The EHRC, the Labour Party and the IHRA – some more submissions

We are pleased to publish two more personal submissions made by Jewish members of the Labour Party to the EHRC Inquiry – Prof Miriam David and Prof Rosalind Edwards.

Rosalind Edwards writes:

29 July 2019

I am making a submission to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into the alleged institutionalised anti-semitism of the Labour Party, to be considered as evidence as part of your investigation.

I am Jewish. I was welcomed (back) into and am a member of the Labour Party since four years ago. I was not and never have been asked to identify myself officially as Jewish on joining the Party or subsequently – there is no institutionalised means of discriminating again me and other Jewish members of the Party. But I am proud to be Jewish and locally my comrades are aware that I am.

I am the elected secretary of the Preston Park branch (where the elected Chair is also Jewish) and have been for the past three years. I am also an elected branch delegate to the Pavilion Constituency Labour Party General Committee, and a member of the CLP Executive Committee. I have never experienced any question about my being Jewish in standing for and being elected to these positions. No Party member or element of the Party structure has questioned my fitness to hold these posts because I am Jewish, or for any other reason. The branch and Constituency Party officer positions and organisational structures are core elements of the machinery of the Labour Party. There is no institutional anti-semitism embedded in the Party machinery of election of officer post-holders. No unlawful acts of discrimination have been committed by the Party or its employees or agents in this respect.

The branch and the constituency of which I am a member and an elected officer are large. There are well over 500 members in the branch and well over 2500 in the Constituency. In all the time that I have been in the Party I have not experienced any direct anti-semitism, nor seen it directed at any of my Jewish comrades. Given the existence of anti-semitism in society as a whole, this is not to claim that anti-semitism does not exist within the Labour Party. But crucially, if anti-semitism was institutionalised and rampant, given the size of my branch and Constituency, I surely would have experienced myself, either directly or indirectly.

In previous years I have proposed and spoken to motions at my branch that were passed and then went to the Constituency General Committee and were passed – motions in support of Jewish and minority ethnicity comrades throughout the Party, and urging speedy implementation of the transparent and fair structures and graduations of appropriate sanctions recommended in the Chakrabarti Report. That these motions were supported and passed is further evidence that the Party is not institutionally and rampantly anti-semitic or racist. With the election of the new General Secretary, Jennie Formby, the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report are being implemented in a committed way, again underlining that the Party is not institutionally and rampantly anti-semitic or racist.

As well as being Jewish, I am British. Britain is my home. I do not consider Israel to be my homeland. I consider that any organisations outside the Party, or members within it, wanting to impose Israel as a homeland on me because I am Jewish to be outrageous. If Party policy, officially or in practice, held me or other Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli state just because we are Jewish that would be institutionally anti-semitic. This is not the case. The Labour Party is not institutionally anti-semitic.

Yours faithfully
Rosalind Edwards

Brighton Pavillion CLP
Party Membership No. A494520


Miriam David writes:

30 July 2019

Summary

  • I write in a personal and professional capacity as a Jewish feminist member of the Labour Party. I elaborate these first.
  • I then address and draw conclusions about your terms of reference on the investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party and whether:
    • the Labour Party has been behaving unlawfully in discriminating against Jewish members on grounds of religion and/or
    • has been slow and ineffective in its processes of dealing with antisemitism as identified.

 

