The EHRC report: Politically biased, damp squib

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The report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is pretty much a damp squib. It is noticeable that the report doesn’t even try to identify what antisemitism is, which after all was its remit.

Nonetheless it did pretty much what it was supposed to do when the pro-Zionist groups ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ and the ‘Campaign Against Antisemitism’ first lobbied it to launch an investigation into the Labour Party. It helped to paint the false picture that the Labour Party is overrun with antisemites.

Not one of the EHRC’s nine commissioners is Black or Muslim. They are bankers, lawyers and business executives. Many of them have links to the Conservative Party. Its Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath is a self-declared Zionist. Even Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne points out “that the EHRC appeared to favour the Conservatives over Labour, and to take Tory Islamophobia much less seriously than Labour antisemitism.”

For almost two years, we read in the entire media that the report would prove that the Labour Party was “institutionally antisemitic” – when that was never its remit. The EHRC investigation centred on whether the Labour Party had committed a “breach of the Equality Act 2010, related to Jewish ethnicity or Judaism, against its members, associates or guests, through the actions of its employees or agents”. And although the pro-Zionist lobby threw pretty much everything it had at the EHRC, the findings of the report can be best summed up as politically biased and a very damp squib. 

Chris Williamson and Ken Livingstone

The EHRC were clearly desperate to keep the former MP Chris Williamson in the report, as they could not pin anything on Jeremy Corbyn. Williamson would have been their chief prize, but the EHRC backed down after he instructed lawyers and challenged the preliminary report. All the report now criticises is the fact that the Labour Party NEC – the elected highest body of the party, after all – decided to ignore the course of action proposed by the unelected right-wing bureaucrats in the Governance and Legal Unit (formerly compliance unit), who had proposed harsher sanctions against Williamson.

And so they were left with just two cases, namely former NEC member Ken Livingstone and councillor Pam Bromley, “whose antisemitic conduct the Labour Party is responsible for, resulting in a finding of unlawful harassment”. 

Their definition of harassment is legally dubious since they don’t find any individual example. You cannot have a ‘class’ of harassment. Indeed their justification for going after a political party such as the Labour Party, on the grounds that it is a free association, is also extremely dubious.

The charges, particularly against Ken Livingstone, are ridiculous to the point of being embarrassing. The report does not even try to identify what Ken said or did that was antisemitic. The only ‘proof’ for the EHRC is the fact that “20 MPs”, and an unspecified number of “Labour Party members”, complained about his defense of Naz Shah MP. Any judge would laugh this “unlawfulness” out of their court. Had Ken Livingstone and Pam Bromley decided to challenge their inclusion in the report, it is entirely probable they would have forced the EHRC to back down in their cases too.

The EHRC report also criticises the Labour Party for not implementing the Chakrabarti report in full, and demands that the party should “include published criteria on what conduct will be subject to investigation and suspension, and what will be considered an appropriate sanction for different types of proven antisemitic conduct.”

These sound like potentially useful improvements from our point of view. However, as always it is very much up to who interprets the rules and for what purpose. The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn is a case in point – it is clearly politically motivated, which means that demands for the correct application of the rules or threats of legal action are wildly missing the point.

Complicit silence

Of course Corbyn was absolutely right in the comments that got him suspended: “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”.

It is a real shame that he did not say so when he was leader and could have made a real difference to the witch-hunt and the civil war in the Labour Party. Unfortunately, it was the Corbyn leadership’s silence and complicity in the witch-hunt that has made Corbyn’s suspension possible in the first place. Hundreds of socialists and Corbyn supporters have been suspended and expelled for comments that often do not amount to much more than what Corbyn said. But he stood by and watched as supporter after supporter was thrown to the wolves, all in the vain hope that appeasing the right would work, eventually.

Although the report itself is not worth the paper it is written on, there are important implications for the Left in the Labour movement: Keir Starmer will jump at the opportunity to further tighten the screws on the Labour Left, and the suspension of Corbyn is an important part of this campaign. The EHRC report demands that the Labour Party “engage with Jewish stakeholders to develop and embed clear, accessible and robust principles and practices”. Starmer will be very keen to set up the “independent” complaints procedure demanded by the pro-Tory Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement. No prize for guessing which organisations might be called upon to deliver such an “independent” outfit. All Labour Party members must resist this.

