In my previous article, I referred to Labour Party’s (then ongoing) ‘independent inquiry into antisemitism’, stating:
“I have zero confidence in this inquiry. And not just because Mr. Corbyn’s past actions (such as calling members of terrorist organisations ‘friends’, sharing platforms with Holocaust deniers, patronage of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) are questionable to say the least. No, a desire to whitewash, rather than shed light, is obvious from the choice of the inquiry panel.”
So I was not surprised when a friend wrote to me, incensed by what he called ‘the whitewash Chakrabarti report’. But what did amaze me was the report’s abysmal quality. I expected a whitewash; but not such a poorly executed, inept one.
But, you know what… Let’s start with the positives. The ‘report’ (I’ll explain the quote marks later in the article) says:
“’Zio’ is a word that seems to have gained some currency on campuses and on social media in particular. […] It is a term of abuse, pure and simple, and should not in my view have any place in the vocabulary of Labour members, whether online, in conversation or anywhere else. I recommend that the word “Zio” should have no place in Labour Party discourse going forward.“
Every third-grade teacher will wholeheartedly agree with this recommendation, which amounts to a sound ‘No name-calling, children!’
Ms. Chakrabarti has also determined that stereotyping people (among others, Jews) based on ethnicity or religion is not a good thing. So far, so good.
Even better, the ‘report’ urges Labour members to
“resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.”
Not, however, because such distortions and comparisons are improper, slanderous and designed to produce unbearable pain – but for the sake of “kindness, politeness or good advocacy”.
These rather obvious principles are pretty much everything that can be called’ positive’ in the ‘report, even at a stretch. And even those principles are expressed in hesitant voice and ballasted with disclaimers.
My problem with the ‘Independent Inquiry into Antisemitism’ is that it does not get the concepts of ‘Independence’, ‘inquiry’ and ‘antisemitism’. My problem with the ‘report’ is that… there isn’t one. Other than that, everything is top class; the spelling is flawless and the cover page is a delightful tinge of red.
The ‘Independent Inquiry into Antisemitism’ was not independent
As mentioned before, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has assigned the ‘independent inquiry’ to a small team of very dependent (or dependable) Labour supporters/members/activists. If he ever becomes Prime Minister, one must wonder whether Mr. Corbyn will put a Starbucks executive in charge of ‘independently investigating’ whether his/her company avoided tax.
The ‘Independent Inquiry into Antisemitism’ was not an inquiry
No investigation has been performed, there was no visible fact-finding effort. The ‘inquiry’ apparently consisted of reading through the various submissions sent in by parties with an axe to grind (that is, I assume Ms Chakrabarti read them; it is impossible to say, as the ‘report’ contains no clear references to specific submissions!)
If I complain of an ache, a competent doctor will want to run tests and investigate, not issue a diagnostic by asking people what they think about it.
Ms. Chakrabarti’s main conclusion (or was it the starting point?) is that:
“The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.”
I’m not sure what ‘overrun’ means: 95% of the members harbouring racist prejudice? 5% of the members? 50% of the members?
But, even had Ms. Chakrabarti defined the term, it is not clear how she reached that learned conclusion. Did she perform an opinion poll? On what evidence did she (a lawyer) base that very important determination? The ‘report’ offers that the Labour Party:
“is the party that initiated every single United Kingdom race equality law.”
That is without doubt commendable, but past opinions and achievements have no bearing on the assessment of the Party and its leaders and members in recent times and under the current leadership. The US Republican Party started by championing the abolition of black slavery. Yet I doubt that Ms. Chakrabarti would view this fact as very relevant in assessing – say – Donald Trump and his supporters.
The ‘Independent Inquiry into Antisemitism’ was not ‘into Antisemitism’
Formally, the terms of reference called for the Inquiry to provide
“guidance about antisemitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia.”
