Letter to the Financial Times, 11 March 2019
John McTernan, (Labour’s mistake is to believe there are no enemies to the left, 1 March) has produced a selective mish-mash of remarks by different people, his own unverifiable observations, and two unrelated quotations from historians. He alludes to many old left attitudes, ending with “being pro-Palestinian bleeds into anti-Zionism.” and “anti-capitalism masks and normalises anti-Semitism”. He then arrives at his desired conclusion that the Labour left has normalised anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn.
Had he been more objective, he would have found two surveys conducted in 2017 for Jewish organisations. One of them found that “Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing”. The other survey found that “supporters of left-wing political parties..[are]..less likely to be antisemitic than those on the right”.
He should also have read the Labour Party General Secretary’s report of 11 February on progress under the procedure for dealing with allegations of antisemitism, and in particular for distinguishing between antisemitism and strong criticism of Israel. Since the procedure was instituted in April 2018, 1,106 allegations were made, of which 586 were found to have merit and resulted in a sanction – from the most minor to expulsion. That represents 0.2% and 0.1% respectively of the Labour Party membership of about 525,000 during the period . One case of antisemitism, or racism of any kind, is one too many, but by any standard, those figures do not show that Labour has a serious antisemitism problem.
That nearly half the allegations were judged to be unfounded raises the wider significance of the issue. The continual allegations of antisemitism being made against Labour Party members who criticise Israel in strong terms can have the effect of inhibiting people from criticising Israel at all, lest they be accused of antisemitism.
Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Party. recently attempted to interfere with the procedure by appointing himself as an ex-officio adjudicator of allegations. The Board of Deputies of British Jews immediately and publicly supported his action. Evidently, neither Mr. Watson nor the the Board is happy with a procedure that acquits as well as convicts.
John McTernan’s opinion notwithstanding, the General Secretary should continue to apply the procedure. It permits action to be taken against antisemitism but also protects the right to criticise Israel.
Parliamentary and Diplomatic Liaison Officer
Jews for Justice for Palestinians, London