Dave Rich

Labour's new antisemitism website raises more questions than it answers

The party thinks the crisis is caused by a small number of members but it is a problem of political culture and institutional racism, writes Dr Dave Rich

July 23, 2019 09:40

You always know when criticism of the Labour Party’s handling of antisemitism has reached an intolerable level, because that is when the party announces a new raft of measures promising that this time they really will address the problem.

This week, with discussions on antisemitism scheduled for shadow cabinet and Labour’s National Executive Committee following last week’s harrowing Panorama, Labour has launched a new section of their website all about antisemitism.

The centrepiece of this new ‘mini-site’ is a short leaflet called “No Place for Antisemitism”. It’s not remotely comprehensive – the history of antisemitism is dealt with in around 170 words – and while some parts are quite good, as a whole it raises more questions than it answers.

For example, the leaflet accurately describes how “some conspiracy theories substitute Israel or Zionists for Jews, presenting Israel as controlling the world’s media and finances.” Blaming Israel for 9/11 or ISIS, or comparing Israel to the Nazis, are also defined as antisemitic.

Does this mean that any Labour member holding these views will be thrown out of the party? So far, as we saw in Panorama, that has not been the case.

The leaflet condemns conspiracy theories that blame “a Jewish plot to facilitate 'white genocide'” for fuelling antisemitic terrorism in Pittsburgh and San Diego – but doesn’t mention the different, but just as lethal, Islamist antisemitism behind the murders of French, Belgian and Danish Jews in recent years.

A third of the leaflet is not really about antisemitism at all, but about Zionism and anti-Zionism. We are told that Labour supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also that “Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists. Neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism is in itself racism.”

The Labour Party used to believe that Jewish self-determination in the historic Jewish homeland was intrinsically a good thing. Now Labour is a “political home” for people who wish the world’s only Jewish state would disappear. And they wonder why anti-Jewish cranks up and down the country think Labour is the party for them.

A copy of this leaflet has been emailed to all party members with a link to the new part of the website, which also hosts a video message and article by Corbyn talking about antisemitism. Again, this looks like progress; until you notice that the video message and article date from August and April 2018 respectively. In other words, this is just a reminder that Labour has done nothing to fix the problem since the last time Corbyn was forced to issue a flurry of empty promises and formulaic condemnations.

Ultimately, Labour still talks about antisemitism as a problem of “a small number” of members with the wrong ideas, who can be persuaded to change their views with a leaflet and a video or two. In fact it is a problem of political culture and institutional racism, and a leadership that wants us to believe they can turn the problem around without ever addressing their own role in creating it.

Corbyn himself has still never acknowledged that he has personally said and done antisemitic things, including things this new leaflet now says is antisemitic. There is always an (unconvincing) excuse and never any self-examination, because he is convinced of his own purity.

Meanwhile, this charm offensive follows a week of Labour hounding and smearing those brave whistleblowers who told Panorama about the depth of the party’s failure – or refusal – to deal with antisemitism. It is hard to shake off the feeling that Labour’s extraordinary reaction to those revelations told us much more about the character of the party leadership than anything they publish in a leaflet.

Dr Dave Rich is Director of Policy at the Community Security Trust and author of The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Antisemitism.

July 23, 2019 09:40

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