Some evidence for the Inquiry

May 26, 2016 12:16

An Open Letter to Ms Shami Chakrabarti, chair of the Labour Party Inquiry into Antisemitism & Other Forms of Racism.

Dear Ms Chakrabarti,

Now that the terms of reference have been published of the investigation you are chairing into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour party that you have conveniently (but as I understand entirely incidentally) just joined, I thought I would pluck up the courage to respond positively - as a member of one of the "relevant communities" concerned - to the invitation that has been issued to submit evidence to this inquiry. I do so having recently listened in horror to a BBC Radio 4 discussion programme (Antisemitism on the Left, 19 May) hosted by my fellow JC columnist David Aaronovitch.

While Mr Aaronovitch no doubt set out with the best of intentions to examine whether the contemporary Labour party was indeed afflicted with anti-Jewish racism and, if so, why this had happened, the debate that followed struck me as exemplifying the problem rather than as explaining it.

To begin with, Aaronovitch introduced sociologist Dr David Hirsh, a Jew, a man of the left and a founder of Engage, which campaigns admirably against boycotts of Israel. Hirsh affected to explain antisemitism in the Labour party as a malign mutation of anti-Zionism, which he traced to - but not beyond - the Durban Conference of 2001, at which strenuous though ultimately unsuccessful efforts were made to re-brand Zionism as racism.

Increasing reliance on Muslim voters wasn’t discussed

It is true that the failure of Durban to accede to Muslim demands that Israel be condemned as an inherently racist enterprise led adherents of the left to pursue this objective in other ways. But, as far as the UK Labour party is concerned, this pursuit had been in train for at least a quarter-century before Durban, a pursuit led by the Trotskyist wing of the party, which in turn took its cue from the anti-Zionism of Stalin's Soviet Union.

To truly understand antisemitism in the Labour party Hirsh needs, we need - and your inquiry needs - to look back even further, to the very roots of the party, to the anti-Jewish bigotry of some of its founders, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb (who, you may recall, jointly declared in 1897 that Jewish immigrants to the UK were "a constant influence for degradation" of the national character).

Your inquiry needs also to bear in mind the long history of anti-Jewish prejudice in the British trade-union movement, a prejudice that had nothing whatever to do with Zionism. This history did not feature in Hirsh's contribution to the BBC discussion that David Aaronovitch chaired. Indeed, the only hint that antisemitism on the left might have predated the Zionist movement came from the Labour activist Owen Jones, who reminded Aaronovitch and his listeners that the 19th-century German socialist August Bebel had famously referred to antisemitism as "the socialism of fools." (In fact the phrase probably originated with the Austrian democrat Ferdinand Kronawetter.)

For David Aaronovitch's third guest (Kerry-anne Mendoza, a black person of Jewish origin and who, while acknowledging that it was a mistake to equate Israel with Nazi Germany nonetheless managed to shoe-horn into the discussion the accusation that Israel had sterilised Ethiopian Jewesses so as to render them unable to produce specifically black offspring), the Labour party's current difficulties over its "Jewish question" were more or less exclusively traceable to Israel and "the Occupation." While Aaronovitch did challenge Mendoza over another ridiculous assertion - that Israel had no right to exist because it is a theocracy (which it isn't, as Aaronovitch pointed out) - what was entirely absent from the discussion was the cumulative impact upon the Labour party of its increasing reliance on Muslim voters.

If your inquiry is to have any credibility with British Jews it will need to address this issue. Anti-Jewish prejudice is endemic in the Muslim world. Inevitably, therefore, this prejudice has found its way into Labour politics. The recent suspension from party membership of columnist Rod Liddle may have served to please Labour's Islamic wing. But in merely asserting that "antisemitism is rife among Muslims" Liddle was only telling the truth. "Plenty of Muslims (he told his Sun readers) will tell you the same."

Yours sincerely,

Professor Geoffrey Alderman

May 26, 2016 12:16

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