Luciana Berger and Labour antisemitism: A reply to Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn and Joel Rosen at in a discussion Cambridge (Via Jewish News)
Jeremy Corbyn and Joel Rosen at in a discussion Cambridge (Via Jewish News)

Speaking to Cambridge University Debating Society last week, the former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn was asked why he had not acted to prevent the Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) being hounded out of the party in 2019. ‘Luciana was not hounded out of the party’ he replied.‘She unfortunately decided to resign from the party.’ Corbyn added, ‘We gave her all the support she needed and deserved.’

Corbyn’s claims are untrue.

Typically, he ignores Berger’s own accounts of her experiences. On resigning, she said ‘I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally anti-Semitic.’ She added, ‘The leadership has wilfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks.’ Berger told the BBC that Corbyn had not spoken to her to offer his support between late 2017 and her exit from the party in 2019. Watch her account of the abuse she received here.

The following extracts from my 30,000 word report Institutionally Antisemitic Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party – published in March 2019 and cited in the EHRC’s own 2020 report ‘Investigation into Antisemitism in the Labour Party’ – contain ample evidence that Berger was hounded out of the party and that the party leadership did not give her the support she needed and deserved. All original citations can be found in the full report, here.

  1. Labour Antisemitism and the Wavertree Labour Party

Case: Alex Scott-Samuel, Chair of Wavertree Party

Alex Scott-Samuel is the Chair of Liverpool Wavertree CLP. He tabled a motion of no-confidence against Luciana Berger, the Jewish (and then) Labour MP, only weeks before she was due to give birth. According to the JC he has been ‘a regular guest on the [antisemitic conspiracist] Richie Allen Show on David Icke.com since 2015. Mr Allen – who has continued to invite Dr Scott Samuel on his show since splitting from Mr Icke to air his shows on his own website – hosted notorious antisemite Gilad Atzmon last July, former KKK Grand Master David Duke in 2016 and self-described “Holocaust revisionist” Alison Chabloz in 2018.’

According to The Spectator, ‘On the show, Labour Wavertree’s chairman told the audience that “The Rothschild family are behind a lot of the neo-liberal influence in the UK and the US. You only have to Google them to look at this.”’

Also according to The Spectator, a Scott-Samuel tweet in 2013 about a person named Rothschild included the phrase ‘Rothschild’s doing usury’. According to the JC, Scott-Samuel also posted asking if Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was ‘the enemy within?’ He also argued that ‘Isis, Boko Haram and Zionism are genocidal terrorists’.

At the time of writing [the report in March 2019] Scott-Samuel remained Chair of Liverpool Wavertree CLP.

Case: Margaret Tyson

Margaret Tyson, a senior member of Liverpool Wavertree CLP and an elected representative on the Liverpool Labour Local Campaign Forum – the body that helps select and vet candidates to stand for the party in local elections – launched an attack on local Jewish MP Luciana Berger (before Berger left), accusing her of supporting the ‘Zionist Israeli government’ whose ‘Nazi masters taught them well’. In another post Ms Tyson wrote ‘Is it any wonder the Zionest (sic) are hated and despised (sic) throughout the world.’ I am not aware of any action taken.

Case: Kenneth Campbell

Kenneth Campbell, a Liverpool Wavertree CLP member, proposed a no-confidence vote in Luciana Berger, called the MP a ‘disruptive Zionist’ and spread conspiracy theories online, including 9/11 conspiracy theories and the claim that Israel covertly supports ISIS. I am not aware of any action taken.

Case: Helen Dickson

Helen Dickson, Equalities Officer of Liverpool Wavertree CLP, signed a letter complaining that ‘The current bogus “anti-Semitism” attack by the Israel Lobby … will negate our human rights.’

Case: Liam Moore

Liam Moore was selected as a Labour council candidate for the Norris Green ward in Liverpool – close to Luciana Berger’s constituency. In 2014 he tweeted that ‘Rothschilds Zionist run Israel and world governments’ and in 2018 compared Zionists – or simply those worried about antisemitism – to Judas: ‘We are seeing a very English right-wing Zionist coup mate and sadly the Labour Party is infiltrated by sellouts who would sacrifice a Labour government for their 30 pieces of silver.’

Case: Suspensions in 2020

In 2020 Labour suspended four members of the Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party who criticised their own MP Paula Baker after she said it was ‘deeply regrettable that [Luciana Berger had] felt she could no longer stay’ in the party. In a statement circulated to members the four members objected, saying they wanted to ‘set the record straight about Ms Berger’s departure from our party’ and accusing Baker of reiterating an ‘inaccurate and factionally motivated position on antisemitism’.

