The Labour Party’s apology to so-called “whistleblowers” who accused it of antisemitism is a warning sign of things to come.
A report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into Labour’s handling of antisemitism accusations under Jeremy Corbyn is due imminently.
If it says what the right want it to say, it’ll be used to try and bury the left for years—if not decades.
The report will look into whether Labour, or those acting on behalf of the party, have committed unlawful acts and whether it responded to complaints in “a lawful, efficient and effective manner”.
Already there are doubts about the EHRC’s investigation.
For a start it was prompted by complaints by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which considers the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and anti‑Zionism to be antisemitic. CAA was set up by pro-Israel activists in response to huge Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstrations in 2014.
Perhaps more importantly, it “may have regard” to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and its linked examples.
This definition has been used to brand pro-Palestine campaigning, and the description of Israel as a racist state, as antisemitic.
So right wing opponents of Corbyn are confident that the investigation will go their way.
The report isn’t tasked with deciding whether Labour became institutionally antisemitic under Corbyn’s leadership, as CAA and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) claim.
But they will use it as crucial evidence that this is what Labour became under Corbyn’s leadership—and that his left wing politics made this unavoidable.
The JLM also sees criticism of the nature of the Israeli state as a form of antisemitism.
In an online video on the EHRC report, JLM national secretary Peter Mason said the type of antisemitism inside the Labour party was “new antisemitism”.
This isn’t to do with hatred of Jewish people as Jews but opposition to Israel.
Tellingly, Mason also cast Labour’s election slogan, “For the many not the few” as a product of an antisemitic world view in which “the elite” really means Jewish people.
In the same video MP Margaret Hodge blamed an “anti-European” and “anti-American” culture for the left’s “racism”.
She said Corbynism had made Labour a “racist party” but that miraculously Keir Starmer’s leadership had already turned that around.
She added that more needed to be done against “those who are still in the party”.
The message from the right is that Labour can redeem itself by driving out the left. Even central pillars of the left that have nothing to do with antisemitism—class and anti-war politics—have to become unacceptable.
Starmer’s leadership has already begun paving the way for this, apologising to “whistleblowers” who appeared in a BBC Panorama documentary that accused Labour of antisemitism.
That documentary—and testimonies by the whistleblowers—rested on the idea that the left’s opposition to Israel is antisemitic.
What’s more, there are reports that Labour activists are being placed under investigation simply for challenging the idea that the party or the left has a major problem with antisemitism.
Few will speak publicly for fear of being expelled.
The outcome of all this has consequences not just for the left inside Labour, but for other aspects of the left’s politics.
First and foremost, it will make it harder to campaign against Israel, but will also tarnish anti‑austerity, class politics with the brush of antisemitism.
And it will also be used to undermine the left’s anti-racism.
But many are now realising that battles cannot be fought through a machine that’s geared towards expelling you, and on a terrain that forces you to stay silent.
The fight continues to defend the right to call Israel a racist state and to take head on the central accusation that opposition to Israel is antisemitic.
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