An open letter from Jewish Voice for Labour


4th December 2017

JVL is deeply concerned by a report in the Jewish Chronicle (29th November 2017) entitled “Jeremy Corbyn branded an ‘antisemite’ by Likud official”.

Speaking at a conference in Budapest, Eli Hazan, a senior official in Israel’s ruling Likud party and its Foreign Affairs Director, said Jeremy Corbyn had “taken over” the Labour Party and saw fit to brand him as an “antisemite”. Mr Hazan then stirred fears of a “coalition between far left and far right extremist parties in Europe.”

Hazan’s attack is insulting in the extreme, based on a malicious fantasy, and with a clear political motivation. It is deeply offensive, not just to Jeremy Corbyn, but to Labour Party members too, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The subsequent reactions of Mr Whine, the Community Security Trust’s (CST) Government and International Affairs Director, were described in the report as follows:

Jeremy Corbyn has not taken over the Labour Party – he was elected as leader so he didn’t take it over.

Secondly, he is not antisemitic. He is anti-Israel but not antisemitic and you should differentiate between the two.

I would say of course anti-Zionism often acts as a cloak for antisemitism. But he is not antisemitic. He is surrounded by people who are anti-Zionist or anti-Israel and there is a growing problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party.

But this is as much to do with the removal of barriers of entry into the Labour Party for the extreme left which took place under his predecessor Ed Miliband and not under Corbyn.

Mr Whine’s intervention is welcome to the extent that he rejects Hazan’s abusive and deluded rhetoric, but he then goes on to make false allegations of his own. These cannot be allowed to pass without challenge either.

Firstly, it is simply not true that Jeremy Corbyn is “against Israel”, or that he is “surrounded by people who are anti-Zionist or anti-Israel”. Indeed though many critics of Israel now believe that Israel’s own settlement building has rendered the two state solution quite unviable, Corbyn and the Labour Party still support it – while opposing the continuing violations of Palestinian human rights, as do most British people.

Secondly, the facts do not bear out the claim that there is a “growing problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party” since the times of Ed Miliband. As the Home Affairs Select Committee report into antisemitism noted in October 2016:

Mr Whine’s alarmist claims about antisemitism and the far left are indeed contradicted by a recent investigation which the CST itself helped fund. This impressive study, entitled “Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain” by Daniel L Staetsky, September 2017, was described as the largest survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in Great Britain. In this study, the following conclusions were stated:

Levels of anti-Semitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the ‘slightly left-of-centre,’ the ‘fairly left-wing’ and the ‘very left-wing’ – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population. Although the prevalence of antisemitism on the far-right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre, the far right remains marginal in British politics in general, as well as on the broader political right.

So we have it from this CST-funded study that the levels of antisemitism on the far left are no higher than those in the general population. In which case how can a senior CST official imply that a leftward move among Labour Party members could possibly cause a “growing problem of antisemitism” – which in any case he merely asserts.

In contrast the study found that the far right, with which (contra Mr Hazan) the Labour Party certainly has no coalition, has a 2-4 time greater prevalence of strong antisemitic attitudes. Surely the far right should be the group of greatest concern to Mr Whine and his colleagues? Unless of course they wish to pick up and twist any stick they can lay hands on to attack Jeremy Corbyn.

Lets look at the figures. The far right is thankfully tiny, representing just 1.4% of the population in the CST-funded study. Yet the CST Incidents Report for 2016 attributed 65% of antisemitic incidents to the far right (for incidents where a political motivation was available). None were attributed to the far left.

The study has shown that across the political spectrum strong “anti-Israel” attitudes are three times more prevalent than those for antisemitism, but higher on the left and far right. However, these “anti-Israel” attitudes are perhaps misleadingly labelled. They were derived from responses to questions that were mostly related to the perceived consequences of the policies and actions of the Israeli Government, rather than Israel’s existence.

Whilst there was some deplorable overlap, in this CST-sponsored study it was clearly demonstrated that 78% of the strong anti-Israel attitudes were unrelated to strong antisemitic attitudes. In other words, the majority of people on the left, who may be strongly against certain policies and actions of the Israeli Government and some of whom may be convinced anti-Zionists, do not hold strongly antisemitic views.

Mr Whine’s conflation of claimed anti-Zionist or anti-Israel attitudes on the far left, and an unsubstantiated phenomenon of “a growing problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party” is therefore totally without foundation.

The allegations of Mr Hazan and Mr Whine are not supported by the available evidence, but are in fact contradicted by it. They should be publicly withdrawn.

We at JVL actively oppose antisemitism in the UK, in all political parties including Labour, and we find such repeated and unfounded allegations about the Labour Party and their Leader as having a particular “antisemitic problem” to be completely unacceptable.

Such false allegations, promoted by those who should know better, significantly undermine the genuine fight against antisemitism, which should concern us all.