According to an Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) report on “Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain” levels of antisemitism in Britain are “amongst the lowest in the world”.
According to a Community Security Trust (CST) report on “Antisemitic Incidents – 2018”, the number of antisemitic incidents in 2018 was “the highest total that CST has ever recorded in a single year, an increase of 16% on 2017, which was itself a record annual total.”
According to a report entitled “Institutionally Antisemitic – Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party”, written by Professor Alan Johnson and published by the on-line magazine “Fathom”:
“The Labour Party is now institutionally antisemitic, as the term is defined in the Macpherson Report. The culture of denial at the grassroots is curdling into something dark. The party is institutionally antisemitic and is in denial about this plain fact.”
Are these findings inconsistent with each other? Or they approaching the same problem (or different aspects of the same problem) from different angles? Arguably, it is the latter.
The IJPR report contains the findings of “the largest and most detailed survey of attitudes towards Jews and Israel ever conducted in Great Britain.” The survey draws a distinction between “counting antisemites” and “measuring antisemitism”.
Hard-core antisemites (“counting antisemites”) are a small minority: 2.4% or 5.4% of the population, depending on the criterion used. But 15% of the population holds two antisemitic ideas, and a further 15% one such idea (“measuring antisemitism”).
The far right is the most hard-core antisemitic (13%) and the most likely to hold at least one antisemitic idea (56%). An above-average proportion of Muslims are also either hard-core-antisemitic or held antisemitic ideas.
The far left scores the same as the average in holding antisemitic ideas. This could be interpreted as proof that such ideas are not a particular problem on the left (no worse than the rest of the population) or as proof of the opposite (no better than the rest of the population).
But the far left does stand out in holding of anti-Israel attitudes. 78% hold at least one anti-Israel idea (overall average: 56%), and 23% hold between six and nine anti-Israel ideas (overall average: 9%).
The report acknowledges that “it is entirely possible to be anti-Israel without being antisemitic”. At the same time it finds “evidence of a clear overlap between them (i.e. being anti-Israel and being antisemitic).”
The CST report has a much narrower and more empirical focus, i.e. the number of reported antisemitic incidents last year (although, due to under-reporting, the number of actual incidents is certain to be much higher).
Although there was no “sudden trigger event” responsible for the increase, it attributes the increase to “political and media debate over allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party” and “reactions to violence on the border between Gaza and Israel.”
The former in particular emboldened “those people who are already predisposed to carry out hate crimes”. It also gave rise to “the perception that the taboo against expressing hostility or prejudice towards or about Jews is weakening”, leading some people to be more overt about their antisemitism.
In analysing the discourse and motives of antisemitic incidents, the report finds no overarching trait: “They represent the multi-faceted nature of contemporary antisemitism.” In analysing the perpetrators of such incidents, the report does not go beyond references to gender and perceived ethnicity.
Professor Johnson’s report provides a useful summary of ideas developed by other writers in recent years about the causes and forms of contemporary antisemitism, along with nearly 150 previously reported examples of antisemitic conduct by Labour Party members.
Citing repeated examples of failures of Labour officialdom to deal properly with the problem, he concludes that the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic.
What would have been useful to include in the report is an analysis of whether the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party can be reduced to the ‘Corbyn surge’ (i.e. first-time joiners and returnees) or whether it involves a layer of much longer-standing Party members.
Many of the examples cited in the report, for example, appear to involve ‘established’ Party members rather than new joiners and returnees.
Although the Professor, who describes himself as someone who “first fought left-wing antisemitism as part of the democratic socialist left in the mid-1980s”, has “ideas about the kind of measures the Labour Party should take to turn things round”, he does not expand upon them.
Overall, and in very general terms, the substance of the three reports can be summed up as:
- Antisemitic incidents are increasing, but hard-core antisemitism is the property of a small minority.
- Antisemitic ideas and attitudes are more prevalent; they are more likely to be encountered by Jews; Jewish concerns about antisemitism are therefore legitimate.
- Such ideas and attitudes correlate to some degree to hostility to Israel.
- Although these problems are most common on the right, they also exist to a lesser extent on the left as well.
- Labour Party officialdom, and Corbyn as Party leader, have so far failed to adequately address, or even acknowledge, the problem.