Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism? I had no idea

The radical – and increasingly the mainstream – left’s focus on the politics of oppression was always going to see marginalised groups shunted aside at the expense of others

Benedict Spence
Wednesday 18 May 2016 14:56 BST
Ken Livingstone’s intervention was so bizarre no sane voice has leapt to his defence
Ken Livingstone’s intervention was so bizarre no sane voice has leapt to his defence (Reuters)

I’ve been waiting for Baroness Royall of Blaisdon’s report into anti-Semitism in the Oxford University Labour Club with bated breath for some weeks now.

Well, perhaps not weeks. That wouldn’t be entirely accurate. I also probably can’t justify use of the words ‘"bated breath" in there, either. In fact, I haven’t been waiting for it at all: it had completely slipped my mind. I’ve been far too busy writing down all those BBC recipes before John Whittingdale rides off with them into the sunset.

None of that sentence is true, but hey, bending the truth a little never hurt anyone, right? It doesn’t matter if I’ve not been entirely honest with you. It’s not like Labour has been about its little racism problem.

The report, released yesterday, stated emphatically that "I do not believe that there is institutional anti-Semitism within the OULC" but that "I am making eleven recommendations for immediate and sustained action" and "advising… Shami Chakrabarti of a further seven issues she may wish to consider."

Ken Livingstone calls creation of Israel a 'catastrophe'

For those of you who don’t speak Labour Party, this roughly translates as "Oh God, this is a nightmare, maybe if I babble on long enough people will lose interest and this will all go away."

The suggestions from a 60-year-old Labour peer, that the OULC is not institutionally anti-Semitic seems at best unlikely, when both Jewish and Gentile members of the club, such as the former co-chair Alex Chalmers, are resigning their positions because of, they allege, rampant anti-Semitism.

The sad thing is this was always likely to happen: the way I see it, the radical (and increasingly mainstream, too) left’s pushing of the politics of oppression was always going to see marginalised groups shunted aside at the expense of others. In their world, Jews are viewed as white and privileged (owing to European history and stereotypes of success in academia, finance and business) and are tarred with the brush of colonialism because of Israel. It has been alleged that an OULC committee member reportedly suggested all Jewish members should publicly denounce Zionism for them to be allowed to remain.

Sound unfair? Sound horrific? That’s because it is – but then these people are cut from the same cloth as the NUS neurotics who called for the abolition of representation for "cis gay men" because, damn it, gay men just aren’t oppressed enough for their liking.

What is really startling, though, is the suggestion in the report that anti-Semitism shouldn’t be tolerated because the OULC should provide a "safe space" and yet lifetime bans for those found guilty of anti-Semitism were actively discouraged by Baroness Royall because "people may change their views."

To my mind, this represents a feeble lack of fortitude. How often do anti-Semites renounce their ways? Is there a spectrum of anti-Semitism they’re allowed to slide along? Can they be let back in to the party if they limit their prejudice to Hasidic Jews, but leave the rest alone? Is this, in fact, just a precedent set to allow, say, a certain discredited former Mayor of London to return to political life one day?

On the subject of safe spaces, the OULC shouldn’t ban racist views because some might find them offensive and not want to hear them. On the contrary, it is important that these views are aired, so that everyone knows exactly who holds them. That way, perhaps, their insidious creep towards being normalised might be spotted before it is too late. A safe space stifles debate through which nasty prejudices are uncovered and challenged; it lets the Labour Party get away with hiding its problems and pretending they don’t really exist.

In the last few weeks we have watched as a prodigious body of writing from the famously Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn vanished from the internet as part of his Damascene Conversion to full-on Europhilia, while the left’s historical relationship with Sinn Fein and the IRA, highlighted by Alex Massie in the Spectator, has also been given a fresh lick of paint.

It simply won’t do for Labour to airbrush and amend its history as it sees fit, and to pretend that problems don’t exist today; if it is to become electable again, it must confront extremism past and present head-on within its membership. If it does not, can there be any wonder why the British public might continue to back a Conservative Party which, for all their cataclysmic faults, aren’t stupid enough to risk being accused of acting as apologists for racism or terrorists?

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