Monday, November 09, 2020

Labour and Anti-semitism

  When I was an eight year old (over three quarters of a century ago) I first became aware of something of the depth and scope of the mass atrocities which Hitler's regime had conducted against Jewish people. A local cinema was showing a Pathe News item about the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camp at Belsin. It was the talk of the local mining colliery of Easington in County Durham where I lived. So as I was an only child my parents took me with them to a local cinema, so they could see the Pathe News item that everyone was talking about. But when it came to the news item itself (as a young child) I was made to duck down behind the seat in front of me to avoid seeing the horrors. However, I could still hear the commentary and have come across that terrible coverage many times since then.  

         I finally joined the Labour Party at the age of 21 as a result of a public initiative taken by Manny Shinwell our local Labour M.P. who was of Jewish descent. Two years later I acted as one of his local Election Agents in the 1959 General Election and the following year he gave me a reference which helped me obtain a life-changing place as an adult student at Ruskin College in Oxford. Whilst my parents were still alive my wife and I finally settled in Derbyshire, but we retained good links with Easington and the neighbouring mining Colliery of Shotton where my wife's father also worked as a coal miner. Yet never once in the Labour Party nor in our localities did I ever come across anyone making anti-semitic remark.

   Many years later when I was an MP, my wife and I visited Poland. Shortly after we landed we made a short train journey. I felt distictly uncomfortable wondering if the train line we travelled on had been used by the Nazis to tranship Jews to concentration camps. We visited the area in Warsaw where Jews had been placed in the Getto and then the former concentration camps at Birkenau and Auschwitz. Harrowing experiences never to be forgotten.

  I, therefore, recently made a copy of the 130 page report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's "Investigation into Anti-semitism in the Labour Party" and have read it twice and since closely examined my underlineings and comments. The findings are very difficult to follow as the points made in its main text need to be checked against items it then covers in seven annexes appearing between pages 102 and 128. Yet many of its claims of anti-semitism in the Labour Party are unsubstaniated and we are just expected to accept them because of their authoritive source. Otherwise the reader needs to pursue further relevant and detailed research of their own. So in practice most readers have just to accept the report's claims as being ex-cathedra statements.

   I can fully appreciate why many people of Jewish decent (but by no means all of them) tend to see criticisms of Isreal as being rather offensive. However, there are also many people of Jewish decent who are strong critics of various actions of the Isreali Government, such as the invasion of Eqypt in 1956 and the occupation of Western Bank.

It is prefectly reasonable that people should criticise the Isreali Government for its above shortcomings and press for a two state solution which gives a significant role for a Palestinian State - whilst clearly avoiding language that is in any way anti-semitic and being conscious of the sensibiities of many people of Jewish decent, especially those who have family and other links with those who were exterminated by the Nazis.

Unfortunately in recent years with the growth of the social media some people now use its faciities to blow ill thought out raspberrys at each other - trying to score cheap points. This has also seemingly fed its way through to a small minority of Labour Party members. So with what was never a significant anti-semitic problem in the past, matters may now have surfaced in a small minority of ill thought out avenues. Such as the following case involving an active member of my former Easington Labour Party, see -

 These shortcomings are new to me, for in the 63 years since I joined the Labour Party I have never ever face-to-face come cross a single internal anti-semitic utterance. Then as an MP myself from 1987 to 2005 when I often mixed alongside Jeremy Corbyn and others, I never heard any such utterances in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Yet the middle east was at times on the agenda. In fact, Jeremy's stance has always been a clear opposition to anti-semitism, whilst looking for help to the Palestinians. I also shared an office with Ken Livingstone for a few years and found that he was the same. same.

What they have both been accused of since then was no more than their passing clumsyness and should now be dismissed with them both being allowed to clarify their stance. I have dealt with one of the problems which Ken expressed badly here - . Whilst unfortuneately Jeremy working for a two state solution tended not to criticise some of the extreme views expressed by Hamas, but he cearly did not share these.

Jeremy should be back into the Parliamentary Party. I say this even although I never voted for him to be leader. For I believed that the best tactic for the left was not to grab theoretical control, but to seek to gradually move onto the Labour Front Bench and build for the future - whilst still recognising the urgency of tackling climate change and pursing the needs of many, including our former working class supporters.

 In the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Executive Summary on page 5 of their report they claim to have "carried out an in-depth analysis of a sample of 70 complaint investigation files. We selected 58 of these files out of over 200 complaints indentified in different sources. The remaining 12 were put forward by the Labour Party". But why they decided to examine some of the complaints and not others is not clarified. 18 of the cases they dismiss as only being borderine harassment cases.

    In fact the only cases they examined which they refer to by name are those of Ken Livingstone, Pam Bromley, Naz Shah, Chistine Shawcroft, Chris Williamson and Jeremy Corbyn. Then apart from them dealing with Jeremy at greater length on internal Labour proceedural matters, the reader will still need to turn to outside sources to see just what claims have been made against these people. They are not spelt out in the report. Nor is specific information given about the other 58 individual files they refer to, nor why they were selected out of some 200 complaints. What was the criteria for the Commissions private studies ? 

   I appreciate, however, that the Commission would not wish to quote from what it claims are expression of anti-semitism, for this would spread obnoxius language. But this also places their readers in difficuties. Without at least references to such claims, the Commission's analysis can not be subject to our scrutiny so we can then judge its full significance. Yet we need to assess the situation soundly.