Anti-Semitism and Labour

I do not normally deal with issues beyond the concerns of the immediate Liverpool city-region, but charges of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party have been bandied about locally. I refer specifically to “charges” because, as I have often said, I have never witnessed or heard of examples locally of anti-Semitism, either as a member of the party for fifty-five years; as an employee of it; or as an elected member, representing it in parliament.

This current controversy in itself should not be surprising, as these charges seem to have gained currency in parallel with intensive attacks on Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Generally, they have been amplified by alleged parliamentary colleagues who just happen to be his political enemies within the Labour Party. The party itself has been labelled “institutionally anti-Semitic”, whatever that may mean. Sadly, some of our local Members of Parliament have joined the chorus – along with the departing Police and Crime Commissioner – determined to decry a party with a proud record of anti-racism.

Let me say that no-one can justify anti-Semitism – a pernicious form of racism focussed on Jews. However, there has been deliberate confusion of that detestable bigotry with a quite different matter of criticism of the Israeli government and its policies. The conflation of the two has too often led to misleading accusations that legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government are anti-Semitic when they are not.

The misuse of the grave charge of anti-Semitism was brought home to me back in 2007 when two highly respected American academics – John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt – co-authored a book entitled: “The Israel Lobby and United States Foreign Policy”. It was a scholarly work which set out to chronicle the influence on the United States of highly organised and well-funded lobby groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC (the nearest equivalents which we have might be bodies like the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Labour Friends of Israel).

The reaction to the extremely well-researched and objective book was immediate and vitriolic, with the now all-too-familiar accusations of anti-Semitism directed at the authors. Perhaps this reaction was partly explained by the persistence of anti-Jewish myths propagated by hard –right hatemongers. Yet the publication was also a challenge to the pro-Israel lobby groups who, in common with other such lobbyists, are averse to the illuminating transparency to which right-minded democrats aspire.

This unedifying spat came to mind when I saw that the decidedly dodgy Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu (currently facing a range of criminal charges back home) appeared at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. To my surprise, I noted that another guest speaker at this jamboree was Joan Ryan, MP, only the second British politician (after one Tony Blair) ever invited to address this body. I have seen no accounts of this anywhere in the British media, other than in the Jewish press. Not only was she chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) but, according to LFI’s website will remain so, despite leaving the party and abusing it in extreme terms to her American audience!

Her speech was a vicious diatribe – a toxic attack on the party which by her own admission, had given her so much, and of which she claimed to have been a member for forty years until she walked out to join the Independents Group. She described a Labour Party which I – and, I suspect, the vast majority of Labour Party members  – do not recognise, probably because it does not exist other than in her fevered imagination. I will not bore you with her ugly, distorted view of the party, except to say that her central charge was that the Labour Party “seeks to demonise and delegitimize Israel”. Great stuff for her audience, of course, and grist to the mill for the sub-text of attacking Jeremy Corbyn personally.

Now, I have said repeatedly that, had I still been in parliament at the time, I would not have nominated Jeremy, nor would I have voted for him. I have no axe to grind with him – he just would never have been my choice. He was, however, elected leader of the Labour Party – twice! In my book, he will remain leader, despite all the plots and conspiracies conjured up to undermine him, until he packs it in, or the party as a whole decides to replace him, not a cabal of self-seekers. One calumny is that Jeremy is anti-Semitic. He is not – this charge just will not wash. Those who wish to challenge those in power in the party, at any level, should do so on the basis of policy debate, never on the basis of personal attacks rooted in deceit.

4 thoughts on “Anti-Semitism and Labour

  1. After the four part documentary which featured Joan – ‘The Lobby’, I just don’t understand why LFI hasn’t been investigated by not only the Labour Party itself but also the government. I also don’t understand why the Labour Party allows organisations who have members who don’t have to be Labour Party members to be affiliated. I wish Jenny Formby would tighten things up in the NEC and then perhaps we wouldn’t have the constant smear campaigns in the media. It feels like a free for all for anyone and everyone to ruin the reputation of the party.

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  2. Utter drivel from Peter who really should know better. He follows the standard ‘Livingstone formulation’, long-exposed as a dishonest device to protect against charges of antisemitism in Labour. He joins with McCluskey & Ken Loach in claiming innocence of any antisemitism in the party, even when BLP & CLP meetings, and NEC reps, are awash with antisemitism. Corbyn himself is obviously antisemitic, caught repeatedly in plain sight. And the attack on Joan Ryan & LFI is a disgrace. Kilfoyle is enabling the far-Right with such insults. No chance this comment being approved though: Kilfoyle only likes fanboy comments

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    1. No. It is disengenuous accusers which help the far right, not people pointing out that antisemitism is not as big a problem in the party that some are making out it to be for political reasons. As someone from a CLP that has been smeared a number of times by MPs who have never visited my CLP, I understand how baseless SOME of the accusations are and I say some, as I can’t possibly know what happens in all areas of the party – just my own local party.

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  3. This sums up the problem as I see it. I have given what I believe to be an honest assessment of an important issue. The comment is itself awash with uncorroborated assertions and charges which have little to do with the facts which I have noted. This serves to underline the difficulty of having any sensible discussion on a subject too important to be left to bigots of any persuasion.

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