Unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitism – putting the record straight

JVL Introduction

In the article below Andrew Hornung takes Ann Black to task for supporting the prosciption of two organisations, LAW and LIEN, without offering any supporting evidence in favour of her assertion that  they “include clearly anti-semitic statements alongside their general grievances”.

This is a critique of the decisions that Ann Black has made as an NEC member despite her good record of providing full report backs of NEC meetings to those who elected her i.e. ordinary Labour Party members.

But JVL is concerned about exactly the issues Hornung raises here. As Leah Levane wrote to Ann Black on 24 July:

I am writing as co chair of JVL to point out a worrying error in this in your account of the decision to proscribe 4 organisations.

Of two of them you said “LIEN and LAW include clearly anti-semitic statements alongside their general grievances, and failing to act would be seen as condoning them. ”  (my emphasis). What is your evidence of these so called antisemitic statements?  We know that both organisations absolutely condemn racism in any form, regarding antisemitism as heinous. This is not a question of agreeing with the organisations or not, but of what is true and this is not.

Putting the record straight

Ann Black is the chair of the National Policy Forum.  She is also the NEC constituency representative for my area and is always diligent in reporting back within a few days of any given meeting.  And so her report of 20th July NEC meeting that proscribed four organisations was duly posted on our Constituency Party Facebook “announcements” page (we have two pages, one for announcements and one for discussion).

In this report she justifies her voting for the proscriptions by saying: that “LIEN (Labour In Exile Network) and LAW (Labour Against the Witchhunt) include clearly anti-semitic statements alongside their general grievances”.  Since no such statements were cited – indeed nothing at all was quoted from either LIEN or LAW – I wrote asking her to provide me with what she saw as “clearly anti-semitic statements”.

Diligent as ever, she replied a few days later.  This was her response: “LAW and LIEN  give equal priority to overturning IHRA etc on their official websites with defending members who feel unjustly suspended or expelled. This is problematic especially after the EHRC found Labour guilty of anti-semitic acts, and the party will end up in the courts if we do not carry out the agreed action plan.”

She continues: “Why not simply oppose lengthy suspensions and procedural delays, or even suggest that Jeremy Corbyn supporters seem to be selectively targeted, without bringing IHRA and Israel / Palestine into it? Why equate Corbyn supporters with critics of Israel / Zionism? – they are not identical groups, members have many reasons for supporting Jeremy, including a commitment to socialism which doesn’t seem to get a mention. I would have expected that to be a core principle.”

Where you might ask are the “clearly anti-semitic statements” that justified her vote for proscription?  All she says with regard to LAW, the specific focus of my question, is that they added overturning the IHRA’s so-called “working definition of anti-Semitism” as a second point to their statement of aims.  This, she says, is “problematic” – a posh word for “awkward”.  Let’s be clear: she says that adding “overturning the IHRA definition” is problematic – she nowhere claims that opposing it is anti-semitic, let alone “clearly anti-semitic”.  And why is it “problematic”?  Because “the EHRC found Labour guilty of anti-semitic acts, and the party will end up in the courts if we do not carry out the agreed action plan”.

Is it true that the EHRC found the Labour Party guilty of anti-semitic acts?  The matter is important, so it’s worth being precise and balanced.  The EHRC found that two (now ex-)members – deemed to be agents of the Party – acted illegally and found the Party under Jeremy Corbyn to be improved but still inadequate in its efforts to combat anti-semitism.

Did the EHRC designate opposition to the IHRA document as anti-semitic?  No.  In fact, it makes it clear that the document was extraneous to its investigation since it is not legally binding.  To be more precise, the EHRC points out that what was accepted by the government was the 39-word “definition” at the outset of the document and not the illustrative examples that might guide investigators.  Does the Party’s Action Plan: Response to the EHRC Report… even mention the IHRA document?  No, it doesn’t.  So in what way could opposition to that document as a whole be construed as provoking a legal confrontation with the EHRC?

Rather than trying to understand what is and what isn’t anti-semitism, pointing with precision to offending texts or behaviours and demonstrating how they are “clearly anti-semitic”, Ann Black simply goes along with what those in power want….and to hell with the detail.

It isn’t just that she lets down many of her fellow members , activists in the CLPs of her area and beyond, she lets herself down too if, as she implicitly claims, she is a socialist.

Her complaint – which has nothing to do with anti-semitism – is that LAW “equate(s) Corbyn supporters with critics of Israel / Zionism”.   Is this true?  In her email reply she quotes LAW as saying the following (with, I assume, her own underlining for emphasis): “We urge all those who oppose Labour’s witchhunt against Corbyn supporters and critics of Israel/Zionism to stay in the Party and fight.”).

