Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Have Labour been too apologetic on anti-Semitism?

It doesn't seem to matter what the Labour Party does, some people will simply not allow the subject of anti-Semitism to be dealt with calmly and rationally.

This hysteria is clear on both sides. This is clear whether we're talking about:

  • Chris Williamson's latest crass comments about Labour being "too apologetic" (comments that have drawn me back into writing about this subject again).
  • Margaret Hodge publicly bombarding the Labour disciplinary bods with dozens upon dozens of anti-Semitism cases to investigate 90% of which turned out to not even be Labour Party members, then having the absolute gall to complain that they're taking too long to investigate the actual genuine cases!
  • Or social media conspiracists outright denying that there's even a problem at all.
Moral perspective

From a moral perspective it's obvious that Labour should be apologetic every time an example of anti-Semitism is found amongst the 500,000+ people in the Labour ranks.

It's obviously fair to add context too by pointing out the facts and evidence that partisan anti-Labour critics would never provide. Stuff like the fact that the rates of anti-Semetic views amongst Labour supporters have gone down dramatically since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015, the fact that disciplinary procedures have been sped up significantly since Jennie Formby took over from the Blairite Ian McNicol at the NEC, and the fact that anti-Semitism is and always has been way more prevalent in the Tory party than Labour.

However, it's beyond obvious that whenever anti-Semites are caught in the Labour Party, the party needs to apologise and demonstrate their continued commitment to combating all forms of racism and bigotry with disciplinary procedures and bans.

Realpolitik perspective

From a realpolitik perspective Labour is obviously getting the whole thing completely wrong.

Instead of apologising and seeking to actively deal with the issue, the mainstream media have educated us about what the correct response is with their absolute dearth of coverage about the Tory Islamophobia scandal.

The Tory party has been accused of tolerating despicable anti-Muslim bigotry by several senior Tory politicians, including Sayeeda Warsi. For over a year the Tories have been refusing to apologise, refusing to investigate, and outright refusing to listen to calls by the Muslim Council of Britain for an inquiry into anti-Muslim bigotry in the Tory ranks.

The Tories have simply stonewalled the subject, and a result the mainstream media have rewarded them with an absolutely minuscule fraction of the negative coverage they've heaped on the Labour anti-Semitism issue!

As far as the mainstream press are concerned Labour talking about and debating anti-Semitism in order to deal with the issue is worthy of inordinately more coverage that the Tories staying silent about anti-Muslim bigotry, and outright refusing to do anything whatever to deal with the problem in their party!

The ones who talk about the issue and take action are continually bombarded with criticism, while the ones who stay silent and refuse to take action are given a free pass.

Given these circumstances, from a realpolitik perspective it's obviously absolutely stupid for Labour to keep talking about anti-Semitism when the strategy of steadfastly refusing to engage has worked so well for the Tories when it comes to anti-Muslim hate in their ranks.


One of the main reasons Labour can't stop talking about the issue is that the party has a long history of standing up for minorities. It was the left who stood with the Jewish people at Cable Street to oppose Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in 1936 while the Tories we're signing up in droves to anti-Semitic pro-Nazi pressure groups like the Right Club.

And it was the left who stood with the Jewish community at Wood Green in the 1970s to face down the National Front thugs too.

Given this history it's obvious that any level of anti-Semitism in the Labour ranks feels like a betrayal that needs to be apologised for, and rightly so.

With the Tories it's a different story. In the 1930s they embraced the new fad of Nazism and joined up to anti-Semitic hate groups in their droves. In the 1960s they ran racist "If you want a coloured for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour" leaflet campaigns in by-elections. In the 1980s they sided with Apartheid South Africa while the Tory youth were parading around in "Hang Mandela" T-shirts. And Theresa May is personally responsible for the introduction of sickeningly racist legislation in 2014 that was used to deny black Britons the right to housing, employment, banking services, social security, health care, and the right to return to Britain. This vile "Hostile Environment" legislation even resulted in black Britons dying in exile overseas.

The Tory party has a long history of racism stretching from their adoration of Nazism in the 1930s all the way to the present and their current policies of deporting black Britons and turning a blind eye to anti-Muslim bigotry in their own ranks.

Bigotry in the Tory ranks isn't a touchstone issue because there have always been loads of bigots in the Tory party. It's not news, and never will be, because it's just accepted as the norm.


If you're the kind of person who can hold two thoughts in your head simultaneously then try this:
1. A tiny minority of Labour's 500,000+ members have expressed anti-Semitic views. They people should be weeded out because racism and bigotry of all types are unacceptable.
2. A lot of very bad faith opportunists are deliberately weaponising the Labour anti-Semitism issue for their own cynical political purposes.
There are no contradictions whatever between these two statements because they're both observable facts, however you have to be extremely careful stating the second fact because the very opportunists the statement refers to will attempt to misrepresent it as if it's a denial of the first statement that anti-Semitism is a problem.

There's obviously a huge distinction between pointing out the that Labour-opponents and mainstream media hacks like to use super-cynical tricks to weaponise anti-Semitism (like deliberately conflating the anti-Semetic abuse of jailed extreme-right thugs with the Labour Party, or taking quotations miles out of context in order to manufacture outrage), and outright denial that there's any problem at all.