  1. First, I come from a strong Jewish and socialist-Zionist background.
    • My father came to the UK as a German Jewish refugee in 1936, and, with the help of my mother’s family who had come here to escape the Russian pogroms, provided the financial guarantees that the British government deemed necessary to help my German Jewish great grandmother, grandparents, great aunt and uncle (my father’s brother) come to live in the UK in July 1939. I therefore have a ‘second generation’ background: this may have led to some ‘transgenerational trauma’ and subsequent ‘intergenerational trauma’.
    • I was born at the end of World War II and brought up in Keighley, West Yorkshire where there were no other Jewish families as far as we were aware. Nevertheless, I had a strong Jewish education within the confines of my family of the so-called United Synagogue variety including the necessity of informed debate and argument. I also learnt both classical and modern Hebrew as part of this Zionist education.
    • Later, I also had a socialist Zionist education through Habonim, an international Jewish youth movement, which inculcated the desire to live on a kibbutz. Indeed, I went to visit Israel in 1963 with Habonim, and in 1967 as a volunteer to a kibbutz after the Six Day War in June 1967 for 4 months. I found that a more difficult experience than I had anticipated with conflicting loyalties to being Jewish and socialist Zionist expressions of that. I returned to the UK more critical and sceptical than before and began a lengthy process of intellectual and political change around my intersectional identities.
    • My first marriage was to a survivor of the Holocaust from Hungary whose upbringing was strictly orthodox, and linked, through his cousin, to the Satmar, a Chassidic sect. He was both first and second generation. When we moved from Bristol to London, we sent our children to North West London Jewish Day School, a local authority voluntary aided primary school in Brent.
    • I mention all of this to demonstrate my knowledge and experiences of a variety of Jewish religious and secular, including Zionist, issues that are not all in agreement: they lead to major political debates and angry arguments. They are not always comfortable or even safe spaces even within the confines of the family or the so-called Jewish community. Indeed, this may be where they are most highly-charged, leading to insensitivity and toxicity in public.
    • Examples of the ways these are now played out in a less toxic and more sensitive manner are in the internationally acclaimed Israeli TV series Shtisel made in 2013 and now broadcast on Netflix. It is about an orthodox Chassidic family who live in Jerusalem but do not accept the State of Israel as Zion.
    • Nevertheless, I think there is broad agreement on a definition of antisemitism which has been best summarised by Dr Brian Klug as ‘if [a] text projects the [negative stereotype] figure of “the Jew” [—sinister, cunning, parasitic, money-grubbing, mysteriously powerful, and so on—] directly or indirectly (a) onto Israel for the reason that Israel is a Jewish state, or (b) onto Zionism for the reason that Zionism is a Jewish movement, or (c) onto Jews, individually or collectively, in association with either  (a) or (b), then that text is antisemitic.’
    • Another definition that picks up on public and social policy matters is ‘antisemitism is a form of racism. It consists in prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews as Jews. It may take the form of denial of rights; direct, indirect or institutional discrimination; prejudiced-based behaviour; verbal or written statements; or violence. Such manifestations draw upon stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share’.
    • I was a founder member, in 2002, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) and its first treasurer, and subsequently a trustee of the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST) from 2015-2013.
    • Finally, I wish to mention that I, along with other members of my family, decided to obtain certificates of naturalization and German passports in light of Germany’s espoused new commitment to making amends for its antisemitism of the Nazi era of the 1930s and 1940s. It was, though, a limited and sexist process since it was only children of German Jewish men who were entitled to apply. I obtained a ‘certificate of naturalization’ in February 2017 and my passport in August 2017. I see this as moving forward from the brutality and violence of antisemitism and its physically and psychologically damaging effects. The aim is to build a more cosmopolitan and socially or liberally democratic society across Europe for future generations. It is also part of the process of allowing for learning from past mistakes.
  1. Second, I am a professional educator and social policy expert. I have been an academic for over 50 years and a professor in the social sciences for 30 years.
    • As such I have been recognised in Who’s Who for 10 years.
    • My professional expertise is in developing feminist-socialist analysis and understanding of the social structural factors affecting the ability to achieve age, class, disabilities, diversity, ethnicity and/or race, gender and sexualities equalities.
    • Inevitably this has meant a close association with and reading of Labour Party socio-economic, political and education policy initiatives throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century. This culminated in first the Labour Party’s major Equality Act, 2006, which was further consolidated and refined into the Equality Act, 2010.
    • My initial involvement with equal opportunities and sex discrimination policies began with the Labour Government’s Equal Pay Act, 1970 and Sex Discrimination Act 1975, creating the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). I wrote an important critique with Hilary Land entitled ‘Sex and Social Policy’ for a Fabian Society collection The Future of the Welfare State: Remaking Social Policy (ed., Howard Glennerster, Heinemann, 1983). Together with Madeleine Arnot and Gaby Weiner, we obtained a competitive research grant from the EOC, which was subsequently published as Educational Reforms and Gender Equality in Schools in 1996 as part of the EOC’s research discussion series.
    • Since then we have continued to explore, educate and publish about the opportunities and obstacles to implementing equalities and the complex range of interlocking factors affecting forms of discrimination. This has included the ways the equalities legislation has been developed to include age, class, disabilities, gender, race, religion, sexualities and human rights, especially the public sector duties developed in the second decade of the 21st century through equalities legislation.
