A marred report
Chakrabarti relies on the subjective, writes Tony Greenstein. She also fails to understand how ‘anti-Semitism’ was weaponised by the Labour right
Shami Chakrabarti: bending to Zionism
On April 29, as the media-hyped ‘anti-Semitism’ hysteria in the Labour Party was in full swing (with daily revelations from those doughty fighters against racism at the Mail), Jeremy Corbyn set up an inquiry into racism in the Labour Party under the former chair of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti. Chakrabarti is no radical and when it was announced that Baroness Royall of Labour Friends of Israel was to become a vice-chair of the inquiry I feared that it would simply become a rubber stamp for the right of the Labour Party and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement.1
The other vice-chair, professor David Feldman, was attacked by the Jewish Chronicle for his links to Independent Jewish Voices, a group which had expressed its concern2 “at the proliferation of sweeping allegations of pervasive anti-Semitism within the Labour Party”. 3 I made a long submission to the inquiry4 and gave evidence to it two weeks ago.
When I did so, she made it clear that the inquiry report would be hers and hers alone. Baroness Royall would not determine its findings or outcome - she was an advisor, nothing more. So, although my worst fears were not realised and the inquiry did not become a repetition of Royall’s rubber stamp into allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club, the Chakrabarti report is nonetheless problematic.
There is no merit in pretending that Chakrabarti found for the supporters of the Palestinians and opponents of Zionism in the Labour Party. Whilst there are some welcome recommendations - in particular over disciplinary procedures - the inquiry clearly falls down on the side of the Zionists politically.
The report has been welcomed by both Richard Angell of Progress,5 for whom any criticism of Zionism is de facto anti-Semitic, and Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, who called the report a “sensible and firm platform” to combat anti-Semitism.6
Chakrabarti has also been welcomed by John Mann MP, the boorish loudmouth who hectored and bullied Ken Livingstone. It is true that in a Parliamentary Labour Party with an overrepresentation of the stupid and vain, Mann stands head and shoulders above his colleagues. Nonetheless, when he declares that he was “delighted that every single one of the proposals I made is included in her report”,7 this cannot be ignored. Mann stated that “For the first time, it makes the use of ‘Zionist’ in a derogatory way a disciplinary offence.”
The best thing about the report is the first line, which states: “The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism.” This is important, because it negates the whole campaign which gave rise to this report. However, there are two problems. Chakrabarti immediately rows back on this, saying: “I have heard too many Jewish voices express concern that anti-Semitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party and broader left for some years.”
She avoids the central reason behind the setting up of the inquiry - the false use of ‘anti-Semitism’ as a weapon against those who oppose Zionism and the apartheid state of Israel. Coupled with this is what can be described as ‘false victimhood’. Although Chakrabarti accepted our submissions over the Zionists’ misuse of the MacPherson principles, she does not draw any conclusions as to why the Zionists have tried to subvert the MacPherson definition of a racial incident. Why are the Zionists so insistent that only they can define what is an anti-Semitic incident?
Subjective and objective
What would Chakrabarti have said a quarter of a century ago if opponents of apartheid in South Africa had repeatedly been told that they were anti-white racists? It is a constant of Zionist discourse that anyone supporting the Palestinians or opposing their treatment by Israel is accused of ‘anti-Semitism’. An example of this occurred at the Chakrabarti report press conference itself, when Marc Wadsworth, a black anti-racist activist, accused Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, a spin doctor for Bicom, the main Zionist propaganda group in this country, of feeding information to The Daily Telegraph.8 Wadsworth made no mention of Smeeth being Jewish - indeed he did not know she was Jewish, yet this was spun by Smeeth and the media as being an anti-Semitic incident.
This illustrates a problem with Chakrabarti: it seems that false claims of ‘anti-Semitism’ can be directed with impunity at black anti-racist activists. It substitutes the subjective for the objective, yet Smeeth proudly boasted on Twitter that Chakrabarti had apologised to her.
The whole report is suffused with subjectivity. Instead of defining anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism from the outset and rejecting the ‘new anti-Semitism’ - which sees opposition to the Israeli state as anti-Semitic and Israel as the ‘Jew among the nations’ - Chakrabarti ignores the issue completely. There is no excuse for this. A number of submissions, including my own and IJV’s, spent some time on defining what is and is not anti-Semitism. How can you have a report on anti-Semitism which fails to define what it means by the term?
