The launch event for Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry report into anti-Semitism (and racism) in the Labour Party could, and should, have given a much needed morale boost for those wanting assurance that the Labour Party understands the fears and experiences of Jews in and around Labour. Instead, thanks to the Jeremy Corbyn circus, the exact opposite happened.
Corbyn and his supporters wrecked this anti-anti-Semitism event. Like Brexit, it remains to be seen if the long term impact of the Chakrabarti report will make up for the immediate short term shock and division that its launch has caused.
What actually happened?
Firstly, note that it was Corbyn who commissioned the Inquiry, but the Inquiry team kept studiously independent of him and his office, and they diligently heard a very wide range of views, including form many Jewish voices. Corbyn was not the subject of the Inquiry, but for many Jews he personifies the problems that they expressed to it.
So, for Corbyn to share the actual stage of the launch event with Shami Chakrabarti was, in itself, potentially problematic and simply did not look right. In practise, it ended up far worse than that.
Corbyn’s presence resulted in rent-a-mob turning up. Exactly who invited them, and how they do or do not answer to Corbyn and his team is not clear. What is very clear, however, is their impact. They changed an anti-anti-Semitism event into a rallying call for Corbyn against his enemies: namely the media and the so-called Blairite traitors within Labour. Jews are not explicitly a target for such a rally, but there is no doubting that the mainstream of the Jewish – or Zionist – community is implicitly regarded as part of the enemy by these people.
Indeed, such thinking is one of the things that the actual Chakranarti would have done well to better explain and explore.
It was, literally, a rent-a-mob. Numerous people have told CST of conversations they had with them, including questions asking what the event actually was and what room the “rally”(!) would be in.
So, an anti-anti-Semitism event was deliberately hijacked to become a pro-Jeremy Corbyn rallying call. Nobody worked with the Jewish community to ensure it had some kind of influence or impact on the launch event, and the gathered UK Jewish media were not even invited to ask a single question of Corbyn.
Nevertheless, if Corbyn had merely accepted the report’s findings, condemned racism against Jews, declined to accept inevitable questions from the assembled media about his leadership and left the building (exactly as he did the day before at a Polish centre), then it would have been relatively fine.
This is not what happened. Instead, it turned into a circus, with all of the resulting atmosphere and headlines that now further undermine Jewish confidence in Labour mending its ways. In short, the event achieved the direct opposite of its purpose, meaning the good that was contained in the actual Inquiry report was largely ignored.
The details of what went wrong are now the memory and impact of the launch event.
Corbyn’s speech was very well written (which is not to say it was agreeable) and he delivered it with calm strength and determination. When saying that Jews should not be blamed for the actions of Israel, he compared this to how Muslims should not be blamed for the actions of “self-styled Islamic states or organisations”. (He could easily have said “Islamic countries”, but did not.)
CST has, many times, hosted politicians and others who have made exactly the same point about not blaming Jews for Israel’s actions, but none of them have done so by equating Israel with ISIS, nor have they risked sounding like they were doing so.
When asked if he meant to equate Israel to ISIS, Corbyn firmly denied having meant any such thing. Yet in the current debate, anti-Muslim hate is pinned upon the actions of ISIS, not of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc. Corbyn’s wording was perfectly deniable and perfectly objectionable.
As the room had filled up before the launch began, Corbyn’s supporters were handing out leaflets against “traitors”. (The same word allegedly used when Jo Cox MP was tragically murdered.) Why this was permitted at an anti-anti-Semitism event is inexplicable and disgraceful.
The gathering storm burst into full applause as Corbyn actually entered the room. This was his room, his event. It was no longer an anti-anti-Semitism event, no longer the launch of an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Party he leads.
When asked by a Daily Telegraph journalist to condemn the wording of the “traitors” leaflet, Corbyn did so, plainly and forcefully, stressing his opposition to such wording and his belief in a kinder form of politics. Subsequently, Marc Wadsworth, one of the leaflet distributors accused Ruth Smeeth MP of working “hand in hand” with the Telegraph.
Ruth Smeeth is a longstanding anti-racist campaigner and Labour Party supporter. She felt compelled to leave the launch event, driven out by the atmosphere of bullying and intimidation brought about by Corbyn’s supporters.
After all of this, the postscript was entirely fitting. Jeremy Corbyn can be seen on Youtube (see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9XfYwetHXw) leaving the room with Marc Wadsworth, chatting amicably. This is the politics of hypocrisy and intimidation that overwhelmed what could, and should, have been an important day for Jews and opponents of contemporary anti-Semitism. A sign of more to come? Let us see.
There are things in the actual Inquiry report that give cause for hope, but nothing can be achieved unless the culture willingly changes from both the top and the bottom.