There is no sound evidence to back the claims of Labour’s antisemitism

Prof Harvey Goldstein. Photo: https://harveygoldstein.co.uk/

JVL Introduction

Respected academic Harvey Goldstein is Professor of Social Statistics, University of Bristol, and Professor of Statistics, University College London, writes about antisemitism on his blog, reproduced here with his permission:

Of the allegations that Labour is a potential ‘existential threat’ to the UK Jewish community, and suffers from ‘the scourge of antisemitism’ and ‘institutional racism’ he says: “Remarkably, or perhaps not so remarkably, there happens to be little sound evidence to back any of these claims.”


Where is the Antisemitism?

Harvey Goldstein, Bristol
20 February 2019


The current pitiful state of mainstream political debate within the UK is hardly news – one has to look no further than the machinations over Brexit to realise that sad fact. Yet, rivalling even that debacle, is the way in which various politicians and interested parties have sought to utilise allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party, and the ways in which almost all of the mainstream media have involved themselves. Especially depressing is the way in which an internationally increasingly important issue has become mired in muddled thinking.

At the time of writing, (February 2019) some eight Labour MPs have decided to quit Labour with claims that the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has presided over a culture of antisemitism in the party. They are simply the latest voices among many since Spring 2018 who have claimed extensive antisemitism within Labour, even as the Jewish Chronicle has suggested, saying that Corbyn presents a potential ‘existential threat’ to the UK Jewish community.  In Summer 2018 the main attack on Labour centered on its refusal to adopt a definition and explication of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA), preferring to use its own modification that was not only more nuanced but most importantly was explicit that antisemitism should not be conflated with legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government in its treatment of Palestinians and its policies concerning its occupied territories; an issue that the IHRA examples appeared to fudge.  After initially maintaining its stance, sadly the National Executive Committee of the Party gave in and agreed to adopt the IHRA definition, with the apparent support of Corbyn, albeit with the caveat that they would still retain the right to be critical of the Israeli Government. Needless to say, many of those who were alleging Labour antisemitism continued to press their claims, with some of the eight MPs referring to ‘the scourge of antisemitism’ and ‘institutional racism’.

Remarkably, or perhaps not so remarkably, there happens to be little sound evidence to back any of these claims. Despite some limited polling evidence (see for example https://yougov.co.uk/opi/search/?q=antisemitism) that antisemitism is in fact rather more prevalent among conservative supporters than Labour ones, there has been almost no attempt within the media to make this rather obvious point. It must also be said that even that part of the media that regards itself as principled and ‘liberal’ such as the Guardian newspaper fares badly by presenting a heavily biased view in both its news stories and opinion pieces, and the BBC is certainly no better and has not sought to present any real balance or indeed check any relevant facts.

The demeaning effect on rational democratic debate is obvious, but it does not have to be like this. Thus, if the Labour Party wishes to make a sensible response , instead of effectively accepting that they have antisemitism and protesting that they are doing all they can to deal with it (which may actually be true) they should seriously consider employing an independent polling agency to survey their members with a suitable questionnaire designed to elicit the real extent of anti-semitic and other racist attitudes – such instruments do exist. Other parties could usefully follow suit and if they didn’t could be fairly accused of cowardice. This would I believe help to properly contextualise the debate but also illustrate that there are better ways to conduct politics.

And a final note about Corbyn. When he was elected it was an important moment that inspired many to support his project with a welcome change within the Labour party that presaged an opposition that did pose a set of important alternatives to the previous neo-liberal consensus. Leaving aside Brexit, Corbyn has hardly covered himself with glory over the antisemitism episode. He has made a series of apologies for certain inept remarks in the past, and attempted to meet his critics, but has singularly failed to take a robust stand on the issue. It is clear that antisemitism has been used as a weapon against him personally, by his enemies, yet he has not had the courage to say so, preferring it seems to try and placate his critics. This policy was always likely to fail given the interests lined up against him, including the powerful interests of those who would wish to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel. He and his colleagues have also failed to grasp the importance of criticising those who accuse him without good evidence.

I can only hope that people will learn from this episode. Indeed, for students of contemporary politics it does provide a subject that is well worth studying in depth since it contains most of the elements of what is currently of concern in our democratic system.


About the author: I am Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Bristol and a visiting Professor at the UCL institute of Child Health. My most recent work has focussed on developing efficient methods for handling missing data and measurement errors in complex models including multilevel ones, procedures for unbiased and efficient record linkage of large datasets and procedures for maintaining data integrity while ensuring privacy in the release and analysis of big data sets.

