One of the UKs most prominent Jewish authors has suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination of Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage was the Labour leader’s way of showing contempt for those who complained about antisemitism within the party.
Howard Jacobson was speaking at Monday night’s premiere of Whitewashed, a documentary about last year’s Labour inquiry into “antisemitism and other forms of racism” headed by the subsequently ennobled Baroness Chakrabarti.
The book on which the documentary is based and which was launched last night, includes 13 personal submissions which were made to the Chakrabarti inquiry, of which Mr Jacobson’s was one.
“I’m quite shocked by the giving of a peerage to Chakrabarti”, he said to a capacity crowd of over 250 people at the JW3 community centre in north-west London.
“I’m shocked by the speed of it and shocked by what that suggested about Corbyn”.
Holding up his middle finger, the Man Booker prize winner said he felt “that was what Corbyn was saying to all of us who complained”.
Mr Jacobson referenced the short period between the publication of the report and the announcement of the peerage, saying of Jeremy Corbyn: “I’m surprised he even waited for her to finish.
“We will never feel convinced that the problem of antisemitism is being dealt with if the people dealing with it often cannot talk about antisemitism without at the same time saying ‘all racism’,” the author of J and The Finkler Question continued.
“Corbyn has never yet said antisemitism without also saying ‘all racism’, as though he has to apologise to everybody else before he can apologise for antisemitism."
Three Labour MPs – John Mann, Louise Ellman and Joan Ryan – were present for the screening of the documentary and the discussion afterwards, which took place between Mr Jacobson and academic David Hirsh, who narrated the film.
Mrs Ellman referred to anti-Zionism and antisemitism in Labour as “a great stain and a shame on the party.
“There are many people in the Labour party – both MPs and not MPs – who are fighting what is happening, who are disgusted and appalled with what is happening.
“It’s appalling. I’m fighting it hard. I’ve made complaints about my local Labour party in relation to this, and action has been taken. It is not completed yet, but something is being done. I’m still fighting it. Joan Ryan is fighting it. Jeremy Newmark [head of the Jewish Labour Movement] is fighting it.
“And we need support to carry on our fight.”
Joan Ryan, the parliamentary chair of Labour Friends of Israel, described the Chakrabarti Report as “at the very best, a missed opportunity.
“We wanted to see in that report clear lines drawn, where criticism of Israel becomes antisemitic”, she said.
“And we did not get that, we were totally disappointed with that”.
The MP for Enfield North also told the crowd that she was “not willing at this point to walk away from the Labour Party that I believe in the values and principles of.
“To abandon the ground doesn’t mean the problem goes away”, she said.
“It means it grows, because we leave the stage, they’ve got it all to themselves.
“We don’t want, of the two main political parties in this country, that one of them should be allowed to become anti-Israel and one pro-Israel. I think that would be a very serious situation to get in”.
John Mann, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, told the audience they were wrong to be despondent about Labour's future. He cited recent positive developments at the National Union of Students, where a leader with a record of questionable comments about "Zionism" was voted out, as well as at Labour Students and the Oxford Labour Club, both of which rejected Momentum candidates.
The Labour MP was scathing in his assessment of Mr Corbyn. Responding to an earlier question from a member of the audience who had asked Mr Hirsh and Mr Jacobson how she, as a constituent of Mr Corbyn's, could question him on some key issues, Mr Mann suggested she ask why “a man who claims he’s dedicated his entire life to racism – he’s not prepared to make a speech exclusively, explicitly, just on antisemitism, to outline why it is the worst of racisms and why anyone who is an antisemite should be called by him, the Labour Party and everybody else, a racist.
“We’re going nowhere”, Mr Mann said.
“This is my party, this isn’t Corbyn’s party, this is my party.
“We will play our role in combating antisemitism until we wipe it out of our party.
“We are not going to give up. Whenever an antisemite stands up, they will be challenged hopefully eloquently but forcefully.
“And what we say to you is ‘give us your support when we do so’. And don’t be conned into thinking that our party, our country, any part of it, is ever going to hand over itself to the antisemites, because we will beat them as we’ve beaten them before.”