While parts of the far-left will continue to suggest it’s evidence of a widespread establishment conspiracy to rid politics of Jeremy Corbyn, yesterdays report from the EHRC and the decision to suspend the former Labour leader prove that antisemitism was – and perhaps still is – part of the party.
At its worst, there was widespread abuse of the Jewish community that was tolerated by the leadership. At its most subtle, antisemitism was manifested in the form of a relentless obsession; obsession with the Israel-Palestine debate, obsession with the definition of antisemitism, all matched with a complete unwillingness from Corbyn’s base to accept any sort of problem.
It has strong echoes with the far-right and their deeply-rooted Islamophobia like Tommy Robinson’s supporters who can’t shake their obsession with Muslims and mosques. Of course, radical Islam and extremism is a problem that needs to be addressed but honing in on it with such vigour and ignoring a whole host of other problems in society reeks of Islamophobia.
And the absolute focus from members of the far-left on Israel, the actions of the country, the definition of antisemitism – followed the same pattern. Much of the Corbynite left had an obsession with this individual nation, and that obsession is either a symptom or perhaps a cause, of a culture of antisemitism.
Corbyn supporters convinced themselves that there was a media conspiracy against the Labour leader and were blinded to real issues when they arose. The attempts to detract or undermine the scale of antisemitism in the party exceeded the attempts to properly address it.
A campaign began that attempted to undermine the accusations, rather than address them. Corbynites were reduced to ‘whataboutery’, pointing to Islamophobia in the Conservative party, and it struck the same tone as Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists without first pointing to Antifa.
Some in the party suggested complaints were overblown since rates of antisemitism in the Labour party were no higher than in general society, a bold claim for a party that should – by all its values – be anti-racist instead of just “not racist”. Some – including Corbyn himself – pointed to the fact that the public overestimated the amount of antisemitism in the party.
When Panorama prepared to broadcast an investigation into the claims in 2019, for their documentary ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic’, the spin machine went into full force. Alleged ‘lines’ to divert attention from the documentary were circulated on Twitter. Later, the party would complain to the BBC about the broadcast.
The Corbynite wing of the Labour party never stopped to reflect on the issue, and instead dedicated their time and energy to dissecting the media coverage for signs of partisan bias or flaws in the data. Far more words and pages were dedicated to playing down antisemitism than to investigating it. In the book, Bad News for Labour, academics teamed up to fill a book with excuses and justifications for Labour’s antisemitism: brimming with charts to supposedly show the problem was being exaggerated by the media.
Further evidence of this obsession was the party’s debate around the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The definition is widely accepted, yet the party ummed and ahhed over alterations, examples and disclaimers throughout the summer of 2018. The decision to adopt it in full was eventually made by the NEC – supposedly against the wishes of Corbyn himself.
Corbyn supporters continued to argue that the definition would suppress free speech, that it wasn’t widely accepted, pointing out flaws in the definition. The far-left continued their unabating obsession, that no other party seemed to have.
Yesterdays ruling will vindicate those that insisted the problem was very real. The individuals from within the party who spoke out about it and faced torrents of abuse. The media that reported on it and were met with complaints, accusations of bias and – of course – more abuse.
Antisemitism existed and the leadership failed to address it – the ruling of the EHRC proves it.
Keir Starmer’s zero-tolerance approach seems extreme because we’re used to years of Corbyn’s “not right now” approach. Ken Livingstone was suspended but never expelled from the Labour party, despite antisemitic comments on the radio in 2016. He eventually resigned from the party but continued to support Jeremy Corbyn. There was no decisive leadership.
The Chakrabarti report, far from being evidence that the issue was being dealt with, was further evidence of an approach that prioritised excuses and diversions over action.
The conclusion of the report, that antisemitism created an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere,’ are a far cry from the EHRC findings: ‘a culture within the Party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.’
Just months after Shami Chakrabarti published her report, she was awarded a peerage by Jeremy Corbyn – a significant dent in the credibility of the findings.
The EHRC report is clear that antisemitism in the Labour Party is real. Agents of the party had committed antisemitic acts for which the party had to take responsibility. Also, there were ‘many more files’ documenting evidence of antisemitic abuse by party members, whose behaviour the party was not directly responsible for.
The party must take responsibility for creating a culture that undoubtedly vindicated those members and supporters to make antisemitic comments and send antisemitic abuse.
The speech yesterday from Keir Starmer, in which he acknowledged the pain felt by Jewish members and acknowledged the findings of the report, is welcome, and the prominent slogan that surrounded him: ‘A new leadership’ is a strong signal of change.
Image: Sophie Brown via Wikimedia Commons. Image was cropped. Licence here.