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Factionalising Antisemitism: The British Labour Party Suspends Jeremy Corbyn

Whatever stance taken by followers of the British Labour Party on the subject of antisemitism within its ranks, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn must be seen as an exercise of muscle on the part of Sir Keir Starmer. Since coming to the leadership, Starmer’s popularity has risen, catching up to that of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But Corbyn and the Corbynistas lingered, irritating reminders of a previous revolution of the left to be subjugated and marginalised. The report on antisemitism in the British Labour Party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission presented a chance.

In July 2019, the EHRC announced that it was investigating the party “after receiving a number of complaints of allegations of antisemitism within the Party.” It proceeded to look at whether the Party had committed unlawful acts; handled complaints of antisemitism “in a lawful, efficient and effective way”; had adequate complaints handling, investigatory and disciplinary processes that were efficient and effective, “including whether appropriate sanctions have been or could be applied”; and whether steps were taken by the Party “to implement the recommendations made in the Chakrabarti, Royall and Home Affairs Committee Reports.”

The EHRC report released on October 29 identified, in the words of the Interim Chair, Caroline Waters, “specific examples of harassment, discrimination and political interference in our evidence” and “a lack of leadership within the Labour Party on these issues, which is hard to reconcile with its stated commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism.” The executive summary pointed to “serious failings in leadership and an adequate process for handling antisemitism complaints across the Party,” including “multiple failures in the systems it uses to resolve them.” Three breaches of the Equality Act were identified, covering political interference in complaints of antisemitism complaints; the inadequate provision of training to those handling such complaints and cases of harassment.

The report identifies two specific instances of harassment against its members on antisemitic grounds: former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and local Rossendale Borough Councillor Pam Bromley. Livingstone was singled out for his claims in 2016 that attacks on MP Naz Shah for purported antisemitic social media posts were “part of a smear campaign by ‘the Israel Jewish lobby’ to stigmatise critics of Israel as antisemitic” designed to “undermine and disrupt the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn MP.” Bromley, for her part, was taken to task for using antisemitic tropes: the Jewish conspiracy, manipulating political processes and being a “fifth column.”

Despite these purplish standouts, the EHRC, while considering a “significant number” of other complaints demonstrating “what we considered to be antisemitic conduct”, found insufficient evidence showing that the Labour Party had been legally responsible or the conduct; that it was from an “ordinary” member of the Party, for which it could not be responsible for under equality law; and insufficient evidence that “the harmful effect of the conduct” had outweighed “the freedom of the expression rights of the individual concerned.”

In responding to the report, Corbyn accepted that, “Jewish members of our party and the wider community were right to expect us to deal with it,” expressing “regret that it took longer to deliver that change than it should.” Those claiming there was no antisemitism in the Labour Party were wrong. “Of course there is, as there is throughout society, and sometimes it is voiced by people who think of themselves as on the left.”

He pointed out that many of the processes scrutinised and criticised as wanting in the report were already there prior to his leadership. Firmer measures were put in place after 2018, in the face of party bureaucracy. But a large, and for his opponents gaping opening, was left with his insistence that “the scale of the problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” That “combination … hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.”

As Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of Tribune, is right to note, Corbyn has some merit in making reference to exaggeration for political purposes. Individual complainants had, in some cases, been responsible for a veritable tsunami of grievance, most unfounded. There were unsubstantiated statements from various MPs, including Margaret Hodge, who herself filed a hundred antisemitism complaints, eighty of which involved people with no connection with Labour or its party structures.

With factional considerations now lit, Labour Party general secretary David Evans, a close ally of Starmer, suspended Corbyn within a matter of hours, despite being unable to say which party rule had been breached. “I was very disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s statement,” claimed the Labour leader, “and appropriate action has been taken, which I fully support.” A satisfied Hodge felt that suspending Corbyn was the “right thing decision” following his “shameful reaction to the EHRC report.”

Evans assumed the mantle as the torchbearer of the right faction of the party, replacing Corbyn’s ally Jennie Formby in May. Spokesman of Labour Against Antisemitism Euan Philips had words of cautious praise for the appointment at the time: not only was it a relief to have a figure from “outside the hard left” in that role, Evans had “a huge job to tackle institutional anti-Jewish racism in the party.”

