What’s wrong with weaponising Labour left’s antisemitism?

Ignore the naive and woefully misled Forde report — to save the party, Keir Starmer and his allies must expose the Corbynites’ embrace of an ideology that leads to support for Hamas

August 11, 2022 14:41

What is this? And what does it mean?” The publication of the Forde report last month was hotly anticipated by many Labour activists who have spent years in the trenches fighting each other.

But to most people, such as the Jewish friend who texted me asking for an explanation, the report’s origins are obscure and its contents confusing.

What they do know is that since it was published, the Labour left have started again with their attempt to suggest that left antisemitism was an invention. Even though the report flatly says the opposite.

When Labour was submitting its evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation of antisemitism, the proposed submission of the Corbyn leadership leaked. As it contained unredacted names and messages, as well as political allegations of an anti-Corbyn stitch-up, the leak caused a fuss. And Sir Keir organised an independent inquiry under the QC Martin Forde.

I must admit I found much of it naive and disappointing. His extraordinary endorsement of the idea that Labour operated a hierarchy of racism suggests that too much attention was being paid to Jews and that we are even privileged in the amount of racism we suffer from. I also thought the proposals for antisemitism training, involving Jewish Voice for Labour, were outrageous.

Martin Forde does not appear to have been well-chosen at all.

What Forde reported is that Labour was engaged in a faction fight of such bitterness that both sides lost their bearings. The left began to deny antisemitism or say it was exaggerated. The right used it as an issue to beat the left.

They both, he said, had weaponised the issue. Not surprisingly, the left jumped on this with glee, ignoring criticisms of their own behaviour.

Yet criticism of the Labour right of using antisemitism as a stick to beat the left seems extraordinary to me. Of course it is a stick. And rightly so.

I have never believed that the Labour left’s antisemitism problem originated in an instinctive prejudice. I think it resulted from their odd political doctrine.

There is a strong strand of Leninist anti-imperialism on the left. This argues that capitalism is sustained by imperialist adventure and that the way to bring down capitalism is thus to end imperialism.

So the allies of socialism are anti-colonial resistance movements. This leads to two suspicions of Jews. One is to believe that Israel represents the forces sustaining capitalism, because it is colonialist. This means that the allies of labour should be Hamas and Hezbollah, despite the fact (or because of the fact) they kill Jews.

The other, less common but still strong, left suspicion of Jews is that they — Rothschild Zionists — are the banking class driving imperialism.

It is completely appropriate that the Labour right would wish to prevent such an idea taking over their party. Just as it is inevitable that the Labour left would attempt to establish hegemony.

So, of course they had a faction fight. If Labour’s right did not have a faction fight over this, what would be the point of them? They couldn’t simply accommodate such a view.

And in such a fight it is natural that antisemitism would become one of the core issues. It was natural and correct that the Labour right would wish to point out its resulting antisemitism and use its most obvious flaw to make the argument against them.

When Starmer commissioned this report, I think he believed that the Labour left could be folded back into the party. He asked for a report that was independent and just the facts. And he got one. But this position, as he has subsequently concluded, was naive. The left anti-imperialist Leninism has to be fought and not accommodated.

The report correctly says that Labour was consumed by faction fighting but not — because it wasn’t asked — whether that was appropriate. Starmer knows this now, which is why he has excluded Jeremy Corbyn.

And the left’s response to the report — that they have been proven right yet again — shows that they will never learn. The only answer is the one that the party staff hit upon. To fight them vigorously.

Daniel Finkelstein is associate editor of The Times

August 11, 2022 14:41

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive