Critics and Minimizers: The debate over Labour Party anti-Semitism

Is the Labour Party serious about fighting its internal anti-Semitism or will we see a whitewashing of the issue? Part V in a definitive analysis by a foremost expert on anti-Semitism.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

For previous articles (note that each article can stand alone), click here.

The many anti-Semitic slurs in the British Labour party which have been disclosed in recent weeks, some of which are genocidal, have prompted a wide-ranging internal debate about this hate mongering. Both critics and trivializers of anti-Semitism within the Labour party have come to the fore, some of whom will be mentioned here. Outsiders have also reacted, including prominent figures in the Jewish community. This debate has also led to further investigation of other problematic statements by Labour personalities.    

One vocal critic of anti-Semitism in the Labour party is MP John Mann. He has a long international record of fighting anti-Semitism. Mann called former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a “disgusting Nazi apologist” in front of waiting cameras.[1] He was thereupon summoned to the whip’s office and reprimanded for engaging in a row in public and on television.[2]

Another important internal critic of Labour party anti-Semitism is Sadiq Khan, a Muslim MP who has been elected as Mayor of London. Khan’s past includes some tenuous connections between him and his family and Muslim extremist organizations.[3] His position as the mayoral candidate has been pro-Jewish.[4] Khan’s first official act as mayor was to participate in a Holocaust memorial ceremony, which led to criticism on Twitter, including Holocaust denial and claims that he was “paid off by Zionists” to attend.[5] He has also signed the Mayors United Against Antisemitism pledge,[6] and has announced a planned trade visit to Israel.[7]

Khan has accused Corbyn of failing to call out anti-Semitism in Labour.[8] He is considered by some to be a potential contender for the future leadership of the party.

John McDonnell, Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer is another important critic of the anti-Semitism in the party. He demanded that Livingstone apologize explicitly for his comments linking Hitler and Zionism. Livingstone’s previous “apology” only stated that he was sorry to have caused disruption for Corbyn.[9] Even before anti-Semitic remarks by Livingstone and others became public, McDonnell, who is on the extreme left of the party, had said that Labour needs to “sit up and listen” to complaints of anti-Semitism.[10] He in turn was embarrassed however when links were found on his website leading to websites glorifying murder of Israelis. McDonnell stated that he was unaware of the anti-Semitic articles.[11]

Yet another critic of the anti-Semitism is Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson. He said that he was "ashamed of the recent cases of anti-Semitism in my party".[12] Labour shadow cabinet member MP Lisa Nandy said the party should ““suspend anybody who makes anti-Semitic comments, in line with our policy, and investigate it.” She was referring to another Labour MP Nazim Shah.[13] Dennis MacShane a former Labour MP and minister for Europe who was expelled in 2012 for submitting false invoices to the parliamentary expenses authority, is another critic.  He is one of the few commentators on the issue who dares to mention the important role of Muslim Labour representatives in the anti-Semitism scandal.[14]

Corbyn’s legitimization of extreme anti-Semites is only one aspect of the development of the anti-Semitism crisis, in which he has played a key role.[15] He initially denied the anti-Semitism problem altogether, stating to the BBC: “It’s not a crisis, there’s no crisis”[16] Corbyn blamed enemies of the party for much of the criticism.

Among the deniers and trivializers of anti-Semitism one finds Len McClusky, the head of the Unite union, Labour’s biggest donor. He has argued that claims of anti-Semitism are being used by rival Labour MPs and the right-wing press to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. Unite is a sponsor of BDS against Israel.[17] MP Diane Abbott, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for International Development said in a BBC interview, "it's something of a smear against ordinary members to say the party has a problem with anti-Semitism.”[18] She is one of the most hardcore trivializers of the anti-Semitism problem in Labour, describing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a legitimizer of extreme anti-Semites, as someone who has “one of the strongest records of fighting racism and antisemitism of anyone I know.”[19]

Another Labour whitewasher is MP Paul Flynn who said that Labour is in danger of "exaggerating a problem" with anti-Semitism. He claimed that the accusations were "created by malicious anti-Labour forces." In the past Flynn had accused Matthew Gould, Britain's first Jewish ambassador to Israel, of having “divided loyalties” and of not having “roots in the UK."[20]

Another aspect of trivializing the party’s anti-Semitic problems was the decision of the Labour National Executive Committee to suppress part of the report by Baroness Royall on anti-Semitism at the Oxford Union Labour Club.[21] The report found that this organization wasn’t institutionally anti-Semitic, but faced “difficulties that must be addressed.” As long as one cannot access the full text of the report the meaning of this statement cannot be understood. Though the report has some definite recommendations which have been published, some sources suggested that many of Royall’s allegations were not made against the club itself, but rather against the Labour party’s involvement, its support for students relating to anti-Semitism, and the events that led to the investigation.[22]

Labour MPs Michael Dugher and Rachel Reeves demanded that the Royall report be made public. They remarked that it was disappointing that allegations of anti-Semitism were being “wrapped into” an unrelated inquiry about Labour Youth Rep elections.[23]

Prior to the report being released, Jon Lansman, a Jewish founding member of the leftwing Momentum group and a key Corbyn ally wrote an op-ed in the Jewish Chronicle arguing concern over the charges of anti-Semitism in the OULC and urging restraint in associating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.[24] Yet later Lansman himself called for Livingstone to retire from political life.[25]

Among the outside critics of Labour anti-Semitism one finds many Conservative politicians.[26] Other critics include the former archbishop of Anglican church Lord Carey,[27] and prominent representatives of the Jewish community. Israeli ambassador to Britain Mark Regev stated that the crisis has "crossed a red line."[28] In addition, several media have devoted editorials to Labour’s anti-semitism problem.[29]

The Labour party’s broader inquiry into the anti-Semitism issue in its ranks is already facing criticism for its choice of leadership. The supposedly independent inquiry will be led by Shami Chakrabarti, former head of the Liberty rights group, and will examine anti-Semitism throughout the party. Baroness Royall’s partly buried report on Labour will also be incorporated into this wider inquiry.[30]

Chakrabarti has since decided that in view of her appointment as head of an independent investigation, she should join the Labour party.[31] It has also become known that in 2007, Chakrabarti expressed praise for Moazzam Begg, a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay who had tweeted that 'Israel's crimes far outweigh Taliban's”. She described him as a “wonderful advocate... for human rights and in particular for human liberty”.[32] [33]

The inquiry’s deputy head is Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. According to Jonathan Sacerdoti, communications director for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism,  “Professor Feldman is a fierce critic of the only definition of antisemitism that is widely used by the UK College of Policing, the British Government, the EU Parliament and the US State Department — the European Union Monitoring Committee [EUMC] definition of antisemitism.”[34]

An all-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism was commissioned by John Mann MP as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. It was published in 2006 and accepted the EUMC definition. Any effort by the current inquiry team to use a less tight definition may be seen as whitewashing anti-Semitism.[35]

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair applauded Labour for spearheading the report, declaring, “I know I speak for the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members when I say there’s absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in our party.”[36]

Blair may however be severely misreading the attitude in the party he once headed. A poll held among a sample of Labour members by YouGov for The Times of London daily newspaper found that only one in 10 agreed that Labour had a problem with Jew-hate and that the media was right to report on it.[37] With this kind of attitude dominating the party one may expect that in the future, much of the criticism of the party’s anti-Semitism will have to come from the outside.



[2] Ibid












[14]; see also















[29]; see also