By Greg Dash
Many Labour members are rightly concerned about antisemitism. But the Home Affairs Committee report which came out this week is unlikely to alleviate those concerns. At a time when we need to be offering a response to rising xenophobia and racism in society, this divisive and flawed report is likely to do more harm than good.
Reports on this publication have so far focussed on Jeremy Corbyn's response, rather than the actual content of the report or on those that suffer from antisemitic attacks. This is little surprise as the report appears more focussed on the Chakrabarti Inquiry and Labour Party antisemitism than offering new recommendations - despite noting that "the majority of antisemitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, committed by individuals associated with (or motivated by) far-right wing parties and political activity".
Despite this, little mention is given to right wing parties, including the current investigation into a senior Conservative Party figure in Bradford or the antisemitic incident that led to the suspension of UKIP's London Chairman.
The report at times positions itself in opposition to the recent Chakrabarti inquiry, however it is unclear if the committee understood the aims of the Labour study. The Home Affairs report notes that Chakrabarti "declined to provide a definition of antisemitism", a bizarre verdict for a report that spends seven pages discussing forms of antisemitism and recommendations. Indeed, at times the HA reports reads as if many failed to understand the remit of the Chakrabarti report outlined on page 3, which set out to:
Consult stakeholders to form a statement of principles and guidance about antisemitism and other forms of racism, including Islamophobia
Consult on guidance about the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and language
Recommend clear and transparent compliance procedures
Look into training programmes
Make recommendations to Code of Conduct and Party Rules
Propose other necessary action
Within this remit, Chakrabarti found it more useful to provide a discussion on the forms that antisemitism can take (as reported by those who have been victim to it), rather than setting a concrete single line definition that will likely be subject to debate. Regardless, much of the discussion within the Home Affairs report over Macphearson replicates that within the Chakrabarti report and similarly, the adjusted IHRA definition proposed by the Home Affairs Committee appears inline with her suggestions.
In attempting to create uniform and simplistic narratives, the Home Affairs report fails to represent the diversity of views held by members of the Jewish community. As the Chief Rabbi noted "Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith", but to divorce early notions of Zionism and indeed the Jewish faith from the geography of Israel misrepresents the history of the movement. Indeed, within the Tanakh we hear the story of the entrance of the Israelites into the Land of Israel, the construction of the First and Second Temple and of the makom Mikdash, the site where these temples previously stood. The roots of the establishment of modern day Israel can be traced back to the The World Zionist Conference in 1897 which set out to form a Jewish state in Palestine. An early proposal in response to growing antisemitism in Europe was to establish a state in modern day Kenya with British support, but was rejected by the group. Chaim Weizzman, first president of Israel spoke out against the proposal: "Russian Jewry, with all its suffering, is not prepared to translate its dreams and longings for the land of their fathers to any other location".
Contemporary Zionism has taken on a different meaning for some who are critical of Israeli Government policy in relation to settlements in the West Bank and in particular, the bombardment of Gaza. Here, Zionism represents solidarity without necessarily supporting the State of Israel, and this appears to be the position of the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Unfortunately in homogenising the Jewish community and restricting discussion to this contemporary definitions, the report fails to acknowledge the reasons that lead to some members of the Jewish community not reporting antisemitism. This is made worse by the limited engagement that the Home Affairs Committee had with some Jewish faith groups. Indeed, the committee failed to consult members of the Charedi Jewish community who are the most visible Jews in the UK, and therefore the most vulnerable to anti-Jewish prejudice and attacks - particularly outside of Twitter.
Writing for the Times of Israel, Shulem Stern noted that some members of his community do not support Israel and avoid reporting antisemitism as "they feel anti-Semitism justifies the foundation of the State of Israel and that their report will help the Zionist cause and endorse its policies which they may not agree with." Stern notes that these people are not 'anti-zionists' but rather object to the way they perceive that Zionism (as they understand it) is used to justify expansionist policies in Israel, displace indigenous people, and racist propaganda from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The enquiry's credibility is further undermined in its reproduction of falsehoods and distortions that have recently been adopted for political gain. It is deeply concerning to see the Home Affairs committee engaging in the same smearing of Shami Chakrabarti that I spoke out against earlier this year. Chakrabarti has repeatedly topped lists of the most successful and influential Asian women in the UK, but little hesitation is given to smearing this woman’s reputation to score political points. Only recently, some of those making this line of attack were raising concerns about attacks on women in politics, particularly BAME women, and the potential impact on future generations. The only white-wash I can see is the one propagated by those attempting to discredit this longstanding BAME campaigner for human rights to further their own self-interest.
Those within the left of the Labour Party are attempted to be linked to unrepresentative elements that clearly, would be universally condemned as having no place within our movement. A statement is included that suggested placards saying 'Hilter was right’ were held at Unite Against Fascism rallies and Jeremy Corbyn's support for this organisation is noted. Indeed, despite linking Jeremy to these supposedly 'hard-left' organisations, the report fails to note the wide range of individuals who were founding members of UAF alone, including Luciana Berger, David Cameron, Keith Vaz and Peter Hain.
It is also disappointing to see the report misquote the comment from Marc Wadsworth that led to Ruth Smeeth walking out of the Chakrabarti launch. Regardless of how one feels about what was said, it is important that the events are recorded accurately. Wadsworth actually said: "I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP so you can see who is working hand in hand. If you look around this room, how many African Caribbean and Asian people are there? We need to get our house in order.” Smeeth clearly saw the attack as related to her Jewish background, but Wadsworth has stated that the intention of the attack was in response to seeing a journalist give Smeeth a 'press release' attacking some Labour MPs.
The Chakrabarti report was widely welcomed on publication, prior to some developing an appetite to use it as an opportunity to attack the current leadership. John Mann's comments in response to the report are worth re-reading as he welcomed the greater transparency and the application of Macpherson as the starting point for defining a racist incident. It is welcoming to see the Home Affairs committee repeating these findings, but a great deal of misunderstanding would have been avoided had they actually done some research and properly read the Chakrabarti Report.
Greg Dash is deputy editor of Anticipations, the Young Fabians magazine. The forthcoming issue of Anticipations discusses some of the issues in this piece, exploring the relationship between national identity and the Labour movement. He tweets at @greglabour.
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