An interim assessment of Labour's anti-Semtism

Sixth in a series of articles on different aspects of anti-Semitism as seen in the British Labour Party, written by a world renowned expert on the subject.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

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Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

For previous articles, click here.

The Labour Party’s anti-Semitic problems and the ensuing debate have many aspects. In view of the inquiry into the issue, commissioned from a committee headed by Shami Chakrabarti, this debate will continue over the coming month at least - if not longer - as the report is due by July 1.[1]

Yet it is worthwhile to give an interim evaluation of many major issues related to the hate mongering in the party against Jews and Israel. Doing so will sharpen the analysis of future developments in the party.

Legitimizing anti-Semitism

The focus on Labour's anti-Semitism has already drawn attention to an often neglected issue beyond anti-Semitism proper. The debate illustrates that one does not necessarily have to be an anti-Semite to legitimize anti-Semitism. Labour’s new leader Jeremy Corbyn, elected in September 2015, has promoted extreme anti-Israelis to key positions in the party, and has publicly trivialized its anti-Semitism problems.[2]

He has agreed to suspend some “fabricators” of hate slurs yet refused to penalize others, such as MEP Afzal Khan who has compared Israel to Nazis.[3] Furthermore Jackie Walker, a vice-chair of Labour’s Momentum faction, has recently been reinstated after an investigation. Walker had been suspended after writing about "the African holocaust" and stating that Jews were "chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade".[4]  No mention was made of a retraction or apology.[5]

What may be behind the phenomenon

Another issue which emerges from the published material is the disproportionately large number of Muslims among those exposed as fabricators of anti-Semitic slurs. This aspect is greatly under-reported in the media. It fits much other information throughout Europe about extreme anti-Semitism among Muslims and their disproportionately large presence among inciters against Israel and Jews. However, one should not falsely stereotype all or even the majority of Muslim representatives in Labour. The newly elected Muslim Mayor of London MP Sadiq Khan has come out strongly against the anti-Semitism in the party.

Little attention has been paid in the debate to Corbyn’s Jewish predecessor as Labour leader. Ed Miliband was responsible for some of the groundwork which allowed anti-Semitism to flourish in the party. It was under his leadership that Labour proposed a parliamentary motion to recognize the non-existing Palestinian state, and pressured its members of parliament to come out in support.[6]

Miliband had visited Israel shortly beforehand, and on a tour of Yad Vashem had discovered that his grandfather had been murdered in the Shoah.[7] If not before, certainly after the visit he must have become familiar with the fact that the largest Palestinian party is Hamas, an Islamo-Nazi movement which states explicitly in its charter that it plans to kill all Jews. If successful that would include Miliband himself. Miliband’s apparent indifference to the genocidal intentions of the largest Palestinian party probably derives from his desire to attract Muslim voters.

In the parliamentary vote on the recognition of Palestine three out of the four candidates for leadership in the September 2015 election supported the motion, Corbyn, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. The motion was also supported by several MPs whose names have been touted as possible successors to Corbyn, such as John McDonnell, Dan Jarvis, Chuka Umunna, Sadiq Khan and Hilary Benn. [8] The fourth 2015 leadership candidate Liz Kendall abstained.[9]

The fact that elected representatives make public anti-Semitic statements clearly indicates that few if any of their constituents are explicitly unhappy with such statements.
During the ongoing debate on Labour's anti-Semitism it has become clear that although there are Labour party members who do not want anti-Semitism issues to be swept under the political carpet, many in Labour trivialize the matter, claiming that the phenomenon is marginal. That this is not the case is evident, for example, from the thousands of hate emails received by Jewish MP Luciana Berger.[10] [11]  Would it not be logical to assume that many come from Labour members or supporters?

Is it by chance that a number of the anti-Semitic hate mongers suspended come from Bradford, where a quarter of the district’s population is Muslim? The fact that elected representatives make public anti-Semitic statements clearly indicates that few if any of their constituents are explicitly unhappy with such statements. The massive trivializing of the anti-Semitism problem in Labour is also clear from a poll which found that only one in ten Labour members sees it as an issue.[12]

Some, including Ken Livingstone, have accused "embittered Blairites,"[13] adherents of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's New Labour policies, of fueling the anti-Semitism debate. Similar accusations have been made against anti-Corbynites.[14] Even if there were any truth in the accusations, this would not diminish the fact that the anti-Semitism problem exists, that it is substantial and that there is an atmosphere of denial in the party.

