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THE publication of the EHRC report on “anti-semitism in the Labour Party” was a seismic event in the history of the party. Despite its undoubted political impact, it contributed little to anyone’s understanding of how the party works, how anti-semitism manifests itself in contemporary Britain or how to combat it or any other form of identity-based hatred.
Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) published a series of commentaries on the shortcomings of the report but also promised an in-depth appraisal of it. That appraisal is now published by Verso as a free e-book How the EHRC Got It So Wrong: anti-semitism and the Labour Party.
As Geoffrey Bindman says in his foreword: “Instead of responding by setting up an inquiry into the way the party was handling, or mishandling, complaints, the commission saddled itself with the needless task of finding illegal conduct; not by those who made the offending statements but by the party itself.
“It claimed to have found the law had been broken in only two cases of harassment and two of indirect discrimination, all of which findings, as the following analysis demonstrates, were highly disputable.
“Predictably, what hit the headlines, when the report was published, was the humiliating conclusion — by the commission Labour had itself created — that the party had broken the law.
“The commission undertook the its task as though the political context of its initiation was uncontroversial. They took at face value the repeated allegations by politicians hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and relentlessly repeated in broadcast and print media, that a Corbyn-led Labour Party ‘represented an existential threat to the Britain’s Jews’.”
The outcome of the investigation was predetermined by this fallacious trope and was not deflected either by the lack of evidence or the fact that this sort of investigation lay outside the scope of the EHRC’s powers. This is manifest from its terms of reference through to its title.
The EHRC is not empowered to investigate anti-semitism or any other “ism” — its remit is confined what is specified in the Equalities Acts: discrimination, harassment or victimisation related to or on the basis of a protected characteristic.
This is a distinction that JVL made in its joint declaration with Free Speech on Israel on What Is and What Is Not Anti-semitic Misconduct. Unlike the IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, and it seems the EHRC, JVL concentrates on visible actions, not on the invisible states of mind that are presumed to motivate them or, in the IHRA’s mystic terms, “a certain perception of Jews.” The recent Jerusalem Declaration on anti-semitism also captures this distinction.
This misconception of its task directed how the investigators went about gathering evidence. Whereas the 2006 Equality Act requires that the EHRC specify at the outset of an investigation “the nature of the unlawful act which the commission suspects,” the EHRC failed to do this and instead embarked on what is best described as a “fishing expedition.”
Having announced their suspicion that there were such acts, without saying what was the basis for it, they then tried to find them. JVL challenged the EHRC’s faulty Terms of Reference at the outset but received no response.
By diligent and highly prejudicial selection of evidence, the EHRC purported to have found three illegal acts, each of which, the study demonstrates in great detail, required a very particular reading of the facts and dubious legal reasoning.
These “illegal acts” provided the basis for issuing an enforceable unlawful act notice requiring specific action by the party, action that the incoming Starmer/Evans regime was enthusiastic to embrace in order to cement their political project of marginalising socialist currents within the party — where they could not exclude them.
The thread of the report hangs upon an understanding of what anti-semitism is and how it manifests itself. It is noticeable that, despite using the terms “anti-semitism” and “anti-semitic” an average of over four times on every page, it never defines what it understands by the terms or attempt a definition while castigating the party for not issuing clear guidance on their meaning.
The EHRC acknowledged the existence of the leaked report into the workings of the party’s governance and legal unit (GLU) but did not allow the evidence it provided to deflect them from their intended course. The commission, strikingly, did not ask to see the detailed dossiers upon which the GLU report was based, saying it “was not proportionate for us.”
As the EHRC opined at length about the culture of the party and the direct responsibility of the leadership (they rarely mentioned Jeremy Corbyn by name), their refusal to make use of material that directly contradicts their conclusions makes those findings of little use. They were under no obligation to accept the findings of the GLU report, but the absence of any reasoned rejection is telling.
The report acknowledges that it received evidence from JVL, but it never at any point discusses that evidence. Had it done so, it would have undermined a central contention of the report that there is a singular Jewish community, all of a mind as to the nature and extent of “Labour anti-semitism.”
That contention is central to the recommendations about consultation with “the Jewish community” — the creation of an advisory board that excludes even those professionally involved with, and widely renowned for, the study of anti-semitism who even mildly deviate from the required orthodoxy; acceptability of new process to that community; and the establishment of a training, not an education, programme.
This is a training programme that sees anti-semitism as a series of undisputed facts to be transmitted from trainer to trainee, not as a process of discussion and evolving understanding.
The report is intensely political, it achieves this by ignoring the politics of the situation it purports to investigate. It ignores the bitter arguments inside the party and holds the leadership responsible for actions of officials determined to undermine it.
It insists on regarding the party as a singular command and control organisation but with valiant and discriminated-against individuals who, with only the flimsy protection of all the print and broadcast media, risked their futures by naysaying.
The report is an intellectually dishonest poison; this study is a meticulous antidote that could save the Labour Party if ingested speedily and deeply.
Mike Cushman is membership secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour.
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