The curious case of Jonathan Freedland

In the summer of 2019, there was a waning of the attacks on the Labour Party over alleged antisemitism. Not any longer…

Jonathan Freedland’s  lament on whether Jews could possibly vote for Jeremy Corbyn is reproduced in full, with running questions and comments by David Pavett for JVL.

It is followed by a selection of letters and comments relating to the article sent to the Guardian. The more critical they were, the less likely to see the light of day…

[Selection of letters updated 25th November.]

Many Jews want Boris Johnson out. But how can we vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, 9 Nov 2019, with a commentary by David Pavett

For most progressive-minded, remain-leaning folk, is it even a dilemma? I’m not sure. To them the logic must seem simple and straightforward: they want to eject a cruel and useless government and stop Brexit, and that means denying Boris Johnson a majority and replacing him with Jeremy Corbyn, who will end austerity and hold a second referendum. Job done.

I wish it were as simple as that for me. But it’s not.

Comment. In fact, it is that simple – unless, of course, you have become convinced that Jeremy Corbyn poses an “existential threat” to you. To that end Jonathan Freedland has penned, over the last four years, a series of articles on alleged Labour antisemitism in which the claims made about Corbyn and the Labour Party have become increasingly damning (see the list of articles at the end of this commentary). More generally, the sheer volume of hostile media material has had for many an overwhelming effect through constant repetition of the a relatively small number of accusations. Fortunately, it is now possible to navigate one’s way through this material with the help of detailed studies such as those in the book Bad News for Labour, Antisemitism, The Party, Public Belief, Verso 2019. It is noteworthy that in this and other studies The Guardian, for which Jonathan Freedland writes, does not come out well in terms of its concern for the facts and for giving reasonable space to considered criticism of its stance. It is interesting, too, that the Guardian has not reviewed or responded to this book nor to the Media Reform Coalition report Labour antisemitism and the news – a disinformation parable, in which the Guardian comes out badly.

Because while I want desperately to avoid Brexit, and while I have nothing but contempt for Johnson and his hard-right party, the prospect of Prime Minister Corbyn fills me with dread. Not, I stress, the prospect of a Labour government, committed to spending billions on schools, hospitals and houses – Britain needs that badly – but specifically the notion of Corbyn and his inner circle running the country. The thought of it prompts in me, and the overwhelming majority of the community I grew up in, a fear that we have not known before.

Comment. Jonathan Freedland has “contempt” for Boris Johnson but Jeremy Corbyn fills him “with dread”. In the many articles he has written attacking Corbyn, the Labour Party, left Labour members and the left in general he has developed the view that they all have a “deep problem” with antisemitism. In July of this year he wrote: “huge chunks of the egregious anti-Jewish racism spewed out in left circles and on social media has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine: it’s all bankers and Rothschilds, control of the media and Holocaust denial.”  Even though he recognises that Labour’s programme would provide things that “Britain needs badly” he nevertheless dreads the idea of “Corbyn and his inner circle running the country”. Why? We must read on.

I’m referring to Britain’s Jews who, for the first time in their history, have concluded that someone hostile to them is on the brink of taking democratic power. Yes, of course, not every single British Jew holds that view. But the most recent poll found that 87% regard Corbyn as an antisemite, meaning an anti-Jewish racist.

Why? The recitation is now wearily familiar. Recall that Corbyn’s first reaction on hearing of a plan to remove a mural filled with hideous caricatures of hook-nosed Jewish bankers was to ask, “Why?” Or that he decided to challenge two “Zionists” not on their arguments but by suggesting that, though they “might have lived in this country for a very long time”, they “don’t understand English irony”. Or that, when a Palestinian Islamist preacher was found by a British tribunal to have peddled the medieval and lethal myth of Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children, Corbyn declared that man a very “honoured citizen”, and invited him for tea in the House of Commons.

Comment. The cases referred to are merely the ‘greatest hits’. The full discography is rather longer. Freedland seems to say that Corbyn is “hostile” to Britain’s Jews. But note that rather than making a direct claim in his own name, he reports, instead, on what he believes that most British Jews think. Are they right to do so? That is not discussed. Reported opinions slide, in this way, into “fact”. He then goes through the often-repeated list: the mural of oppressive bankers; the comment about “English irony”; and finally, the praising of Raed Salah. Responses to the first two can be found on this (JVL) website. Corbyn’s answer to the third can be found here. In all three cases, the constant reporting relying on tendentious accounts and with no room for the arguments of those accused is what has become the stock-in-trade of the media avalanche of “Labour antisemitism” articles (see Bad News for Labour for details). Note also that three years ago Freedland said of Corbyn “No one accuses him of being an antisemite”. The three cases referred to above all pre-dated that comment. And the high figure of those who identify Corbyn as an antisemite sits oddly with the identification in the same poll of Jewish voters’ of fewer than 1 in 5 identifying antisemitism as their key concern.

