Why would Starmer purge those speaking the truth?

JVL Introduction

Keir Starmer is on record as saying in an interview after the publication of the EHRC Report that  “those who deny there is a problem [of antisemitism in the Labour Party] are part of the problem. Those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.” (Guardian, 29 October 2020)

In this analysis for JVL, Dr Alan Maddison reviews the available evidence on this subject, and concludes that it is perfectly legitimate (if not a duty) for Labour members, and Jeremy Corbyn, to discuss the obviously gross exaggerations, without being wrongly accused of antisemitism denial.

Equally clearly there are clear-cut cases of accusations of antisemitism being used factionally – in a word, being weaponised (see the latest case involving Heather Mendick here).

The question should be why those propagating such exaggerations are not held accountable for undermining democracy and inflicting much personal harm on those falsely accused.

A disproportionate number of these are Jewish and it is hard to think of a more hurtful accusation to make against a Jewish member than that of antisemitism.

Why would Starmer purge those speaking the truth?

Dr Alan Maddison, 7th October 2021

When reporting the results of a survey they commissioned in March 2021 (1, 2), the Jewish Chronicle headline was “70% of Labour members still think the party has no problem with Jew hate and don’t want Corbyn expelled.”

The actual results don’t support such a claim, as you can see below.

Firstly the term ‘Jew hate’, which is an extreme form of antisemitism, was never employed.

Secondly, none of the 3 survey statements had ‘no problem’ as an option.

Agreement with the survey phrase “The Labour Party does not have a serious problem with antisemitism” does not suggest that a problem does not exist.

The terms used in the survey aren’t clearly defined. I would suggest that:

  1. ‘serious problem’ be interpreted as Labour antisemitism being far more widespread than antisemitism in the wider society, such that the singling out of Labour is justified;
  2. The ‘exaggerations’ probably relate to repeated claims covered in the media, yet without quantitative evidence, that Labour is a “cess-pit of antisemitism” (3) or ‘infested with Jew-haters” (4) or “riddled with antisemitism” (5).

The Jewish Chronicle’ deputy editor described the survey findings as ‘a bombshell’ indicating a continued antisemitism problem in Labour, and he implied that Starmer therefore needed to purge many members (6).

However, none of these responses is intrinsically antisemitic, and as antisemitism is found in only 5% of the population (7) it will not motivate the views of many of the 70% of responders mentioned in the headline.

So just for balance, let’s examine the evidence for other factors that probably motivated the majority of these responses from Labour members.

Inquiries into antisemitism

The EHRC investigation (8) has sometimes been misrepresented; it did not investigate the scale of Labour antisemitism as often implied. The focus was primarily on how teams under Iain McNicol and Jennie Formby processed complaints.

Shami Chakrabarti published the findings of her ‘Inquiry into Labour antisemitism and other forms of racism’ in June 2016 (9). After consulting many Jewish groups and members, she reported that Labour was ‘not overrun by antisemitism’ as often claimed.

Shortly afterwards, in October 2016, a cross party Home Affairs Committee (HAC) published their inquiry into ‘Antisemitism in the UK’ (10). They also consulted many of those claiming widespread Labour antisemitism. This included Jewish Labour Movement’s Ruth Smeeth (ex Labour MP) who blamed Jeremy Corbyn for making Labour unsafe for Jews (11).

The HAC finally reported this:

This HAC statement is still true today in 2021. The same relentless media noise is applied only to Labour members, yet remarkably, given the effect on our democratic process, widespread Labour antisemitism claims are still never supported by any reliable quantitative evidence.

In fact, no assessments of antisemitism prevalence among Labour members, to my knowledge, have ever been published.

However, significant indirect evidence published since the HAC report in 2016 tends to support what the 70% of surveyed Labour members think, viz that insofar as there is a problem within the party it is either not serious or has been exaggerated.

Surveys into antisemitism according to political position

In 2017 the Jewish Policy Research Institute (JPR) published the largest study into antisemitism in Britain; examining endorsements of ‘antisemitic’ statements according to self-described political positioning (7).

