Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension is a massive distraction from what’s actually in the EHRC report

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn
Emily Apple

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party was rightly greeted with shock and an outpouring of solidarity. But Corbyn’s suspension also served as a massive distraction from critically evaluating the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report.

On 29 October, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its long-awaited report into antisemitism in the Labour Party. The BBC reported that:

The human rights watchdog found Labour responsible for “unlawful” harassment and discrimination during Mr Corbyn’s four-and-a-half years as leader.

And Keir Starmer said that it was “a day of shame”.

However, the real “day of shame” was Starmer’s response to the report, and his sacking of Corbyn. As Maryam Jameela wrote for The Canary:

In getting rid of Corbyn, a lifelong anti-racist, the Labour Party has once again shown that it is not the party of anti-racists.

The report

The EHRC set out to use its:

legal powers to investigate allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

And it found that:

there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible.

Any and all allegations of antisemitism must be taken seriously. And if the Labour Party is responsible for “harassment and discrimination” then this must be addressed. But here’s where there’s a fatal flaw. Because the report includes, quite rightly, “using antisemitic tropes” as an issue. But it then adds “suggesting that complaints of antisemitism were fake or smears” as an issue in its own right.

This is hugely problematic and a massive Catch-22. Here is one of the comments the EHRC uses as an example of antisemitic harassment: a Facebook post from Pam Bromley MP about Jeremy Corbyn:

‘My major criticism of him – his failure to repel the fake accusations of antisemitism in the LP [Labour Party] – may not be repeated as the accusations may probably now magically disappear, now capitalism has got what it wanted’.

There are several points which arise from this that are central to analysing the EHRC’s findings.

Scraping the barrel

Firstly, an investigation into antisemitism, should, you know, uncover actual instances of antisemitism. From the use of antisemitic tropes to blaming all Jewish people for the human rights abuses of the Israeli state, there are many areas where antisemitism is rife in our society. As a Jewish person, I’ve written before about how terrified I am of the rise in genuine antisemitism, not just in the UK, but across Europe and the rest of the world.

So for the EHRC to reach its conclusion of “harassment and discrimination”, it would seem reasonable that this should involve a litany of the above types of examples of antisemitic behaviour. But it doesn’t. It instead relies on comments, such as the one above, that call into question the accusations of antisemitism and the motivation behind these accusations.

Now, if the EHRC could provide a list of proven examples of antisemitism, this might look like more of a legitimate allegation. But it doesn’t. Instead, it creates an endless feedback loop where those accused of antisemitism, or their supporters, can’t defend themselves for fear of being labelled antisemitic. The EHRC’s conclusion is chilling given how little evidence is presented of antisemitism, aside from comments which call out the smears.

Is it antisemitic to suggest antisemitism complaints were smears?

Not believing the victims of hate crime is a serious matter. Secondary victimisation, where a victim has to fight institutions to be believed, is often reported to be as damaging, if not more so, than the actual racist incident. All and any accusations of racism need to be taken seriously.

But for that to be the case, the EHRC would have needed to produce evidence of antisemitism that doesn’t rely on a definition based on how people responded to accusations of antisemitism. It doesn’t. In 70 cases, it found two for which the Labour Party was responsible. And one of those is the above example of calling out the accusations as a smear campaign. The EHRC identified 18 borderline cases, but didn’t have enough evidence to say whether the Labour Party was legally responsible. And it added that:

In many more files there was evidence of antisemitic conduct by an ‘ordinary’ member of the Labour Party, who did not hold any office or role, whose conduct the Party could not be directly responsible for under equality law.

But the vagueness of this number, and the fact that this isn’t broken down into types of accusations, makes it meaningless. The list of examples provided by the EHRC contains antisemitic behaviour that I’d want to see challenged and dealt with. However, this list also includes:

described [of] a ‘witch hunt’ in the Labour Party, or said that complaints had been manufactured by the ‘Israel lobby’

This is an accusation that has been made by many Jewish members of the Labour Party.