For four years, Britain’s Jews have – naively, perhaps – waited for the moment when one of these revelations would prove too much for the Labour faithful, shocking them into action. Perhaps it would be the discovery that, despite evidence against hundreds of party members – including those trafficking in grotesque neo-Nazi imagery and Holocaust denial – only a handful have actually been expelled. Or maybe it would be the BBC Panorama investigation that showed how Corbyn’s team repeatedly interfered in antisemitism cases as they went through a supposedly independent disciplinary process, “mainly so they could let their mates off the charge”, as one whistleblower, driven to the brink of suicide, put it. Or perhaps it would be the fact that Labour has become only the second political party ever to be investigated for institutional racism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (the other was the BNP).

Comment. In this paragraph we are told of “evidence against hundreds of party members” but not where that evidence can be found nor in how many cases if it stood up to investigation. Those hundreds “included” those trafficking in grotesque neo-Nazi imagery and holocaust denial. Again, no source is provided, and we are given no idea what this “inclusion” amounts to in the “hundreds” of cases. Half of them? Ten percent? One percent? The claim can mean virtually anything. The only source referred to is the Panorama programme which, as is shown elsewhere on this website, ignored the most basic norms of fair reporting (details here, here, here, here, and here)

But no. No revelation has ever proved shocking enough that it couldn’t be explained away by those who’d rather not see it. So publicly Labour’s luminaries insist they are fighting a “ruthless” fight against antisemitism, doing all the Jewish community has asked of them, as John McDonnell said this week, even though the facts point the other way.

We’re meant to cheer that Chris Williamson has been barred from standing again as an MP. But Jews remember that, even when Williamson’s penchant for egregious Jew-baiting was well known, Corbyn was still praising him. Just a few months ago, in fact, Corbyn called him “a very good, very effective Labour MP. He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not antisemitic in any way.”

Comment. “Egregious Jew-baiting” is clearly an incitement to racial hatred and therefore illegal. As is the norm for these matters, no evidence is provided. Freedland, and the Editor of the Guardian, feel that it suffices to say that Williamson’s “egregious Jew-bating” is “well known”. We can all hope never to be tried in a court of law in which evidence is accepted on such a basis.

None of this has stopped. Labour’s crop of prospective parliamentary candidates has included several with a documented history of anti-Jewish bigotry, Twitter back-catalogues playing on all the familiar tunes of Jewish conspiracy, greed and the rest of it. Two candidates were forced to step down on Thursday, one for calling a Jewish fellow councillor “Shylock”. It suggests this is no longer a problem of one man, but that the malaise is now institutional.

Comment. “… several with a documented history of anti-Jewish bigotry”. You can make of “several” and “documented history” what you will. The rest of the paragraph offers no such documented history.. None of the three cases in the links provided offer any evidence of a “history of anti-Jewish bigotry”. One compared Israel to “an abused child who becomes an abusive adult”. Another accused the party’s right of “weaponising” complaints of antisemitism against the leadership. The same person had previously been required to apologise for saying she would celebrate the deaths of Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu. Hardly a documented history of anti-Jewish bigotry. The third case is that of that of a councillor who used the term “Shylock” in a council meeting. He apologised saying that he didn’t even know that Shylock was a Jewish character. He added “I grew up in a working-class area in Ilford where this was a common saying, but I didn’t know it was offensive. This was a genuine accident and I reiterate my sincere apology for this mistake,” he said. “If the education system had been better under Margaret Thatcher, I might have known.” He clearly shouldn’t have said it, but it hardly a case of sustained, documented anti-Jewish bigotry.

And yet Labour’s high command could soon be governing the country. Labour doesn’t even need to win many seats; Johnson needs only to fail to win a majority and Corbyn will be closing in on Downing Street. What should Jewish voters and those appalled by anti-Jewish racism do about that?

Plenty advise Jews to shelve their angst in return for a government that will stop Brexit (Jews are overwhelmingly pro-remain). In effect, Jews and their would-be allies are being told that some racism is, if not quite acceptable, then a price worth paying. That seems to have been the bargain struck with those Labour “moderates” who were once so admirably vocal in their denunciation of the leadership on this issue and who are now – minus Tom Watson – knocking on doors to put Corbyn in No 10: you’ve got your second referendum, now shut up about the Jews. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to be part of a small community that can be so quickly cast aside for the supposed greater good.