Then in 2019 the Campaign Against Antisemitism group (CAA) published a smaller study of similar design (12, 13).

Both surveys examined ‘antisemitic’ and ‘anti-Israel’ attitudes, some data on the former being illustrated below in Figure 2.

In Figure 2 above the JPR results indicate the minority in each group that endorse a high number of ‘antisemitic’ statements and who are thought highly likely to be ‘antisemites’ defined as disliking Jews.

In contrast, the CAA indices above represent the average number of endorsements for each group and this provides a broader measure of antisemitic prejudice, but which correlates with animosity towards Jews.

In Figure 2 we see that these surveys demonstrated that the prevalence of both ’probable antisemites’ and the indices of ‘antisemitic prejudice’ were lower on the left of politics than in wider society, and highest on the right.

Although not illustrated here, the ‘very right-wing’ group gave the highest results for ‘probable antisemitism’ and ‘antisemitic prejudices’ in both surveys, around 3 times higher than those for the ‘very left-wing’ group.

This is important as there have been several articles about a distinct ‘left-wing antisemitism’ (14, 15), even that the far left is more of a threat than the far right. But in quantitative terms this notion is not supported in these surveys as antisemitism prevalence is much higher on the far right than the Left or the far left.

Another suggestion was that those supporting Jeremy Corbyn had a particular problem with antisemitism. This is contradicted by the background evidence of the CAA survey (13) in which the antisemitic index of Corbyn supporters was lower than for wider society, and around half that of Boris Johnson supporters and the far right.

Personal experiences of Labour members

In addition to inquiries and surveys, it is probable that the opinions of many Labour members are also shaped by personal experience.

According to our analyses of Labour Party publications (16, 17) there have been 1,450antisemitism complaint allegations investigated in total, out of an average of 500,000 members. This represents on average 290 reported each year.

Around 90% of these involved online incidents 2% related to Labour Party meetings, (the remaining 8% related to letters, emails and public media) (18).

In Table 1 below, we illustrate estimations for annual complaints for each situation and the number of Labour Party participants exposed (19).

With regard to the social media complaints:

As the reported online antisemitism complaint allegations were less than one a day, it is unlikely that many of the 350 000 ordinary Labour member, or anyone else, on social media, would come across them. As these complaints are from intensive trawls it is highly probable that most members will not witness a widespread problem.

What appear to be grossly exaggerated or misleading claims of high volumes of online abuse have been made by anti-Corbyn Jewish Labour Movement members and several MP’s. These have been robustly challenged as unreliable (20, 21).

For instance, Ruth Smeeth (ex Labour MP) said she had received 25,000 abusive messages in only 24 hours (11). A comprehensive analysis of several online surveys at that time suggested this was highly improbable (22).

The 260 annual complaint allegations confirm the scale of such exaggerations, and many Labour members will be well aware of this.

With regard to complaints at Labour meetings:

Moving on to Labour Party meetings, based on the leaked Labour report (17) we have estimated that there will have been around 6 reported complaint allegations nationally each year (18).

Even allowing for under-reporting only a tiny minority of the 125 000 members attending would have witnessed such alleged antisemitism.

On a Panorama programme ‘Is Labour antisemitic?’ (23) in 2019, several Jewish Labour Movement officers claimed widespread, even daily, abuse at Labour Party meetings. An analysis of this programme demonstrated an unacceptable witness bias (24) where other Jewish members, not invited or mentioned, were on record as saying they found antisemitism in Labour to be rare (25).

Based on the estimate of 6 annual complaints relating to meetings (Table 1), the claimed experiences of these JLM officers on the Panorama programme could not possibly have been representative of all the estimated 2,500 Jewish members and would have given viewers a further gross distortion of the reality.

Many Labour members will be aware of these exaggerated claims of abuse both online and at Labour meetings. Their personal experiences will lead the majority to reject such allegations of widespread antisemitism in their ranks.

