Mica Nava says the Forde Report and The Labour Files raise serious questions over Labour’s approach to antisemitism and wider racism
The weaponisation of antisemitism has been going on for several years now. In 2019, Greg Philo and colleagues pointed out in their book Bad News for Labour that the level of antisemitism in the Labour Party had been grossly inflated by the mainstream media and right of the party. It was exaggerated, they suggest, because accusations of antisemitism were an effective way of undermining Jeremy Corbyn and the left.
The 2020 EHRC report, set up to investigate antisemitism in the party, also found no substantial evidence to support the allegations. That was when Corbyn said, in response, how much he deplored all forms of racism, including antisemitism, but that the scale of the problem had been overstated for political purposes. His statement led to a messy suspension, reinstatement and then a withdrawal of the whip. He now sits as an independent MP in his Islington North constituency but is still a member of the Labour Party. Whether or not the whip will be restored before the next election is an ongoing story.
Antisemitism has unfortunately remained an issue for Labour, despite research showing that figures are extremely low in the party – lower than among the public as a whole and much lower than among Conservative voters. Moreover, levels of antisemitism in the UK population are also far lower than Islamophobia and racism against people of colour. You would have thought that in the current climate, in which the Conservative Party is falling apart and support for Labour growing – when the need for an inspiring set of policies to deal with the escalation of poverty, strikes and the energy crisis is so urgent – the press and the Labour Party leadership would move on. But that is not the case.
The issue has resurfaced because both the Forde Report and the 2022 Al Jazeera video series The Labour Files expose, among other things, the abuse inflicted on Jewish Voice for Labour members. JVL was set up in 2017 to ensure an alternative voice to the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement was heard and to demonstrate that many Jewish (and non-Jewish) members of the Labour Party oppose the repressive and discriminatory policies of the Israeli government regarding Palestinian human rights, now categorised by Amnesty International as “apartheid”.
However, JVL arguments have been largely ignored or, paradoxically, even labelled antisemitic, and many of its (Jewish) members suspended, excluded, or expelled from the Labour Party for antisemitism or for “undermining the party’s ability to combat racism”. The figures are shocking. Left-wing Jewish members of JVL are about 35 times more likely to be accused of antisemitism and disciplined by the Labour Party NEC than non-Jewish members of the party. Even more shocking, all 14 members of the JVL executive committee have been disciplined in one way or another. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, media officer of JVL and elected by Labour constituencies across the country to be a member of the NEC, was suspended on the opening day of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in September, and then expelled on her 70th birthday. Leah Levane, co-chair of JVL, was expelled on the second day of the Labour Party Conference in 2021. The most recent JVL committee member to be expelled is Stephen Marks, who, after 18 months of “administrative suspension”, received a notice of summary expulsion in the week before Christmas for signing petitions over five years ago. The list is long. The bullying, dishonesty and lack of due process has been extreme. We are the wrong sort of Jew. Our opinions are suppressed.
There are now two new detailed sources of information which should have transformed people’s understanding of the situation but have likewise been shockingly ignored. The Forde Report – commissioned by Starmer in 2020 to investigate the culture and practices of the party (specifically the governance and legal unit ‘leaked report’) and written by a committee he presumably assumed would be sympathetic to his leadership – was finally released, after a long delay, in July 2022. But it has barely been discussed in any of the mainstream media outlets, including nominally Labour-supporting papers like the Guardian, and has been pointedly ignored by the party leadership.
This may be because the report is unexpectedly hard-hitting in its conclusions and recommendations. It defends JVL and deplores the hierarchy of racism practised by the Labour Party leadership which privileges antisemitism, whereas Islamophobia and anti-Black racism are just as serious and far more prevalent. This is something JVL members have always maintained (see the Forde Report’s recommendations).
John McDonnell has also welcomed the Forde Report and, on its publication in July 2022, wrote an open letter to Keir Starmer and David Evans urging them to address the report’s recommendation to respect diversity in the party, and particularly to address the defamation of JVL. “The treatment of this group and many of its members by the Party has been disrespectful, at times uncaring, even brutal”, McDonnell says. Quoting from the report, he adds: “[T]here has been a refusal to engage with JVL’s proposals for antisemitism education… CLPs are not even allowed to enlist their help.” He refers to several instances in which Jewish members of long standing in the Labour Party, among them practising Jews, have been accused of antisemitism, and that, sadly, two died before their names could be cleared. As far as we know, there has been no official response to McDonnell’s letter.
Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files, a series of four landmark programmes released to coincide with the 2022 Labour Party Conference, have also been shamefully ignored by the Labour Party leadership and the mainstream media. These gripping programmes document with detailed and convincing evidence the fabricated accusations made by members of the NEC and the right wing of the party in order to smear, humiliate and exclude Corbyn supporters across the country, particularly JVL members and people of colour, in several instances with tragic effect. I urge you to watch them if you haven’t already done so.
Richard Sanders, director and producer of The Labour Files, and Peter Oborne, former Telegraph and Mail journalist, who was interviewed for the programmes by Sanders, have since collaborated with Mark Seddon to assess the main revelations of the series as well as to expose the neglect by the mainstream media. They point out that senior members of the Labour Party have remained stonily silent and have not even bothered to rebut the claims made in the series. In the programmes and in a recent DDN clip, Oborne “demolishes” the media silence about The Labour Files and asks, with foreboding,”If this is how the party leadership treats members of its own party while in opposition, how might it behave in power?” This is a very serious challenge.