Comment. Here Jonathan Freeland accuses the Labour “moderates” of hanging up their principles and saying “you’ve got your second referendum, now shut up about the Jews”. In this he even Labour’s “centrists” or “moderates” are berated for not dancing to the anti-Corbyn tune. There must be precious few, if any, Party members, wherever they are located along its political spectrum, who have adopted such a view.

Progressives and remainers who care about racism are left with a dilemma. Some try to swerve around it by denying the evidence, telling Jews they are wrong about the racism they experience. That’s not a great look. Others (rightly) point out that Johnson is himself a bigot and an Islamophobe – as if we should accept that this is a contest of two racists and we should back the one we agree with more. Still others war-game assorted hung-parliament scenarios that might magically both despatch Johnson and deliver a non-Corbyn prime minister.

But all of this is to dodge the main point – which is that none of us should have ever been put in this position. None of us should be forced to choose between a hard Brexit enforced by an Islamophobe, and electing a man whose record fills one of Britain’s smallest minorities with fear.

Comment. Every child learns to shed fears of things that pose no threat. Adults too often have to relearn that lesson. Indeed, Jonathan Freedland argues elsewhere that many voters fear immigration but that they are wrong to do so. Fears, therefore, real or otherwise, cannot be the baseline for a political stance.

Many, Jews included, ask themselves how bad would it really be. What’s the worst that could happen? Of course this isn’t the 1930s and, despite the Sunday Telegraph’s front page, most Jews would not leave the country. But that the question is even in the air, that someone who sees Jews as not quite “us” – “they don’t understand English irony” – is deemed eligible to be prime minister, makes our presence here feel conditional and shaky. And, whether Corbyn makes it to Downing Street or not, to realise that the historic party of social justice in this country finds a little bit of racism acceptable for the sake of the larger cause, and that many millions of voters agree – well, that realisation contains its own heartbreak. It means that what we thought about this country wasn’t quite true.

Comment. Freedland suggestion that “the historic party of social justice in this country finds a little bit of racism acceptable for the sake of the larger cause” is a demeaning comment. Labour, unlike many other parties, has been clear and explicit in its opposition to all kinds of racism. ON antisemitism it says: “Antisemitism has no place in our Party. Hatred towards Jewish people has no place in our society.” The question is what to do about it. Labour knows we live in a world in which all kinds of racisms abound. It can’t be wished away in a moral froth of “zero tolerance”. People have to be challenged, educated, argued with. And Labour has produced a “short leaflet [that] aims to provide Labour members and supporters with some basic tools to understand antisemitism so we can defeat it.” It’s not enough, but it is a beginning

I understand that to many, all this will sound overwrought. I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst. We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.

Comment. For the reasons given in these comments it sounds not only overwrought but also detracts from a clear-headed judgement about which political party offers the hope of the changes that Britain needs so badly.

David Pavett, 19 November 2019

 


Jonathan Freedland’s account of Labour antisemitism – the evidence

It is worth following these links in these articles because often, they do remarkably little to back up his claims.

22 May 2015. Labour has to get over its Tony Blair problem . “Until Labour gets over its Tony Blair problem, it will remain out of power”

24 July 2015. The Corbyn tribe cares about identity, not power. “Corbyn clearly has no chance of winning. The enthusiasm of his young supporters is no more than virtue signalling devoid of any serious evaluation of what is possible.”

18 September 2015. Jeremy Corbyn has to represent all of Labour, not just himself. “Patriotism has always had a certain kind of leftist staring at his feet in embarrassment.”

29 September 2015. Corbyn’s conference speech helps Labour forget horror of election defeat. “Dreamily, he [Corbyn] imagined a world in which thousands would spend their time the way he has spent the last 30 years.”

30 September 2015. Seven final thoughts on the Labour party conference. “Jeremy Corbyn is described, even by his own chums on the left, as a slightly unworldly, often disorganised, occasionally naive figure.” (Probably the most positive thing Jonathan Freedland has ever written about Corbyn – DP)

27 November 2015. With each misstep, Jeremy Corbyn is handing Britain to the Tories. “In other words, they [The British people] despair of Corbyn not because they are on the right, as the leader’s chorus would have you believe, but because they remain on the left.”