The Israel lobby?

Let’s play a little game. Let’s take out names and the rights and wrongs, ethics and morals of the situation with Israel and Palestine. This is important as it’s an exercise in logic rather than beliefs or values.

So we have two powerful states, State A and State B. State A supports State B. State A offers aid, arms sales, and a close hand of friendship to State B.

But State A is facing an election. One of the potential candidates for leader of State A doesn’t like State B. In fact, it supports State B’s ‘enemies’ and thinks State B has committed war crimes against them. State B then, predictably, feels threatened by the possibility of this new leadership. For better or worse, State B will therefore try and do everything it can to prevent that new leader coming into power.

Stripped bare, this is what happens in international politics. This is what happens when the UK interferes in, for example, Venezuelan politics to try and get a leader it likes in power.

And it’s therefore obvious that Israel would have been concerned about Jeremy Corbyn potentially becoming the prime minister of the UK – especially after the 2017 election result. And the Israel lobby does indeed attempt to influence both UK politics and journalism though accusations of antisemitism. In 2009, Open Democracy reported:

Some journalists we spoke to had been accused of antisemitism, and felt inevitably it had done some damage to their careers. Others, like the BBC’s Orla Guerin, against whom this very serious and damaging charge has repeatedly been made by the Israeli government, wouldn’t even talk to us off the record. It is easy enough to see why. Guerin is a brave, honest and compassionate reporter. Yet the Israeli government has repeatedly complained to the BBC that Guerin is “antisemitic” and showed “total identification with the goals and methods of Palestinian terror groups.”

It’s vital that we’re free to critique and examine the actions of any government without accusations of racism. And it’s essential that we’re allowed to critically examine the role the Israel lobby may or may not have played in manufacturing or, at the very least, exacerbating the antisemitism crisis in Labour, and using it for its own ends.

The EHRC

But taking a closer look at the EHRC also shows a different angle on the inquiry and potentially makes more sense of its flawed remit.

Founded in 2006 as part of the Equality Act, on paper the EHRC looks like it should be a good thing. But it’s been mired in controversy.

Former MP Chris Williamson released a video explaining some of the issues with the organisation. These include links to Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, as well as accusations of racism about the body itself. In 2017, the EHRC was said to lack “credibility, authority and legitimacy” after it was accused of targeting BAME staff for redundancy.

As Williamson points out, the report into allegations of antisemitism began due to lobbying by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). According to Williamson, the CAA has received funding from the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA). The AJA is a charity with the “primary purpose” of

promot[ing] wider and better understanding of Israel in the UK; to encourage exchanges between both countries at every level and generally to support activities which foster good will between British and Israeli citizens.

Williamsons’ video also shows that the AJA trustees’ deputy president is Michael Hilsenrath. Rebecca Hilsenrath, his wife, was chief executive of the EHRC when it decided to investigate Labour, and when CAA made the first complaints to EHRC. Although Rebecca Hilsenrath eventually recused herself, this took six months.

At the same time that the EHRC was listening to these groups, it was ignoring calls from the Muslim Council of Britain. In May, it dropped an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

Critical analysis is more important than ever

Looking at these flaws in the EHRC, and this latest report, is essential. But with Corbyn’s suspension, any whiff of this critical evaluation has been drowned out. The report’s headline findings are accepted uncritically and broadcast as fact, without nuance and closer examination. It’s marred by interference from the very lobby that the report says is antisemitic to accuse of involvement. This argument wouldn’t stand if the report had evidenced other examples of antisemitic behaviour. But it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, Starmer continues to ignore calls to investigate the abhorrent racism faced by Diane Abbott and other People of Colour in the party. And the EHRC still hasn’t launched an investigation into the rampant Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

I remain scared of the rise of antisemitism in the world. But I am terrified and chilled at the way antisemitism, and my heritage, has been weaponised to smear anti-racists. All while real racists walk around the halls of Westminster unchallenged.