Bad faith exaggerations and the scale of their impact

There is no direct quantitative evidence to support the relentless claims of Labour being a ‘cess-pit of antisemtism’, ‘infested with Jew haters’ or even that Labour antisemitism is more widespread than elsewhere in society.

This review of inquiries, surveys and complaints data suggests singling out Labour with such repeated claims has been done in bad faith.

Labour members, who legitimately defend their Party against obvious exaggerations on the scale of antisemitism in their ranks, are often disingenuously labeled as denying any Labour antisemitism exists at all.

Such misrepresentations by the Jewish Chronicle and many others should be publicly called out by the Labour Party, and by Keir Starmer in particular. Instead he and others would appear to be colluding with these misrepresentations as witnessed by the withholding of the Labour whip from Jeremy Corbyn on precisely these grounds.viz for saying: “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

The gravity of these enduring bad faith attacks is measured in the impact they have had on public opinion, and therefore how they have undermined British democracy. In one survey a third of people questioned said they would hesitate to vote Labour because of its perceived problem with antisemitism (26).

In 2019 a survey members of the public (27) revealed that on average they thought that 34% of Labour members had faced investigations for complaints of antisemitism.

In Figure 3 below I have updated the ‘reality’ findings by using complaint data published by Labour up to March 2021 (28), and this illustrates the scale of the impact of bad faith acts on public perceptions. We should note that not all complaint allegations were upheld

By definition the word ‘exaggeration’ has to relate to a finite reality and can ‘t be interpreted as a denial of that reality. Even if the scale of exaggeration is 100-fold, as we see in Figure 3, that reality must exist but we see that the exaggeration forms almost all the public perception of scale.

Those who value democracy have a duty to expose such exaggerations, and mischievous allegations of ‘denial of antisemitism’ against those speaking the truth should be robustly condemned.

So why would Starmer purge those speaking the truth?

The EHRC stated on page 27 of their report that Article 10 of the Equality Act 2010 will protect Labour Party members who “express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law.”

Starmer’s attempts to deprive members of their human right to freedom of speech on this are blatantly wrong. Calling out bad faith, politically motivated, exaggerations of the scale of Labour antisemitism is not denying it exists.

Only a very small minority of members are likely to be antisemitic, fewer than in the wider society. The vast majority would be completely justified in speaking out, especially as the reputation of the Labour Party has been wrongly smeared by repeated misinformation, and democracy seriously undermined.

It is difficult to understand what genuine reason Keir Starmer or his General Secretary, David Evans, could have for their ongoing expulsion or censoring of members for expressing such legitimate views, including the Labour Against the Witchhunt group, and supporters such as Ken Loach.

Most Jewish people should not be offended by the truth; rather it would reassure them that, despite the propaganda, Labour members do not pose any particular threat to them, just the opposite.

In addition to the Tories, the only people to gain by Starmer’s actions would seem to be those who weaponise antisemitism to silence critics of Israel as it moves to full apartheid (29, 30), and those who wish to subvert party democracy and eliminate Labour’s left-wingers.

It is therefore revealing that under Starmer, Jewish JVL members who are both left-wing and support equal rights for Palestinians, are now facing obscene allegations of antisemitism, even 33 times more often than non-Jewish Labour members (31).

Victor Hugo said, “It is not easy to keep silent when silence is a lie”, and because our very democracy is at stake, the voice of the Left, inside and outside the Labour Party, will never be silenced.

However, there are two questions I have,

  1. Why those bad faith actors participating in this smear campaign, or scam as some call it, are never held to account?
  2. Why others, including Labour MPs, seeing this blatant subversion of democracy, remain silent, when silence is indeed a lie?

Comments (18)

  • All those who allege that antisemitism is more prevalent in the Labour Party than in the rest of the British public are either liars or those who believe lies. All those who allege that Jeremy Corbyn has any antisemitism or racism are either liars or those who believe lies. No “ifs” or “buts” no discussion!!