18 March 2016. Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem. “… parts of the left were succumbing to views of Jews drenched in prejudice. … Some go further, alleging that Jews’ real purpose in raising the subject of antisemitism is to stifle criticism of Israel. … No one accuses him [Jeremy Corbyn] of being an antisemite. But many Jews do worry that his past instinct, when faced with potential allies whom he deemed sound on Palestine, was to overlook whatever nastiness they might have uttered about Jews …”.

28 April 2016. My plea to the left: treat Jews the same way you’d treat any other minority. “But what they [British Jews] hanker for is a left that treats Israel the way it treats any other country with such a record – as a flawed society, but not one that is a byword for evil, that is deemed a “disease” (as it was by a caller to a 2010 show on Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster, without objection from the host, Jeremy Corbyn) …”

13 July 2016. While Corbyn and his rivals wrestle for the wheel, Labour is sinking. “… Labour’s greatest, gravest problem – its disconnection from those millions of working-class Britons who voted leave in last month’s referendum. They could leave Labour forever, decamping to Ukip or worse. But next to no one is speaking about that existential threat at all.”

25 February 2017. Copeland shows Corbyn must go. But only Labour’s left can remove him. “The election experts are debating how best to describe the loss of Copeland, a seat Labour had held for 82 years. Was it the worst result for an opposition since 1945 – or since 1878?”

11 May 2017. The leaked Labour manifesto: our writers on how the policies stack up. “All the evidence suggests voters choose the party they see as a credible government, capable of putting its plans into practice. More specifically, what tends to determine a voter’s choice is not a party’s policies, but its leader and its perceived ability to run the economy.”

19 May 2017. British voters look like they’re rejecting Santa and embracing Scrooge. Why?  “So the [Labour] party always begins with a huge, historic credibility problem that it has to work triply hard to overcome. Corbyn didn’t create it – but there’s no hiding the fact that he, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott have made it much, much worse.”

31 May 2017. Corbyn’s fightback and May’s stumbles prove election campaigns still matter. “None of this may be enough to upend every prediction and carry Jeremy Corbyn to Downing Street. But if May is returned with a Commons presence far below the expectations of even a month ago, it will suggest that one more bit of conventional wisdom needs to be retired along with all the rest. It will prove that campaigns matter.” (A small slice of humble pie – DP)

10 June 2017. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules. “I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn. My principled objections [to Corbyn] have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. True, Labour lost this election, but the party gained seats and a 40% share of the vote. The notion of him winning a future election outright has, suddenly, become plausible.” (And another slice – DP)

27 September 2017. Labour’s denial of antisemitism in its ranks leaves the party in a dark place. “It means that a man such as Ken Loach – an artist so sensitive he is capable of making the film I, Daniel Blake – ends up lending a spurious legitimacy to Holocaust denial.” (Worth checking for its wilful distortion – DP.)

30 March 2018. Antisemitism matters: Jews are the canary in the coalmine. “It’s wrong to suggest their true purpose is thwarting the Corbyn project, as if the Jews who demonstrated in Westminster on Monday are pretending to be outraged by anti-Jewish racism when their real motive is stopping the renationalisation of the railways.”

27th July 2018. Yes, Jews are angry – because Labour hasn’t listened or shown any empathy. “… in an unprecedented shared front-page editorial published in three leading British Jewish newspapers, declaring that a Corbyn-led government would pose ‘an existential threat to Jewish life in this country’.”

15 August 2018. For Corbyn, precision and honesty are the way out of this wreath mess. “He was not an intermediary in either Israel/Palestine or Northern Ireland: if he had been, he would have been scrupulous about meeting all sides, which he never did …”

5 September 2018. Jewish concern over Corbyn is not all about Israel. It’s about antisemitism. “… Jewish communal organisations expressed their unhappiness with efforts to qualify the IHRA text, especially with the page-and-a-half document submitted by Jeremy Corbyn himself, which the NEC

27 February 2019. Labour doesn’t have zero tolerance of antisemitism if Chris Williamson is an MP. “Credit to Chris Williamson for originality. Not many have suggested that Labour’s chief problem with antisemitism within its ranks is that it has been too apologetic to the Jewish community …”

31 May 2019. Jeremy Corbyn is either blind to antisemitism – or he just doesn’t care. (On Hobson’s Imperialism. – DP)

12 July 2019. The roots of Labour’s antisemitism lie deep within the populist left. “Some try to say that any mass membership organisation will always reflect the wider society, and since Britain includes antisemites, so too will the Labour party. But that doesn’t wash. Britain includes a fair number of meat-eaters, but you wouldn’t expect to find any in the Vegetarian Society.”