Thus formulated, the remit was impossibly broad and rendered even more unrealistic by the requirement that the Inquiry should
“report in two months (of its launch)”
Even if one accepts that the focus should have been on antisemitism, the inquiry made no attempt to use, adopt or refer to a definition of that particular form of racism. How can one ‘inquire’ to what extent the Labour Party is infected (let alone ‘overrun’) by antisemitism, without defining what is antisemitism – and what isn’t? That’s like a judge sitting in a case of libel with no law defining what libel is.
The ‘report’ is not a report
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘report’ is
“An account given of a particular matter, especially in the form of an official document, after thorough investigation or consideration by an appointed person or body.”
Which is why it is customary for a report (especially a report on a formal inquiry) to present the methodology employed and to describe in detail the investigation undertaken. Ms. Chakrabarti’s ‘report’ presents no methodology – because the inquiry did not have one; it describes no investigation – because no investigation was undertaken.
In lieu of a methodology, the inquiry appears to have taken literally the terms of reference injunction to ‘consult widely’ – i.e. to collect opinions; and that’s what it did in lieu of an investigation: it collected written submissions from interested parties.
Needless to say, opinions are not evidence and collecting them can hardly be called an investigation – let alone a ‘thorough’ one. But the ‘report’ makes little effort to even describe in detail this thoroughly shallow ‘investigation’. What was claimed in the submissions? Which claims did the commission agree with – and why? Which did it disagree with – and why?
It is not that the commission of inquiry did not do a proper inquiry; it appears to lack any understanding of what an inquiry is. In fact, the ‘report’ does not even read like a report – it reads like a long and prolix op-ed, replete with Shami Chakrabarti’s personal opinions, philosophical ruminations and recollections from the past; everything, it seems, but facts and evidence.
By the way, it is odd that the report is written in the first person singular and was signed by Ms. Chakrabarti and by her alone. The Commission included two vice-chairs and it is customary for the report to be signed and presented in the name of all members. One can only suspect (hope?) that the two others did not want their names associated with such a shabby piece of work.
The overall impression is that the whole issue of antisemitism is not taken seriously. The inquiry was not a serious inquiry and the report isn’t a serious report. It is not even a serious whitewash.
The impression only accentuates when one reads in detail Ms. Chakrabarti’s recommendations. Indeed, rather than recommending zero tolerance towards manifestations of antisemitism (as one would expect from a party that inscribes anti-racism among its main values), Ms. Chakrabarti’s recommendations seem to advocate a ‘lighter touch’ in identifying and eliminating such manifestations.
Thus, she recommends
“a moratorium on triggering new formal investigations (as opposed to informal discussions) on comments and conduct arising prior to my report.”
As if one needed Ms Chakrabarti’s ‘report’ in order to understand that antisemitism is bad.
Further, she recommends
“a ‘statute of limitations’ on the bringing of formal disciplinary proceedings in relation to the kind of ‘uncomradely conduct and language’ […] of no more than two years save in exceptional circumstances.”
In other words, if a newly-elected or newly appointed Labour official (say, for instance, an MP or even a cabinet minister) is found to have posted anti-Semitic comments on Facebook or Twitter more than two years ago, then… well… ‘let bygones be bygones’, opines Ms. Chakrabarti. She sees no conflict between the Party’s anti-racist ethos and racist conduct by its leaders – as long as such racist conduct is more than two years old.
From Ms. Chakrabarti’s point of view, suspension from the Party (let alone life ban) is too harsh a punishment for racism; she prefers the use of warnings, the requirements for apologies and ”some other form of sensitive reparation”.
Insult to injury
As if the shallowness of both ‘inquiry’ and ‘report’ were not bad enough, Jeremy Corbyn has managed to add insult to injury – literally!
Politicians are not particularly immune to verbal blunders, but in his speech occasioned by the ‘launch’ of the whi… err… of the ‘report’, the Far Labour Leader has managed to push wrong buttons with almost every word he uttered.
“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”
The worst thing is, arguably, not that Corbyn said what he said, but that he and his supporters seem unable to comprehend what was offensive in that. So let me try to spell it out for them – reeeealy slowly.