    • The global economic and socio-political changes towards corporatisation, marketisation and overarching neoliberalism, have led to transformations in how education and social policies are approached and implemented. The Labour Party, especially under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, now has more in common with ‘the bipartisan political consensus’ about social policies and social democracy of post-war era to the 1970s than subsequent Labour administrations of the late 1990s and into the 21st This is despite the two Equality Acts of 2006 and 2009.
  1. Third, I first joined the Labour Party in 1975, when I was living in Bristol, and continued as a member for about 20 years. I joined the Labour Party again in 2013 in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency of Islington North and became more active with many other new Jewish members of the party. In 2017, I moved to Highgate, and became a member of Hornsey and Wood Green CLP.
    • In 2016, I had not experienced any antisemitism within the Labour party, and certainly not within my branch of St George’s. Indeed, it was a very convivial and supportive group of old friends and colleagues, many of whom I became re-acquainted with. More broadly, many of my old Jewish friends were becoming active within the Labour party and Momentum. On this basis, I submitted evidence to the Chakrabarti inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party. I argued strongly for an educational approach to questions of dealing with antisemitism and other forms of racism, and/or questions of religious discrimination.
    • The Chakrabarti report, published in July 2016, contained many key principles with which I agree and many of its recommendations that have not yet been fully implemented. For example, it argued for using education “to replace the paranoid and toxic atmosphere that was felt at times in the party with an atmosphere “for learning, positive consensus and progressive change” where members “discussed and debated difficult issues and differences, in an atmosphere of civility and a discourse of mutual respect”. It also argued that “It should also be possible (in the interests of proportionality) for some concerns to be addressed informally without the need (at least initially) to set in train a formal investigation. Some members may have used inappropriate language in complete ignorance of its potential harm. An informal discussion may create an opportunity for resolution and learning in such circumstances.” But “expulsion may no doubt be necessary in some cases of gross, repeated or unrepentant unacceptable behaviour.” It concluded, however, that “The Labour Party should seek to uphold the strongest principles of natural justice…it is important to remember that the beginning of an investigation into alleged misconduct is just that. The making of a complaint marks the beginning, not the end, of a hopefully fair process that might end in a warning, admonishment, some further sanction up to and including expulsion from the Party, or exoneration and no further action whatsoever.” Finally, it urged party disciplinary bodies “to consider greater use of a wide and creative range of sanctions. These may include a warning, the requirement for apologies and/or some other form of sensitive reparation to another member or person or persons, a public warning or reprimand”. In the long-term interests of learning as a key principle, Chakrabarti said that “I do not recommend lifetime bans from the Labour Party. Present or future members of the NEC should not be robbed of their discretion to consider how someone may have changed their attitude”. In my view these remain wise and politically important views that would build upon a notion that puts learning and education at its heart.
    • During my long and varied career, associated with the Labour Party and trade union or radical movements, I have been involved with trying to develop a more nuanced understanding of forms of sexism and racism, and trying to counter them through anti-racist and anti-sexist strategies. These have included questions of antisemitism as a form of racism and possible religious discrimination. For example, Gail Chester (an independent scholar and writer) and I gave a feminist paper at an international conference on Antisemitism and Zionism at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck College, University of London in May 2017. We explored the political debates amongst Jewish and non-Jewish feminists over the previous 30 years and how these have continued to play out in various radical fora and magazines such as Spare Rib and Feminist Review.
    • On 28 August 2018, we followed up our concerns as Jewish feminists about the publicity being afforded the so-called ongoing ‘antisemitism crisis’ in the Labour Party with a letter to four key Jewish women Labour MPs involved. We chose only women given our feminist critique and the fact that we assumed a shared understanding of issues to do with sexism and equal opportunities. The 4 women MPs we wrote to were Ms Luciana Berger, Dames Louise Ellman and Margaret Hodge and Ms Ruth Smeeth. Specifically, we mentioned our concern with the approach they had adopted recently and what appeared to be the constant, exaggerated, attention given to antisemitism in the Labour Party (which is not to say there is none). We felt that the way that antisemitism was being used in their campaign meant that the significance of real antisemitism was devalued. We argued that these activities were (and are) at the expense of Labour being able to highlight Tory policies which are impacting seriously on the lives of women, people with disabilities, people in poverty, and all disadvantaged members of society. We feared that their emphasis on antisemitism at the expense of other forms of racism and sexism had clear implications for the interests of all women, and the social welfare polices we believed Labour would implement. We asked them the following three simple questions to which we received neither acknowledgement nor a reply:
  1. Would you rather see the return of another Tory government than have Jeremy Corbyn lead a new Labour government?
  2. Do you believe that the concerted campaign using antisemitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn will have outcomes that are better for Jews than if there were no such campaign?
  3. Why are you not focusing attention on exposing antisemitism in the Tory party, with whom the Jewish establishment is largely associated, and also other parties of the right?