But surely the “and” that separates “Corbyn supporters” from “critics of Israel/Zionism“ in the text she quotes is there to guarantee that readers understand that LAW does not consider these two categories as the same.  Notwithstanding Ann Black’s extraordinary reading of the text she quotes and underlines, the two groups are not claimed to be one; they are both claimed to be victims of the leadership’s disregard for the necessary norms of a democratic Party.  Obviously there will be a significant overlap between these two categories – and for good reason – but the very quotation Black offers says exactly the opposite of what she claims.

Even if her claim were true, where is the clear anti-semitism Ann Black so confidently accuses LAW (and others) of? Failing to give evidence of that, she decides to sneer that LAW doesn’t “includ(e) a commitment to socialism“ in its basic statement.

Why should it?  LAW is not a political party.  Nor is it a platform like Open Democracy or Momentum, in the sense of a movement citing broad political differences with the dominant tendency.  LAW is (or was) a campaign within a political party, limiting itself to three points which it wishes to promote, all connected by a similar critique of the real (un)democratic norms prevailing in the Party.  All this is obvious.  It is part of the ABC of campaigning both inside and outside the Party: a campaign has a limited focus and attempts to rally those in agreement with that focus to fight for changes.  Campaigns don’t demand agreement on other matters and certainly not agreement to such notions as “socialism” – as vague as it is contested.

Saying you’re a socialist in the Labour Party is meaningless.  Do churchgoers have to announbce that they are believers?

Of course, Ann Black knows all this.  Her jibe serves only to distract from the central question, and we make no apologies for repeating it: What is it that is “clearly anti-semitic” in LAW’s statements?  Why this constant evasion?

Black might like to reread the basic statement of Open Labour, the faction which she helped found and of which she is still a member: it claims to support an “open-minded and inclusive type of democratic socialism” and to fight for “a culture based on equality, respect and fairness”.  Fine flags to fly…while moving in the opposite direction.

I, too, am in favour of “a culture based on equality, respect and fairness”.  It is, however, also a culture of responsibility.  It means that when I criticise a policy I do it fairly: I don’t misquote or distort my opponents’ arguments.  It means that if I condemn a person or grouping, indeed, go so far as to advocate excluding them from the Party, I am precise in justifying and evidencing the grounds for my action.

Those who fail to do this do not show either “respect” or “fairness”.  Apparently, alongside this cheery moralism comes a willingness to defame and distort.

Ann Black singularly fails to offer a single example in support of her charge that LAW is “clearly anti-semitic”.  So I shall ask a question: Why is it not considered a breach of Party rules – never mind an example of hypocrisy coming from a member of Open Labour which stands for “a culture based on equality, respect and fairness” – to call someone an anti-semite without quoting one utterance in evidence?

 

Comments (9)

  • Edward Hill says:

    The reports on Ann Black’s website, on meetings she has attended over a couple of decades, are informatve and seemingly well balanced. However, I too was appalled to read in her account of the NEC meeting of 20 July 21: “LIEN and LAW include clearly anti-semitic statements alongside their general grievances.”
    Then I recalled a document by Open Labour, in which she is prominent, referring to “fringe groups that are not committed to non-discrimation, such as Jewish Voice for Labour”; Open Labour failed to substantiate the remark when challenged. (see JVL articles ” A plan for Decency in the Labour Party ” 27 Feb 20; and “Why won’t Open Labour respond and withdraw its unfounded allegation?” 19 Mar 20)
    A further clue to Ann Black’s line of reasoning may lie in Open Labour’s response to the EHRC investigation findings, which ends: “We send our best wishes to the Labour Party’s oldest affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement. You have fought this injustice at every turn, with dignity and bravery. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you.”

  • Dave says:

    I see Ann Black accepted an OBE, which doesn’t sit well with left wing credentials.

    The lack of opposition to the antisemitism smear is pretty much in a large majority even among the so-called left in authority in Labour, including the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. It’s taken as read that a line has been drawn and it’s rather pointless trying to hold them to account as all we’ll get is this flannel from Black. Note that Lara McNeill, young Labour rep on the NEC, also voted to proscribe.

    The only person who finally called it out was Corbyn, far too late.