Featured image via screengrab

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  • Show Comments
    1. Extremely important article highlighting the EHRC report’s fundamental flaw in it’s ‘findings’.
      And the author is Jewish herself, so how could she possibly be accused of antisemitism herself in writing this article?
      From the article: “..if the EHRC could provide a list of proven examples of antisemitism, this might look like more of a legitimate allegation. But it doesn’t. Instead, it creates an endless feedback loop where those accused of antisemitism, or their supporters, can’t defend themselves for fear of being labelled antisemitic. The EHRC’s conclusion is chilling given how little evidence is presented of antisemitism, aside from comments which call out the smears.”

      Yes. Researching on the web, I’ve found that apart from where people have been quoted out of context when criticising Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, the charges of antisemitism all seem to be looped around ‘the failure to stamp ‘it’ out’, whereby ‘it’ is the failure to stamp ‘it’ out!
      So that the failure to stamp out ‘the failure..to stamp ‘it’ out’ becomes, insanely, antisemitism.
      Thus, it’s back to the Dark Ages; a rejection of logic and sanity. Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne all over again.
      The EHRC may as well adopt their tactics and have those accused tied to a chair and thrown into a river to see if they float; in which case they’re guilty!
      I hope there’s more scrutiny of today’s EHRC, it’s funding sources etc. in future articles.
      Thank you Emily.

    2. Whot can one say this is another wayward attack on a decent honest man it’s beyond now that stammer did this to Corbyn has for inquiries by this organisation why didn’t they look into cons has they are racist but then it’s Corbyn they hope with the rest who travel real labour road they can rid themselves of these in one fell swoop

    3. What I understand of the enquiry is that it could only look at the labour party as an organisation. Therefore, individual acts of antisemitism by ordinary members were not part of its remit. This is why they could not say whether or not antisemitism is rife in the party and they could only look at the disciplinary process and alleged acts of antisemitism committed by “agents” of the party. And if an “agent” committed an act of antisemitism, the party as an organisation is found to have committed an act of antisemitism. Never mind these “agents” were disciplined and expelled following their comments… (we’d need to have lawyers looking if it is the correct legal way to proceed). But this leads to an absurd situation in the case of Livingstone. As member of the NEC, when he made clear cut antisemitic comments, the party itself committed and act of antisemitism. But then, by interfering in the suspension and disciplinary process to SPEED UP things, the party breached equality laws!

      And that is the main finding from the report, and that is what we all knew, and that is what everyone on the left were saying: the *leadership* of the party failed to deal with the allegation fairly, transparently and in a timely manner. The disciplinary process was complete shambles. But the media fails blatantly to mention and clarify that the *leadership* of the party is NOT the leader of the opposition but the General Secretary, the NEC and the NCC… who happened to be mostly blairite old guard opposed to Corbyn. Therefore the failings falls squarely on the heads of the blairites.

      Starmer went very quiet quickly and there was uncertainty about who suspended Corbyn on Thursday, news initially stating it was Starmer, then stating it was Gen Sec, under Starmers orders, and then it was all the Gen Sec’s decision and only informed Starmer. If Starmer himself took the decision, it did break the main recommendation of the report hours after it’s publication!

      I think the left of the party should welcome it because it does provide real protection against weaponisation of antisemitism.

    4. Dianesrightshoe – I was very interested to see what should have been the pages and pages of open goal ”antisemitism” evidence against Chris Williamson in the EHRC report. I am sure you were gagging for it too. Weren’t you disappointed? There wasn’t any. Not even a little smidgen. Perhaps it’s because he won a legal case against the Labour Party and they knew that they’d face a legal challenge if they libelled him too. They didn’t want to have to defend absolutely nothing and be exposed.
      There wasn’t anything in there about another high profile victim of the AS allegations, Jackie Walker. There is however an allusion to her case – and in that instance the EHRC report CRITICISES the UNFAIR treatment SHE received. On yesterday’s Zoom organised she said that she saw a black Labour Party official at her hearing taking copious notes. No notes or evidence found in the Labour Party’s documentations. Don’t you wonder why? I suggest the ”right” bit in your handle tells us all we need to know.
      Read about this on Skwawkbox.

