So, the press and broadcast media are buzzing this morning with stories of a report by the Commons Home Affairs Committee (CHAC) that criticises Jeremy Corbyn for “providing a safe space for Jew-haters“.
Smear we go again. Those attacking Corbyn are like chain-smokers, so desperate and twitchy to undermine him and his electoral chances that they’ve barely thrown away the fag-end of one ludicrous slander before lighting the next one. Which is odd, considering he’s supposed to be so ‘unelectable’.
The full report is over 25,000 words long, so a detailed analysis is going to take a long time. However, as ‘a lie gets round the world while the truth is pulling its socks on’, a quick analysis of the facets of the report that are primarily populating the headlines is in order.
The ‘unanimous backing’ of the report ‘by Conservative, LibDem and Labour members of the committee’ is being pushed, so let’s look at exactly who is on the committee:
The first thing you’ll notice is the preponderance of Tories on the committee. Their conflict of interest in producing a report attacking the Labour leader is obvious, so we’ll move onto the others, as it’s only their ‘unanimity’ that might carry any weight.
Stuart McDonald is an MP of the SNP – a party with obvious interests in damaging public perception of Corbyn, in order to turn the screw on Labour’s electoral prospects in Scotland. With Nicola Sturgeon’s big announcement yesterday of a new push for an independence referendum, the SNP’s interest in anything that damages a Westminster party leader is clear.
So the three Labour MPs are key to the report’s credibility or otherwise. Let’s look at them in a little more detail.
Chuka Umunna – Umunna was, very briefly, a leadership candidate in the 2015 Labour leadership election. More importantly, he’s a key member of Progress, the extreme right-wing faction within the Labour party who is on record attacking Corbyn and his supporters on many occasions, including a pledge (it’s in the Express, which I don’t want to drive traffic to, but you’l find it easily enough via Google if you want to) to combat the ‘control’ of the Labour party by Corbyn and his supporters:
The Labour right has long shown its readiness to ‘weaponise antisemitism’ in order to undermine the ‘threat’ from supporters of Corbyn’s ‘new politics’, so Umunna’s eagerness to back the report should come as no surprise to anyone.
Winnick is another Progress ‘luminary’ and was prominent among those calling for Corbyn’s resignation in this summer’s ‘chicken coup’, even going so far as to pen a letter to the Guardian blaming Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for Labour’s troubles and to defend former Labour PM Tony Blair.
As a self-confessed Blairite, Mr Winnick cannot be considered an impartial judge, let alone a presumptive Corbyn supporter whose backing for this report should be considered in any way surprising.
Ms Shah was not a signatory to the report, presumably because she is in it as a witness.
2. ‘Institutionally antisemitic’
When people are desperate to smear, they will often overreach. Such is the case here. Saying that anything is ‘institutional’ implies that it is both entrenched and long-standing. Even if it were true that Labour has an ‘antisemitism’ problem, Corbyn has only been leader for just over a year – too short a time for anything to have become institutionalised ‘on his watch’ or to have dug out an inherited, ‘institutionalised’ issue.
As has already been seen in the case of Naz Shah, Labour under Corbyn has moved quickly to suspend anyone suspected of antisemitism, such as Ken Livingstone. It’s also notable that no such charges have been proven against anyone within the party.
It’s also important to examine the ‘evidence’ and how the report treats it.
The report states
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.
First, it’s worth noting ‘in recent years‘. So, far from being the condemnation of Corbyn it’s being spun as, if there is a problem it’s years old. And in fact, there’s been no known incident of antisemitism since Corbyn became leader that hasn’t been dealt with ‘consistently and effectively’. That one sentence undermines the report and, even more so, the media handling of it.
Secondly, note that this comment by the committee claims ‘elements’, plural. But in fact it only heard one claim of institutional antisemitism in one small group.
The report refers to a Guardian article by Aaron Simons – and that’s it. In fact, they’re so short of evidence that they refer to the same article twice, in separate quotes (on p36 of the report, linked above).
Mr Simons’ slanderous article was condemned and refuted by a list of prominent Jewish people in an open letter to the Guardian. The letter stated:
Antisemitism is conspicuous by its absence in your article on “antisemitism” at Oxford University Labour Club…
Those who deliberately confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism give comfort and aid to the real antisemites in our society. Like the boy who cried wolf, they ensure that if antisemitism does rear its ugly head, people will assume that this is just another false accusation.
But in any case, Labour conducted a specific report into his allegations – the Royall Report – and it was a key trigger in the commissioning of the Chakrabarti report, so claims that Labour did not take it seriously are clearly nonsense.
In any event, just as ‘one swallow doth not a summer make’, one (refuted) article about alleged antisemitism in one organisation at one university does not merit a statement by the CHAC regarding supposed multiple elements of the party, as if it’s a proven, widespread issue.
But the treatment of Ms Chakrabarti is the next clear flag that the report is a politically-motivated stitch-up.