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    Once again we should thank Alan for his very clear analysis of the incidence of real anti-Semitism in the various sectors of UK society. Sadly and frankly, with deep anger, we all know the simple disgraceful answer to the question posed in the title. This has been expressed in the CAMPAIN open letter to Starmer et al, and not all signatories were Labour supporters. Starmer and Evans do not have an iota of decency and integrity, being on an autocratic and anti-democratic course to remove people of real integrity from the LP to further their own ambitions.

  • Philip Ward says:

    Analyses of this type need to always stress that almost all the allegations of antisemitism in the LP are nothing of the sort: they are allegations of criticisms of Israel and Zionism, sometimes admittedly in very trenchant terms, but not directed at individuals groups for being Jewish. So, even the figures quoted here for the % “antisemitism” in the LP – as against the perceived % – is itself an exaggeration.

    Even those members of the LP targeting anti-Zionists and claiming the party is riddled with antisemitism don’t don’t actually believe it: they carrying out an utterly cynical campaign against the left. If they really thought that what they are claiming was true, they would leave the party, as would I.

  • Nick Jenkins says:

    Excellent analysis by Dr Maddison, making clear the reality of the appalling allegations that have hurt many of us, Jews and non-Jews alike.
    It’s terrifying to see so many remain silent about this. Some, of course, are happy to exploit antisemitism allegations for factional reasons, but many have simply been cowed into silence. Shame on them.

  • Jan Brooker says:

    Figure 3. From 0.29% to 34% in perceptions is surely 11,724% exaggeration; a factor increase of 117 [times 100]?

  • Richard Barton Pink says:

    Well put but only telling me what I already knew.

  • Raphael Salkie says:

    This is a very clear and convincing article. It’s interesting that Luciana Berger, who received a huge amount of antisemitic abuse while she was a Labour MP, is not mentioned at all in the EHRC report. The abuse was almost entirely from the far right, not from Labour Party members. Another ‘exaggeration’.

  • Susanna Chapman says:

    Thank you for this clear analysis. Unfortunately the damage has been done, and the Labour Party is seen as untrustworthy. Personally I was prepared to give Starmer a chance (as I wanted to do what the right wing of the Party refused to do, and unite behind the elected leader). If he had done what he promised in his leadership campaign I would have stayed, even though he wasn’t my choice of leader. However I could not bear the fact that he first buried the leaked report that showed that Labour paid staff worked against Corbyn winning the 2017 election, and then continued the weaponise antisemitism. So now I have left the Party I have campaigned for 5 years, and for which I was first secretary, then treasurer of my CLP. This makes me desperately sad, but I cannot continue to pay my hard-earned money into what has now truly earned the name of ‘cesspit’ (of dishonesty, not antisemitism).

  • Edward Hill says:

    If the end (a Labour government, free of socialism and support for Palestine) justifies the means (any useful tactic), it must be said that the antisemitism accusation is a very effective weapon. So easy to fire and hit the target, creating damage to reputation that may be lasting, as well as causing mental anguish. (The newer variant -the denial accusation- has the power to suggest holocaust denial.) So difficult to defend against. Dr Maddison has ably presented the evidence again here, but does the truth have much of a role in the political game? As Jonathan Swift wrote, “Falsehood flies and the Truth comes limping after, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.” Small wonder that there are no senior Labour Party members speaking out; they either approve the efficacy of the accusations, or fear becoming victims of this “weapon of mass destruction”.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    What Sir Keir Starmer actually said was “anyone who disagrees with me is part of the problem”. I think he said that in the Sun.

    [JVL web – no doubt Starmer has said many things on the subject…]

  • Dave says:

    “It is difficult to understand what genuine reason Keir Starmer or his General Secretary, David Evans, could have for their ongoing expulsion or censoring of members for expressing such legitimate views…”

    Come on this is getting tiresome. One more time – it’s not about antisemitism. The reason staring you in the face is they want to get rid of socialists (and pro-Palestinians, who tend to go together with socialists).