25th October 2019. The question for Labour: why are you sticking with Jeremy Corbyn? “The diehards will say that to criticise Corbyn in this way is to side with the Tories against the poor and vulnerable. But the opposite is true. To stick with a path that makes five more years of Boris Johnson, and a hard Brexit, more likely is not to side with the poor and the vulnerable – it is to betray them.”

 


Letters etc

18 November

Mike Berry

@JomecMikeB

1/2 @guardian has published many articles on allegations of Labour antisemitism. But it will not discuss our study which gives detailed evidence on what actually occurred. It has refused  a comment piece, has not reviewed the book and last week declined to publish this letter [click to get a sharper image].

2/2 It cannot be acceptable that @guardian refuses to discuss academic evidence that finds serious flaws in media reporting, including its own, which have contributed to major public misunderstanding of this issue. Please retweet.


Letters re Jonathan Freedland, published and unpublished

Published letters

Putting fear of Corbyn’s Labour in perspective

Readers respond to a piece by Jonathan Freedland in which he asked how Jews can vote for the Labour leader

Letters

Mon 11 Nov 2019 17.24 GMT Last modified on Mon 11 Nov 2019 18.15 GMT

‘Jeremy Corbyn does not deserve to be a focus of fear. I cannot understand why he gets the blame for every misdeed in the party,’ says Ruth Tod. Photograph: PA

Jonathan Freedland is incorrect to depict our parliamentary elections as a presidential contest (Many Jews oppose Brexit, but how can we vote for Corbyn?, 9 November). Neither is he justified in assuming that Jews should be treated as a single homogeneous entity in considering which way to vote, despite his acknowledgement that views are not uniform.

The accusations against Jeremy Corbyn are well known. His long history as a defender of Palestinian rights has undoubtedly involved association with people with unacceptable views about Jews. But that does not make him antisemitic and, as he has stated, a line must be drawn when opposition to Israel’s government is based on antisemitic ideas or involves comparison with the Nazis.

Freedland might also have mentioned Corbyn’s long-term support for Jewish causes such as the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, condemnation of the persecution of Jews in Iran and Yemen, and terrorist attacks against Jewish schools and synagogues, as well as support for Jewish communal institutions in the UK.

Nevertheless, more must be done to reassure many in the Jewish community that their fears are taken seriously. Corbyn needs to take a clear lead in showing progress in the Labour party’s internal procedures, including no tolerance for antisemitic views among prospective candidates and providing regular aggregate reports on the outcome of disciplinary processes.

However, nothing justifies Freedland in invoking the spectre of the Holocaust as a deterrent to those who wish to oppose what he calls “a hard Brexit enforced by an Islamophobe”, not to mention more than nine years of austerity. It is to be hoped that he will reconsider embracing this dangerous form of identity politics.
Dr Anthony Isaacs
London

  • Whenever I read Jonathan Freedland writing about his fear of antisemitism, part of me wants to weep. My mother was a Jewish refugee who became a Quaker, so I became familiar with the Jewish practices of friends and family, as well as the open listening and acceptance of Quakers. The narratives we tell ourselves about the world, and our place in it, have a deep impact on our beliefs and actions. I have just re-read William Blake’s The Angel, in which the writer loses touch with her angel because she is afraid and so she arms herself with shields and spears to protect herself. She has lost the capacity to approach the world with love. When we teach ourselves to see hatred and suspicion in every corner, we will indeed see it everywhere. When we reach out in order to understand one another, we see each other’s hopes and fears, what guides and motivates us, what brings us grief and joy. However hard it may be, we all need to do this.

I hear antisemitic comments with horror and I am concerned that the policies of the far right will divide people even more. I long for a government whose policies will heal those divides. I think Jeremy Corbyn is aware of that need, and I am deeply sorry that many Jews do not believe him. He does not deserve to be a focus of fear. I cannot understand why he gets the blame for every misdeed in the party. He is not perfect, any more than the rest of us, yet he stands for the fairer, greener society that we are crying out for. Please, Jonathan, believe that a kinder world is possible and help to make it happen.
Ruth Tod
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

  • This article by Jonathan Freedland, a man whose journalism I generally admire, has disappointed me. He wheels out the old tropes in a most un-Guardian like way. To give one example: that Jeremy Corbyn consorts with terrorists. To truly seek peace in any situation, you have to talk to both sides in any conflict. Tony Blair succeeded by talking to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Not to have done so would have been remiss.