The Institute of Race Relations emphasised the difference between attitude and acts, the subjective and objective.9 According to the poisonous logic of identity politics, the rights of every group - be they an oppressor or oppressed - are equally valid. So the rights of the Zionists are equally as valid as those of the Palestinians. The rights of ethnic cleansers are as important as those they drove out. If you challenge this then you are engaging in a ‘hierarchy of oppressions’, which is not allowed. The subjective demands that you take all claims at face value. Both bogus claims of racism and actual racism are equal. This drains racism of any meaning and reduces it to personal antagonism.
Thus the Chakrabarti report depoliticises racism. Instead of being a product of the power relations in a society built on colonial exploitation, including the slave trade, racism is nothing more than a difference in colour or ethnicity. Black people can therefore be equally as racist as white people. Racism is reduced to the personal. It has nothing to do with imperialism or Zionist settler colonialism. Indeed the very use of the word ‘Zionism’ is deprecated.
It was Lenin who made a clear distinction between the nationalism of the oppressed and of the oppressor: “The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression and it is this content that we unconditionally support.”10 Chakrabarti does not recognise any such distinction.
The Zionists dress up their chauvinism and racism as the ‘national self-determination of Jews’. We should reject this. Jews are not a nation and Zionism is not about ‘self-determination’. National self-determination means the right to be free from national oppression. The right of Israeli Jews or South African whites was and is about the right to exploit and oppress.
Chakrabarti bases her analysis on a subjective understanding of anti-Semitism. She says that there is “clear evidence” of “minority hateful or ignorant attitudes and behaviours”, which she ascribes to “incivility of discourse”. This “clear evidence” is never produced - it is politics by anecdote. Chakrabarti does not say which Jewish voices have expressed concern and what is the basis of that concern. When it comes to concrete acts of discrimination, she provides no examples whatsoever.
Racism is treated as an ideological phenomenon, not a material force. Attitudes and prejudice are considered in isolation from the practical day-to-day reality of racism. Chakrabarti fails to recognise that anti-Semitism in Britain is extremely low-level. The synthetic, media-manufactured reports regarding the Labour Party owe nothing to anti-Semitism and everything to the desire to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
Jewish people in Britain are not economically disadvantaged or oppressed. They do not suffer from institutional racism. On the contrary, Jews are among the most privileged sections of society. The post-war history of British Jews is the move from the East End of London to the outer suburbs of Hendon, Golders Green, etc. It was not only a geographic, but a political, shift, as Jews, who had voted overwhelmingly for Labour up to the 1950s, began to transfer their allegiance to the Conservatives. In 1945 Phil Piratin became one of only two elected communist MPs in Britain for the Mile End constituency. Half his votes were estimated to be from Jewish voters. It is inconceivable that such a phenomenon could happen today.
This transfer of Jewish political allegiances happened not because of support for Israel, but for socio-economic reasons.11 William Rubinstein, former president of the Jewish Historical Society, wrote: “the rise of western Jewry to unparalleled affluence and high status has led to the near disappearance of a Jewish proletariat of any size; indeed, the Jews may become the first ethnic group in history without a working class of any size.”12 By 1961, more than 40% of Jews were located in the upper two social classes, compared to less than 20% of the general population.13
Contrast this with the non-white population of Britain. They experience job discrimination, police and fascist violence, arson at mosques, demonisation in the press and parliament, a Prevent programme directed at Muslims, stop and search, home office campaigns against ‘illegal’ immigration, etc. Unlike Jews, black and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented in parliament and the upper echelons of society. There is simply no comparison between Jews and blacks, Asians and Muslims in Britain.
Failing to produce any concrete evidence of anti-Semitism, Chakrabarti constantly refers to “courtesy and dialogue”, “kindness and civility”, “incivility of discourse”, etc. It is as if the problem of racism can be located in bad manners and thoughtlessness. What Chakrabarti does is to depoliticise racism and allow the false victimhood and bogus anti-racism of Zionism to be counterposed to those who are active in anti-racist and anti-imperialist campaigns. It is little wonder that a majority of those who have been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’ have been black or Asian activists or councillors.
Everything is rendered subjective. All that is solid melts into air. Real political struggles against oppression and deprivation become transformed into the personal. Far from the personal being political, it is anti-political and ultimately reactionary. Incivility and discourtesy is held to be as oppressive as the deprivation that comes from poverty. After all, even the rich and powerful have feelings!
So when someone who is Jewish is offended by solidarity with the Palestinians, as happened when Oxford University Labour Club supported Israel Apartheid Week, or comments are made about Zionism and media conspiracies, then this is as valid as outrage over the imprisonment of Palestinian children. Indeed even the mention of Israeli brutality may be perceived as offending Jewish sensibilities and thus be ‘anti-Semitic’.
