The best summary I’ve read of the recent report of Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into claims of anti-semitism within the British Labour Party is from Nazareth-based journalist Johnathan Cook here.
It’s worth spending the time to read through the entire analysis but most of us are busy so I’ve taken a few extracts from the Johnathan Cook piece to highlight the main points.
The reason this became so big in British politics was two-fold. British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was being attacked with false smears of anti-semitism because he was promoting policies of support for Palestinians and proposing to impose sanctions against Israel for its racist, apartheid policies. However, he was also being targeted by the right-wing within the establishment and within the British Labour Party itself (by supporters of war criminal Tony Blair) who are wedded to neo-liberalism. The Cook analysis says:
But in reality there are other, entirely credible reasons about why the antisemitism claims against Labour were, as Corbyn observed, “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, or were even outright smears.
Corbyn was indeed targeted by pro-Israel groups for very understandable reasons, from their partisan perspective. He was the first British party leader within reach of power to unapologetically support the Palestinian cause and threaten Israel with serious repercussions for its continuing oppression of the Palestinian people.
But the claims of pro-Israel lobbyists only gained traction politically because, in concert, he was being targeted by the neoliberal establishment. That included the media, the Conservative Party and, particularly damagingly, the still-dominant “Blairite” wing of his own party, which hankered for a return to Labour’s glory days under former leader Tony Blair.
They all wanted to keep Corbyn from reaching No 10. Ultimately, antisemitism proved the most effective of a range of smears they tried on Corbyn for size. The goal was to discredit him in the eyes of British voters to ensure he could never implement a socialist platform that would challenge establishment interests head-on.
The EHRC report did not support the claims the British Labour Party was “institutionally anti-semitic” but, more mundanely, that party officials had handled complaints of anti-semitism poorly. The Cook analysis says:
The impression left on the public – aided by yet more frantic media spin – was that the EHRC’s 130-page report had confirmed the claims of Corbyn’s critics that on his watch the party had become “institutionally antisemitic”. In fact, the watchdog body reached no such conclusion. Its report was far more ambiguous. And its findings – deeply flawed, vague and glaringly inconsistent as they were – were nowhere near as dramatic as the headlines suggested.
The commission concluded that “there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible”. Those failings, according to the commission, related to the handling of antisemitism complaints, interference by the leader’s office in the disciplinary procedure, and “unlawful harassment” by two Labour Party “agents”.
None of that seemed to amount to anything like the supposed claims of a “plague” and “tidal wave” of antisemitism that have dominated headlines for five years.
Paradoxically, the equalities commission’s conclusions sounded a lot like Corbyn’s statement that the scale of Labour’s antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated”. That remark quickly became grounds for the party suspending him.
So sustained has the furore about “institutional antisemitism” been in Labour that, according to a recent survey by academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry, the British public estimated that on average a third of Labour members had been disciplined for antisemitism – more than 300 times the real figure.
But in the end, the commission could identify only two cases of unlawful antisemitism the party was responsible for. According to the report, there were 18 “borderline” cases, however, “there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Labour Party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual”.
In fact it was the right-wing “Blairites” who were responsible for the poor handling of the complaints while Corbyn supporters were putting pressure on for the complaints to be expedited. The Cook analysis says:
The watchdog body’s second finding against Labour follows from – and starkly contradicts – the first. Corbyn’s team are blamed for “political interference” in the complaints procedure, creating the risk of “indirect discrimination”.
Out of 70 complaints it studied, it found 23 instances over a three-year period where there was “political interference” by the leader’s office and other actors in the handling of antisemitism cases.
In most of these, Corbyn’s staff were seeking to expedite stalled antisemitism proceedings that were causing – and meant to cause – the party a great deal of embarrassment. They were trying to do exactly what critics like the Board of Deputies of British Jews demanded of them.
Supporters of Corbyn have stressed the “counter-case” of overwhelming evidence that there is not a particular problem of anti-semitism within the Labour Party. The Cook report says:
Corbyn’s supporters argued that the claims of an especial antisemitism problem in Labour amounted to an ideologically motivated and evidence-free smear. When Corbyn tried to defend his record last week, arguing that the scale of the antisemitism problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, he was suspended.
But he and his allies have solid evidence to justify that claim.
First, they note, surveys demonstrate that Labour supporters were less likely to express antisemitic attitudes than Conservative supporters or the general public. A poll by the Economist magazine last year showed that while those on the far-left in the UK had by far the most critical views of Israel, they were also the least likely to engage in antisemitism.
Second, Cobyn’s supporters can point to the party’s own statistics that show only a minuscule proportion of members were ever referred to the party’s disciplinary procedure for antisemitism. That was the case even after pro-Israel groups like the CAA and the JLM scoured social media accounts trying to find examples to discredit Corbyn and after they managed to browbeat the party into adopting the new IHRA definition of antisemitism that conflated hatred of Jews with criticism of Israel.
And third, of those who faced investigation for antisemitism, a significant proportion were Jewish members outspoken in their criticism of Israel. Many Jews vocally opposed to Israel are active in the Labour Party, including nowadays in a group called Jewish Voice for Labour. By obscuring the fact that many of Israel’s harshest critics in Labour were Jewish, the media and pro-Israel partisans handed Corbyn’s opponents a convenient whip to beat him with.
One of the biggest worries from false smears of anti-semitism against Corbyn and his supporters, any anywhere else in fact, is that it undermines understanding of the very real and present threat of anti-semitism which – as Corbyn says – is a “cancer” on humanity.
This cancer inhabits the British Conservative Party and the US Republicans in particular. Theodor Hertzl, often described as the father of modern Zionism, understood this clearly when he wrote:
“The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.”
As far as defending Israel’s racist apartheid policies and brutality towards Palestinians are concerned, Hertzl was 100% correct.