3. The Chakrabarti Report
The CHAC report dismisses Shami Chakrabarti’s report, claiming that its initial reception among Jewish people was negative:
At the time of its release, with the exception of some aspects, the Chakrabarti report received a largely negative reception from Jewish communities
The contortions required to achieve this statement are absurd. It could be said about literally anything that does not meet with 100% agreement from everyone that it was received negatively ‘with the exception of some aspects’.
And in fact, the response among leading Jewish organisations at the time was ‘largely positive’ rather than ‘largely negative’. I won’t repeat the details here, but this earlier article shows the nonsense of the CHAC statement.
The report also criticises her acceptance of a peerage after the report was published, as though a good, honest report becomes a bad, dishonest one because of anything that happens after it’s completion.
Most ludicrously of all, it also condemns her for addressing antisemitism in a wider context of racism, attacking her report’s
determination to be inclusive of all forms of racism
Attacking a person of colour for including antisemitism in a wider context of racism is both particularly ludicrous and, potentially, also subtly racist. Interestingly, the same concern to address all racism drove the comments of both Marc Wadsworth (mentioned in the next point) and Jackie Walker, a black Jewish woman recently unfairly suspended again from the party.
Jeremy Corbyn’s response that Ms Chakrabarti is unfairly treated is unequivocally correct.
4. ‘Abuse’ of Jewish MPs
The report – and media reports on it – claim that Jewish MPs have received horrendous abuse, implying that this has been from Labour members.
However, this is disingenuous in the extreme. Here’s the report’s summary:
At one point during 2014, police informed the Labour MP Luciana Berger that she had received over 2,500 abusive tweets in just three days, all using the hashtag “filthyjewbitch”.6 Since walking out of the launch of the Chakrabarti report in June, the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth has reportedly experienced more than 25,000 incidents of abuse.
Ms Berger was indeed viciously abused on Twitter. However, someone was convicted for that in a criminal court – neofascist John Nimmo, who has no connection to the Labour Party.
Similarly, while nobody doubts that Ms Smeeth received the above-mentioned 25,000 tweets, to date there has been no evidence at all that any antisemitic abuse originated with Labour members.
Finally, the report refers to alleged ‘antisemitic’ abuse of Ms Smeeth at the launch of the Chakrabarti report and criticises Corbyn for ‘saying nothing’. Mr Corbyn did not chair the meeting, so can hardly be expected to have intervened. However, the key issue is the supposed ‘antisemitism’ of the audience member Marc Wadsworth’s comments. These were recorded on video and do not contain antisemitism, nor indeed the words ‘media conspiracy’, which Ms Smeeth falsely quoted to support her claim she left ‘in tears’ because of antisemitic remarks.
Here’s what he actually said:
I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP so you can see who is working hand in hand. If you look around this room, how many African Caribbean and Asian people are there? We need to get our house in order.
Spot the antisemitism? No, nor does this writer. Mr Wadsworth’s allegations are very specific to Ms Smeeth and concern an action he saw her carry out. To turn that into a ‘Jewish media conspiracy’ allegation requires the most extreme distortion. In fact, Wadsworth claims he did not know Ms Smeeth was Jewish and there is no reason to doubt that – unless you choose to for other reasons. Indeed, until the furore, I didn’t know she was Jewish either – because I hadn’t heard of her.
Interestingly, Ms Smeeth is also a member of Progress, the right-wing Labour faction avowedly opposed to Corbyn’s leadership.
Laughably, in spite of all the furore and completely ignored by the media, the report says:
Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party. We are unaware whether efforts to identify antisemitic social media content within the Labour Party were applied equally to members and activists from other political parties, and we are not aware of any polls exploring antisemitic attitudes among political party members, either within or outside the Labour Party. The current impression of a heightened prevalence of antisemitism
HUH?! The report admits there’s no evidence that antisemitism is a particular problem in the Labour party – and admits that the CHAC has no idea whether ‘the impression’ of antisemitism is based on a fair examination of Labour and other parties.
So why exactly is the CHAC publishing a report specifically to criticise Corbyn’s handling of a problem of whose existence they admit there is no [insert expletive of your choice here] evidence?!
And don’t forget – Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme spent 6 months undercover at Corbyn’s Labour and found exactly the same evidence of any abuse or antisemitism:
What should we conclude from this report? That Labour under Corbyn has become a haven for antisemites? Not based on any evidence in this report, regardless of how the media is attempting to spin it as such.
Rather, the report appears to be evidence of a small group of people – Tories, 2 right-wing Labour factionalists and one MP who wants to leave the UK – abusing their privileged position in order to fabricate a perception of a Labour ‘antisemitism problem’ and a leader who is failing to respond properly in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary.
In other words, a cynical, politically-motivated stitch-up that – according to Jewish people – constitutes a weaponising of antisemitism that is likely to lead to more harm to Jewish people, rather than less.