Labour right guilty of ‘weaponizing’ anti-Semitism, inquiry finds

The inquiry was led by senior lawyer Martin Forde (left) with a panel including three Labour members of the House of Lords, Britain's unelected upper chamber (Forde Inquiry)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 27, 2022

The right-wing faction of the UK’s Labour Party was guilty of weaponizing anti-Semitism against former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

That’s one of the stark conclusions in a long-delayed report published by the Forde Inquiry last week.

“Some opponents of Jeremy Corbyn saw the issue of anti-Semitism as a means of attacking him,” the report states and thus “treated it as a factional weapon.”

The report also criticized Labour’s official training program on anti-Semitism, which has been run in recent years by pro-Israel group the Jewish Labour Movement.

Israel lobby groups have reacted to the report with fury. The Campaign Against Antisemitism called it “absurd” and “useless.” Jewish Labour Movement leaders called the report “preposterous” and “bizarre”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, meanwhile, said it was “troubled” that the report also called for left-wing non-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Labour to be permitted to run party training on anti-Semitism alongside the JLM.

Anti-Palestinian newspaper The Jewish Chronicle wrote that this point in particular rendered the report “worthless.”

Racism

Senior British lawyer Martin Forde was commissioned to lead the inquiry more than two years ago by Corbyn’s right-wing-Labour successor Keir Starmer. It was originally supposed to have been published by July 2020.

Starmer announced the inquiry in April 2020 to investigate the leak of an internal Labour report on alleged anti-Semitism in the party.

That leaked report sensationally showed how Labour’s entrenched right-wing staff sought to sabotage Corbyn in the 2017 general election. It also revealed WhatsApp group chats in which anti-Corbyn staffers attacked pro-Corbyn colleagues and MPs using misogynistic and racist language.

The Forde inquiry supports most of the allegations made by the leaked report’s authors, bluntly criticizing the Labour Party for institutional racism and sexism and documenting how staffers worked against Corbyn.

But while criticizing the Labour right, the Forde report attempts to appear even-handed, blaming “both sides” for the misuse of anti-Semitism.

“Some anti-Corbyn elements of the party seized on anti-Semitism as a way to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters saw it simply as an attack on the leader and his faction – with both ‘sides’ thus weaponizing the issue,” the report reads.

This is disingenuous reasoning: The Forde report acknowledges that Corbyn’s enemies misused allegations of anti-Semitism, but then apparently blames Corbyn’s supporters for recognizing this fact and defending their leader against unfair charges.

The report’s main weakness – much like the original 2020 leaked document itself – is that it takes as a given the false and evidence-free claim that there was a major and unique problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party under Corbyn.

No evidence of anti-Semitism “problem”

Aside from a single anonymous staffer quoted as claiming to have been subjected to anti-Semitism from the left, the only specific claim of such anti-Jewish bigotry within the Forde report is that “at every meeting” of certain unnamed local Labour party groups “the actions of the Israeli government were questioned/condemned.”

The report asserts that “Jewish members present were then placed under pressure to demonstrate openly their support for this position.”

Forde claims that “to focus repeatedly on [Israel] to discomfort Jewish members” constitutes anti-Semitism. Without details about the alleged incidents, which the report does not provide, it is difficult to judge the credibility of these claims, since it has been a long-standing tactic of Israel lobby groups to assert – absurdly – that virtually any discussion or criticism of Israel’s crimes in the mere presence of Jewish members constitutes pressure, abuse or discrimination.

Ironically, Forde’s assumption that Jewish members would be discomforted by condemnations of Israel in itself seems to be based on the anti-Semitic presumption that all Jews support that apartheid state.

Since Corbyn became leader – and especially after Starmer replaced him – legitimate debate about Palestine in local Labour parties has been repeatedly curtailed and smeared as anti-Semitic.

The report also repeats the common right-wing-Labour talking point that asking for evidence of the anti-Semitism “problem” constitutes “denialism” – an infraction the report seemingly equated to racism, sexism and homophobia.

But in keeping with the maximalist approach often taken by Zionist groups, the UK pro-Israel lobby reacted with rage that the Forde report did not go entirely their way.

The report’s partial support for and muted criticisms of Corbyn and his faction perhaps also explains the low-key media coverage of the Forde report this past week.

That is in marked contrast to the sensational and relentless coverage of the original and now discredited anti-Semitism allegations against Corbyn and his supporters.

JLM training “sub-optimal”

In another blow to the Israel lobby, the Forde report also criticizes the party’s official training on anti-Semitism, run by the Jewish Labour Movement in the Starmer era.

“We consider the format to be sub-optimal,” the report states, adding that such programs “should consist of facilitated reflection, rather than taking a lecture format.”

Falling shy of naming the JLM in a critical context, the report nonetheless describes their training sessions as “largely didactic, top down and one dimensional – with little participation beyond the people presenting … we do not consider that such training is in accordance with best practice.”

Forde implicitly castigates the JLM’s training as failing to “provide a space in which difficult issues, such as attitudes towards Israel, can be safely explored.”

That is perhaps the point of the Israel-lobby run training in the first place: to send a message to Labour Party leaders that attitudes towards Israel cannot be explored by members, and must be dictated from the top.

While Forde welcomes “the key role of the JLM,” the report’s authors recognize that there are “other voices amongst Jewish communities.” They also state their disappointment “that there has been a refusal to engage at all with Jewish Voice for Labour’s proposals for anti-Semitism education and that [local Labour groups] are, we are told, not even allowed to enlist their help.”

Jewish Voice for Labour welcomed much of the report’s contents while rejecting Forde’s “both sides” narrative.

Labour’s “hierarchy of racism”

Other significant findings by the Forde Inquiry confirm what left-wing grassroots Labour activists have been saying for years.

Labour has been “in effect operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination with other forms of racism or of discrimination [than anti-Semitism] being ignored,” the report states.

“This is an untenable situation.”

This tolerance for certain kinds of racism in Labour was highlighted for years by anti-racist activist Jackie Walker. In 2018 she posted a video on Facebook calling out the party’s “hierarchy of race” and charging that some groups “are seen as more important than others.”

Yet she was expelled from the party in 2019 after a three-year witch hunt against her. Walker told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that one of the party’s “charges” against her was the video.

“For years I have been referring to the hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party,” Walker said. “The hierarchy of race in Labour is a reality, a truth that helped to get me expelled.”

“It’s taken more than four years for the Forde report to endorse what I said,” Walker added. “The problem of anti-Black racism in the Labour Party today is no better. In fact it’s worse.”

The Forde report says there has been a “toxic culture” in Labour workplaces due in part to entrenched “racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory behavior and culture.”

It acknowledges that left-wing Black lawmaker Diane Abbott and senior Corbyn staffer Karie Murphy were particularly the subject of racist and sexist abuse.

The report also concludes that part of the BBC’s infamous 2019 episode of Panorama, “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” was “entirely misleading.”

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London