    The main NEC left voices are about 8 to 10 CLP and union reps – Laura Pidcock, Mish Rahman, Gemma Bolton and a few others. We wait to see if some MPs such as Richard Burgon will take his welcome call for things like an arms ban to Israel as a platform to confront the witch hunt.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    The implication seems to be that simply objecting to the IHRA definition is, or has become, antisemitic. That is incorrect. The IHRA definition can be and is contested at several levels.

    Certainly it can be contested at the levels of politics and provenance. However, my feeling is that there is no need to go there, because all you have to do is read it to see that it is a nonsense. It does not take professorial powers of analysis to see that it is the most woefully dysfunctional “definition” you are ever likely to come across. It needs to be binned and replaced, maybe starting with the definition of antisemitism in Wikipedia and asking yourself if you really need anything more than that.

    What seems to me to be really “political” is when you meet people who are very well equipped to understand all that, but somehow don’t, or won’t.

    For my detailed argument see:

    https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/thats-not-a-definition-once-more-on-the-ihra/

  • I suspect there is no more to this than a craven willingness to grovel to Starmer and Evans.

  • Huw says:

    As the new chair of the EHRC has said, the IHRA definition is “extremely poorly worded and probably unactionable in law,” adding that it “directly conflicts with the duty on universities to protect free speech”.

    https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/new-chair-of-equalities-watchdog-is-against-call-for-unis-to-adopt-ihra/

    “The end route, if we go down this road, is that there is no space left where students may learn to disagree with each other respectfully.”

  • Brian Burden says:

    Is Ann Black any relation to the Emperor in the Hans Andersen story? The story could be updated and re-titled “The Emperor’s New Tropes”.

  • Dr Craig Thomas says:

    Historians of the present and future will look at Jewish Voice for Labour and see/find an absolutely indispensable fund of source materials for research evaluation and analysis. If historians – and this is a bit simplistic, I know – want to know ‘what went on’ and ‘what happened’ concerning events, they rely on at least some sources being strong in their reliance on fact and for sources which are free of propaganda. Those historians who themselves look to produce an understanding of the past that itself is propaganda free, they will be thankful for Jewish Voice for Labour articles like this over and over again.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    It seems that what is now meant by the phrase ‘the IHRA definition’ is not the definition itself but the suggestion conveyed by the examples that a criticism of Israel can be in itself antisemitic. The problem here is that this implies that Israel and the Jewish people are synonymous, a claim which one of the examples expressly condemns as antisemitic. Obviously the weight put upon the definition by various political agencies, including the current leadership of the Labour Party, is not something it was designed to bear. Unfortunately you can point out the logical inconsistency in their rulings to the Party until you are blue in the face, and it will not make a blind bit of difference. The leadership has decided that criticism of Israel must be outlawed and will take any step necessary to enforce this edict. Tying itself up in logical knots is the very least of it.

    The question has to be why the current leadership is going to such lengths to impose such an illogical and undemocratic position on its membership. Are they really so terrified of the BOD and the media that they will do and say anything to placate them? Or do they really believe it in the party’s best interest to stifle legitimate criticism of a state which human rights bodies have judged guilty of ethnic cleansing and apartheid?

    Either way, the party has now aligned itself with those in the US political establishment that hold that Israel as it is currently constituted provides an indispensable bridgehead into the middle east and that any attempt to broaden its democratic base would radically dilute its value to the western powers. This kind of thinking runs counter to the ideals of internationalism which the party affects to support. But in recent times those ideals have been compromised by the Labour Party again and again, most notably when Blair helped to launch the disastrous Iraq War, the spectre of which has been haunting the world ever since. The current situation in Afghanistan is further evidence of the failure of that kind of western realpolitik to control an increasingly unstable world situation. For reasons that are both ethical and pragmatic, the governments of the west should be doing everything in their power to encourage the government of Israel/Palestine to take radical steps to move towards the condition of a true inclusive democracy. Unfortunately they appear determined to allow it to continue along its current dangerous and divisive path. This shows every sign of being a grave error, and it is profoundly worrying to see the Labour Party under Starmer lending its weight to such a policy.

  • Chris Main says:

    I’m not sure reasoned debate, attention to the facts and forensic argument have much weight in Starmer’s Labour Party. Would that it were and well-done to the JVL for being steadfast and consistent. I keep waiting for a public analysis of the witch-hunt and the evidence, which has never been forthcoming. But Starmer holds the ‘mic’, so no need for the facts! I’m now with Chris Williamson’s view that the Labour Party is no longer a proper vehicle for socialism and the future lies outside, more so now that Ken Loach’s name has been added to the list of innocent victims.

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