Comments (14)

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Harvey Goldstein has a significant reputation in the field of analysis – and summarises the situation concisely and trenchantly.

    What betting the Guardian gives the article a front page billing?

  • Danny says:

    This article stands head and shoulders above the usual guff on the JVL site. Instead of assertions of knowing the unknowable to the effect there is exceedingly little anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Harvey Goldstein tells it like it is: that there is simply a complete lack of evidence.

    And instead of a toadying approach to Jeremy Corbyn (along with laughable hero worship of the likes of Jackie Walker) we get a serious and searing analysis of Corbyn’s mistakes.

    I do hope that Harvey’s central suggestion makes headway: that the Labour Party should employ a polling agency to undertake a serious analysis of the attitudes of its members towards Jews and other ethnic groups.

  • Allan Howard says:

    I don’t see the point in employing a polling agency etc. Such a survey would undoubtedly find that anti-semtic views are as good as non-exisent amongst LP members and, given that’s the case, it’s hardly likely that the very media who have conspired in the ‘anti-semitism’ Smear Campaign are going to give such findings any coverage, let alone front-page news.

    So what purpose would it serve?

  • ALAN MADDISON says:

    I found this a very informative and helpful article, thank you.

    I agree it a sensible idea for Labour to commission a survey of members in order to ascertain not just the prevalence, but also the nature of antisemitism within its ranks, in order to better deal with it.

    May I add a few suggestions?

    1. I would strongly include members of other political parties too. Such a reference group would be needed to give any findings a comparative context and helpful for society.

    2. It would seem unfair not to include other forms of racism in such a survey. They were also discovered in the Chakrabarti report and are far more prevalent in society.

    3. A distinction needs to be made between ‘antisemitism’, found in 2-5% of the UK population and ‘agreement with anti-Jewish stereotypes’ found in around 30%. The latter are usually not related to antisemitism, but adopted in society out of ignorance.

    The only survey of members of political parties I can find is that published by Tim Bale et al. (see below). This involved 4000 members from the main UK political parties, and as Tim Bale presumably still holds the responder details he may be a good contact for the Labour Party.

    https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/qmul/media/publications/Grassroots,-Britain's-Party-Members.pdf

  • Marguerita McNally says:

    Wow! Thanks JVL for your rational response regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour party. Corbyn is not anti-Semitic, and I agree the right wing are using this ridiculous allegation as a weapon. I feel very sorry for Corbyn. He’s fought on an anti racist platform all his life, and to be accused with this rubbish must be very disheartening.

  • Allan Howard says:

    But what purpose would it serve to do so Alan?

  • Alan Spence says:

    The Chakrabarti Report 2016 already exits on Labour and was much ‘bastardised by the Home Affairs Select Committee for two reasons.

    1. It provided uptodste information on any of the main party’s eg Labour.

    2. It was poured over and much abused by Tim Loughton et all in their Report in October 2016.

    Point of information, despite their being 330 MP’s FOI, yet only 8% of all 650 MP’s that have laid down an EDM in Parliament either attacking A/S or in support of the Jewish Community in their fight against A/S.

    Corbyn is one of the 8% and since 2003 has laid down 9 EDM’s, including one against the BBC. How many has the Fake Maggie done since 1997? None!!!

    Nearly three years on, still no likelihood of Theresa May holding aTory internal investigation into A/S and of course A/M. Despite 75% of all A/S atttacks historically coming from right wing individuals and groups, as we could see in those found guilty of abusing Luciana Berger.

    Can I make a suggestion that if we are going to shift the emphasis, we need a petition to force Theresa May to have that internal investigation, perhaps JVL could lead on this?

  • Teresa Grover says:

    It is so refreshing to read the truth. We are drowning in such hatred which has been created for the purpose of division. That venomous outburst of lies & exaggerations leads to further hatred of anyone ! I am appalled at the extent that MPs have use their privileges to act like a mob!
    We live in a country of numerous cultures, Britain always has done so for hundreds of years, & has benefited by that. Today is a shameful day, crying wolf to many times means that wolves that are part of our eco system are being killed without rhyme or reason!

