Jim Denham has written a response to my recent article about antisemitism – Antisemitism on the left and in Labour: a reply to Kitty S. Jones. Jewish Voice for Labour published my piece on their site last week.
I’ve written a response to Jim’s response, as there was a strong element of straw man rhetoric in his article – a technique where someone distorts or oversimplifies their opponent’s propositions, reasoning and arguments, in order to make it easier to attack them, and there was an identifiable ad hominem type of “guilt by association” fallacy in play, too.
I responded with the following:
Good to see we do have some common ground [in that we agree that Marc Wadsworth should not have been expelled from the Labour party].
I just want to raise a couple of points here.
Firstly, you say “what terrible arguments these are for a left winger to be using”. Well I cited RESEARCH, which is evidenced to verify my comments. That isn’t a “terrible argument”, it’s a reasonable one. There is other research too, which says the same thing. Facts matter, inferences, moralising, value judgements and wild assertions reflect someone’s beliefs and assumptions, not facts.
There are a couple of separate issues here that I want to highlight. One is that there is antisemitism within the Labour party. Another is that there has been growing antisemitism within our society in the UK, and wider Europe for some years – and by 2014, it had reached the highest level since records began here. It was quite widely reported in the media at the time.
Back in 2014, I was also raising concerns in my own work about the dangers of racism, antisemitism, a general growth in social prejudice – including a rise in hate crime and discriminatory policies directed against disabled people – and how toxic the encroaching political parochialism and narratives entailing strategic group divisions are for our democracy, how potentially dangerous and devastating for citizens’ wellbeing. I referred to Gordon Allport’s work a lot, too, which was based on his study of the cultural, social and political processes that resulted in the Holocaust.
Labour have the highest party membership. Among that membership are people with antisemitic views. I have seen some of the conspiracy types of antisemitism myself during the 2015 GE campaign among the left. However, a group of those were then in the Green party (as members). Going off research and the most recent parliamentary inquiry, there is no evidence that antisemitism is any higher in the Labour party than it is in society. That’s despite a high level of scrutiny that none of the other Parties have been under. Again rigorous evidence is important rather than opinion. Demanding rigorous evidence does not mean I am denying a problem exists. To imply that is the case is absurd.
The evidence is very important because it is needed to support the Party in addressing how to best deal with genuine and bogus complaints. We have already seen Marc Wadsworth expelled from the party, and we both agree that from the footage, he did not make an antisemitic comment, as he was originally accused. His expulsion does nothing to help us address antisemitism. Nor does the continued jeering, smearing and discrediting of the Party, members and in particular, the leader.
My saying that does NOT mean 1) I don’t care about antisemitism 2) I’m denying it exists or 3) I am trivialising it. It’s a logical fallacy to make those accusations of reasonable and evidenced observations and to make such irrational inferences from them. This is an ad hominem fallacy, a variant of “guilt by association”: informal inductive fallacy of the hasty generalisation or red-herring type and which asserts, by irrelevant association and often by appeal to emotion, that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another.
For the record, I feel very strongly about antisemitism, I challenge it wherever I see it, and treat other kinds of prejudice in the same way. I simply don’t tolerate prejudice. Ever.
I care very much about antisemitism and those people in the Party who have antisemitic beliefs must be dealt with, as they have no place in a Party that is founded on principles of equality and diversity. [That does require a Hearing process, where allegations and evidence are considered objectively and fairly, followed by appropriate, commensurate action].
Yesterday, someone flagged up a person on Facebook who claimed to support Jeremy Corbyn. He had attacked one of my friends (a Jewish writer), making offensive antisemitic comments. A group of us found a few Facebook accounts by the same person, and on further examination, it turns out he was previously a Margaret Thatcher supporter. He is very racist, and was clearly setting up accounts to troll people. I reported him, nonetheless, to the Party, but doubt very much that he is a member.
He blocked me when I challenged him. I reported him to Facebook, too, and warned others about him via a status update. I’m wondering how many more fake accounts there are on social media, claiming to support Labour, but who aim to discredit the Party instead.