  1. The Corbynite Blogosphere

The JC reported that ‘The far-left Corbynite blog called VoxPoliticalOnline … published a falsehood-riddled piece titled ‘Jewish MPs who whipped up fake “antisemitism” claims against Labour want bodyguards for party conference’. The site published a picture of Luciana Berger, the Jewish Labour MP … captioned as follows: ‘Luciana Berger: Is the reason she needs a bodyguard the fact that she lied about her leader?’ The writer added below in bold type: ‘You reap what you sow, I suppose.’’

  1. Party Failure to Support Berger

In September 2018, Theo Usherwood of LBC Radio received a leaked 89-page internal Labour Party dossier detailing over 20 incidents, some of which could be defined as race hate crimes, many of an antisemitic nature. Usherwood revealed that the party had failed to report these crimes or incidents to either their targets (in some cases Jewish Labour women MPs) or to the police.

The BBC reported: ‘When LBC showed the material to former Met Police officer Mark Chishty, [his] view was that 17 instances should have been reported to the police for investigation, and another four were potential race hate crimes.’

The Jewish News reported that ‘According to Mr Usherwood, the four cases included an activist who attacked a Jewish Labour MP as a ‘Zionist extremist’ who ‘hates civilised people’ and was ‘about to get a good kicking’ for spreading ‘Zionist propaganda’, an activist who posted an article containing Holocaust denial and antisemitic cartoons of Jews from a blog claiming to provide ‘intelligent antisemitism for the thinking gentile’, a party member posting that ‘we shall rid the Jews who are a cancer on us all’ and another party member accused of physically and verbally abusing a seven-year-old boy using racist remarks including ‘Paki’ and ‘Jew-boy’.’

The file showed that Luciana Berger was threatened with ‘a good kicking’ by one Labour Party member on Facebook. This was not reported to her or the police. Interviewed by the Jewish Chronicle, Berger strongly criticised the decision made under the auspices of General Secretary Jennie Formby not to make her aware of specific threats against her – which are now the subject of a police investigation. Berger said, ‘This was a party that was made aware of a physical threat against me and didn’t tell me about it – and didn’t tell the police about it.’

The Labour Party’s response was to point out that ‘Where someone feels they have been a victim of crime, they should report it to the police in the usual way.’ But as LBC’s Theo Usherwood pointed out, ‘[The Labour Party] assumes MPs are aware of the abuse and threats in the first place. But most are not – the complaints having been made by a third party and MPs are not being told so they can report to the police. That – and of course the fact Labour itself is not referring the cases – means that the police are never given the chance to investigate.’

The BBC reported that by 2 November 2018 the Met Police had themselves reviewed the file and decided to launch a criminal inquiry into allegations of 54 antisemitic hate crimes within the Labour Party. Met Police chief Cressida Dick told the BBC her officers were assessing online material because ‘there may have been a crime committed.’

On 10 February 2019, Labour Party General Secretary Jennie Formby wrote to the Chair of Liverpool Wavertree CLP, Alex Scott-Samuel. The context of her email was a call by Deputy Leader Tom Watson to suspend the CLP on the basis that it had tabled a controversial no-confidence motion in Berger, and for various other instances of unacceptable treatment of the Jewish MP (including the fact Berger was due to give birth shortly after the motion was set to be put to a vote).

Formby refused Watson’s call. Although she welcomed the withdrawal of the no-confidence motion in the heavily pregnant MP (a motion she characterised rather generously as ‘ill-judged’) the CLP was otherwise given a clean bill of health. Formby wrote (emphasis is mine):

‘I have seen the wording of the motions in question, neither of which make any mention of antisemitism but which instead refer to Luciana’s lack of support for the Leader of the Opposition. I have also seen the statement from the Executive of the CLP which states: ‘we as an Executive have always and continue now to express total solidarity with Luciana as a victim of misogyny and of antisemitism – coming mostly from the far right. Our Chair [Alex Scott-Samuel] himself is Jewish’.

Formby continued:

‘I also spoke with the Regional Director on Friday who confirmed that the motions were in order and had been submitted in accordance with rule. CLPs are at liberty to discuss motions of no confidence in their elected representatives, including MPs, and in the case of Wavertree, to date I have seen no evidence of any behaviours that constitute potential bullying or antisemitism other than the complaints about one individual which are being investigated.’ (my emphasis)

  1. Corbyn as an Obstacle to Labour’s Renewal

In my 2019 Report I suggested that ‘As long as the Labour Party Leader [Jeremy Corbyn] does not offer the party and public a thorough-going self-criticism, as long as he instead claims that his past actions and statements are defensible, indeed the best kind of actions one can take’ the party will not be able to move forward. Two years later, Corbyn’s provocations and denialism continues to poison the party, miseducate the membership and, for many voters, define Labour as unelectable.

About the Author
Professor Alan Johnson is the Editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
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