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Anti-semitism. How Corbyn was stitched up like a kipper.

HOWcould a life-long opponent of anti-semitism like Jeremy Corbyn end up being accused of condoning anti-semitism in the Labour Party? Well, the Commons Home Affairs committee doesn’t actually accuse him of that, but of failing to provide “adequate leadership” and creating a “safe space” for anti-semites,whatever that means.

The home affairs committee says that the succession of highly publicised episodes of anti-semitism in the Labour Party mean Jeremy Corbyn must be failing to halt it. It is a charge that cannot be rebutted because the very premise carries an imputation of guilt. Similarly, the Labour peer, Shami Chakrabati’s, report must be a “whitewash” because Labour is demonstrably riven with anti-semitism.

But the evidence for this is highly dubious. It is mainly based on the assertion, as the report puts it, that: “a racist incident is one perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. It cites a survey of British jews which found that 87% believe that the Labour Party is too tolerant of antisemitism. But this notion that racism is purely in the eye of the beholder makes it impossible to have any objective definition of it.

The report assumes that Ken Livingston was anti-semitic when he said that “Hitler had supported Zionism” not because of any analysis of historical links between the Nazi state and Zionist groups, but because many jewish groups were outraged by the very suggestion. Livingstone’s remark may have been insensitive and rather stupid, but if it is anti-semitic then the Wikipedia page that describes the 1933 Havaara Agreement between the Zionist Federation of Germany and the German government must also be anti-semitic and should be removed.

Much is made in the report of the suspension of Jackie Walker as vice chair of the Labour group Momentum. She said in a training session on anti-semitism “wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experience Holocaust” . Surely, no reasonable person could see this remark as anti-semitic. But once again, some jewish groups took furious and vocal exception to it, and to her claim that she didn’t have “a definition of antisemitism that I could work with”. Jackie Walker is a jew herself and also black, which caused the Greater Manchester BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) group to object that she had in turn been the victim of racism by the white leadership of Momentum. Reductio ad absurdam.

These episodes aside, the report mainly focusses on anti-semitic remarks on Twitter. It says the Labour MP Luciana Berger receiving 2,500 abusive tweets in three days using the hashtag “filthyjewbitch” Labour MPs Rhea Wolfson, John Mann and others also received clearly racist anti-semitic tweets. This is reminiscent of the row over cybernats abusing figures like JK Rowling during the Scottish referendum campaign. Like Corbyn, Alex Salmond Nicola Sturgeon were accused of being responsible, even though they disowned social media abuse and were receiving death threats themselves.
Twitter abuse is deplorable. But It is surely illegitimate to blame the party leadership for anonymous tweets, or even tweets purporting to come from party supporters, when they unequivocally condemn the practice. The suggestion seems to be that Jeremy Corbyn should be moderating Twitter, but that is ludicrous. Twitter should be moderating Twitter, just as newspaper websites like the Herald’s must weed out racist comments posted under articles.

This is all very disturbing. The volume of accusations about racism in a political party or individual is no reliable guide to whether or not they are actually are racist. Only if actual jew-hating remarks are recorded can you claim someone hates jews – which is what anti-semitism means. Criticising the foreign policy of the Israeli state is not anti-semitic though the report claims that this “often strays into anti-semitism”. Nor is criticising Zionism anti-semitic, as the report also claims, just because some jewish groups take exception to it. Zionism is a particular form of jewish nationalism which many jews do not endorse. It is a political philosophy and should be as open to criticism as any political creed, even Scottish nationalism.

The root of this problem is the notion that racism is whatever people believe to be racist. This originated with the 1993 Macpherson Report into institutionalised racism in the Metropolitan Police and was well meant. But it has led to a kind of competitive victimhood under which any group can claim to be racially abused if it shouts loudly enough. There really must be a better way.

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About iain2macwhirter

Writer and journalist.

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