Jim Sheridan’s antisemitic remarks

Jim Sheridan: Photo: Labour Party

JVL statement

In his post on the JVL Facebook page, reprinted below, David Rosenberg quite rightly takes Jim Sheridan to task for his Facebook post. Of course Jim Sheridan should not have put all Jews into one category, and categorised Blairite plotters as all being Jews or in some sort of conspiracy with them. His exact words are given in the post below.

There is, however, another lesson that we can draw from his tirade. It can be seen as a worrying sign of the immense anger aroused by the outrageous, repeated, unfair and vitriolic attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, and by the narrative of supposed endemic Labour Party antisemitism that has dominated political debate week after week, excluding discussion of Labour policies desperately needed by the wider population.

Exasperation is dangerous, especially in the current political climate, and Jim’s display demonstrates the need for proper education on antisemitism. This is one more example (and even one is one too many) of someone making an antisemitic statement – whether by carelessness of expression, anger or ignorance – which must of course be challenged and corrected. Depending on severity, the originator must be given a reprimand, or training, or, in egregious cases, sanction.

This behaviour needs to be distinguished from the racist words or actions of those whose interventions are driven by prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews.

The two are very different but are frequently being treated as one. It is a distinction that should always be made if the objective is to reduce and eliminate antisemitic statements rather than to have a witch hunt.

David Rosenberg writes

The former Labour MP, Jim Sheridan, who was suspended yesterday on an allegation of antisemitism in a facebook post, came into politics via the trade union movement. He was a shipyards worker then a printer, and has a history of support for progressive causes. He was responsible for introducing the Private Member’s Bill that became the Gangmasters Licensing Act, aimed at supporting the rights of vulnerable and super-exploited migrant workers.

His comments though, made in the context of an attack on Blairites plotting against the Labour leadership, cannot and should not be defended. (He has removed them – a clear indication that he recognises they were wrong and does not stand by them.)

We can point to hypocrisies and double standards re the disciplining or not of other Labour members who have made reprehensible comments. Many would consider the cheapening and trivialising of the Holocaust to be antisemitic but that is what Margaret Hodge has got away with this week.

However, we do have a duty to explain exactly what is wrong with Sheridan’s comments, both to point out the exact nature of the antisemitism, and to ensure that other members who are fuming about the cynical and relentless attack on Labour’s leadership by Blairites and their allies, don’t find themselves making similar wrong and dangerous remarks.

The reported part of the facebook post said (and I don’t know if it was part of a longer post): “For almost all my adult life I have had the utmost respect and empathy for the Jewish community and their historic suffering. No longer due to what they and their Blairite plotters are doing to my party and the long suffering people of Britain who need a radical Labour government.”

1. By “they” he clearly blames the whole Jewish community, for the actions against the Labour leadership of a section who claim to speak for all Jews but clearly don’t. Attributing collective guilt, he loses sympathy with the entire community and erases in particular many Jews who themselves are fighting against Blairite plotters.

2. He refers to “their” Blairite plotters. Blairite plotters come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities etc. Some Blairite plotters are Jewish, others are not. His comment implies they are all controlled by the “Jewish community”.

3. He refers to the damage the Blairite plotters are doing to the hopes and needs of “the long suffering people of Britain” but clearly excludes all Jews from this “long-suffering” category. There are many Jews amongst the millions suffering the effects of austerity who need a radical Labour government.


Comments (9)

  • Simon Lynn says:

    There is no need for JVL to try and ameliorate David Rosenberg’s clear critique here.

  • Elizabeth Morley says:

    Perhaps not, but it might bring it before a wider audience.

  • Vince Martin says:

    Fellow socialists

    I am a member of the Labour party, a supporter of the Corbyn agenda and a supporter of JVL though not a member as I am not Jewish.