With such sentiments in mind, both Evans and Starmer have essentially manoeuvred the party into a position where the mere hint of scepticism about the scale of antisemitism within Labour will be excoriated and expunged. As Starmer explained on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “I made it clear the Labour Party I lead will not tolerate antisemitism, neither will it tolerate the argument that denies or minimises antisemitism in the Labour Party on the basis that it’s exaggerated or a factional row.” This is despite the acceptance by the EHRC that Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights protecting freedom of expression “will protect Labour Party members who … make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or 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.”

While the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg saw no “deliberately designed collision between the current party boss and his predecessor” it is hard to ignore the alignment of the stars. Starmer wants to cement his credentials and iron out the creases; Jeremy Corbyn, with his obstinacy and loyal defenders, present potential future obstacles to his plans. A civil war beckons, with antisemitism fashioned as factional spear tips.

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  1. Josephus

    Many in Israel do not vote for or approve of the ruling party there, just as many Moslems do not identify with the hardline literalists or worse among their ranks . It is dangerous and stupid to blame whole faiths or nations for the bigotry or racism of some. That said, one should not ignore the bigots and racists, whether in the USA, Israel , Moslem communities or elsewhere.
    A few years ago a far right, racist Briton decided to undergo a genetic test to prove he was of pure white descent. Upon discovering that he had an African ancestor he abandoned his racism,

  2. mark delmege

    I doubt this has anything to do with racism but everything to do with Israel silencing critics. We see this sort of behaviour on so many levels and for example on why Greenwald quit The Intercept.

  3. paul walter

    No. Anti Zionism is NOT Anti Semitism.

    I suppose I realised democracy was in trouble when even the Guardian started up its hysterics over first Galloway, then Corbyn, who were pleading for a fair go for wretched Palestine. They were horrified at the long term treatment of Palestinians as they would have been horrified at Hitler when they were younger.

    A despicable insult to suggest these men subscribed in even the remotest form to the genuine article in Europe eighty years ago.

  4. DrakeN

    The religious “We are being victimised by everyone who doesn’t believe our mythology’ is widespread, especially across the Abrahamic ‘faiths’.
    Meanwhile, they demean, dictate to and demand of everyone else obeisance to their peculiar rites, rules and dogmas.
    If we disagree with their ‘faith’ and its proscriptions then we are deemed unworthy of their respect and consideration and subject to condemnation as anti-whatever.
    Gaslighting of the first order.

  5. Andrew Smith

    Neither Corbyn, nor his supporters can complain much on this issue as Corbyn was silent and/or pathetic in not strongly denouncing any anti-semitism.

    Old Anti-semitic tropes can be still heard, worse have made a return, while the Anti-Zionist and Anti-Semitic nexus is better represented by Venn diagrams i.e. neither are mutually exclusive but overlap in the centre (while in the past it was Christianity vs. Judaism and Islam, now through US political PR led nudging, inlcuding evangelicals, and agit prop for Christianity and Judaism vs. Islam; most people are ignorant not realising they are all Ibrahamic religions).

    Further, one has some antipathy towards the current Israeli regime which buddies up to illiberal leaders globally, spruiking nativist policies and even anti-semitic Soros conspiracies developed by the radical right libertarian and/or GOP operators, linked to the Israeli govt.

    There is a need to be careful and observant about language with propensity for loaded Orwellian double speak which can have multiple audiences from those who view the Israeli govt. with antipathy through to outright anti-semites; meaning is fluid and more so in political messaging, it’s the whole point to enable dog whistling.

    Related article in Israel’s Haaretz from Mehdi Hasan:

    ‘Opinion | Dial Down the Hysteria on anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour. There is vile and inexcusable anti-Semitism on the left, and efforts to deny it are shameful. But take it from a Muslim in Trump’s America, British Jews don’t face an existential threat from Jeremy Corbyn’

  6. wam

    There is little argument that the english invented concentration camps (48 000 people, mostly women and children, died in concentration camps between 1899 and 1902) and they had no compunction in manipulating the middle east oil. The jew lobby was also catered for by ravaging the palestinian people. They created a country, established it by theft sustained it by terrorist activity and kept it by arms.
    Has trump moved the situation towards a solution???
    ps who gives a rat;s arse about corbyn???

