Labour members can be demonised, disciplined and even attacked in the press simply for denying that their party has a widespread problem with antisemitism.
So this new book on Labour, antisemitism and the media is bold—and very useful for left wing activists. Bad News for Labour, a study by lecturers in journalism, communications, sociology and combating antisemitism, describes how we got here.
As an academic study, it’s rigorous, precise and clear with evidence. But as a tool for activists, it’s also accessible.
It dismantles the right, and tells us how to cut through the media distortion that blurs the lines between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
The first few chapters by Greg Philo and Mike Berry look at how the perception that Labour is antisemitic was influenced by how it was reported in the media.
Through a survey of more than 1,000 people, they found the average belief is that about a third of Labour Party members are antisemitic.
There’s obviously a huge gulf between that belief and the fact that, as they were writing, Labour was investigating 453 cases of alleged antisemitism—0.1 percent of members.
In a number of focus groups, Philo and Berry found most people got this belief from the saturated coverage in the media.
People who took part talked about the “constant” headlines, and the prominence given to claims that Labour has a major problem with antisemitism.
Throughout the book, its authors describe how those accusing Labour of antisemitism usually suggested that certain criticism of Israel—usually claims that it is racist—is antisemitic.
There are three chapters on the row over whether the Labour Party would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism with examples restricting criticism of Israel.
They’re all very clear on the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism—and describe methodically how the IHRA definition is not.
But problems with the IHRA definition were all but ignored by the media. Instead of presenting it as the contested definition it is, most gave the false impression that it was straightforward and widely accepted.
The study found that voices criticising it got far less prominence than those who backed it—particularly by the Guardian newspaper.
The study is also very clear that simply backing down over accusations of antisemitism didn’t make the problem go away—it just reinforced it.
In focus groups, even those against Labour were able to see media bias.
Many reconsidered how widespread antisemitism is in Labour when pushed to think critically about the claims they read in the press.
The authors’ answer is that rebutting and challenging the misinformation works best.
They suggest a media strategy that includes strong rebuttal of false claims, and clarity on what is and isn’t antisemitism.
They don’t quite go as far as to say Labour should openly say that the right to criticise Israel is at stake.
That’s a shame, because the book itself is very good at showing that. But for those who are bewildered, disheartened and intimidated by the onslaught of accusations of antisemitism, this book is very useful.