    The above article provides excellent advice to all of us with regard to the language we use. It is all too easy to get carried away in the heat of the moment and express ourselves carelessly, causing upset or even insult where none is intended. Such failings are human but should not be allowed to pass without comment and amendment.

    To me it seems obvious that the serious and dangerous subject of anti-Semitism is being misused by actors within the Labour party to pursue their long running campaign against Corbyn and the left and others outside the party with a similar agenda but derived from a desire to shield the current Israeli regime from international condemnation and action such as BDS. This serves not just Palestinians but the WHOLE UK population ill as poor people of all ethnicity, of all religions and none continue to suffer under the heel of our pernicious Government. In the outcome it hurts our Jewish brothers and sisters by distracting us from active defence of them and all minorities from the very real danger of attacks by an ever more confident extreme right.

    Let us fight evil together wherever we find it, in this country or abroad, in Labour or any other political party, in our own communities or others.

    in solidarity.

  • Dr Brian Robinson says:

    Can people really always be blamed for being confused or getting things wrong? Israel claims, albeit falsely, to act in the name “of all Jews everywhere”, whether in Israel or elsewhere on the planet. Self-styled (or communally elected) leaders of some supposed homogenous entity, “the Jewish community” claim to speak for that community which they often portray as one that supports and endorses Israeli actions, frequently acting as apologists for actions that much of the rest of the world condemns.

    One very rarely hears (if ever) these leaders, secular and religious, criticising Israeli actions against Palestinians in any serious, substantive, significant ways. Just to take the most recent examples, the horrific flesh and bone wounds inflicted on unarmed, peaceful protesters in Gaza, wounds on victims in such large numbers as to overwhelm Palestinian surgical resources, indeed about which one surgeon quoted in the current issue of the British Medical Journal said the problems would have seriously stretched the capacity of the NHS in London itself to cope with.

    Where were the voices raised in protest? Where was the outcry to call out, No, Not in Our Names? Instead time is spent on bearing false witness with bogus accusations of “antisemitism” for brazenly obvious political purposes. All the while of course pretending that Israel can indeed be criticised, but so long as you don’t call it out for what it is, which literally by (mis)definition at once falls foul of the notorious IHRA wording. (To explain is to fall foul of it, so please bear with me for avoiding clarity here.)

    I’m not at all defending Jim Sheridan, but I do have to say that I did see this kind of thing coming as a result of all the noisy protestations and wolf-crying, and I wrote about it privately, in considerable distress, to friends and comrades.

    More generally, it would be unfair, and perhaps unreasonable, to blame the ordinary citizen who hears and reads little of this conflict and its UK political fallout apart from through the mainstream papers and broadcasters, for taking both Israel and what they are told is “the” Jewish community, at their word.

  • It seems to me that Dave and JVL miss the point.

    Here you have a socialist ex-MP, who probably doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, making what on the face of it are antisemitic generalisations. I say on the face of it because of course they are not.

    We have had a storm of allegations that Labour has alienated, not the Zionist section of Jews even, but the whole Jewish community.

    Take Jonathan Freedland’s recent ‘Jewish anger is about Labour’s failure to listen with empathy’ https://readly.info/news/jewish-anger-is-about-labours-failure-to-listen-with-empathy-jonathan-freedland/

    ‘How on earth has it come to this? How have we sunk to the point where the mainstream Jewish community sees Labour this way’. There is no reference in his article to the elites of the Jewish community or the Zionists. Freedland speaks on behalf of all the Jewish community. So did the editors of the 3 Zionist papers in their joint editorials.

    If Jim Sheridan made a mistake then it was entirely due to the cacophony of Jewish establishment journalists and MPs like Hodge.

    It’s not training Sheridan needs but a clear espousal of the case for Labour distancing itself from these misleaders. Unfortunately the very opposite is occuring.

    In short the false ‘antisemitism’ campaign is generating an antisemitic reaction whereby people blame ‘the Jews’ for attacks on Corbyn because that is what the leaders of the Jews claim.