I am a secular Jew, all of whose Polish maternal family of origin perished in Auschwitz, and whose French paternal grandfather was picked up in Paris and died in Drancy holding camp. I too am perhaps oversensitive. To quote Freedland’s words: “I am afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst.” Despite that, I categorically refute that either Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour party are antisemitic. They are, like me, against the government and spirit of Netanyahu, and its imperialist (and internationally unlawful) actions in Palestine. A world of difference intentionally ignored by the smear press, and seemingly by Freedland as well.
Andy Stelman
Bishops Castle, Shropshire

  • Jonathan Freedland has no need to apologise for imagining the worst. After the previously unimaginable genocide suffered by European Jews in the last century, how could anyone expect a Jewish person, or indeed any person, to be free of fear again? All the more reason to be equally clear. It is preposterous and irresponsible to associate, as Freedland does, the prospect of a Corbyn government with the fates of those who “never made it out in time”.
    Jeff Wallace
    Cardiff
  • Thank you yet again, Jonathan Freedland, this time for explaining so clearly the dilemma Jewish voters face, which many of us had not properly understood before. Why can Corbyn not see that the only hope for the future of the Labour party is a promise from him now that following the election, which he cannot win outright, he will stand down? Is he really so insulated from reality that he cannot see the damage he is doing?
    Alison Watson
    London
  • Jonathan Freedland poses the dilemma for many Jewish remainers between voting for an antisemitic Labour leadership and a hard-Brexit Tory party. But I was surprised that he did not mention the obvious alternative. The Liberal Democrats are genuinely welcoming to all people and intolerant of all forms of racism, and they are committed to remaining in the EU, either by revoking article 50 if they should win, or supporting a people’s vote in cooperation with other parties. As many Jewish people tend to live in the same areas as each other, such as the three constituencies of the London borough of Barnet, a collective Jewish vote for the Lib Dems would be an effective and viable choice for electing MPs representing a party that has, at its heart, the interests of a large proportion of the population that includes Jewish remainers.
    Jackie Marks
    London

 


And here are a few letters submitted but not published

1. Naomi Wayne et al

A high percentage of Jews are said to believe that Corbyn is antisemitic.  Given the non-stop accusatory anecdotes said to ‘prove’ his and Labour’s rampant antisemitism, the wild distortion of his words and actions, and a whole slew of generalised and unverifiable assertions this is hardly surprising.

But many eminent Jewish commentators and scholars whose lives revolve around evidence collection reject this distorted picture. For years, these historians, political scientists, lawyers etc have investigated the facts behind received antisemitism narratives, such as Jonathan Freedland’s most recent account (Many Jews want Boris Johnson out. But how can we vote for Jeremy Corbyn?, 9 November). Their truckloads of countervailing material show that the bulk of this narrative is simply untrue, but sadly their efforts are largely ignored by the mainstream media.

No signatory to this letter doubts that antisemitism persists in Britain, and must be combatted. It’s just that we follow the evidence: that left antisemitism is less prevalent than the right variant, has never involved violence, was always low in Labour and has diminished further since Corbyn’s election.  We also check the accuracy of high profile allegations (the mural etc), discovering real and reported life to be miles apart. Crucially, we find not a shred of evidence that victorious Labour would persecute, disadvantage, hurt, oppress or delegitimise Jewish citizens.

The futures of the most vulnerable –  working poor; people living with disability, who are homeless or unemployed or young; disadvantaged ethnic groups; refugees – hang in the balance with this election. We believe, as even Freedland appears to acknowledge, that Labour becoming the largest party is the best bet for improving most people’s life chances.


2. Tony Greeenstein et al

Jonathan Freedland asks how can British Jews vote for Jeremy Corbyn? It is simple.  By rejecting the collection of half-truths that Freedland has peddled for the past four years. [Many Jews want Boris Johnson out. But how can we vote for Jeremy Corbyn? November 9th]

Freedland mentions the incident when Corbyn accused two Zionists of not understanding British irony. This was in the context of a Palestinian born speaker who did understand irony. Why was this anti-Semitic?

Likewise Freedland’s allegation that Raed Salah was a peddler of lethal and medieval myths. He ‘forgets’ to mention that the Upper Immigration Tribunal rejected Theresa May’s attempt to deport Salah on the basis of a poem that had been doctored to make it appear anti-semitic.

Did Freedland not read Salah’s article in the Guardian in which he stated ‘I reject any and every form of racism, including antisemitism.’ At no point did Salah speak of ‘Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children’. Nor is it true that Chris Williamson is a ‘Jew-baiter’.

Freedland refers to the 87% of Jews who consider Corbyn an anti-Semite.  Perhaps the reason for this, if true, is that they have been subject for the past 4 years to a non-stop barrage of lies and half-lies, of which Freedland’s article is a good example.

