“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that", declared Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner on 29 November, following a new message from Labour Party general secretary David Evans that local Labour Party officials can be suspended for allowing debate on restoring the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn.
Local Labour Party discussions on suspensions or expulsions from the party were already barred by a March 2019 instruction from the previous, "Corbynite", general secretary Jennie Formby. Officials of at least one local Labour Party (Islington South) had been told in mid-November that motions about suspension must be ruled out of order, but motions about the whip were in order.
What next? Will local officials be suspended for allowing motions about the ban on debating the whip?
This suspension-mania hinders rather helps the fight against antisemitism within Labour. That fight can be won only through argument - as trenchant as necessary - to convince the majority of the harmful implications of ideas such that:
• the Israeli Jews are a nation which, uniquely among nations, should have no right to self-determination, but should instead be dispersed and crushed
• that Jews worldwide who identify instinctively (even if critically) with the only Jewish-majority state ("Zionists") should be shunned as equivalent to racists or fascists
• that a Israeli "Lobby" is the axis of right-wing politics worldwide, with sway mysteriously exceeding the influence of much larger and richer and diaspora-endowed states than Israel
• that complaints about antisemitism should by default be dismissed as machinations of that "Lobby".
Many hold some of those ideas and consider them left-wing, and at the same time sincerely oppose old-fashioned Christian or biological-racist antisemitism. Yet the ideas victimise Jews, except the small minority who can get out from under them by saying that they, too, want Israel wiped off the map.
According to a poll commissioned by LabourList, a 58%-31% majority disliked Jeremy Corbyn's statement after the EHRC report.
The statement sought to deflect its shameful findings about antisemitism in Labour by saying that of course Labour would have some spillover from antisemitism in wider society, but the problem had been exaggerated. In other words, by excusing Labour on Corbyn's watch as no more at fault than any large organisation condemned to live in an imperfect society. Yet recently the ideas above have had *more* currency in segments of the left than in wider society.
By such stances, and by his record on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, only four years after clearly winning two Labour leadership elections, has now made himself (in the same poll) only slightly less unpopular than Blair among Labour members, though those members still back the left-wing 2019 manifesto policies 74%-14%.
Probably many of the 31% have just never heard the arguments. Groups like Workers' Liberty have put much effort into arguing the issues on antisemitism, and even Momentum had some relatively useful video clips a while back; but it has been difficult to get face-to-face debate.
Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer have done nothing on the political arguments.
Gross and persistent prejudice may call for expulsion with due process, as with Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson. (Both in the end resigned rather than face that due process). To ban discussion on the grounds that it may open space for members with as-yet-undispelled prejudices to speak is to make it impossible to confront those prejudices properly, and to re-educate politically.
The scientist Steven Rose was one of the pioneer advocates of an "academic boycott" of Israel, back in 2002. We sought by a carefully argued open letter to convince him and his co-thinkers that their plan had antisemitic implications (though Rose backed, and I think backs, "two states").
The argument had enough reach that Jeremy Corbyn has opposed boycotts of Israel, and no "Corbynistas" have felt confident to push hard in the Labour Party for that idea. I don't think it convinced Steven Rose.
Yet, in the writer's Labour Party branch last month, that same Steven Rose successfully moved deletion of the words "and antisemitism" from a motion for unity which said Jeremy Corbyn had been a lifelong fighter against racism and antisemitism. The Mear One mural episode, said Steven Rose, mandated that deletion.
Space can be cleared for argument and education by pushing aside, on the one hand, the "100% with Corbyn, whatever" pressure, and, on the other, the suspend-until-we-drop pressure.
The space cleared by pushing aside those pressures will also be space in which to call the Starmer leadership to account on the Overseas Operations Bill, the spycops bill, their weakness against the Tories on the pandemic and jobs and cuts, and their talk of voting for the Tories' Brexit deal.
Organise the internationalist and "philosemitic" left! And then that left can form alliances with other segments in the party, both to beat down antisemitism and to defend party democracy and left-wing policies.