UK MPs push to outlaw criticism of Zionism
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Oct 15 2016
A new report by an influential parliamentary committee has recommended that the UK outlaw the word “Zionist” when used “in an accusatory context.” Published on Sunday, the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report also slams Jeremy Corbyn for heading a party with “institutionally anti-Semitic” elements. Despite its overwhelming focus on the opposition Labour Party, the committee admits that there is no evidence of a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within Labour than in any other party. At the same time, the report downplays allegations of racism and anti-Semitism in the governing Conservative Party. Corbyn in a statement Sunday criticized the report’s focus on Labour, saying the Conservative-dominated committee had failed to look at “combating anti-Semitism in other parties.” He said:
Politicizing anti-Semitism or using it as a weapon in controversies between and within political parties does the struggle against it a disservice.
Palestine’s BDS National Committee EU spox R Hassan said;
(The report) shows a flagrant disregard for Palestinian rights and history. It is false, ahistorical and politicized. It recommends adoption into UK law of a definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israel with racism against Jewish people and was designed to protect Israel’s human rights violations from censure and accountability… to suppress freedom of expression and encourage repression against advocates for Palestinian rights.
In a statement, Palestine Solidarity Campaign chair Hugh Lanning said:
(The definition would) have a chilling effect on what can be said in opposition to Israel’s policies of discrimination and oppression towards the Palestinian people.
In May, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a definition of anti-Semitism that includes “claiming the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor” or “applying double standards” to Israel. As the parliamentary report acknowledges, the IHRA definition is based on the EU Monitoring Center’s 2005 discussion paper on anti-Semitism. That widely discredited paper was never officially adopted by any EU body and was eventually ditched by the EUMC’s successor agency. But Israel lobby groups have persisted in promoting it as the “EUMC definition,” seeking to have it officially adopted. The report attempts to mollify criticism by recommending two modifications: that it is not anti-Semitic “to criticize the government of Israel” or to “hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies.” But it still lists as examples of anti-Semitism a broad range of political discourse, including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.” This could potentially mean that calls for a nonsectarian democracy that gives full and equal rights to Israeli Jews and Palestinians could be defined as anti-Semitic. It could also outlaw the views of Jews who reject Zionism and the creation of a “Jewish state” on religious grounds. The report asserts:
For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially anti-Semitic.
The report has also been condemned by Jewish critics. Jonathan Rosenhead, an LSE professor and activist with the group Free Speech on Israel, told EI:
Zionism has been the cause of gross injustice to the Palestinians, so in that sense, every usage of the word Zionist is accusatory.
According to the committee, Shami Chakrabarti’s recent report into alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is “compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations.” It also claims that Chakrabarti’s recent appointment to Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet “has thrown into question the independence of the Labour Party’s inquiry.” Corbyn hit back that the committee had unfairly criticized Chakrabarti, and that her report was an “unprecedented step for a political party, demonstrating Labour’s commitment to fight against anti-Semitism.” He said Labour would continue to implement her report’s recommendations. In June, Chakrabarti, a widely respected lawyer who headed the civil rights group Liberty for more than a decade, launched the report into allegations of anti-Semitism, many of which were fabricated or exaggerated. Refuting widespread media claims, her report concluded:”
The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism, but there is a minority” of hateful or ignorant attitudes.
The Chakrabarti Inquiry was widely welcomed, even by some anti-Palestinian organizations. The report acknowledges that “the majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime” comes from the far right. It also states:
There is no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.
Despite this, it focuses disproportionately on Labour. While asserting that “no party can afford to be complacent,” the report dedicates only three paragraphs in its 70 pages to allegations of anti-Semitism in the ruling Conservative Party. One of the two examples it cites allegedly took place at University College London in 2014. A member of the school’s Conservative Society allegedly said:
Jews own everything! We all know it’s true! I wish I was Jewish, but my nose isn’t long enough.
Noting that the incident was never even investigated by the party, the report says:
Questions have subsequently been raised about the veracity of the complaint.