  • Mervin Queeley says:

    This article has answered the questions running in my head. Do all British Jews believe the Anti Semitism claims made against the Labour!!? And why has Jeremy Corbyn not confronted these claims head on? And is it obligatory to accept and endorse the IHRA protocols?

  • Bernard Sufrin says:

    I am not a member of the Labour party. Whatever differences I have with Corbyn, I think the following chronicle of the events since 2015 is worth sharing, for it puts the current agitation in its political context. It was written by John Marsh.

    «In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn stood as a candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party. Not once, did any of his rivals, or anyone else, accuse him of Antisemitism. Although The Jewish Chronicle accused him of associating with Anti-semites, Holocaust deniers and terrorists they wrote, “Although there is no direct evidence that he has an issue himself with Jews.” Corbyn appointed Luciana Berger as Shadow Minister for Mental Health. In 2016 Berger, along with most of the Shadow Cabinet, resigned. Her resignation letter Stated

    “You have served with great principle and have shown me great kindness and courtesy since appointing me.” Once again there was no mention of Antisemitism.

    Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffy tabled a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, as Labour leader. Hodge did not accuse Corbyn of Antisemitism but, according to Wikipedia said.
    “This has been a tumultuous referendum which has been a test of leadership … Jeremy has failed that test”. Subsequently, 172 MPs voted against the Labour leader, however, not one accused him of Antisemitism. During the ensuing second leadership election, there was still no accusations of Antisemitism.

    However, 40 female Labour MPs did write an open letter, to Corbyn, asking him to deal with issues relating to online abuse. The Guardian’s political correspondent Mike Walker wrote, the women sought four commitments from Corbyn:

    “To hold regular meetings with the women’s parliamentary Labour party group; to issue an “unequivocal statement” condemning actions such as demonstrations outside MPs’ surgeries; to “actively challenge” any intimidating behaviour; and to hold colleagues accountable if they attend events where threatening slogans are used, including on posters and T-shirts.” Once again there was no mention of Antisemitism.

    Martin Kettle of The Guardian wrote that “many Labour MPs, even some who face defeat, want an early election” to prove decisively that Corbyn’s Labour is unelectable as a government. Unelectable but not Antisemitic.

    In 2017 a General Election was called and with a radical and popular Manifesto Labour polled 40% of the vote. During the campaign Corbyn was accused of many things, “a terrorist sympathiser” amongst them. However he was never accused of Antisemitism. With 40% of the vote, a Corbyn lead Labour party was a realistic possibility. Suddenly, a vociferous anti-racist campaigner becomes an Anti-semite? »

  • Allan Howard says:

    The following is from a piece by medialens entitled Charges Without Merit:

    Labour was defeated in the general election of May 7, 2015, causing leader Ed Miliband to resign. On June 3, the BBC reported that Corbyn had joined the contest to replace him. We monitored this period closely and it is simply unarguable that Corbyn was portrayed by journalists, and even party political foes, as a basically decent person. He was depicted as a left relic, certainly – irrelevant and ridiculous – but also as sincere and well-intentioned. There was no sense whatever in ‘mainstream’ media coverage that Corbyn was a malign individual.

    In July, we conducted a ProQuest newspaper database search, which found the following hits for UK press articles mentioning:

    ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ before May 2015 = 18 hits

    ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ after May 2015 = 6,133 hits

    None of the 18 mentions before May 2015 included any accusation that Corbyn was antisemitic. And it was not, as some people have claimed, that Corbyn, a leading anti-war MP, was unknown or unworthy of attention. ProQuest found 3,659 hits for ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ before May 2015.

    (Ends)

    And no doubt there have been getting on for a thousand more since July of last year.

  • ALAN MADDISON says:

    The claims of Labour being “a cess-pit of antisemitism” are built on unconfirmed anecdotal reports from people such as Ruth Smeeth MP and Luciana Berger.

    The media take it as a truth, to be constantly repeated, that Labour alone has an ” antisemitic problem”.

    So a comparative survey would be helpful to challenge such damaging attacks. Based on what we know it would probably show antisemitism to be very low compared with racism, and both of greater prevalence amongst Tory members.

  • Tim Brooking says:

    This is a well thought out and principled argument. A shame those that think Labour and Corbyn are rampant anti see, won’t believe it let alone read it.

  • Terence Bryan says:

    How has all this unfocussed dispute come about?
    I would suggest its origins are really in the actions of the Zionist Government of Israel and its treatment of the Palistinians and nothing to do with any anti- Jewish attitudes.

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