With the sensational events of the Brexit vote and turmoil in both the Conservative and Labour parties, people could have been forgiven for forgetting that Shami Chakrabarti is due to publish her eagerly anticipated anti-Semitism inquiry this week. In advance of the report’s release, Phil Rosenberg highlights five statements Labour members must challenge robustly if Labour is to be taken seriously as an anti-racist party:
1. Hitler supported Zionism
This is the sort of ‘history’ that has gotten Ken Livingstone into all sorts of trouble, and rightly so. Firstly, it is just not true. Writing in 1925 in Mein Kampf, Hitler said that Zionism would not so much create a state as “a central organisation for their [the Jews’] international world cheating”. This is hardly support. The 1933 Transfer (or Haavara) Agreement is not proof of collusion. The agreement allowed Nazi Germany to get around a global Jewish boycott, but it meant that around 60,000 Jews were able to leave Nazi Germany. To say that this is some evidence of common cause would be like saying that paying a ransom to save a hostage is evidence that the hostage-taker supports the victim’s family. But this is all far worse than just saying that Ken Livingstone is a bad historian. Unlike others whose anti-Semitism seems to come out ignorance, Ken Livingstone seems hell-bent on giving pseudo-intellectual justification for anti-Semitism by pushing twisted distortions of history. This insidiousness is why he needs to be expelled from the party for good.
2. These anti-Semitism allegations are all just ways of attacking supporters of the Palestinians.
There is all the difference in the world between supporting the Palestinians and indulging in crude anti-Semitic stereotypes, talking about ‘Jewish conspiracies’, celebrating the Holocaust or supporting violence and terrorism against Jewish people. Luton councillor Aysegul Gurbuz called Hitler the “greatest man in history”. Kensington and Chelsea councillor Beinazir Lasharie was suspended for saying that Jews were behind 9/11 and the so-called Islamic State. Vicki Kirby from Woking said that she thought Hitler might be the “Zionist god”. The reason that there have been at least two dozen suspensions from the Labour Party is because of people doing things like the above, not from just supporting the Palestinians. It has to stop.
3. These anti-Semitism allegations are all just Tories or ‘embittered old Blairites’ trying to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Clearly, Jeremy Corbyn can’t be blamed for many of the examples being found. Many of them predated his leadership and it does look like some people who are opposed to Labour or Jeremy Corbyn are looking for these examples. But for an anti-racist party, the main problem can’t be that people are finding these examples, it should be that they were there to find in the first place. If the party is to be credible and to stop suspicions about the decay of Labour’s moral compass, nobody can be satisfied with just calling themselves ‘anti-racist’. Individuals have to act in an anti-racist way as well. From the leader to the grassroots, the party need to address the issue of anti-Semitism with genuine determination, which many have felt has been lacking until now.
4. People reporting anti-Semitism should be punished as traitors to Labour’s cause.
A new website, calling itself ‘Free Speech on Israel’, is promoting motions at local Labour branches which ask Labour to ‘call to order’ people who raise concerns about anti-Semitism. This is very dangerous. In no civilised movement should people reporting abuse be subject to this kind of suspicion, or the victimisation of victims. This is true for domestic abuse, and it is true for racist abuse. The Labour Party needs to create a safe space for reports of abuse to come forward. Of course, such allegations need to be investigated fairly and transparently, but nobody can allow a culture which deters the reporting of abuse.
5. Anti-Semitism is a term that applies to all semitic peoples. Why should Jews have exclusive ownership over it?
This is curious and pernicious. It is curious because the phrase anti-Semitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to refer precisely to his hatred of Jews, so it is simply a fact that anti-Semitism does refer to hatred of Jews and not others. It is pernicious because this is almost always brought up in response to allegations of anti-Semitism in a way that seems designed to bury the issue. Let’s be clear: racism against Jews, Muslims, Arabs or anyone else is equally unacceptable, but they all take slightly different forms. To tackle anti-Semitism is not to deny racism against others. If an allegation of any kind of racism is made, it should be taken seriously, not buried by sophistry.
When we hear these things, we need to stand up to them, in our politics and public life. We must not allow a culture which denies the problem, punishes victims or gives permission to prejudice. Only when Labour has fought these sentiments, can it fully reclaim its mantle as a proudly anti-racist party.
Phil Rosenberg is a Labour councillor in West Hampstead in the London Borough of Camden. He is also Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He writes here in a personal capacity.