Chakrabarti holds: “Notwithstanding a vibrant Palestinian solidarity tradition, of all British political parties the Labour Party has the longest and most consistent record of support for Zionism, and the Labour government quickly moved to recognise the new state of Israel upon its formation in 1948.” Chakrabarti treats this as a matter of pride rather than shame and regret.
The Labour Party also has a longstanding and consistent record of support for imperialism and the British empire. Apart from those around the Movement for Colonial Freedom (Liberation), Labour subscribed to the ‘constructivist’ Fabian notion of trusteeship, whereby Britain’s African colonies were held ‘in trust’ for the indigenous people, who first needed to be ‘civilised’ before they could be allowed self-government. Racism and imperialism were the handmaidens of social democracy and Chakrabarti pays tribute to it.
When the Attlee government took power in 1945, the previous Conservative colonial secretary, Oliver Stanley, said of the policy of the new Labour secretary for the colonies, George Hall: “I listened to it with great interest, and I must confess with a certain amount of familiarity. It did not seem to differ greatly in essentials from the policies which have been declared on previous occasions.”14 Bipartisanship with the Conservatives over foreign and colonial policy has always been the order of the day.
Chakrabarti declares in the section entitled ‘History’, dealing with Labour’s past and present relations with minority groups, including Jews: “This inquiry is not about the wisdom of substantive policy, but rather about the tone of constructive debate.” That, however, is the problem, as it is substantive policy, from the Iraq war to the Prevent and domestic extremism programmes, which have led directly to the intensification of anti-Muslim racism. Black and Asian members naturally feel solidarity with the Palestinians, given Israel’s support for apartheid in South Africa and its repressive role internationally. The attempt to subsume political differences behind the ‘tone’ of political debate is a mask with which to disguise Labour’s support for the oppressive and racist policies of the British state.
Chakrabarti argues that no-one should be required to condemn human rights abuses because of their religion or race. That is true, but it is also beside the point. Zionist organisations, including the Jewish Labour Movement, which is the British wing of the Israeli Labor Party, have claimed that policy critical of Zionism or Israel is in itself anti-Semitic because it is challenges Jewish identity. The JLM’s proposed change to Labour Party rules states: “… it is not acceptable to use Zionism as a term of abuse”. The problem is that Zionism - the settler colonial movement that ethnically cleansed Palestine of its indigenous population and which holds that Israel is a state of its Jewish citizens, as opposed to all of its citizens - is an abusive and racist movement. How is it possible to employ the term ‘Zionism’ in a non-abusive fashion? Was there a non-abusive form of apartheid?
Chakrabarti defines ‘Zio’ as a racist epithet. It’s not a term that I would employ outside Twitter, with its 140-character limit, but it is not a term of racial abuse. ‘Zio’ is short for ‘Zionist’: ie, someone who is a supporter of Zionism. It is not an ethnic, but a political, category. As such it cannot be a racially offensive term. Chakrabarti suggests it should be banned, because it will “undermine the atmosphere” of the Labour Party. In other words, we should do nothing to upset Labour’s support for Israel and Zionism.
If Chakrabarti wanted to outlaw racist epithets, how about starting with the Zionist term, ‘self-hater’, which is levelled at Jewish anti-Zionists? German anti-fascists were accused of self-hatred by the Nazis because they were held to hate their race and nation, and thus themselves.
Chakrabarti’s section on stereotyping is unremarkable except for her comment, “I have heard from Jewish students expected to either defend or condemn the policies of the Israeli government.” This is the exact opposite to what actually occurs. Jewish societies on campus are part of the Union of Jewish Students and as such they are constitutionally bound to advocate support for Israel. Those Jewish societies which have tried to resist this have been threatened with disaffiliation.15
Chakrabarti’s recommendation that “Labour members resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and holocaust metaphors”, because they are “intended to be incendiary rather than persuasive”, should be opposed. This is a nod towards the issue that led to the suspension of Ken Livingstone. The holocaust serves as the primary symbolic justification for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Thousands of young Israeli Jews are taken to Auschwitz each year in order to emphasise the message that only a militarily strong Israel guarantees that there will be no second holocaust. Auschwitz is used not as a warning against racism, but as the justification for a Jewish supremacist state, whose existence is predicated on a permanent majority of its Jewish component.