    5. Perhaps the Muslim council of Britain should sue the EHRC over it’s failure to investigate Islamophobia in the Conservative party. People assume the EHRC is a neutral body to be taken seriously, but it is just another institutionally racist Government department that serves the Government’s bidding.

      1. Agreed. This whole “investigation” (aka a witch-hunt) has nothing to do with antisemitism. It has everything to do with ensuring that a Corbyn led Labour Party never got into high office. If this whole episode demonstartes one thing, it shows that you can never have a parliamentary road to socialism. Capitalism simply won’t allow it ever to happen. The quicker people realise this, the better. Look at the examples of Vietnam, Cuba, China etc. of how people fight against capitalism.

    6. Starmer is certainly the Leader of this Horrendous Lie masquerading as the truth. Its chilling he can be so immune to honesty. He’s just Monster everyone ought to be frightened of with his having the calm demenour of an assassin

    7. @Emily Apple – 31st October 2020
      Thank you so much for your article.
      It has helped me structure the almost congruent thoughts and perceptions which
      have been whirling around in my head after the (expected) vicious and unjustifiable
      action taken against Comrade Corbyn.

      I have dusted down and opened up my copies of Kafka’s works . . .

    8. The assignation of Corbyn by the Zionists & Blair lovers within Labour have left people like me without a party. I was a life long Labour voter but no more! I no longer have any party to represent me in my own country. I didn’t realise we were an Israeli state!!

      1. Correction! I’m sure there are good people in Israel but their leader clearly hates Corbyn as much as he does the Palestinians. There are Jews within the Labour Party who support Corbyn. It’s just sad that the Zionists and Corbyn haters refuse to give them a voice.

    9. I am surprised that Emily ignores Canary’s own report in July that Starmer was intending to suspend Corbyn once the EHRC report was issued. That is what he has done. It had nothing to do with what Corbyn said on the day.

      Emily says that ‘Not believing the victims of hate crime is a serious matter’. Of course, IF there has been a hate crime. Virtually all the social media ‘antisemitism’ accusations against people suspended or expelled, and as Labour Against the Witchhunt’s founding Vice-Chair I have seen many, many letters of Investigation. Without exception the comments are about Israel, sometimes, clumsy. I have seen no hate against Jews. None whatsoever.

      I write as the first Jewish person to be expelled. Dozens of Jews have been investigated/suspended or expelled for ‘antisemitism’. This is not about Jew hate but Zionism and Israel. This witchhunt is itself racist (& anti-Semitic). Why is it that when Luke Akehurst, candidate for the NEC and an Israel lobbyist campaigns to justify the mowing down of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli snipers is he not suspended? Are the lives of 70+ Palestinian children murdered, not including medics and ordinary demonstrators not as valuable as Jewish lives? If someone tweeted in support of an armed attack on Jews they would have been suspended instantly. Racism pervades the whole nonsense.

      People need to recognise that Starmer has a project and it is cleansing Labour of its leftwing. Unfortunately the Campaign Group and Momentum are pathetically clinging to the mirage of unity with Starmer and adopt the very weapon, antisemitism, used to attack Corbyn.

    10. Some really good thoughts here. What I would add is that I have had a look at the CAA website , (I think it was Facebook). If anyone had any doubt about the political nature of the ‘charges’ levelled at some long standing Mp’s, by CAA , the answers are in there. That should provide a lot of evidence about the Hate Speech by CAA, an dthe deception. As has been said, the intergrity of EHRC has been compromised, over links to the tory party, and the sam ecan be said of CAA.

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