2016 12 – Antisemitism in the UK

House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report : Antisemitism in the UK. Tenth Report of Session 2016-17.

In the last (November) issue of Labour Affairs we published a list of the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee which published the above report on 13 October. Below we publish the conclusions and recommendations of the report plus the paragraphs on political discourse and leadership and the list of verbal and written witnesses. It is noticeable that of the eleven paragraphs on political discourse and leadership, seven focus on Labour. Paragraphs 27 and 28 are of note here. The full report is available here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff

 

Conclusions and recommendations

Defining antisemitism

  1. The Macpherson definition that, for recording purposes, a racist incident is one “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person” is a good working definition, which provides a strong basis for investigation. As such, the perceptions of Jewish people—both collectively and individually, as an alleged victim—should be the starting point of any investigation into antisemitism. However, for an incident to be found to be antisemitic, or for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by antisemitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was antisemitic. It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence. The difficulty of making such a determination in the face of conflicting interpretations underlines the importance of establishing an agreed definition of antisemitism. (Paragraph 22)
  2. It is clear that where criticism of the Israeli Government is concerned, context is vital. Israel is an ally of the UK Government and is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, in which the actions of the Government are openly debated and critiqued by its citizens. Campaigners for Palestinian rights have informed us that they would expect similar standards of conduct from the Israeli Government as they would demand from the UK Government. It is important that non-Israelis with knowledge and understanding of the region should not be excluded from criticising the Israeli Government, in common with the many citizens of Israel who are amongst its strongest critics, including human rights organisations in that country. (Paragraph 23)
  3. We broadly accept the IHRA definition, but propose two additional clarifications to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate. The definition should include the following statements:
  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. (Paragraph 24)
  1. We recommend that the IHRA definition, with our additional caveats, should be formally adopted by the UK Government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties, to assist them in determining whether or not an incident or discourse can be regarded as antisemitic. (Paragraph 25)
  2. ‘Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel. The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society. It has been tarnished by its repeated use in antisemitic and aggressive contexts. Antisemites frequently use the word ‘Zionist’ when they are in fact referring to Jews, whether in Israel or elsewhere. Those claiming to be “anti-Zionist, not antisemitic”, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. If these individuals genuinely mean only to criticise the policies of the Government of Israel, and have no intention to offend British Jewish people, they should criticise “the Israeli Government”, and not “Zionists”. For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic. This should be communicated by the Government and political parties to those responsible for determining whether or not an incident should be regarded as antisemitic.

 