When did it start?

One should add that after the Second World War, in what now is the remote past, there was much hatred against Jews in the Labour party. This was strongly represented by post-war British foreign minister Ernest Bevin.[15] Historian Geoffrey Alderman wrote an open letter on Labour's anti-Semitic past to Shami Chakrabarti the head of the Labour inquiry into Anti-Semitism, racism and islamophobia – extended from the original anti-Semitism inquiry. He explained that to understand anti-Semitism in Labour one has to look back to the very roots of the party, “to the anti-Jewish bigotry of some of its founders, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb (who ... jointly declared in 1897 that Jewish immigrants to the UK were "a constant influence for degradation" of the national character).”[16]


Prominent figures in the community have come out against the anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in Labour. This includes an outspoken Labour supporter Jeremy Newmark, Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement which has been affiliated to the Labour Party for almost 100 years.[17] It has also led Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to emphasize the link between Judaism and Zionism in an article, writing “Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you.”[18] Cross-bench peer Baroness Neuberger, a reform rabbi, claimed that Labour's problem of anti-Semitism was "attached to Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader.” She also said that it was "an issue with the hard left."[19]

It’s not surprising that Conservative MPs have criticized the Labour party’s anti-Semitism. One of these is former Labour Mayor Boris Johnson who claimed that a virus of anti-Semitism had infected Labour.[20] This may be party politics, but it does not necessarily mean that the statement is wrong.

A Jewish Chronicle poll found that if a general election were to be held now, only 8.5% of Jews would vote for Labour.[21] It is still unclear to what extent the anti-Semitism issue will influence voters other than Jews. Some figures in the party, such as Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale have said that that it has had an impact on the campaign for the May 2016 local elections.[22]   

The anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is not an isolated phenomenon in Great Britain. Earlier this year the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby stated that anti-Semitism is embedded in British culture.[23] In 2015 he had already noted that anti-Semitism is a complex and difficult subject, adding that it was deeply embedded “in our history and culture in Western Europe.”[24] The late Robert Wistrich has expanded on how anti-Semitism is deeply embedded in British culture.[25] And I have explained in more detail how anti-Semitism is part of European culture.[26]

Social Democratic and Labour Parties

Anti-Semitism and scandalous acts against Israel in social democratic and Labour parties in Europe have been simmering for decades. The latest example is that of Manuel Valls, the socialist Prime Minister of France, who considers himself a friend of the Jews and a fighter against anti-Semitism.[27] On a recent visit, he laid a wreath on the grave of Arafat[28], despite the fact that it is well known that Arafat, after Oslo and after receiving the Nobel prize for peace, personally signed on payments to Palestinian terrorists who killed Jews.[29] Valls wrote on his facebook site: “Tribute to Yasser Arafat, leader of an entire people, actor brave of history.”[30] It seems Valls is mainly opposed to terrorism if it kills people in France.

Decades ago, leading European social democrat politicians were already accusing Israel of using Nazi practices. These included Francois Mitterrand[31], Olof Palme[32] and Andreas Papandreou.[33] The trend continues today, with much anti-Israel incitement and deliberate disregard of Palestinian genocidal hate mongering against Jews in social democratic parties, for instance in Sweden, Norway[34] and the Netherlands.[35]

The multitude of anti-Semitic statements in the Labour party and the reactions to it, demonstrate how it all comes together: anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in their many aspects past and present in the British Labour party; and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn's many activities in the more murky periphery of anti-Semitism.

One well-known outside commentator who has already reached his conclusion is Douglas Murray, who wrote: “The British Labour party today evidently is riddled with anti-Semitism from top to bottom, and led by people who want to divert attention from the fact or cover it over entirely. Things can only get worse.”
































[32] Per Ahlmark, “Palme’s Legacy 15 Years On,” Project Syndicate, February 2001.

33] Moses Altsech (Daniel Perdurant, pseud.), “Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Greek Society,” Analysis of Current Trends in Anti-Semitism, 7 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1995), 10.

[34] Manfred Gerstenfeld and Orna Orvell, “The Norwegian Government: Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Policies (2005–2013).” The Vidal Sassoon Center, Acta 37, 2015