But if cynical opportunists are prepared to mislead, manipulate, and lie in order to weaponise anti-Semitism for their own political purposes, why on earth wouldn't they use the same dishonest tactics to attack anyone who calls them out?

Tory glee

The weaponisation of anti-Semitism for political purposes is particularly galling when it comes from Tory MPs and partisan pro-Tory pro-austerity hacks in the mainstream media.

What's even more galling still is their barely suppressed glee whenever anyone tries to argue back that they're hypocrites due to the brazen Tory refusal to even address anti-Muslim bigotry in their own party.

They respond with glee because they know that not only are they winning from a realpolitik perspective by simply refusing to talk about or address their own bigotry issues, they also know that the perception that they're an anti-Muslim party actually plays extremely well with the sizeable extreme-right ultranationalist blue-kip demographic they've been openly courting and welcoming on board with open arms ever since the collapse of UKIP.

They know that anti-Semitism is a hugely problematic issue for Labour because of the left's history of solidarity with Jewish people, and they also know that accusations of anti-Muslim hate in the Tory ranks actually serve as recruitment calling cards amongst the far-right demographics they're actively targeting for support.

And they know they're being opportunistic hypocrites by banging on about Labour anti-Semitism when they have no intention whatever of dealing with much more serious problems of bigotry in their own ranks, but that's just how amoral opportunists roll.

From a realpolitik perspective they'd be idiots to actually investigate accusations of anti-Muslim bigotry in their party and root out the worst offenders because they know that doing the right thing like Labour have been doing would just invite media scrutiny and lots of negative commentary.


The conclusion is that the moral thing to do is to fight anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry, and apologise whenever bigots are exposed in your own party's ranks.

But the behaviour of the Tories and the mainstream media proves that from a realpolitik perspective any kind of apology whatever is "too apologetic" because why apologise when the media give you an infinitely easier ride when you just stonewall the bigotry problem like the Tories have?

So the answer to the question of "have Labour been too apologetic on anti-Semitism?" depends entirely on whether you believe in doing the right thing, or you've got such a tribal win at all costs mentality that you'll steadfastly ignore evidence of bigotry within your party purely for party political advantage.

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Unknown said...

If I had a pound for hearing the word anti-Semitism on main stream media and press, I could retire to Barbados on my yacht.. true fact anti-Semitism is low among labour members,it needs proper scrutiny not a bias fact free media..

Antitoria said...

The Labour party has been smeared by anti-semitism. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the many righ-wingers
in the Labour party put their heads together to see how they could damage the party the most. Of course the MSM
have had a field day with this while quietly ignoring all the racists in the Conservative party

Unknown said...

I think the Tories and media can get away with it because there is a much more accepted anti Muslim attitude in the population as a whole. There may be a hidden number of people that might have a degree of AS but, it's such a (rightly) unacceptable thing, they keep quiet about it. Anti-Muslim, however, is OK. Just look at the widespread response to Shamima Begum. I hear her image is even being used as a target in a firing range - and the centre is inundated with requests to go along!
The UK is fast becoming a very sick country.

Unknown said...

I agree the labour party are not racist, but the media are peddling the trope to damage Corbyn, it could be time for legal action against perpetrators smearing a fair organisation with a history of opposing racism..any crowd funding give me a shout..

Anonymous said...

From what I can see there are a number of main areas where there can be be issues.

1) The racists: A tiny number of Labour members are anti-semitic as in actually despising Jews - be it followers of Judaism or those who are Jewish by race, or who rehash debunked conspiracy theories specifically directed Jews. When these people actually spout this bile expel them and report them to the police if there is evidence of hate crime.

2) The ignorant: A larger but still fairly small number of Labour members can be ignorant and stray into anti-semitism, either by confusing zionism and anti-semitism, or concentrating on the faults of Israel at the expense of anywhere else. They may also state anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, but believe these apply to Zionism. Education is the key here - and people should listen to Jewish figures in Labour such as Michael Rosen, Michael Segalov and groups like the JVL if they are in any doubt about what is or isn't acceptable. In the interests of balance, I would also suggest taking note of what the JLM says too.

3) Valid criticism: There are valid criticisms of behaviour of Israeli government and certain lobbying activities by pro-Israeli groups which are not anti-semitic. Equally valid criticism of international finance capitalism, corporate lobbying and assorted think tanks and Chatham House groups. None of this is anti-semitic (as long as Israel is not the only country blamed for its behaviour - and it is noted strongly that plenty of Israelis are not supporters of Likud and West Bank Settlements, or global finance capitalism - and that they are strong allies of the left).

The main problem is that 3) is wrongly conflated with the other cases by those wishing to either persue assorted agendas. The lines between such things can blur and so well meaning people can believe there is anti-semitism where there isn't, too.

I'm not sure what the answer to it all is, although I suspect if Labour reverted to a pro-business Blairite policy platform, little would be reported about anti-semitism, be it valid or not.

Anonymous said...

