On this site last week, JC editor Stephen Pollard wrote that now is the time for unity, and not division, before trying to stir up a new needless row between Campaign Against Antisemitism, and the communal establishment, finishing off with sneering remarks about us and the work of our volunteers. It was typical of the derogatory, smug scorn that he pours on CAA whenever the opportunity arises. He has been doing this for years, and it’s time to call him out.
Mr Pollard is not a community leader. Like any editor, his newspaper profits from controversy. CAA arrived on the scene with an unprecedented demonstration of some 4,500 people outside the Royal Courts of Justice, demanding zero tolerance enforcement of the law as antisemitism surged during Hamas’ attack on Israel in 2014. At the time, we were delighted when the JC devoted its front four pages to coverage of our demonstration, proclaiming it to be “The new face of community protest”, but in retrospect I see another side to that now. The same coverage that heralded CAA as the new kids on the block put the boot (deservedly so) into the then leaders of the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council. It was Mr Pollard pitting one group against another, as is his way.
Over the years, as it became clear that CAA was a new but permanent weapon in the communal arsenal, the JC sought to paint us as a loose cannon, or worse still a deliberately insurgent force. JC articles pointedly failed to mention CAA even when reporting matters that we had instigated, or more often would publicly berate our volunteers’ work and impugn our motives. In the JC’s pages, we have been accused of everything from trying to make money out of a demonstration, through to trying to scare people into leaving the country.
CAA will be four years old in August, and as it has grown it has become stronger and increasingly effective, gaining the praise of Theresa May and other members of the cabinet, pursuing a complex programme of evidence gathering, victim support and litigation to force the authorities to act against antisemites, winning landmark lawsuits, and playing a leading part in major campaigns such as the effort to expose antisemitism in the Labour Party.
So when I read Mr Pollard’s outspoken attack on CAA for its forthcoming national demonstration on 8th April, calling on Labour to hold Jeremy Corbyn to account, I saw his troublemaking for what it was. He attacked us for disuniting the Jewish community at a critical juncture by going ahead with a demonstration soon after the communal establishment had just held one. He had his facts backward and he knew as much, which is presumably why he came in for criticism on social media.
When we called our demonstration for 8th April, we sought to build a broad coalition. We started by inviting the Board of Deputies to be our partner and to speak. A few hours later they announced their own letter to the Labour Party and their own demonstration. This is where Mr Pollard omits key facts: we called our demonstration first after considerable preparation, but supported the new last-minute demonstration by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council nonetheless, in the interests of unity. Indeed, now is the time for unity, and regardless of the way that it happened, I am pleased that the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council called its rally for last Monday. It struck a strong blow for our cause.
Mr Pollard’s mischief-making aside there is an important matter to discuss: after we all stood together to say “Enough is enough”, we must ask ourselves “What comes next?”
Politically, we can expect Mr Corbyn to try to string things out. He has offered a meeting in a few weeks to discuss how he might fix things. How might he? Is the problem not Mr Corbyn? Mr Corbyn has had almost three years of persistent calls for him to change the way that he and Labour deal with antisemitism, so why should we suddenly now expect him to tackle antisemitism when even this week he was revealed as still being a member of three antisemitic Facebook groups?
Mr Corbyn has spent his political life seeking out and actively defending antisemites like Reverend Stephen Sizer who claimed that Israel was behind 9/11 (Mr Corbyn defended Rev. Sizer: “I do admire the excellent work that he does and personally, I would give no credence at all to any claims that he is antisemitic”) and Sheikh Ra’ed Salah who slipped past a ban from the UK for promoting the blood libel (Mr Corbyn welcomed him to Parliament saying that Sheikh Salah was “a very honoured citizen” whose “voice must be heard”).
Now, Mr Corbyn wants us to believe that he is the man to save the Labour Party from the rampant antisemitism that only took hold with his ascendence. That ship sailed when Shami Chakrabarti cleared Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party of antisemitism and became the only person Mr Corbyn has ever elevated to the peerage.
So “What comes next?” is very much the operative question. Foremost, we must continue to stand together, and we must keep the pressure up. The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council are constructively negotiating with Mr Corbyn. That is one approach and it seems to be bearing fruit. There is room for a parallel approach, which is what CAA proposes.
Since political parties are essentially only regulated by the electorate and themselves, we have to focus on Labour’s broken self-regulation, fix it, and then make Mr Corbyn subject to it.
In 2016, CAA’s lawyers put together a “Manifesto for Fighting Antisemitism in Political Parties”. It outlines a model disciplinary process for political parties when considering allegations of antisemitism (and it should be used for other forms of prejudice too). It provides that disciplinary processes must be transparent, fair and conducted with due speed.
Our first demand is that the Labour Party adopts such a disciplinary model. If it does not, then there is no hope for it.
In 2016 and again last Saturday night, CAA submitted disciplinary complaints against Mr Corbyn himself. We should not be left guessing whether Mr Corbyn is merely incompetent at identifying antisemitism or supportive of it – a transparent, fair and efficient disciplinary process should decide that.
So our second demand is that the Labour Party disciplines Mr Corbyn.
Last Monday’s excellent start needs to be built on. Let’s do that together, like a community should. We must ignore those who want to stir division, like Mr Pollard. We are in touch with the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council and keeping them abreast of our thinking. Whatever we do, it is vital that we muster the strength of British Jews and friends who stand with us, so we are listening to what the community wants. We have consulted trusted advisers, including lawyers, journalists and Labour Party figures, and we have listened to the comments that you, our community, have sent to us by the hundred.
You have told us to proceed with our approach and with the demonstration on 8th April, so we will.