Tackling antisemitism is not a zero-sum game. The vast majority of people who are worried by the rising levels of antisemitism in our society highlighted by the home affairs select committee report do not want to see the world’s oldest prejudices stamped out at the expense of addressing all other bigotry.
There truly is no hierarchy of hate – which means not giving antisemitism special status, but not ignoring it either, or pretending that it is being falsely claimed in order to occlude or gain advantage in a foreign policy debate.
It is sad – if inevitable – that so much reporting of this excellent select committee report focused on Labour. It has some excellent recommendations which I hope will be acted on – from behaviour on campus, to police reporting, to guaranteeing funding for the security of Jewish schools and synagogues.
In particular, the MPs’ criticism of Twitter is much-needed, along with recommendations for the company to put more resources behind more effective blocking, reporting and enforcement.
But while this detailed report was right to focus on antisemitism in political life – political leaders set standards and are role models – it certainly is not the case that antisemitism is the preserve of any one party. (Ironically, reactions to the report from two well-known Liberal Democrats, former MP and current councillor, Dave Ward, and Jenny Tonge underscore that point all too well.)
However, a key insight into the difficult dynamic for Labour was pinpointed by the committee when it wrote that ‘unlike other forms of racism, antisemitic abuse often paints the victim as a malign and controlling force rather than as an inferior object of derision, making it perfectly possible for an “anti-racist campaigner” to express antisemitic views.’
This understanding, coupled with either deliberate or ignorant willingness to move from legitimate criticism of Israel to the sort of rhetoric which uses the word ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ as a term of abuse, underlines why this has become a problem for our party. So, how to solve it?
Ultimately, change in political parties comes from within. Every party must address, and be seen to address, antisemitism in its own ranks in the most appropriate and effective way. They must get their own houses in order; everyone serious about depoliticising antisemitism, must recognise and welcome when progress has been made.
For Labour, this has included speedy suspensions and expulsions in some cases – but not all (the original complaints relating to Oxford University Labour Club members remain unresolved seven months later); the Labour Students report; the Jan Royall report; and the Chakrabarti report. All involved extensive consultation and have produced an array of recommendations. None pretended to be, or could be the final word on this problem.
Labour’s National Executive Committee has decided to fully adopt the Royall report and to immediately implement the first tranche of recommendations made by Shami Chakrabarti, which include outlawing the use of terminology like ‘Zio’ or ‘Zionist’ as a form of abuse and include a code of conduct. For many, the real test rightly will be over time as their recommendations are implemented and as cases such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker are dealt with in the coming weeks.
We were pleased that Jewish Labour Movement’s rally against antisemitism at Labour party conference was so well supported by parliamentarians from across the party, from Clive Lewis to Michael Dugher. We joined others in welcoming the strong and specific condemnation of antisemitism by Jeremy Corbyn in his leader’s speech. We jointly delivered an official Labour party training module on antisemitism for the first time ever last month. There was swift initial action against Jackie Walker following her latest set of deeply offensive comments on Holocaust remembrance, antisemitism and security arrangements at Jewish schools.
Of course, none of this activity means that the problem of antisemitism in the Labour party has been solved.
Speaking on behalf of JLM at conference, I berated the leadership and NEC for failing to live up to its promise and bring forward rule changes this year which make it easier to deal with all forms of hate crime. The positive reaction to my speech from delegates on conference floor indicated general consensus that the NEC had got this wrong.
So our primary concern remains seeing measurable action emerge from these processes. The leader has promised this will happen and we must judge him on the results. We are working with the general secretary and NEC to play a constructive role in this process, and hope that a permanent place on the NEC’s equalities committee for JLM will help us see this task through.
As the select committee concluded, ‘Political leaders must lead by example, oppose racism and religious hate in all its forms, and promote an atmosphere of tolerance, inclusion and understanding’. Zero tolerance of antisemitism means everyone – from our leader downwards – calling it out wherever and whenever we see it, and putting in place concrete actions in place to stamp it out.
Mike Katz is national vice-chair of the Jewish Labour movement and a former list candidate for the London assembly. He tweets at @mikekatz
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