  7. mark delmege

    A bit harsh there Andrew. We all see racism and chauvinism of all kinds every day and we dont call it out. Muslim bashing in Australia is a sport and my christian bashing friends do much the same. I’m not responsible for their comments any more than Corbyn is responsible for every member of his party who makes uncivilised comments – whether they be friend or foe and some were certainly foe from what I have read.
    The French authorities were more than happy to encourage the worse of the worst to carry out French foreign policy in Syria. I’d call that racism of the worst kind. Of course our country has done the same and effectively given a leave pass to the head choppers.
    The Israel lobby is very powerful here and its rare for any public person to criticise the excesses of the Israeli government against the Palestinians. They dare not because of the backlash from that lobby. Does that make them racist? I’d argue it is something else – no less kind mind you. But there is absolutely no doubt that many policies of the Israeli government are racist.
    The French confusion over freedom of expression and religious bigotry is another worthy discussion.
    As for Soros he has a lot to answer for. His minions in Armenia today may not be far off their comeuppance. And I certainly wouldn’t limit his critics to the far right either and they have good reason.

  8. paul walter

    It is sleek apologetics from Andrew Smith, but to have written what was written, that writers would have to have some inkling of the truth and it makes it the more shameful.

    Andrew, how can it avail you or anyone else to retreat into denialist about how an inhumane world system operates, in pursuit of venality, power and control, and the panicked pursuit of fantasy at the expense of so many millions of human being across the Middle East West Asia and the Third world in general.

    It was fearful stuff from you and I wonder at the phobias and motives that might drive you to the false consciousness that has enveloped you.

    For God’s sake, see the forest for the trees..

  9. DrakeN

    @ paul walter,

    Last line – to which particular God do you plead?

    It is their claim to “The One True God” which angers so many who are antagonistic to the Abrahamic ‘Faiths’; a God for whom there is no actual evidence of its existence.

    For me, all religions are confidence tricks imposed on the general population by opportunisitic seekers of power, wealth and priviledge.

  10. paul walter

    Drake, you have an even deeper sense of the irrelevant than Andrew Smith.

    Not that Smith is a fool, from other postings and other topics, but epic fail as to the existence of Zionism as a component in an impact involving global hegemony and heterogeneity that maintains a non reform order.

    The use of fear and smear to silence dissent as to how the globe operates post democracy, when it doesn’t need to instigate violence for its own ends or even amusement, as the Yemen demonstrates.

  11. paul walter

    PS, I accept that “Andrew Smith ” is probably a young person lacking what Hobsbawm describes as, “historical memory” (eg, Death of).

    The outmoded tropes of the forties and McCarthyist Leon Uris fifties are definitly ancient for Palestine and Palestinians, what ever lies are told to the contrary.

  12. mark delmege

    Paul or maybe he reads the Guardian, ha

  13. Jack Cade


    The Americans invented concentration camps. See Andersonville. Americans torturing and starving Americans – their brothers and cousins, in concentration camps
    The British certainly set up concentration camps in the Boer war, but did not invent them.
    The Spanish flu has been shown to have come from Kansas and taken to Europe by a couple of US recruits. And if youbapplybOccams Razor you will deduce that The China virus came from Fort Detrick via the 300 US military attending the World Military Games in Wuhan. The US team were hopeless, finishing last in the games. That’s not why they were sent. A great deal of literature was produced proving so, and actually naming the US athletes who were first patients, but it is no longer available.
    Donald Fart calls it the China virus to convince his own base. In due course the truth will out, but too late to matter. But like the Spanish flu, the truth won’t make one iota of difference.

  14. Jack Cade

    The anti-semitism scandal in the UK Labour Party was beaten up by Israeli agents. Being critical of the Israeli government and it’s treatment of Palestinians is not being anti-Jew or anti- Semitic. The Palestinians are Semites.

