From Jewish Voice for Labour
The Board of Deputies Ten Pledges to End the Antisemitism Crisis is staggering in its chutzpah.* This organisation, deeply unrepresentative of British Jewry, presumes in effect to dictate to a major political party how it should run its internal affairs.
Make no mistake these are not ten requests: they are ten demands and one threat. The threat to each of the candidates for leader of the Labour Party is in effect – accept our demands or we will attack you as enablers of antisemitism just as we contributed to making Jeremy Corbyn virtually unelectable. This not only brings shame on the Board of Deputies. It also brings danger to Jews living in the UK who will be seen as claiming a privileged place in determining how the country will be governed.
It is deeply regrettable that all the Leadership candidates have succumbed to this blackmail. It is to be hoped that they will undertake to consult widely within the party, listening to a range of voices, about the implications of some of these “pledges”.
The Board of Deputies
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) claims to speak for a British “Jewish Community” which is in reality mythological. The Board can make no claim to represent either the 20% or so of Jews who are Charedi, or the approximately 50% who are secular.
The Board’s strong hostility to the Labour Party long predates Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Indeed, its previous President Jonathan Arkush urged a vote for the Tories in 2015 when Ed Miliband (who was Jewish) was leader; and also welcomed the election of Donald Trump. The current BoD President Marie van der Zyl this last year enthusiastically welcomed Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister, despite his known racist credentials.
There is an implied narrative behind the Board of Deputies’ demands which is quite misleading. At a cursory glance it might appear that they are urging the Labour Party to: resolve outstanding cases of alleged antisemitism, ensure transparency in disciplinary procedures, provide no platform for bigotry, communicate with resolve and to show leadership and take responsibility. But even a cursory inspection of how they instruct the Labour Party to operationalise these calls reveals the Board’s sheer effrontery.
Some of the demands are more egregious than others. We will start with those impacting the Party’s internal disciplinary processes. To say that these have not run well would be an understatement. However their dysfunctionality was deliberately exploited by the party’s bureaucracy under Iain McNicol; and has been substantially repaired under his successor Jennie Formby, when the Party was finally able to replace him.
Demands 9 and 10 are, relatively, motherhood and apple pie. The others deserve close attention under a range of headings.
A first requirement of any disciplinary procedures is that they accord with principles of natural justice and due process. They must provide a framework for a fair hearing under transparent and non-arbitrary procedures. But the Board’s pledges display a cavalier disregard for justice.
Demand 1 is that all outstanding disciplinary cases should be swiftly concluded with a fixed timescale. That sounds good, but some cases are more complex than others. Those accused of something as serious as antisemitic behaviour must be allowed appropriate time to mount a defence, may need extra time because of serious illness, etc. Justice is complicated. The Board is simplistic. And underlying its attitude is the clear view that the only verdict that will satisfy the Board is ‘guilty’.
Demand 4 is that prominent offenders who were expelled or who left while under investigation should never be readmitted to membership. Never is a long time. The current Labour rules allow for the possibility of readmission after any offence, depending on behaviour, after a 5-year period. There is no reason, other than malice, that for this sole category of disciplinary finding the possibility of behavioural and attitudinal change should be excluded.
The aim of this demand is revealed by its inclusion of the word ‘prominent’. How can it be just or appropriate to specify different penalties for people depending on how well known they are or have become? How can it possibly be acceptable to single out people by name? The explanation is that the two people mentioned were prominent ‘scalps’ claimed by a political campaign to extend the meaning of antisemitism. This is political vengefulness.
Demand 3 is that “Jewish representative bodies” (read, BoD) be given access to details of ongoing disciplinary cases. The confidentiality owed to ongoing investigations into allegations that have not been established to have merit is to be tossed out of the window. It beggars belief: the BoD is demanding the right to information that would give them, and their allies on the right of the Party, the ability to put pressure on how individual cases are determined. Out goes the independence of the judicial process. And what about the breaking of hard-won data protection laws?
Who Will Control Labour?
Demand 2 is the very purest chutzpah. The demand is that processing of all complaints, in effect the whole disciplinary process, be outsourced to an independent provider. This would mean that the Party would lose control of who was entitled to be a member! No autonomous organisation could implement such a scheme, least of all a political party. It strikes at the very heart of the freedom to organise for political change in this country. Parties are voluntary associations of people who come together to achieve shared ends, within national legal constraints. Their freedom of discussion and action and of self-regulation is the very fabric of our democratic processes.
Freedom of Expression
Demand 5 is headed “Provide no platform for bigotry”. But honesty in advertising would require it to be retitled “No platform for those who disagree with us”. What it says is that when people are going through the out-of-control disciplinary process assured by Demand 2, and while the details of the investigation are being fed to the BoD and its allies as a result of Demand 3, any other members who argues publicly that this treatment is misguided or unjust will themselves be suspended – and indeed perhaps expelled. If enacted this would ensure that no members could challenge unjust or slanted decision-making. Because those that did so would very likely cease to be members.
What is to be punished?
Demand 6 – to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “international definition of antisemitism” with all its subordinate clauses, without qualification – begs many questions. Apart from the fact that the Labour Party has already done precisely this (misguidedly in our view), the IHRA document has proved ineffective in actual disciplinary situations. This is because its definition of antisemitism is so confused and its examples highly contentious, with no rules as to how to resolve the inevitable resulting disagreements as to what is and what is not antisemitic. The document was never drafted as a legally binding document, as countless critics (including Ken Stern, its drafter) have affirmed.
It is telling that in September 2019 the BoD and the Community Security Trust jointly issued a document Protecting the Jewish Community from Antisemitism. Sensibly it contains a brief workable definition of antisemitism. But it is not the IHRA definition! Evidently the BoD recognises that the latter is not workable as a practical guide. The demand that the leadership candidates re-endorse the IHRA version is thus revealed as purely ideological. It has no bearing on dealing with antisemitism in the real world. It is merely an attempt to rub Labour’s nose in the dirt and show who is boss.
Who can speak for Jews?
Demands 7 and 8 both seek to define the “Jewish Community” by excluding many Jews – evidently the wrong sort. The right sort include those who run the Board, and the cadres of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). The JLM it should be pointed out refused to campaign for the great majority of Labour MPs at the recent general election. It does not require its members to be either Jewish or in the Labour Party.
Demand 7 is that all Labour Party internal training in antisemitism should be carried out by JLM. For two years from 2016 the aggressively pro-Israel JLM did indeed deliver the Labour Party’s antisemitism training. Its course content was both didactic and dogmatic, based on the supposedly revealed truth of the controversial IHRA document. When in 2018 the Labour Party asked them to revise their approach JLM walked away in a huff. Now they want it back, but on their own terms. Demand 7 is that they be given it.
Demand 8 extends the same monocular approach to the UK’s Jews as a whole. The Labour Party is required to agree to communicate only with ‘mainstream’ Jewish Groups. That is to demand the exclusion of two-thirds of the country’s Jews. Why would they be so afraid that Labour might communicate with the wrong sort of Jews? The Jewish Chronicle had a ready answer when it reported Demand 8 as being ‘to engage with the Jewish community via its “main representative groups and not through fringe organisations” such as Jewish Voice for Labour (emphasis added)’. Are our demands for a pluralistic vision of the Jewish communities in Britain really so much of a threat that contact with them is contamination? For the Board is demanding, in essence, that expression of our views be banned in the Labour Party.
* Chutzpah derives from the Yiddish, meaning audacity, inso