Why calls for unity are wrong

The more difficult problem, however, is the response from those around Corbyn and their supporters in the mainstream Labour Left, both to his suspension and the EHRC report.

  • John McDonnell: “On the day we should all be moving forward and taking all steps to fight antisemitism, the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn is profoundly wrong. In the interest of party unity let’s find a way of undoing and resolving this.”
  • Len McCluskey: “This was a day for our party to move forward as one to defeat the evil of antisemitism.”
  • ‘New’ Momentum: “This suspension risks politicising Labour’s response to antisemitism. It is a massive attack on the left by the new leadership and should be immediately lifted in the interests of party unity.”
  • CLPD model motion: “We believe that unity, not division, is important for the Party to make progress and effectively challenge racism, fascism, antisemitism and harassment in whatever form this may take.”

Striving for “unity” with the right is exactly what has led to the defeat of Corbyn and the left. By trying to appease the right rather than challenge them, the Corbyn leadership has allowed them to witch-hunt and vilify the entire left. Momentum’s disingenuous commentary is particularly worrying – as if the whole campaign had not been politicised for almost 5 years! 

Nothing to do with fighting antisemitism

In her awful article published in the run up to the launch of the EHRC report, Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy desperately tries to prove how the Corbyn leadership did everything in their power to throw out as many “antisemites” as possible. Murphy does not say a word about the manufactured nature of the witch-hunt, the false smears, the politicised vilifications – not a single word about the hundreds of victims, who are still being thrown out and smeared today, with quite a few having their personal and political reputations trashed and their livelihoods ruined.

The ‘fast track’ expulsion procedures introduced by the NEC at last year’s conference, which are now being used in pretty much all disciplinary cases, are an affront to any party that calls itself democratic. Corbyn promised that they would only be used in ‘egregious’ cases. No such luck, as Corbyn himself is likely to find out very soon.

Some clearly do not understand – or pretend not to understand – that this whole campaign had nothing at all to do with fighting antisemitism. It was always a campaign designed to get rid of Corbyn and make sure that the Labour Party becomes once again a safe “second eleven” that could run Britain on behalf of capitalism and follow the US and Israel into any new military adventure. The miniscule number of cases with real antisemitism on display have been shamelessly exploited, exaggerated and weaponised and, indeed, ignored.

It is part of an international campaign to stop any criticism of Israel – by labeling such criticism as inherently and automatically antisemitic. How far they have come has become obvious in the USA: Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has just declared that he wants to label prominent NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam, as antisemitic. This is the logical and entirely avoidable result of the failure of the mainstream Left to stand up to the witch-hunt. 

Sadly, it appears as if Corby and his allies still do not understand this basic reality. The six candidates supported by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance in the current NEC elections have made sure not to mention the word ‘witch-hunt’ or propose any actions on how to stop it.

In a tweet following his suspension, Corbyn writes that, “I’ve made absolutely clear those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong. I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism.”

Corbyn himself has now become a victim of this “zero tolerance” approach he champions. The fight for socialism is intrinsically linked to a culture of free speech and open debate on all issues – including, importantly, the question Palestine/Israel. 

Why you should not resign from the Labour Party

This is exactly what the right wants us to do… so let’s not do them the favour.

The ongoing civil war in the Labour movement is the present focus of the class war. The fight for freedom of discussion and democratic decision-making in our movement is essential for the struggle for socialism. Our class sees the Labour Party as their natural home and will do so for the foreseeable future, mainly because of the undemocratic First-past-the-post electoral system, which makes the prospects of any new party extremely difficult.

From this perspective, staying in the Labour Party only makes sense if you are prepared to fight against the right. Calling for unity with them is not just utterly useless as clearly the right has no interest in it. It is also exactly the opposite of what the working class needs.