A very common argument made on Labour party forums, social media and even from the mouths of senior party figures is that antisemitism is really a tiny problem in the Labour party. Memes are retweeted en masse and interviews are given, and it comes from the top down. Jeremy Corbyn has said on a number of occasions that “perpetrators of antisemitism make up a tiny fraction of labour party members”.
The number bandied around is the .06% of Labour party members who have apparently been reported to Labour compliance for antisemitism. This number is often repeated and is used frequently to minimise the scale of the problem.
This type of rhetoric is part of the problem, it is a form of denialism and minimises the pain and suffering that many Labour party members and supporters both Jewish and otherwise have experienced in relation to antisemitism.
Incident reporting is never a good measure for the scale of a problem; we know from other forms of racism, misogyny, domestic violence etc. that these problems are often under-reported (the Met Police say that 48% of race crimes are unreported – that’s actual crimes as opposed to incidents of racism). We don’t know the degree to which that is the case here, but to use this figure alone is poor logic. Ironically as more and more Jews leave the party, there are fewer people engaged to report incidents.
The 0.06% of reported incidents don’t include non-members; Socialists against Antisemitism and other organisations we know try to establish if someone is a member before reporting them. If they are not, we don’t report them. But antisemitism coming from non-members who are otherwise supporters is an important factor. Why do so many anti-Semites feel comfortable using their Labour- and Corbyn-supporting credentials alongside their antisemitism?
Another feature of Labour party antisemitism that is not reflected in the .06% figure is the amount of support given to members who are accused, suspended and expelled for antisemitism or related offences (some members have been expelled for bringing the party into disrepute, relating to their antisemitism).
The size of this problem is widespread but hard to determine. Socialists against Antisemitism see dozens of CLP motions defending people like Chris Williamson, and we see many more social media posts defending him, Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, George Galloway (although he was not a member) and many others. The atmosphere at Labour meetings is often toxic. Only the most diehard and thick-skinned Jewish Labour members continue to attend in some areas.
This leads to a major problem, whose size has not been defined but anecdotally is large and a lot larger than typical antisemitism, which is denialism. There are many forms of denialism; we have written about the issue elsewhere. Defending indefensible characters is one form; making out that the problem is much smaller than it is is another form of denialism.
The size of the problem is still to be determined; the scope is widening with recent revelations about Labour staff members who have been traumatised by the amount of antisemitism and the party’s handling of it. The Panorama programme interviewed a handful of them, and the response from the party was predictably awful, describing them all as having an axe to grind.
However, since the programme aired, we have seen a letter going out signed by many more former and current staff members, and there are claims that over 30 former and current staff members have made representations to the EHRC investigation. Can all these former and current staff members have an axe to grind? We know some of them were Corbyn supporters at least at one point.
Another offensive, minimizing and demeaning tactic used by denialists is whataboutery. Socialists against Antisemitism speak out against Islamophobia in the Tory party, and we believe there is a good case for the EHRC to look at it. However, using Islamophobia in the Conservative party as a cover for the size of Labour antisemitism is grotesque. It is insulting to Jews and Muslims who both suffer from hate and persecution.
All of this adds up to a culture of tolerance of antisemitism. When you’re minimising the problem, you’re making space for it.
There is a culture and climate in the party that has lead hundreds if not more Jewish members to resign and many more non-Jewish allies to resign. CLPs and online forums are often no longer safe spaces for Jews or people who are sensitive to anti-Jewish behaviour.
The lack of empathy for Jewish comrades is striking, and the admins of Socialists against Antisemitism, some of whom have been Labour left activists for decades, could never have imagined a minority group receiving such little empathy and being so attacked and undermined by a party who traditionally were the champions for the vulnerable in society.