Such skepticism is absent, however, in the report’s detailed and highly flawed account of what transpired in Oxford University’s Labour Club after Alex Chalmers quit as chair in February. Chalmers has never offered a shred of public evidence to corroborate his widely publicized claim that “a large proportion” of Labour students at Oxford are anti-Semitic. As reported by EI in April and May, Chalmers was implicated in a factional dispute within the Labour Party, which involved attempts to smear rivals with unsupported claims of anti-Semitism. A dossier compiled in May by the trade union Unite shows a long list of racist statements by Conservative ministers and activists, including at least four alleged incidents of anti-Semitism.
MPs urge Jeremy Corbyn to take critical anti-Semitism report seriously
Jessica Elgot, Graun, Oct 16 2016
Senior MPs have urged Jeremy Corbyn not to dismiss a scathing parliamentary report on anti-Semitism in politics that questioned whether the Labour leader fully appreciated the nature of anti-Jewish abuse. Corbyn said the report by the cross-party home affairs select committee was biased and had “a disproportionate emphasis on Labour.” The report, published on Sunday, found Labour was “demonstrably incompetent” in dealing with incidents of anti-Jewish abuse, and derided the party’s internal inquiry into anti-Semitism carried out by Shami Chakrabarti this year as “ultimately compromised” by Chakrabarti’s subsequent peerage and elevation to the shadow cabinet. The committee’s acting chairman, Tim Loughton, said. He said:
(Jeremy Corbyn is) still in denial, and that sort of response is deeply disappointing for all members of the committee. This is not about trying to score points off Jeremy Corbyn and I’m disappointed that it seems to have been accepted by him in that manner, because that doesn’t do any of us any good.
Pat McFadden, a former shadow minister under Corbyn, said the committee’s report should be taken “very seriously.” He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics:
I hope we don’t fall into the trap that sometimes I see when these accusations are wielded, that we point to anti-racism records and say, look at our virtue in our record here, that must mean we can’t be anti-Semitic. Let me be clear about this: pointing to your own sense of righteousness is no excuse for nastiness or cruelty to someone else.
Two Labour MPs on the committee, Chuka Umunna and David Winnick, put their names to the report. Both backed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn over the summer. The third Labour member of the committee, Naz Shah, took no part in the inquiry after she was suspended from the party over anti-Semitic social media posts. She was later reinstated after apologising. Corbyn said the report contained some positive recommendations, but the emphasis on Labour showed there were some political motivations at play. He said:
Although the committee heard evidence that 75% of antisemitic incidents come from far-right sources, and the report states there is no reliable evidence to suggest anti-Semitism is greater in Labour than other parties, much of the report focuses on the Labour party
The report singled out the former London mayor Ken Livingstone for criticism. Livingstone, who is currently suspended from the party for comments linking Adolf Hitler with Zionism, said he believed the report had been “rigged” against Labour. He said:
I’ve been in the Labour party for 50 years, and until six months ago no Labour MP ever raised the issue of anti-Semitism. I was on Labour’s national executive committee under Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair, Ed Miliband, and in all that time there never came up to the committee any suggestion or complaints about anti-Semitic incidents.
Umunna, who is standing as a candidate to replace the Labour MP Keith Vaz as chair of the home affairs committee, denied the report had been politicised. He said:
People’s right to freedom from hatred and prejudice is bigger than any one individual or party in my view. It is grossly insulting to suggest that those of us who recognise this, Labour party members or otherwise, do so because of some desire to score political points either between political parties or within them.
Other parties came in for some limited criticism in the report. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron was rebuked for his handling of allegations involving the former MP David Ward, who is now a Lib Dem councillor. The report said:
We were disappointed by the manner in which their leader, Tim Farron, referred to disciplinary processes rather than explicitly condemning anti-Semitic remarks made by members of his party, and we were surprised to learn that Cllr David Ward remains an elected representative of the Liberal Democrats, despite his repeated anti-Semitic comments.