We will happily vote for the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn knowing full well that he has a long history of opposing all forms of racism, Zionism and anti-Semitism included.


3. Frank Land

I read today’s column by Jonathan Freedland with dismay (Many Jews oppose Brexit, but how can we vote for Corbyn, 9th November, Opinion). The column, underneath a photo showing placards howling for Corbyn to be held to account for his anti-Semitism, begs the question who should be held to account, Corbyn – or Freedland, for falling for the hype generated by a section of the Jewish community, including Labour MPs, who transform legitimate criticism of Israel actions into evidence of anti-Semitism.  But we, the descendants and victims of the holocaust, must be the most understanding of what it means to be oppressed, and confront oppression when we see it wherever it comes from.  I am surprised that Freedland, normally an astute and progressive analyst, should be prepared for a perpetuation of this Tory Government inimical to what I as a Jew hold dear, not based on evidence but on what often has turned out to be hearsay or even fake news.


4. Sabby Sagall

Jonathan Freedland’s article denouncing Jeremy Corbyn for alleged antisemitism is straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Corbyn has a record second to none of lifelong opposition to all forms of racism.  In 2016, Corbyn commissioned  the Chakrabarti report into  allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The report made clear that ‘the Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.’ Also in 2016, a cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into antisemitism in the UK concluded that ‘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.’

Last July, the website Skwawkbox published a list of Jeremy Corbyn’s 50 acts of solidarity with the Jewish community since 2000, from participating in events commemorating the Holocaust to condemnation of antisemitic acts to joining in calls on Facebook for more to be done to fight antisemitism.

Freedland refers to the allegation that in 2013 at the end of a meeting in the House of Commons addressed by the former Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian Corbyn criticised two Zionists for ‘lacking irony’.  According to a Guardian report in August 2018, the two Zionists were apparently silent during the meeting but then walked up to the ambassador and berated him.

There has undoubtedly been a rise in antisemitism in parts of Europe in recent years, including the UK, though not nearly on the same scale as Islamophobia. Corbyn has expressed his determination to eliminate every manifestation of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Corbyn has often been accused of antisemitism because of his support for Palestinian rights.  Sadly, his detractors mostly show not the slightest sign of empathy for the ever-worsening plight of the Palestinians. It is surely they who are the racists. To pin a false label of antisemitism is a dangerous diversion from and, therefore, weakens the fight against real antisemitism.


5. Professor (Emerita) Marion Roberts

So, Jonathan Friedland is ‘wearily familiar’ of reciting the tally of exaggerations, biased accounts, near falsehoods and misleading anecdotes peddled about Labour and antisemitism https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/09/jews-brexit-boris-johnson-jeremy-corbyn). I’m weary of writing letters and complaints about them. So, to save space here, please read the meticulously researched piece of academic research accessibly contained within the book Bad News for Labour: antisemitism, the Party and public belief (Pluto Press) which explains why some Jews are needlessly fearful of a Corbyn-led Labour government. The term some Jews is used advisedly here, as there are hundreds of Jewish Labour members and dozens of rabbis from liberal to strictly-Orthodox who are on record as supporting Jeremy Corbyn and his efforts to eradicate any antisemitism from the Labour movement.


6. Sarah Perrigo

I am not surprised that many Jewish people are terrified at the prospect of a Corbyn led government. They have been bombarded incessantly from across the mainstream media (including the Guardian) with a single simple narrative: Corbyn is an antisemite and the Labour Party is institutionally antisimetic. Freedlands article feeds into this narrative asserting as ‘fact’ accusations that are highly contested and where critical/reflective voices are silenced, suppressed or ignored.

The Guardian quite rightly prides itself of telling truth to power; for its commitment to investigative journalism and for exposing lies, distortions and abuses of power. Yet on this issue the Guardian has consistently failed either to investigate the allegations and examine the hard empirical evidence. (because a majority believe x does not make it true!), or to acknowledge and engage with other voices that contest the dominant narrative,.

On critically scrutinising  the media reporting of this issue why has the Guardian failed to review or engage with the criticisms made in the recent book by Greg Philo and others Bad News for Labour: antisemitism, the party and public belief, which exposes the blatant bias and falsehoods perpetuated in mainstream media reporting.

Why too have you failed to ask crucial questions as to who benefits and who loses in perpetuating a single narrative, and ignoring and discrediting those with a different perspective? As important is your failure to acknowledge there are other perspectives, other voices worthy of serious consideration. British Jews of distinction in the legal field, in academia etc who are critical of the dominant narratives such as Stephen Sedley, Brian Klug and Michael Rosen are rarely mentioned and their arguments dismissed as not worth debating, as are the views of members of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JJP) and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). Whilst you give attention to reports of abuse of Jewish members of the Labour Party you never mention the abuse both verbal and physical that members of JJP and now of JVL receive on a regular basis for articulating a different perspective.

