Institutional racism and left antisemitism

Activists outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London with signs protesting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, Sept. 4, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Stefan Rousseau-PA Images via Getty Images)

Above: ‘denialists’ lobbying the Labour National Executive Committee against the IHRA definition of antisemitism, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Stefan Rousseau-PA Images via Getty Images)

“Outright racism still exists in the UK, whether it surfaces as graffiti on someone’s business, violence in the street, or prejudice in the labour market. It can cause a unique and indelible pain for the individual affected and has no place in any civilised society. But we have ensured our analysis has gone beyond these individual instances, to carefully examine the evidence and data, and the evidence reveals that ours is nevertheless a relatively open society. The country has come a long way in 50 years and the success of much of the ethnic minority population in education and, to a lesser extent, the economy, should be regarded as a model for other White-majority countries” – Johnson’s hand-picked stooge Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

It is noticeable that sections of the left (eg the Morning Star), while condemning Johnson’s “whitewash” report, have not taken up its dismissal of the reality of institutional (or structural) racism.

Could this be because a lot of these people have spent so much time and energy denying that the concept has any meaning when applied to antisemitism, and insisting that any definition of it must be restricted to individual acts of racist hostility directed towards Jews?

In his landmark report into the Metropolitan police’s response the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Sir William Macpherson defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. It is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”.

Left antisemitism is roughly analogous to institutional racism (and, indeed, to the Equality Act’s category of indirect discrimination) – ie it need not be motivated by personal hostility towards individuals, but more often by prevailing ideas such as:

* That Israel has no right to exist. That is the core of left anti-semitism, though it comes in more than one version and from more than one root, ranging from the skewed anti-imperialism of the orthodox Trotskyists through Arab nationalism to Islamic chauvinism.

* That Israeli Jewish nationalism, Zionism, is necessarily a form of racism. That this racism can only be expunged if Israel, Zionists, and Jews abandon Israeli nationalism and support of any kind for Israel. That Jews Jewish students, for example can only redeem themselves if they agree that the very existence of Israel is racist.

*  That Israel alone is responsible for the conflict with the Arab states (and, now, with Islamic states). The idea that Israel alone is responsible for creating Arab refugees, and is uniquely evil in doing so (in real history about 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out in 1948. In the following years the Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab territories numbered about 600,000. Israel integrated the 600,000; the Arab states mostly refused the Palestinians citizenship or even the right to work).

*  The idea that Zionists have a unique power and influence over finance capital, the media, the judiciary and/or Western foreign policy.

None of this requires personal hostility towards individual Jews.

But David Rosenburg, writing in support of the “Jerusalem Declaration on anti-semitism” in the Morning Star of April 1, welcomes the fact that it offers “an alternative to the IHRA definition” that is “admirably more concise and precise: ‘Anti-semitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against  Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish).’”

This narrow, “pre-Mcpherson” definition of antisemitism (and, logically, of all forms of racism) has been a long-running theme of those determined to deny the existence of “left” antisemitism and/or downplay its existence within the Labour Party and on the left more generally, and who claim that only Hitlerite, far-right anti-Jewish racism counts as antisemitism at all.

This is essentially the approach taken by Johnson’s stooge race Commission and its hand-picked Chair, Dr Tony Sewell who told the Today programme (April 1):

“No-one in the report is saying racism doesn’t exist. We found anecdotal evidence of this. However, what we did find was the evidence of actual institutional racism,no, that wasn’t there, we didn’t find that in our report.”

5 thoughts on “Institutional racism and left antisemitism

  1. You are correct to identify leftist hostility to Israel as being essentially antisemitic, but wrong to conflate antisemitism with so-called systemic or institutional racism. While one should hesitate to dispute Macpherson’s findings of institutional racism in the police, one also cannot ignore crime statistics which indicate a much higner level of crime especially violent crime committed by members of the minority race populations. There is no such equivalent manifestation among Jews.


    1. You have entirely misunderstood the point of this post, Ben. It’s saying that (as Dave Hirsh has previously noted) , antisemitism *on the left and in the Labour Party* needn’t be (and often isn’t) motivated by personal hatred towards individual Jews, but by cultural and institutional norms – just like institutional racism. Most of those who deny that antisemitism exists on the left (eg Jewish Voice for Labour and Labour Against the Witch Hunt) want a crude, simplistic definition of what constitutes antisemitism (personal abuse, direct discrimination or or physical assault against Jews as a result of their Jewishness) that entirely negates Mcpherson’s definition of “institutional racism.”


  2. If Mr Ben wishes to adhere to the racist notion that there is a causal link between the ethnicity of ‘minority race populations’ and ‘crimes’, rather than a social link, then he must, by the same logic, admit that ‘crimes’ committed by Jewish people are causally linked to their ethnicity as Jews. I would assume however, given his previous assertions, that Mr Ben would not accept that logical conclusion, but would probably hold, as his statement here implies, that only crimes committed by other ‘minority race populations’ are intrinsically linked to their ethnicity and that Jews who commit crimes do so as criminal individuals not as a result if their ‘minority race’ identity. In other words, he is a racist.


  3. Jews are not victims of institutional antisemitism in the UK by and large, but are well-integrated, participate freely in all areas of public life and are mostly treated fairly. Antisemitism in the left manifests itself mostly by belief in the greedy Jewish exploiter, delusions of Jewish conspiracies and power and most importantly in hatred and malice towards Israel and Israelis. Defamation of Zionism is by far the most potent form of contemporary left antisemitism. While the AWL is better than most, you still systematically misrepresent the situation of Arabs in Israel, accusing the state of massive maltreatment which does not exist while ignoring the significant and constant advances in the educational, social and economic status of the Arab sector. You also ignore the steady and uncritical support of the main Israeli-Arab political leadership for extreme political demands and occasionally violence advocated by Israel’s avowed enemies, the PLO and Hamas.


    1. Antisemitism is deep rooted in Christianity, Islam, Communism and Socialism. That is why Jews have been targeted. Envy about hard working thinking people is centuries old. The Jew will always be targeted and scapegoated by failed religious political eroneous States. Thus the reason for Israel. The safety net for Jews.


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