Fear of an Arab demographic majority is pervasive and guides Israel’s internal settler colonial policy of Judaisation. This is what lies behind the Israeli government’s support for campaigns against miscegenation, including funding the fascist Lehava group. ‘Intermarriage’ is a term referring not so much to religion as ethnicity. It is this mentality which led to the banning of a book Borderlife from the syllabus of Israeli high schools - it portrayed a relationship between Jewish and Arab teenagers, thus undermining the national Jewish identity that the JLM are so fond of promoting.16
When Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the 37th World Zionist Congress in 2015, he attempted to shift the blame for the holocaust from the Nazis to the mufti of Jerusalem. Hitler had only been interested in expelling the Jews - it was the Palestinian leader who persuaded him to murder them. Despite his historical ignorance, what Netanyahu said was in accordance with existing Zionist propaganda, which portrays the Palestinians as the new Nazis.
Holocaust metaphors are to Zionism what cricket and warm beer are to Britain. In Israel, as even Chakrabarti acknowledges, the use of holocaust slurs against one’s opponents is second nature. Outside Israel too, this state’s atrocities are justified by reference to the holocaust.
But, even if Zionism did not make reference to the holocaust, then use of such analogies would be justified. There are too many comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. One of the reasons for my own suspension from Labour was that I, like Hannah Arendt, had compared Israel’s marriage rules to the Nuremberg laws.
Chakrabarti recommends that we should “leave Hitler, the Nazis and the holocaust out of it” and instead use “the modern universal language of human rights, be it of dispossession, discrimination, segregation, occupation or persecution” instead. This goes to the root of the problem with Chakrabarti. Israel is not merely a state that abuses human rights. What makes Israel different is the Zionist ideology that led to a state based on racial supremacy and segregation. Israel, both ideologically and practically, mirrors many of the practices of the Nazi state prior to the holocaust.
Indeed there are powerful voices in Israel which advocate the open murder of Palestinians. No less than 57% of Israelis supported an Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who executed a severely wounded Palestinian lying on the ground, compared to just 20% who opposed his action.17 A large Tel Aviv demonstration in his support mobilised under a banner proclaiming “Kill them all”. Amidst the mob that was chanting “Death to the Arabs” was a poster that bore the words, “My honour is my loyalty”, the slogan of the SS.18
The exclusion of Arabs from 93% of Israeli land mirrors the exclusion of Jews from German land. It is equally apposite to compare the sealing off of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. It was Marek Edelman, the last Commander of the Jewish resistance in Warsaw, who, much to the chagrin of Zionism, compared the Palestinian fighters to the Jewish resistance fighters.19 The “Death to the Arabs” mobs in Israel mirror the anti-Jewish mobs in the Europe of the 1930s.
Chakrabarti discusses the use of ‘Zionist’ and ‘Zionism’ and advises us to “use the term ‘Zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse”. Again she reduces the political to the personal. Although she does not recommend that its use be outlawed entirely, as the Jewish Labour Movement would like, she goes more than halfway to meet them. Of course, fascists have long used the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’ interchangeably. But Zionists also do the same - hence their claim that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.20 Chakrabarti talks about people “redefining their Zionism”. You can redefine racism as many times as you want, but it is still racism, whatever gloss you put on it.
Glimmer of light
However, even in the darkest room there is usually a glimmer of light. So it is with the Chakrabarti report. Under ‘Clear and transparent compliance procedures for dealing with allegations’, Chakrabarti makes stringent criticism of the current procedures, whereby members are suspended at whim, without even being told the nature of the allegations against them, still less the identity of those making the complaints. When I gave evidence to Chakrabarti, it became clear that this was the area where we could expect the report to make its most stringent criticisms of the current witch-hunt.
Chakrabarti recommends that “those in respect of whom allegations have been made are clearly informed of the allegation(s) made against them, their factual basis and the identity of the complainant” - something which Iain McNicol, the hapless general secretary of the Labour Party, has so far refused to do.
Chakrabarti speaks about “avoiding the risk or perception of abuse of power in matters of internal discipline”, as one would expect from someone with her record in a civil liberties organisation. However, at the end of the day it matters little, whether or not there are clear and transparent procedures, if the Labour Party can expel someone for being an anti-Zionist.
Perhaps the best part of the report is when Chakrabarti raises, albeit tangentially, the context of the current witch-hunt, when she talks of looking at the motivation of those making the allegations. She speaks of “a hostile journalist or political rival conducting a trawling exercise or fishing expedition in relation to a particular person or group of people within the Labour Party”. Although this is a tentative stab in the right direction, she immediately backtracks, saying: “I am not going so far as to say that a politically motivated complaint should always be disregarded, just that motivation may have relevance, as will context.”
