Above: Len’s previous intervention
Len McCluskey has intervened for a second time on the subject of antisemitism within Labour. His article in the new issue of the New Statesman is superficially reasonable and certainly a vast improvement on his previous comments on this subject, which seemed to suggest that the whole issue was just “mood music” created by the right wing in order to attack Corbyn.
The positive aspects of the new article: he acknowledges that antisemitism is a real issue in the party and not just something just got up by the right wing; he backs away from his previous statement that he had never encountered anti-Semitism in his 47 years of party membership and “accepts” that others (“Jewish members in particular”) may have had “different experiences”; his explicit support for the right of Israel to exist “on the 1967 borders” (ie the two state solution); recognition that Livingstone’s remarks about Hitler and Zionism “caused so much understandable offence”: all this is welcome.
On the other hand: McCluskey repeats the tired old mantra that antisemitism within the party is limited to “a small number of members”: I think we all know that it’s more widespread than that. The recent statement from Momentum’s leadership puts it well: “Current examples of antisemitism within the Labour Party are not only a problem of a few, extreme ‘bad apples’ but also of unconscious bias which manifests itself in varied, nuanced and subtle ways and is more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago.”
It’s also noticeable that nowhere in the article does McCluskey offer any kind of definition of what he understands antisemitism to be, or how it manifests itself on the left. The suspicion must be that he doesn’t recognise it in its most common contemporary from: “absolute” anti-Zionism.
The other main problem with the McCluskey piece is his suggestion that MPs raising concerns about anti-Semitism are all (or in the main) simply right wingers looking for an excuse to undermine Jeremy and/or they’re people who “backed Theresa May in risking a new bloody intervention in the Middle East”: I’ll leave aside for now, the silence of people like McCluskey on the crimes of Assad and the very real interventions into Syria of Putin’s Russia and the Iranian regime. The central point is that McCluskey doesn’t seem able to get his head round the idea that right wingers may be raising concerns about antisemitism in good faith and the important matter is whether or not they’re pointing to a real problem, not what their overall politics is – or even what their motives are. John Mann, for instance, is (in my opinion) one of the nastiest right wingers in the party: but he has a long track record of fighting antisemitism within the party and within society as a whole, that long pre-dates Corbyn’s leadership. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity.
Finally, there’s the question of the terrible timing of this article, just as Corbyn is seeking to rebuild trust between the party and mainstream Jewish organisations (which, whether we like it or not are broadly representative of the vast majority of Jews in the UK), this article can only make that task more difficult, reigniting suspicion and hostility just at the time when Corbyn and his team are attempting to demonstrate that they’re taking antisemitism seriously and attempting make amends for past mistakes (eg welcoming Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”) by promising a “militant” response to antisemitism within the party. I can accept that Corbyn and Formby have a genuine problem in combining such a “militant” response with the need to uphold due process and natural justice in dealing with disciplinary cases, but McCluskey’s intervention does nothing to help – especially given his previous ill-advised, ignorant “mood music” remarks.