An organisation calling itself ‘Labour Against Anti-Semitism’ (LAAS) has sent a dossier of ’15,000’ screenshots LAAS “has systematically collected and detailed evidence of Labour Party members promoting anti-semitic views and tropes across a range of social media platforms.” This is news that appeared in the Times of Israel, quoting LAAS spokesperson Euan Phillips. The report provides no examples of these offending screenshots, no explanation as to how LAAS could possibly have got data on who is or isn’t a Labour Party member, and no explanation why this supposed two-year long ‘detailed’ investigation only now has been submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I wonder how LAAS has kept this news under its hat for so long. I wonder how LAAS, which appears to have Twitter and Facebook accounts but no website or other contact details is democratically accountable. How is it funded? Who are its members? Who is Euan Phillips, its spokesperson?
In search of some answers I came across an article in Jewish News (see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-i-had-to-resign-as-chair-of-my-local-labour-party/ ) where Euan tells why he had to give up his ‘appointment’ (eh?) of chair of his CLP because of the institutionalisation of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. By way of actual evidence of this (as opposed to the assertion) he said this: “Our sense of optimism that change could come internally was dealt a serious blow in January when the hard left took over Labour’s NEC, the body charged with overseeing, among other things, party discipline.” This repeats the accusation that is often made: to be left wing is to be anti-semitic. But what about the huge pile of disciplinary cases which it appears the ‘hard left’ are so dismissive of? Why won’t Euan tell us at least what language has been used (obviously we don’t want to know the identity of the alleged culprits)? I have to wonder whether that wonderfully flexibly applied word ‘trope’ plays a major part in this? There are clearly very precise anti-semitic tropes but there are also applications of the word which can be applied liberally to any statement depending on your desire to contextualise something as anti-semitic. Various forms of criticism of Israel would fall into this category – especially as the Labour Party (stupidly in my opinion) has signed up to the catch-all ‘any criticism of Israel’ IHRA definition of anti-semitism.
But perhaps there is, or at least was evidence of institutional racism in the Labour Party. This has been identified by Jon Lansman in an article for Labour List published on the 14th May. Here, Lansman refers to email leaks which he says show that some staff in Labour’s Compliance Unit were deliberately slowing down the resolution of complaints about anti-semitism in order to set up the Corbyn leadership for a fall. I have to say that as a former (junior) Labour Party staffer, I can well believe this. During the period of the cult of Tony Blair, the use of disciplinary cases one way or the other was a useful tool in the Party’s kitbag, to defenestrate the unwanted. I cite the example of Liz Davies, briefly the PPC for Leeds North East but somebody from the wrong side of the fence in Islington.
In the present circumstances, to say that what Lansman describes means that the whole Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic is, as most members know, vastly exaggerated and flawed. But evidence of the nature exposed by Lansman does not feature in this narrative, nor is it searched for. I have been reading Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party by Prof. Alan Johnson (http://fathomjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Institutionally-Antisemitic-Report-FINAL-5.pdf - bias alert: this is published by the British Israel Communications and Research Centre, for whom Johnson works) and here, what purports to be a major study of the subject only seems able to unearth evidence which fits the theory. I have yet to find any countervailing evidence within it. I am confident this study will be quoted in aid many times in the future. It was only published a couple of months ago. The 130 cases Johnson quotes do not in my view all stand up to scrutiny, but there is no doubt that there are, within a minute number of Labour Party members anti-Semitic views held which need exposing and expelling. I hope Lansman’s take on this gets attention, although it hasn’t done so in the Guardian yet for some reason. Perhaps they could follow up the story. The leaked emails Lansman refers to are here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/leaked-emails-reveal-labours-compliance-unit-took-months-to