    Our responsibility is not fatuous ‘education’ (as if racism is the consequence of miseducation,, itself a reformist/reactionary position) but making it clear why the Board does not speak for us.

    That means resolute opposition to the IHRA not a milk and water opposition which results in support for the Antisemitism code which is based on the IHRA.

    The false antisemitism campaign is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. By attacking Corbyn as an antisemite on behalf of all Jews the Board is deliberately stoking up anti-semitism which it can then point to. Of course this is not r acial antisemitism and that is why ‘education’ is even more besides the point.

    Sheridan’s reaction should be a lesson as to the consequences of the Board’s campaign. he should also be reinstated immediately.

  • Rick Hayward says:

    A good article, promoting the sense of perspective that is so much needed.

    But perhaps two things should be further highlighted :

    (1) The role of the media in promoting a crass view that the ‘Jewish Community’ is a homogeneous body that condemns Corbyn and the Labour Party with one voice – whilst excluding evidence to the contrary in a way that can only be described as ‘sinister’.

    (2) The shameful role of the BoD and allies in elevating themselves to spokespeople for that same imagined ‘community’.

    Sheridan’s remarks can be seen as a reflection of this crass – and essentially antisemitic – trope that has been manufactured for political ends.

  • Dave says:

    There is nothing ‘clear’ about what he said unless you believe he’s changed from being a genuine person of the left to a racist. In my view it it was just a clumsy way of expressing exasperation with the BoD, Holocaust Education Trust, Jewish newspapers etc who use their moral high ground as a cover for the real agenda, attacking the left and defending Israel.

  • Tony Booth says:

    Rick Hayward is right. If Jim Sheridan is guilty of antisemitic remarks – as I believe he is – then so are all those who refuse to see Jews as having a multiplicity of voices on the antisemitism furore in the Party and on the IHRA working definition. Mass expulsion is not the answer but we need to create a way of moving the debate beyond its delusional form at present. Below is the text of my (unpublished) letter to the Guardian – making this point. Maybe we need a #weareheretoo – I had thought about #hineni (‘I am here’ in hebrew – which I picked up from the Leanard Cohen song) but it has the connotation of readiness to serve a god – so perhaps not.

    Dear Editor,

    Judging by several recent articles and letters in the Guardian people are more prone to making antisemitic statements than had been thought on even the worst estimates. The report on 16thAugust (Labour prepares the ground for compromise on antisemitism code) suggests that only some Jewish voices will be heeded. Yet it is discriminatory to ignore the multiplicity of views amongst Jews and suggest that they ‘speak with one voice’. Such claims are made by the leaders of some Jewish organisations in the UK including in the Guardian letter from 68 Rabbis. Most people now understand that it is sexist to claim that all women want to stay at home to care for their children and racist to say all Black people have rhythm. Yet it seems that it is fine now to claim that all Jews love the IHRA working definition on anti-Semitism by ignoring the many in the UK and across the world who do not. This is apartheid of the intellect whereby Jews who do not conform to this stereotype in their thinking are deemed to hold second-class views, to be not real Jews, not real people. It is as discriminatory as the suggestion that all Jews love money. It is an assault on our identity. It is anti-Semitic on any reasonable definition of the term.

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I agree with David Rosenberg – and with the JVL intro. It’s easy to be holier than thou. The Jewish establishment is having its cake and eating it. It claims to speak for the whole British ‘Jewish community’ when it suits, and then objects when anyone responds by referring to that one Jewish community. There is also an expectation of different standards of behaviour. Margaret Hodge lost her temper in front of both Labour and Tory colleagues and abused Jeremy Corbyn. That’s all right. But when a non-Jewish Labour activist loses his temper – on social media or in a private meeting that is being secretly taped (an issue that has completely vanished) other standards apply. Jim Sheridan clearly needs some discussion about antisemitism, but like Pete Willsman, he doesnt deserve to be torn apart.

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