Further to my point above, I agree with the posters above suggesting that the Tories can get away with anti-Muslim behaviour far more easily.

Perversely they are also highly pro Saudi and have suppressed reports into Saudi dissemination of extremism. I suspect it is harder to attack the Labour left (and Greens / Lib Dems / UKIP for that matter) on their anti-Saudi stance, because the Saudi regeime is so abhorrent to the bulk of society, where as Israel at least is a democracy.

Unknown said...

Some sensible points you have made..I am Welsh and have been called some hair curling names, but I take it in my stride as banter..can someone tell me what is the definition of anti-Semitism..

Unknown said...

The problem of being "too apologetic" is in how the party and leadership have responded to the bad faith accusations, not in acknowledging what little genuine anti-semitism does exist within it and taking action to deal with it. Too much ground has been given and too many good people abandoned in attempts to satisfy politically driven enemies whose only real interest is damaging Labour and Corbyn. It's important to take all reasonable action to combat anti-semitism (and racism in general) both inside and outside the party, but it's also important to aggressively challenge the false media narratives head on so as not to be made into a punching bag as we were with the financial crisis

Unknown said...

Well said, a party political broadcast explaining the facts and figures 0.01percent of members would stave off our non factual media..

Unknown said...

One of the best articles you've ever written

Pauline Thomas said...

Yes we should apologise for all the anti semitism cases which were ignored by the Blairite Ian McNicholl, yes we should apologise for antisemitism found in our ranks and the culprit should be investigated and educated or removed as swiftly as possible, but we cannot and should not be held responsible for the hysteria throughout parliament and the press about anti semitism which no matter how many times you point out the facts continues to scream unabated. Yet when I complained to ITV and offcom about an anti semitic attack on Good Morning Britain left unapposed by the presenters I get completely ignored. Just an acknowledgement from offcom but no result and nothing at all from ITV. It's enough to drive you completely batty and certainly enough to make me think we need to stop being this country's whipping boys about this subject.

Jason said...

"One of the main reasons Labour can't stop talking about the issue..."

This is pure wind. The Guardian can't stop pouring out a stream of stories/smears re this totally manufactured crisis, and silence/speaking out are both equally poor choices because Corbyn/the Labour Party are not in control of the narrative, which is turned towards satisfaction of a number of strategic objectives - 1/ preventing a Lab election victory under Corbyn, 2/ removing Corbyn as leader, 3/ removing as many pro-BDS / anti-Zionists from the Labour membership, 4/ policing opinion on Israel within Labour so absolutely that any criticism of Israel is de facto anti-semitism and means ejection from the party.

Sonmiani said...

Superb article. The best summation of the subject I have read; it deals conclusively with all its aspects.

This is crucial in relation to Chris Williamson: "A lot of very bad faith opportunists are deliberately weaponising the Labour anti-Semitism issue for their own cynical political purposes ... however you have to be extremely careful stating the second fact because the very opportunists the statement refers to will attempt to misrepresent it as if it's a denial of the first statement that anti-Semitism is a problem." This is Williamson's predicament in a nutshell. No, nothing he said was anti-semitic unless taken in bad faith to imply that there are limits to which we should apologise for anti-semitism, which is very obviously not what he meant; but it's very obvious to any rational appraisal, and this campaign is not rational. Williamson is a politician, and he made a realpolitikal mistake by not being careful enough in the language that he used to state that Labour has not been robust enough to counter the excessive claims of the campaign against anti-semitism (which is true, in my opinion). He immediately became the victim of the anti-Corbyn political opportunists behind those excessive claims. In this political climate it behoves anyone engaged in it to be a lot smarter than that. Having said that, if the party doesn't reinstate him based on the evidence before us, it will be a cause of real concern to those of us who are beginning to get very frustrated with what appears to be an increasing capitulation to those excesses. Chris Williamson was clearly not calling for any leniency towards verified instances of anti-semitism, and it's preposterous to think otherwise based on what he said, but in these times, the preposterous is everywhere.

Unknown said...

There seems to be a kangaroo court by media void of facts, no intelegent debate. it seems the labour party is on trial without a defence..

Anonymous said...

Chris Williamson did not say the Party had been "too apologetic about antisemitism". Read or watch his words, rather than use the Guardian headline. He was simply responding to those - in the Independent Group and elsewhere who have asserted that antisemitism is widespread, endemic and institutional within Labour. Labour can and should apologise for the antisemitism that exists within the Party - but without conceeding such gross exaggerations and falsehoods. Indeed the Party has an obligation to defend its members from the claim that they somehow tolerate widespread antisemitism and are racist. Members are increasingly angry at the failure of the leadership to do this, and the implication of the likes of Lansman that these much more serious allegations are true. Chris's words were distorted by those that demanded his suspension and you have added your weight to this distortion.

Unknown said...

I agree, listen to Chris again,

Unknown said...

There is a pattern developing in these smears, it seems organised and desperate..

PaddyT said...

Israel lobby groups fabricating accusations of anti-Semitism on US college campuses in order to incite official crackdowns against Palestine solidarity activism.

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