use the great and harrowing history of the Jewish people to irresponsibly promote the interests of that situation. It is not easy but we must defend the right to examine and speak on all questions without being automatically accused of wishing any harm on those with whom we are in opposition. Salutations for this needed disciplined exposition.

  • Stewart Perkins says:

    Excellent stuff! The rabid vendetta against Chris Williamson for telling the truth sums up the hostility which Labour’s enemies adopted. It bears out what I’ve been saying and writing for some time, and proves the pressure that’s on Jeremy Corbyn to immediately deny any accusations of weakness or bad behaviour in the party. Lack of instant denial is regarded as proof of guilt! Jeremy Corbyn is a decent guy, whose instinct is to be fair and seek justice. Boris Johnson’s instinct to accusations is to lie, or to deny. I would still prefer my party to be led by someone with integrity, however, even though I will probably move to a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland should the appalling Johnson prove triumphant!

  • Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Thank you for this much-needed correction to the current weaponisation of the anti-semitism slur.
    I simply cannot cope with the scale of the disinformation that has been disseminated. I am not a Labour Party member but have found the literal demonisation (‘no witches in Salem’) of J Corbyn from right, centre, and left profoundly disturbing.
    There is a global need for a shift in our understanding and awareness to begin to acknowledge the responsibility of the ‘civilised’, or ‘developed’ world for, amongst other matters, the climate emergency, and the predominance of racism and racist discrimination (putting it mildly). We are the colonisers, the destroyers of peoples, cultures, species, the Earth. The current hysteria is part of the vicious determination of the 1% to hold on to its advantage in the face of the large-scale destruction we have wrought, and the climate emergency y now unfolding that will costume lives and livelihoods of billions before we are done.
    That’s what’s happening here, as the Right marshal their many resources against the possibility of the turning-point in history that may be triggered by a Labour Party victory.
    It frankly scares me rotten.

  • B. Dahl says:

    I have long been very distressed at allegations in the Guardian of Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitism and that of the Labour Party as an institution, because they seemed to me unjustified and libellous as well as seemingly unstoppable. So I am extremely glad and relieved to have read this elucidating article, to the existence of which I was alerted only by a letter on the Guardian letters page.

  • Alex Kuhnberg says:

    I am concerned about the Guardian’s commitment to freedom of speech, in particular the right of reply. Over the past few years, and increasingly during the run up to the election, the Guardian has published a number of articles on its website and in the print edition voicing a number of disgusting allegations against Labour and the Labour leader. Virtually none of these articles allowed for comment. Whenever I attempt to defend Labour and Corbyn below the line against the specific allegations voiced, my comments are deleted within minutes. It appears that the Guardian is operating an editorial policy which makes it impossible for its readers to attempt a refutation of these vile allegations, even during an election campaign. Moreover they refuse to allow any discussion of this policy below the line. This offends against natural justice and the duty of a newspaper to address objections to its conduct. I attempted to post a comment this morning making these points, and this was immediately deleted. There is a case to answer, and the Guardian refuses to address it.

  • Steven Bliss says:

    This is a well-argued article. Like many others, I think Corbyn has handled it badly by making continual small concessions (which, of course, are never enough). And, as others say, the weird thing is how even the Guardian and Observer have joined in on this (and, like other newspapers, they almost never publish any alternative views).
    The even more depressing thing is that it was the same, on a less blatant scale, fifty years ago – See ‘Publish it Not..’ by Mayhew and Adams.

  • Alan Newland says:

    I don’t think Corbyn goes to bed thinking that he hates Jews, but I do think he has a blind spot. There are two reasons why I think so: 1) the mural in Brick Lane was a classic anti-Jewish image and he defended it as ‘freedom of artistic expression’ and 2) that if such incidents had taken place with black and Asian people, he’d have jumped on them and thrown out the perpetrators.

  • Steve Sammut says:

    This is a brilliant, well researched study that shines great clarity on the accusation of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. The Labour Party is fore and foremost a party of social progress and hope, for its detractors to then form a cudgel that strikes at our very heart is a severe weapon that has without doubt wounded us and left us bruised and bloodied. Whilst there is so far no evidence that it has seriously jeopardised our electoral chances it has in its potential the same level of seriousness as the infamous Zinoviev letter. I believe like other writers here that (after the election) we need to go on the offensive and start challenging this insidious and very caustic attack. This report must be in the forefront of our counter-attack.

  • Alex Kuhnberg says:

    Further to the above comment, it now appears that any mention of JVL and its defence of Labour below the line at The Guardian website will be deleted within a few minutes. This kind of censorship during an election period is deeply troubling, particularly when the Guardian feels able to print evidence-free articles by Jonathan Freedland and Nick Cohen attacking Labour and Corbyn in the most offensive terms without affording Labour supporters any right of reply.

    Meanwhile Islamophobia in the Conservative Party flourishes virtually unchecked. If Johnson wins this election, the situation will become considerably worse.

  • Brendan Murphy says:

    I am 80 and have never voted anything but labour and intend to do the same this time because I have come to the conclusion that Antisemitism, which obviously exists in the party to some extent, has been exaggerated and weaponised as an antiCorbyn tactic. The ineptitude of the party to deal with the issue has not helped. Thank you for the work your website does. The struggle against Antisemitism must go on relentlessly but using it as a destabilising tactic will only make it worse, reducing it to a mere election strategy when it is a major issue of our day.

  • David Plank says:

    Dear Team Labour,

    Thank you for your email. I agree Party members are “amazing”. Why then are we let down once again by John McDonnell’s comments this morning on antisemitism. As with all alleged racist acts, they must be investigated thoroughly and the Party’s values enforced – and there clearly are some such acts. But the vast majority of members are not in any way antisemitic, as the Party’s own data shows, and the vile slurs and false claims made against us, as fully evidenced by Dr Alan Maddison, Bob Pitt and others e.g. in “Bad News for Labour” **, should not be countenanced. Nor should our standing up against Israel’s brutal and illegal treatment of the Palestinian people ++, be allowed to be equated with antisemitism, as many of our critics do.

    These allegations are in effect made against all members of the Labour Party, when, for example, we are accused of being institutionally antisemitic. That is a false and strongly resented claim – to which no apology should be made in my name – nor that of other Party members – as John McDonnell did this morning, and as other Shadow Cabinet members have done before. Many of those Party members are Jewish and also deeply resent being cast as antisemitic, and have their voice for Labour marginalized and silenced – witness the treatment of Jewish Voice for Labour. Many of them have talked and written about the Party being a safe space for them over decades, with no reduction in this safety since the Party’s membership expanded as a result of Jeremy’s deserved election as our Leader. Why then are we traduced by our own people in this way?

    Despite this lack of support from our leadership, I will continue to pull out all the stops, including contributing financially, for Labour – For the Many not the Few – of all races, creeds and beliefs.

    In solidarity

    David
    ** Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, The Party & Public Belief. Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller. Pluto Press, 2019
    ++ See, for example, the various reports of the United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteurs and Independent Commissions of Inquiry

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