Chakrabarti deals effectively with the JLM attempt to distort the MacPherson definition of a racial incident. The JLM proposed an amendment to the Labour Party’s rulebook, which would mean that the word of a “victim” of a racial incident would be accepted at face value rather than being objectively tested. Its amendment reads: “Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice ..., the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options …” According to the JLM, “the Macpherson definition of a racist incident … places particular value upon the perception of the victim/victim group”.
In other words, a racist or a Zionist could define themselves as a victim and the NEC would be obliged to expel the ‘perpetrator’, since it would be the victim who defines the incident. Chakrabarti makes it clear that the “purpose of the [MacPherson] approach is to ensure that investigators handle a complaint with particular sensitivity towards the victim ... However, it will be for the investigation and any subsequent process to determine whether my complaint was ultimately well-founded.”
Likewise Chakrabarti makes caustic comment about the readiness of the Labour Party’s Blairite civil service to suspend members at the drop of a hat. She speaks of the principles of natural justice, observing, “Civil courts do not grant interim injunctions, nor criminal courts issue arrest warrants every time a complaint is made”, and raising the European legal concept of proportionality - which Brexit is no doubt going to eradicate! There are a number of technical proposals, such as lesser sanctions than expulsion and the introduction of a new legal member of the Labour Party staff, which may simply ensure that decisions are more legal-proof in the end, thus working to the disadvantage of those subject to disciplinary action.
One of the principal recommendations of Baroness Royall’s ‘inquiry’ was that the Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated to the ethnic cleansers and settlement funders of the World Zionist Organisation, should be responsible for anti-racism training for Labour students. I remarked in my submission that this was akin to employing the late Harold Shipman to develop courses in medical ethics. Having racists develop anti-racism courses is indeed a novel proposal.
Chakrabarti does not mention the JLM in the report, or Royall’s proposal, despite nearly 90 Jews writing in specifically on the subject of the JLM and its claim to be the Jewish section of the Labour Party. Chakrabarti speaks of “critiques of the idea that anti-racism training can ever be effective and nervousness that one strand or another in the party’s thinking should be given a privileged position in relation to describing and disseminating the boundaries of acceptable attitudes and behaviour”. This may be a subtle hint that Royall’s proposals regarding the JLM are a step too far. Chakrabarti says: “On reflection, and having gauged the range of feelings within the party, it is not my view that narrow anti-racism training programmes are what is required.” The Institute of Race Relations, which made an excellent submission to the inquiry, came down firmly against ‘racism awareness training’, which is part of an orientalist and colonial tradition of getting to know the enemy better.
Chakrabarti’s suggestion that in four Birmingham constituencies where Muslims predominate, which have been under ‘special measures’ - ie, subject to the whim and dictate of the Labour Party’s unaccountable regional organisers - for up to 23 years, this regime should be reviewed with some urgency. The original ‘problem’ was the recruitment of Muslims to the Labour Party and the measures date from the regime of Baron Kinnock. Chakrabarti also points to the all-white nature of Labour Party staff, and the consequent development of racist attitudes.
The Chakrabarti report is a mixed bag. It contains some welcome proposals on procedure, but this is more than offset by its fundamental political weakness when it comes to anti-Semitism. Its failure to appreciate or understand that the issue of anti-Semitism is nearly always raised not as an issue in its own right, but as a defence mechanism by Israel and Zionism’s supporters, mars the report.
1. See http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/my-submission-to-chakrabarti-inquiry.html.
2. IJV submission to the Chakrabarti inquiry.
3. Jewish Chronicle May 2 2016: www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/157634/labour-inquiry-professor-has-links-group-says-antisemitism-claims-are-baseless.
6. Jerusalem Post July 1 2016: www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Report-says-UK-Labour-Party-not-racist-459232.
11. Anyone wishing to understand this issue should consult Geoffrey Alderman’s The Jewish population in British politics Oxford 1983.
12. WD Rubinstein The left, the right and the Jews London 1982, p51.
13. G Alderman, p137.
14. PC Speers, ‘Colonial policy of the British Labour Party’ Social Research Vol 15, No3, September 1948, p.304.
15. See www.jacobinmag.com/2015/10/holocaust-denial-mufti-netanyahu-yad-veshem-hagee-palestine-zionism.
16. Ha’aretz December 31 2015: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.694620.
19. Ha’aretz August 9 2002: www.haaretz.com/news/letter-to-palestinian-partisans-raises-international-storm-1.37387.
20. See, for example, ‘No, Peter Beinart: anti-Zionism is indeed a form of anti-Semitism Ha’aretz April 20 2016: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.715541.