Another important issue is that the debate about antisemitism IS being politically exploited. By the government, by the complicit media and by several Progress MPs. Saying that does NOT entail denying antisemitism exists within the Party. I have already acknowledged it exists. It is a discrete issue. These two propositions do not contradict or negate each other, they co-exist.
Both propositions are equally true. However, the way this has been played strategically – and you’ve done it yourself, Jim – whatever the response is from the Party and members, it is immediately put into the same contexts of either “denial”, “justification”, “whataboutery” or “trivialising”, and even worse, people are being accused of “collaborating” or of being an “apologist” for antisemitism.
Yet those are emotive, deeply personal attacks, based on fallible inferences with no empirical grounding and large logical gaps. They are not rational and evidenced arguments. They are also, all too often, politically loaded and motivated.
The truth is that 1) antisemitism exists within society 2) antisemitism exists within the Labour party 3) the response we give, no matter how reasonable or well-evidenced, is strategically condemned 4) the antisemitism is being used politically by those who don’t approve of Corbyn’s left of centre politics. ALL of those things are discrete truths. They are co-existing facts.
Pointing these issues out does NOT mean I am denying that antisemitism exists in the Party, and how dare you or anyone else imply I don’t care about it.
Those who don’t like Corbyn have bent over backwards to make all of this somehow his fault. Yet the problem existed before Corbyn became Party leader. Again, that is evidenced. It seems to me that both Corbyn and members are being bullied into “confessing” that the Party is “rife” with antisemitism. If we present rational debate and evidenced, reasoned comments, we are then accused of denying the problem. If we focus on discussing what we are doing about antisemitism, both personally and within the Party, that is taken as an admission of guilt – that antisemitism is “rife” in the Party.
It’s been reduced to an either/either. Either way, the outcome of all this is being manipulated, and no matter what the Party does or says – no matter what evidence arises, too, that supports what is said and proposed – we are still condemned. The narrative does not change, nor do the allegations. There is no outcome that does not entail a condemnation of Party and leader. There are many people making sure of that.
It’s a form of political entrapment and bullying [as I outlined in the original article]. This is being carried out on the basis of political beliefs. People on the left ARE being attacked and bullied on social media and in the mainstream media. Apparently this behaviour is acceptable for some people, who are claiming to condemn others for the same behabiours. However, attacking people on the basis of their political beliefs is NOT OK. Our Human Rights Act – Article 10 – outlines this. One form of prejudice, discrimination and harassment does nothing to address another.
My article also explores how all of this has split Jewish communities further, too. That split is marked by ideological differences, and I have seen right-leaning Jewish groups going out of their way in discrediting and outgrouping left-leaning ones. I have seen moderates and media commentators make antisemitic comments about left-leaning Jewish groups in order to discredit and silence them. I provided examples as evidence in my article.
That kinda evidences my key point.
Hope I have clarified my thoughts on this a little more. If you need any more evidence – I found an article about Luciana Berger’s experiences of antisemitism on social media, dated 2014, for example – let me know.
Best wishes, Jim.
A further reply
I haven’t touched on the Israel/Palestinian conflict in my own piece. It’s an article, rather than a book… (!) However, I will say that I have observed the conflation of “Zionism” with the conflict. Whenever I encounter this, I point out what Zionism is, and why it is wrong to equate the actions of the Israeli government and military with Zionism and with Jewish people more widely. Some people don’t understand what Zionism means. I’ve found that simply explaining it helps address the lack of understanding better than attacking someone for what they do not know.
I think in your haste to portray some on the left as “uneducated”, with no grasp of Marx and capitalism, you have also stereotyped working class people on the left more widely, and as I said previously, you cannot fight assumption, prejudice and stereotypes by presenting more assumption, prejudice and stereotypes.
We have to take a prefigurative position – you know, be the change you want to see. If you want to live in a world that values diversity, where people are treated with equal respect and each is regarded as having equal worth as human beings, regardless of their group membership and characteristics, you have to practice those principles yourself, first.
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