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After Corbyn reinstatement: now, a political offensive against antisemitism

Submitted by martin on 24 November, 2020 - 9:30 Author: Martin Thomas
The "Mear One" mural

Above: The "Mear One" mural: Jeremy Corbyn supported it when the local council led by Lutfur Rahman removed it, but then apologised

A panel of the Labour Party National Executive has (17 November 2020) reinstated Jeremy Corbyn after:

• he responded to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's legally-enforceable report (29 October 2020) finding the Labour Party culpable for antisemitism by saying that "the problem was dramatically overstated for political reasons" and conceding only that he could not claim "no antisemitism" in the Labour Party because of course there would be some "as there is throughout society"

• he was suspended from the Labour Party

• he rowed back, saying that "concerns about antisemitism are neither 'exaggerated' nor 'overstated'."

The panel also delivered a formal warning to Corbyn. Labour chief whip Nick Brown, and according to the Guardian, the panel too, have asked Corbyn to take down the 29 October Facebook post, and Brown has asked him to apologise.

Labour should now do what successive leaders, both Corbyn and Starmer, have repeatedly promised to do, but never done: launch a political and educational offensive against antisemitism in the party, with clear debates and local educational (not just "training") programmes as in Sheffield Heeley CLP.

After the NEC panel decision Keir Starmer declined to restore the Labour whip in Parliament to Jeremy Corbyn, though he said "I will keep this situation under review". Since then it has been said that the suspension is for three months. It looks like Starmer wants to extract a clearer rowing-back from Corbyn. It is a symbolic move, unlike the suspension which carried real weight, but not a helpful one. Local Labour Parties have been banned from debating the suspension, but are officially allowed to pass motions criticising the withdrawal of the whip: many have done.

A year and a half ago, Solidarity interviewed Dave Rich, head of policy for the Community Security Trust (CST, a Jewish community charity), and author of the book The Left's Jewish Problem - Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism.

He homed in on Labour leaders' "inability to recognise and understand antisemitism as it actually operates, unless it comes packaged as fascism" - the idea that if your mother joined the anti-fascist mobilisation at Cable Street in 1936, and you personally have opposed neo-Nazis and attacks on synagogues, then you can't be antisemitic however much you stereotype Israel and Jewish "lobbies" world-wide as the great hidden power behind right-wing politics.

"We're not just talking about changing processes", said Rich, "but changing a political culture, but there is still no recognition by the leadership of the Labour Party that they have any problem at all of an antisemitic political culture. All we hear is: it's just 0.1% of the membership, and we'll discipline them and throw them out..."

He advised us: "Educate yourself about contemporary antisemitism, about the tropes and the imagery. There's plenty of material out there. When you're educated, bring that into your political arguments when these issues come up. Speak up. Make the arguments... There's absolutely no reason why campaigning for Palestinian rights should go along with antisemitism. There are lots of people who campaign for Palestinian rights without being antisemitic or encouraging antisemitism".

As the suspension-reinstatement row reverberates through Labour, we must challenge antisemitic narratives about Corbyn's suspension. Those attribute it to "the power of the Zionist lobby", when in fact his initial statement did indeed show an "absolute blindspot", as Angela Rayner said, and read as if written to "dare" Labour to suspend him.

And the antisemitic narratives about Corbyn's semi-retraction - "Corbyn capitulates to Zionist lobby". In fact he would have done better explicitly to retract and apologise for the initial statement's blurred claim that the antisemitism problem in Labour is only the inevitable spillover into any large organisation of prejudices widespread in society, and has been presented as more only out of opportunist right-wing malice.

And the further antisemitic narrative about the lifting of the suspension, that it represents the victory of the righteous over "the Zionist lobby".

To object to suspension as a response to Corbyn's statement made sense even if you saw the "absolute blindspot" in it. To object to the ban (by Jennie Formby as general secretary in March 2019) on local Labour Parties even discussing such suspensions, and to the suspension of activists such as in Bristol West for discussing the suspension, is basic democracy. The Bristol suspensions should be lifted.

But many of the protests against the suspension said or implied that there was nothing wrong with Corbyn's initial statement. That shows the problem we still have to tackle.

Agitate, educate, organise! Debate the issues!

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