Given that Corbyn has in the past referred to leaders of terrorist organisations Hamas and Hizb’ullah as ‘friends’, Jews are unlikely to feel honoured by being included in the man’s circle of buddies.
Then came what sounded very much like drawing equivalence between Israel and another terrorist organisation – ISIS. Corbyn denied making such comparison, though ‘self-styled Islamic State’ is the ‘Muslim-sensitive’ term commonly used by parts of the media to refer to ISIS. Unidentified aids of Mr. Corbyn later said that the “organisations” he was referring to included IS and al-Qaeda, as well as Hamas and Hizb’ullah.
But, even if we are charitable enough to believe that Mr. Corbyn was not equating Israel and ISIS, what ‘self-styled Islamic states’ was he referring to? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Sudan? All those are just a notch less offensive.
The undeniable thing is that in Mr. Corbyn’s mind Israel is a symbol of evil – at best less evil than ISIS. I have no doubt that, in his mind, he was being ‘progressive’, anti-racist and even generous by absolving Jews of responsibility “for the actions of Israel”. But what Mr. Corbyn and his supporters seem unable to understand is that that is not what British Jews want. Sure, they do not want to be held responsible for each and every action that Israel’s government takes – no more than Brits wish to be held responsible for every action of the British government. But for the vast majority of British Jews Israel is central to their identity; they want it to be treated fairly, rather than being treated as the proverbial Jew among Gentile nations. They find it offensive when “the actions of Israel” (a democratic state that deserves at least as much praise as it gets criticism) are cited as an embodiment of evil. Mr. Corbyn’s ‘progressive’ pronouncement offered British Jews the chance to join the ranks of the ‘good Jews’ who are exonerated of the evil things that ‘bad Jew Israel’ does. That is in itself offensive.
While much attention has focused on the Israel vs.ISIS component of Mr. Corbyn’s statement, there is another aspect, as well. Mr. Corbyn also seems to compare “the Netanyahu government” to “various self-styled Islamic […] organisation”.
And it’s not just about the ill-chosen, abysmally offensive equivalence. Let us not forget: Mr. Corbyn is the Leader of the Opposition, someone who aspires to be UK’s next Prime Minister. If he ever gets that job, he will be expected to interact politically and economically with “the Netanyahu government”. One does not have to like Netanyahu; one does not have to agree with him; in fact, one can legitimately loath him. But he is the democratically elected leader of his nation; he heads not “the Netanyahu government”, but the Government of the State of Israel – a fellow democracy. By referring to “the Netanyahu government” (i.e. in the same way one says ‘Assad’s regime’), Corbyn showed disrespect not to Netanyahu the politician, but to a nation and its democratic choice. No wonder that his words have been condemned in no uncertain terms by Netanyahu’s political adversaries. The Corbynistas will find that British Jews – including those who dislike Netanyahu –also found his words offensive.
Worse comes to worst
Most reasonable people would say that things could not have gone worse for Corbyn. Wrong – they could. At the same ‘launching’ conference, Labour Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth was, in her own words,
“verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional antisemitic slurs to attack me for being part of a ‘media conspiracy’. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti’s report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing.”
Smeeth left stomped out in tears, lodged a formal complaint and called for Corbyn’s resignation. Moments after Ms. Smeeth left, Corbyn was seen laughing with the activist who attacked her.
The only funny thing is that, under Jeremy Corbyn’s enlightened leadership, the Far Labour has not just attempted to whitewash antisemitism within its ranks; it has even managed to botch the whitewash…
As I was about to finish writing this, I glanced again in the Oxford Dictionary. It turns out that the word ‘report’, has also a different meaning:
“A piece of information that is unsupported by firm evidence.”
The dictionary also gives an example of that meaning:
“reports were circulating that the chairman was about to resign.”
Perhaps that’s what Ms. Chakrabarti had in mind when she decided to call her text a ‘report’.