  15. paul walter

    Look Mark, on many things Smith writes well, but he/she is way out of his/her depth fence sitting on de-democritisation on nothing better than the paranoia and fantasy of an outdated Oligarchy dislocated from reality.. genuinely Kafkaesque.

  16. paul walter

    And the armaments industry exposed on its dirty deals with Saudi Arabia and such places.

    The same creeps who persecute people like Assange for blowing the whistle.

    Look to the City, Palace and Wall St for the REAL culprits, senile autocrats.

  17. paul walter

    Mark, no doubt the deterioration of the Guardian this century, like that of the BBC in Little Britain and the ABC, SBS and the Age here, has been one of the saddest stories of this century.

    Behind it are not just rightist managers, but the intelligence organs and people like Dutton and Murdoch.

  18. mark delmege

    Oh yes Paul and I am fully aware of the games they play. Yesterday I posted an article about a dual passport holding Aussie Ukraine agent who was widely used by the ABC and the SBS and others on events in Ukraine – Kiev Coup and Donbass.

  19. paul walter

    Drake N, sorry for being a bit irritable earlier. Re read you comment in context.

  20. Andrew Smith

    PW and MD: You misunderstand, misinterpret or are unable to understand nuance, nor is it clear what are you trying to argue? For your info I am middle aged, with a grandmother born in an Eastern European city late 19thC described by historian Mazower as ‘the worst place to be born a jew’ with pogroms occurring; luckily for her a bolt hole existed in the U.K. she then made her way to Oz post WWI.

    I am neither Zionist nor Israeli (and aethiest to boot) but there can be a range of opinions in or round Israeli society of those who don’t crossover between anti Zionism and/or anti semitism. Zionism was a reaction to anti-semitic pogroms in Central Europe, but in Israel, of course sub-optimal for Palestinians etc., and yet mirrored other state systems in the Mid East from post WWI (after the Ottomans); forms of national socialism including sub-optimal democracy, single ethnic and/or religious identity dominates, lack of pluralism and minority rights in society, major religion (and/or sect) supported by the state, authoritarian leadership, state industries, strong military, security state and censorship.

    Fast forward we have claims that (undefined) ‘Zionists’ rule the world through (undefined) ‘globalisation’ (wink, wink) and the Soros conspiracy supposedly encouraging Mid East migration to dilute European or Christian blood; dog whistling both (undefined) Zionism and Jews is now very popular amongst white nationalists and the alt right.

    There is neither simple description nor answer but to accept a lot of grey and different perceptions across the world e.g. at least tolerance …. following is a link to an article (with many comments) regarding the UK situation of the left and Zionism in ‘The Left and the Jews: Time for a Rethink’:

    ‘Professionals who deal with antisemitism do not see a wave of popular antisemitism but rather three distinct political antisemitisms; on the dwindling far right; in parts – I stress parts – of the British Muslim community; and in parts – again, I stress parts – of the Left.’

    The Left and the Jews: Time for a Rethink

    Seems rather grey doesn’t it?

  21. mark delmege

    Thanks for your explanation Andrew. I was making the point that all religions get hammered often in here and I dont think it necessary or respectful to do so. I dont believe Corbyn is a racist either but that excuse is being used to chase him out of the way and I think that is clear to most who follow the debate and have an inkling of the contents of the report. Fortunately there are jewish Labour members who speak up for Corbyn and can see through the bullshit. Perhaps you missed the one million pound plot by the Israeli Embassy to get him a while back or maybe you are not aware of the 80 member block of Labour MP who are ‘pro-Israel’ who I dare say see Corbyns advocacy for the Palestinians as like a red rag to a bull. Corbyn had/has rare courage and I find your comment sniping and unjustified – and your whataboutism, irrelevant.

  22. DrakeN

    ” I was making the point that all religions get hammered often in here and I dont think it necessary or respectful to do so.”

    With that, mark, I vehemently disagree.

    Based on their histories, long past and recent, they deserve all the opprobrium and ire that can be gathered in order to heap unreserved censure on them.

    “For the truth is not in them.”

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