The most corrosive effect of all of this has been to silence dissent and close down any real debate. The effect has not just been to instill a grossly unjustified climate of fear in British Jews in the Labour Party but to create a real fear amongst  all of us, Jewish and non-Jewish, who wish to contest and debate these allegations. The result is a silencing of many Labour party members like me who are terrified in case we are accused  of antisemitism. At present there is no space for any debate on the important issues of antisemitism, what it is and what it is not, and how prevalent it is in the Labour party _ and elsewhere. In  in my view the Guardian and some of its regular reporters and commentators like Jonathan Freedland are responsible for this reprehensible state of affairs. To borow from Zola: J’accuse!


7. John Lipetz

Jonathon Freedland’s article on 9th November states that antisemitism exists in the Labour party because of Jeremy Corbyn. However, he provides no hard evidence.

I’m not a Corbynista yet his record fighting all forms of racism, including antisemitism, is outstanding. Freedland refers to a few cases of lack of judgment by Corbyn on this matter. The evidence of antisemitism in the Labour party lies at less than 0.01%

He refers to the fact that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is examining the Labour party which has not yet reported. For balance the E&HRC should be examining the Conservative party for its racism, particularly Islamophobia. Boris Johnson’s behaviour is far more serious calling Moslem women wearing the hijab like ‘letter boxes’ and calls black people ‘picanninies’.

Jews are a wide group of people who have different views on many issues. I take a different approach to Freedland. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is far too loose and does not allow for free speech. It should be simply manifested as prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews as Jews. For example, I am hugely critical of the Government of Israel and its appalling treatment of the Palestinians in the same way as I criticise the Myanmar government and its treatment of the Rohingya people. This is not in any way antisemitic.

As a Labour member for just short of 60 years I have never experienced antisemitism in any form. The evidence is that racism including antisemitism is mostly a rightwing issue.

Corbyn has been strongly attacked by the media and press simply because of his clear leftwing views. The issue in the election really should be based on the manifestos of the parties and on Brexit or remain: not undermining the Labour party as has been done by the leading rabbis and the Jewish Chronicle.


 

Comments (3)

  • different frank says:

    Norman Finkelstein refused to shake this presstitute’s hand.
    “We appeared on a television program together. Before the program, he approached me to shake my hand. When I refused, he reacted in stunned silence. Why wouldn’t I shake his hand? He couldn’t comprehend it. It tells you something about these dull-witted creeps. The smears, the slanders – for them, it’s all in a day’s work. Why should anyone get agitated? Later, on the program, it was pointed out that the Guardian, where he worked, had serialised The Holocaust Industry across two issues. He was asked by the presenter, if my book was the equivalent of Mein Kampf, would he resign from the paper? Of course not. ”
    Norman Finkelstein 2016

  • Huw Spanner says:

    “What’s the worst that could happen?” asks Freedland, and tellingly doesn’t even attempt an answer. Can he identify one Labour policy or even aspiration that threatens the welfare of Britain’s Jews? We don’t know, because he never tells us.

    By contrast, “the worst that could happen” to Britain’s Romani community — similar in number to Britain’s Jews, and like them marked by communal memories of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” — at the hands of the Conservatives has been recently pointed out in the Guardian by George Monbiot: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/13/priti-patel-demonisation-gypsies-prejudice-bigotry “I asked a traditional Traveller how Patel’s legislation would affect her,” Monbiot writes. “Understandably, she is terrified.”

    Faced with an effectual choice between government by one party that reportedly fills his community with vague and unsubstantiated fears and another party that is actually proposing to persecute Britain’s Roma (Monbiot talks of “demonisation”, “legislative cleansing” and “performative oppression”), Freedland appears to prefer the latter. That sounds like racism in my book.

  • Roshan Pedder says:

    This is the letter I wrote to the Guardian and which did not get published.

    Jonathan Freedland’s tried and tested smearing of Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite came as no surprise (Many Jews oppose Brexit, but how can we vote for Corbyn? 09-11-19). But even by his now well known anti Corbyn rants it was a shock to read the last paragraph where he insinuates none too subtly that British Jews who do not heed the dangers of a Corbyn led Labour government could possibly face a fate similar to the horrors of the Holocaust if his warnings were not heeded.

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