  • Bridget says:

    Most of us have been saying this for ages; it is excellent to have this clear presentation of the data & of questions to be asked. The persecution of socialist members is horrendous. Where is Starmer’s forensic brain? Unfortunately he has now a track record of dishonesty in a variety of matters.

  • James L. says:

    An excellent piece. Calmly presented and with plenty of evidence to back it up. The only question remains, why would the recently elected leader of the Labour Party (having ejected the pledges he was elected on), and his seemingly ill qualified (Croydon council bankruptcy?!) General Secretary appear to be doubling down on their purge of precisely the race of people they say they are protecting?

  • Ian Kemp says:

    very good analyses of a so called problem of A/S in LP. It should be sent to Guardian Jonathan Freedland, and other opinion writers james Obrien LBC Starmer all of our so called left wing MPs The BBC panorama producers.
    When will the left wing MPs have the guts to stand up and spell out exactly what has happened and why, Somebody needs to confront Evans and Starmer before there is no Labour party left.

  • Kath Shaw says:

    This is such a long awaited account that sets the record straight. Let’s hope it is widely read and leads to an awakening of the truth in this insidious torment for Jewish Labour members.

  • George Wilmers says:

    We need to get beyond repeating what should now be obvious and ask the question:

    “Why is this political purge, executed under cover of a mendacious pretext, conducted with a savagery and disdain for due process unseen in any UK political party in living memory?”

    Why despite bitter divisions amongst Tories over Brexit, which was an issue of far more immediate relevance to most of the UK population, has there been nothing like this savagery in the Tory Party?

    In my opinion the answer is that this struggle for the soul of the Labour Party is a clear case of open class warfare. This has nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism and is only connected to Israel-Palestine because opposition to this particular aspect of US-UK neocolonial policy, when conflated with antisemitism, has proved to be the ideal shibboleth for the purpose of destroying the socialist left. The left, with its sudden mass support under Corbyn, was seen as an existential threat to the class interests of the majority of the Labour elite, most of whom couldn’t care less about Jews, Palestinians, or anything much else except their careers, as may be witnessed by their serial opportunism.

    Of course the Israeli government and the plethora of lavishly funded Zionist groups which fraudulently claim a monopoly of “Jewish opinion” have their their own agenda – the suppression of all support for Palestinians and of all criticism of the apartheid state. This agenda coincides conveniently with the present ideological requirements of the British state. However they must not be confused, nor does the Israeli tail wag the imperial US-UK dog, as some believe. As Joe Biden said in 1986:

    “Israel is the best three billion dollar investment we made…were there not an Israel the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region”


  • Margaret West says:

    Jeremy Corbyn said
    “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

    In its simplest terms and ignoring motive what Corbyn said involves a numeracy problem –

    In 2019 a survey of members of the public revealed that on average they thought that 34% of Labour members had faced investigations for complaints of antisemitism.

    Investigation and analysis of cases showed that the actual number was 0.29% of Labour members who had faced investigations for complaints of antisemitism.

    To make it simpler –
    Perceived scale is larger than 30 (percent)
    Actual scale is less than 0.30 (percent)

    So the *scale* of perceived cases is more than 100 times the *scale* of actual cases

    .. the sort of problem dealt with every week in “More or Less”

    except they do not usually deal with motive – only delicately hint at it sometimes.

    NB George Wilmers in quoting Biden makes the same point as some who supported Balfour – that Israel would
    be a buffer state in an area otherwise controlled by Arabs. The Allies lied to both sides in order to achieve their ends.

  • Richard Hobson says:

    A good piece of analysis, all the facts in one place. I wonder if the Grauniad would dare republish it? I doubt it very much.
    On a more general and far reaching note, is it best to stay and fight, as many of you have done, despite Party rule changes which seem to guarantee the election of a centrist leader?
    Or do we resign, as I and many others have done, and look for alternatives? Not that there seems to be any viable alternative on the horizon.

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