3.5       Clearly, our assumptions about a shared understanding of issues to do with sexism and equal opportunities turned out to be unfounded: there is not even agreement amongst Jewish women let alone Jewish people within the Labour party about the balance between concerns about the whole range of equal opportunities, that have over the years been included in various redefinitions of the Equalities legislation. As noted above, this legislation addressed initially sex discrimination and separately race discrimination through the linked Race Relations Act 1976. Over the next 35 years, strategies to deal with anti-sexism and anti-racism, morphed into dealing with more complex questions of direct and indirect discrimination, and defining more carefully questions of sex, gender and sexualities, and the broader questions of violence against women and girls (VAWG). This culminated in the Labour Party, when in Government, bringing in major revisions and consolidations of the various Equalities legislation into first the Equality Act, 2006, followed by the Equality Act, 2010.  The Equality Act 2006 includes age; disability; gender; proposed, commenced or completed gender reassignment; race; religion or belief and sexual orientation. It is here that antisemitism can be included as anti-Jewish discrimination in terms of Equality Act, 2006 (s.34).

3.6       Further evidence of our lack of shared understanding may be found in the report that the newly appointed General Secretary to the Labour Party, Jennie Formby, produced in March 2019. She was appointed by the Labour Party’s NEC in May 2018 to replace Iain McNicol. She was appointed to implement the Chakrabarti report and thereby to develop, with the NEC, a rigorous code of conduct on antisemitism. Again, Brian Klug’s commentary on the Labour Party’s Code of Conduct for Antisemitism entitled ‘A tale of two texts’ is most helpful. He uses Jewish arguments to develop a critique of the debates but ultimately does not see the NEC’s new code as antisemitic.

3.7       Jennie Formby reported in March 2019 that over the last 10 months that there were 1,106 referrals of antisemitism allegations, of which 433 had nothing to do with Labour party members, leaving 633 to be investigated. 220 were dismissed for lack of evidence, leaving 453 cases. 96 of these resulted in suspensions and there were 12 expulsions. This is an 0.08% of party membership incidence which cannot be called a ‘rampant problem’.

3.8       In July 2019, the Labour Party developed a new website on dealing with antisemitism and published a pamphlet entitled No Place for Antisemitism. This is a welcome further development and illustrative of the continuing attempts of Jeremy Corbyn to listen respectfully and sensitively to all concerned parties.

 

4. In conclusion, my experiences of the antisemitism debates within the Labour party in the 21st century and particularly since Jeremy Corbyn came to power, are not as various media, including the BBC, would have it. It is through the constant media attention to the Labour Party that the issues have become highly charged and toxic. They are not evidence of ‘an antisemitism crisis’ within the Labour Party.

    • I have found no evidence that the Labour Party has been behaving unlawfully on grounds of religious discrimination as antisemitism. Indeed, it is non-Jews that have made many of the allegations about antisemitism in the Labour Party: they display a deeply flawed understanding of Judaism.
    • There is also no evidence that the Labour party has been slow to deal with these questions. The problem has been in developing a shared understanding of what the issues are to do with and how the form of antisemitism identified is to be dealt with in terms of balancing intersecting or competing forms of discrimination.
    • Baroness Shami Chakrabarti’s excellent report, 2016, on antisemitism still has to be respected and fully implemented. The respect and sensitivity she argued for must be addressed by all members of the Labour party, especially those with ready access to the media and the BBC.
    • I conclude, however, that this ongoing and manufactured crisis is particularly politically and social psychologically damaging for Jews and may well lead to a rise in real antisemitism.
    • I deeply regret the many personal and public attacks on Jeremy Corbyn for which there is no evidence. Indeed, I would argue that the concept of leadership deployed by those who level the attacks is itself a form of toxic masculinity.
    • I personally find the level of public hysteria and BBC reportage insensitive and disrespectful to the concerns of ordinary Jewish men and women. It has reawakened both transgenerational and intergenerational trauma. The issue has become so highly-charged and toxic that it is difficult to identify a careful and respectful consideration of these highly sensitive matters.

Professor Emerita Miriam E David, University College London Institute of Education

Haringey and Wood Green CLP
Party Membership No A031337

                                

Comments (7)

  • Two really good letters from two very .knowledgable people from within the labour party . I would urge members to read both of these letters because they contain valuable information by people who are clearly experts in their own field and who explain everything in detail that we can all understand
    Thank you to you both.

  • Daniel Vulliamy says:

    The three brilliantly phrased questions to the four (present or former) Labour MPs are wonderful, and the total lack of response absolutely devastating. My far clumsier attempts to engage them achieved the same noisy silence. Huge thanks to Miriam David and colleagues.

  • Nick Jenkins says:

    Thank you so much for publishing these submissions. It is heartening and reassuring to see the current “crisis” addressed with such rigour – and to read the accounts of these women’s personal experiences.

  • Tiger Dawkins says:

    So very interesting and thanks for writing these 🙂

  • Irena Fick says:

    Says it all.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    Thankyou.
    Shgould be in every daily paper .

  • Jennifer Joy-Matthews says:

    Thank you so much for writing these 2 accounts of your experience as Jewish women in the Labour Party. They are insightful, thoughtful and persuasive.

Comments are now closed.