Political discourse and leadership

  1. While the Labour Leader has a proud record of campaigning against many types of racism, based on the evidence we have received, we are not persuaded that he fully appreciates the distinct nature of post-Second World War antisemitism. 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. Jewish Labour MPs have been subject to appalling levels of abuse, including antisemitic death threats from individuals purporting to be supporters of Mr Corbyn. Clearly, the Labour Leader is not directly responsible for abuse committed in his name, but we believe that his lack of consistent leadership on this issue, and his reluctance to separate antisemitism from other forms of racism, has created what some have referred to as a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people. This situation has been further exacerbated by the Party’s demonstrable incompetence at dealing with members accused of antisemitism, as illustrated by the saga involving the suspension, re-admittance and re-suspension of Jackie Walker. The ongoing membership of Ken Livingstone, following his outbursts about Hitler and Zionism, should also have been dealt with more effectively. The result is that the Labour Party, with its proud history of fighting racism and promoting equal rights, is seen by some as an unwelcoming place for Jewish members and activists. (Paragraph 113)
  2. The decision by the Leader of the Labour Party to commission an independent inquiry into antisemitism was a welcome one, notwithstanding subsequent criticisms. The Chakrabarti report makes recommendations about creating a more robust disciplinary process within the Labour Party, but it is clearly lacking in many areas; particularly in its failure to differentiate explicitly between racism and antisemitism. The fact that the report describes occurrences of antisemitism merely as “unhappy incidents” also suggests that it fails to appreciate the full gravity of the comments that prompted the inquiry in the first place. These shortfalls, combined with Ms Chakrabarti decision to join the Labour Party in April and accept a peerage as a nominee of the Leader of that Party, and her subsequent appointment as Shadow Attorney General, have thrown into question her claims (and those of Mr Corbyn) that her inquiry was truly independent. Ms Chakrabarti has not been sufficiently open with the Committee about when she was offered her peerage, despite several attempts to clarify this issue with her. It is disappointing that she did not foresee that the timing of her elevation to the House of Lords, alongside a report absolving the Labour Leader of any responsibility for allegations of increased antisemitism within his Party, would completely undermine her efforts to address this issue. It is equally concerning that Mr Corbyn did not consider the damaging impression likely to be created by this sequence of events. (Paragraph 114)
  3. The recommendations of the Chakrabarti report are further impaired by the fact that they are not accompanied by a clear definition of antisemitism, as we have recommended should be adopted by all political parties. We remain unconvinced of the robustness of the Labour Party’s code of conduct (and whether it will be effectively enforced), and the report does nothing to address a severe lack of transparency within the Party’s disciplinary process. There are examples of Labour members who have been accused of antisemitism, investigated by their Party, and then reinstated with no explanation of why their behaviour was not deemed to be antisemitic. The Labour Party, and all other political parties in the same circumstances, should publish a clear public statement alongside every reinstatement or expulsion of a member after any investigation into suspected antisemitism. (Paragraph 115)
  4. We see no good reason for the Chakrabarti report’s proposed statute of limitations on antisemitic misdemeanours. Antisemitism is not a new concept: an abusive, antisemitic tweet sent in 2013 is no more defensible than one sent in 2016. If the Labour Party or any other organisation is to demonstrate that it is serious about antisemitism, it should investigate all allegations with equal seriousness, regardless of when the behaviour is alleged to have taken place. (Paragraph 116)
  5. In its determination to be inclusive of all forms of racism, some sections of the Chakrabarti report do not acknowledge Jewish concerns, including its recommendations on training, which make no mention of antisemitism. This has generated criticism among some observers that antisemitism may be excluded from future training programmes. The Labour Party and all political parties should ensure that their training on racism and inclusivity features substantial sections on antisemitism. This must be formulated in consultation with Jewish community representatives, and must acknowledge the unique nature of antisemitism. If antisemitism is subsumed into a generic approach to racism, its distinctive and dangerous characteristics will be overlooked. In addition, the Labour Party’s disciplinary process must acknowledge the fact that an individual’s demonstrated opposition to other forms of racism does not negate the possibility that they hold antisemitic beliefs; nor does it neutralise any expression of these beliefs. (Paragraph 117)
  6. The Chakrabarti Report is ultimately compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations, to provide a definition of antisemitism, or to suggest effective ways of dealing with antisemitism. The failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic. (Paragraph 118)
  7. The historical inaccuracy of Ken Livingstone’s remarks regarding Hitler and Zionism have been analysed elsewhere, and it is not the job of this Committee to deliver lessons in Nazi history, except to point out that Mr Livingstone has since admitted that it was “rubbish” to refer to Hitler as a Zionist. Regardless of academic rigour, his decision to invoke Hitler in a debate about antisemitism and Zionism—in defence of a Facebook post comparing Israel with the Nazis—was unwise, offensive and provocative. In light of previous incidents in which he has made comments that have been interpreted as antisemitic, or especially offensive to Jewish people, we believe it likely that he knew that his comments would cause similar offence. The fact that he continues to defend his position casts serious doubt on whether he has sufficient understanding of the nature of contemporary antisemitism. In the words of Mr Corbyn, who described himself as his friend, we hope that Mr Livingstone will “mend his ways” without delay. (Paragraph 119)
  8. No party is immune to ‘bad apples’, and it would be naïve to assume that tackling antisemitism in the Labour Party would eliminate it from political discourse altogether. Antisemitism is a problem of such gravity that no party can afford to be complacent. It is an issue that should transcend party loyalties and inter-party conflict. (Paragraph 128)
  9. Other political parties must not assume that antisemitic political discourse is an issue affecting the Labour Party alone. The Liberal Democrats in particular should pay heed to the need to act swiftly and decisively to deal with antisemitism within their ranks. We were disappointed by the manner in which their Leader, Tim Farron, referred to disciplinary processes rather than explicitly condemning antisemitic remarks made by members of his Party, and we were surprised to learn that Cllr David Ward remains an elected representative of the Liberal Democrats, despite his repeated antisemitic comments. All of the main political parties should examine whether the reforms recommended in this report could be applied to their own processes for training and disciplining their members and activists. Political leaders should also make themselves responsible for taking swift investigatory or disciplinary action when a party member is identified by Twitter as being a perpetrator of abuse. (Paragraph 129)
  10. The acts of governments abroad are no excuse for violence or abuse against people in the United Kingdom. We live in a democracy where people are free to criticise the British Government and foreign governments. But the actions of the Israeli Government provide no justification for abusing British Jews; just as the actions of the Saudi Arabian or Iranian governments provide no justification for abusing British Muslims. (Paragraph 130)
  11. History shows that antisemitism is a virus that is too easily spread, through subtly pernicious discourse, ignorance and collusion. Political leaders must lead by example, oppose racism and religious hate in all its forms, and promote an atmosphere of tolerance, inclusion and understanding, as befits the UK’s status as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

 

Witnesses

The following witnesses gave evidence. Transcripts can be viewed on the inquiry publications page of the Committee’s website.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Jonathan Arkush, President, Board of Deputies of British Jews Q1–53

Rt Hon Angus Robertson MP, Leader, SNP Westminster Group Q54–80

Ken Livingstone Q81–224

Monday 4 July 2016

Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader, Labour Party Q225–396

Thursday 14 July 2016

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew

Congregations of the Commonwealth Q397–441

Sir Mick Davis, Chairman, Jewish Leadership Council, and Mark Gardner,

Director of Communications, Community Security Trust Q442–486

John Mann MP, Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism Q487–509

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Tim Farron MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Q510–550

Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles MP, UK Special Envoy for post-Holocaust issues and

former Conservative Party Chairman Q551–567

 

Published written evidence

The following written evidence was received and can be viewed on the inquiry publications

page of the Committee’s website.

SEM numbers are generated by the evidence processing system and so may not be complete.

1 Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (SEM0007)

2 Conservative Party (SEM0014)

3 Dr Ilan Zvi Baron, Dr Yulia Egoroa and Dr Keith Kahn-Harris (SEM0001)

4 Elizabeth Morley (SEM0010)

5 Free Speech on Israel (SEM0004)

6 Gideon Falter, Campaign Against Antisemitism (SEM0018)

7 Holocaust Educational Trust (SEM0003)

8 Jewish Leadership Council (SEM0009)

9 John Mann MP (SEM0008)

10 Ken Livingstone (SEM0002)

11 Ken Livingstone supplementary (SEM0005)

12 National Police Chiefs’ Council (SEM0017)

13 National Police Chiefs’ Council supplementary (SEM0019)

14 National Union of Students (SEM0012)

15 Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SEM0016)

16 Patrick Darnes (SEM0011)

17 Shami Chakrabarti (SEM0013)

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