Noam Chomsky and I have been communicating over the news that following a British report on antisemitism in the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is an ardent critic of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians, has been suspended by the party’s leadership, which has wholeheartedly embraced the findings and recommendations of that report by the Equity and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Having read the report, Chomsky finds it as “thin on facts, thick on accusations” and blasts it for its uncritical adoption of the antisemitism complaints submitted to it, e.g., by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). “This is the report’s biggest fault, adopting at face value some dubious complaints that are relatively easy to debunk,” Chomsky says, adding that the EHRC report recycles a problematic and deeply flawed definition of antisemitism, i.e., “Manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Despite a passing reference to “legitimate criticisms” of Israel, the report not only fails to elaborate and provide any example of such (valid and permissible) criticisms of the Jewish state (seen aplenty in various UN reports as well as reports by the various human rights organizations), it papers over this important distinction by embracing the CAA’s litany of antisemitism complaints – that in fact make no such distinction.
To give an example, CAA’s case against Labor MP Rebecca Long Bailey is simply atrocious. It reads:
“On 25th June 2020, Rebecca Long Bailey shared an article on Twitter which featured an interview with the actress Maxine Peake, during the course of which Ms Peake was reported to have said: “Systemic racism is a global issue. The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
Ms Long Bailey commented: “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond.”
This is followed by an “analysis” that draws on CAA’s “methodology” which is, in fact, nothing short of illicit inference by deducing from the abovementioned the untenable conclusion that Bailey is claiming “that Israel is ultimately responsible for the racist killing of George Floyd by American police.” Yet, there is nothing in Bailey’s comment that invites such a conclusion. More important, neither CAA nor EHRC bother to examine the fact, corroborated widely in the western media, that there is a connection, not a causality, between US police brutality against the African-Americans and their schooling in Israel. After all, some US cities have ended those training programs in Israel in response to the mass movement of Black Lives Matter.
Another example, the CAA’s complaint of antisemitism against another Labor MP Angela Rayner simply betrays the group’s intolerance of free speech, by virtue of scolding Rayner for daring to reference a controversial book by a Jewish scholar, Norman Finkelstein. Chomsky’s response: “It’s a very important book, as attested by the greatest of all Holocaust scholars, Raul Hilberg.” There are numerous other, highly questionable complaints of antisemitism picked up by the EHCR from the ACC and other sources that simply undermine the legitimacy of their reports. Clearly, the real intention here is to suppress dissenting views, effectively ban any criticism of Israel, and subject party members to an Orwellian surveillance that screens all their public expressions through the prism of a suffocating lens intolerant of smallest deviation from its ‘regime of truth’. But, this is fundamentally at odds with the normative standards of a deliberative democracy that is enshrined in, among others, the European Union’s well-established standards for freedom of speech. The exercise of this freedom ought to, logically speaking, enable the members of British polity to freely discuss issues such as the power and influence of “Jewish lobby” without any fear of being hammered by the label of antisemitism. Yet, this is precisely what constitutes the core of CAA’s complaint against several Labor representatives and or candidates, thus conflating antisemitism with uncensored democratic debates and discussions. In a word, the darkly tails of a new level of Kafkaesque evisceration of liberal values is discernible here, to the point that some Labor party members are publicly castigated as antisemitic for their sin of simply clicking “like” for a pro-Palestinian website.
And then, of course, there is the issue of double standards, the fact that there is no parallel EHCR report on some blatant examples of antisemitism in the ruling Tory Party, e.g., Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg in a parliamentary debate used the antisemitic trope “illuminati” to castigate fellow Jewish colleagues who opposed the Brexit. Rees-Mogg never apologized and Boris Johnson and other senior Tories failed to condemn him. Compare this to the deluge of venomous attacks on Corbyn, who in fact has a decent record in confronting antisemitism within the Labor Party, even by the indirect admission of the EHCR report – that concedes some of the “political” interventions in the investigation of antisemitism complaints during Corbyn’s leadership were to expedite those investigations and not to thwart them, as alleged by the anti-Corbyn horde, who have excelled in weaponizing antisemitism and thus undermining the integrity of British liberal democracy. To open a parenthesis here, this author has experienced first-hand the ramifications of such intolerance on more than one occasion, e.g., in 2002 following a letter in the New York Times criticizing Israel’s attack on a Palestinian refugee camp, I was immediately fired at State University of New York at Binghamton, New York, where I was a senior researcher at Center On Democratic Performance!
To conclude, Chomsky fully concurs that the suspension of Corbyn is completely unjustified and needs to be reversed immediately.