LONDON, UK In 2004 Greg Philo and Mike Berry authored Bad News from Israel, a ground-breaking work for the Glasgow Media Group that studied how the coverage of Israel-Palestine affected public (mis)understanding of the conflict.
Working with Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman, and David Miller the team have carefully researched some of the misperceptions surrounding the UK Labour Party antisemitism "crisis" that erupted with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015, in their new book Bad News for Labour - Antisemitism, The Party & Public Belief, published in September.
Remarkably, the statistics show that nothing remarkable was going on. Around 0.1% of members received complaints of antisemitism, with only a small fraction of these warranting expulsion around a dozen out of a membership of half a million.
Yet a Survation poll commissioned by the researchers along with four focus groups set up by the team, indicated that the general public thought the figure in the region of 34%. This surprising fact turns out to be quite unsurprising given that from June 2015 to March 2019 over 5,000 articles in the press mentioned the "problem" and as Schlosberg shows, on TV the "disinformation paradigm" was even worse. This careful study goes a long way to explaining how such misunderstanding arose.
Thus, among the competing accounts that would explain the "moral panic" (Lerman) is the work of those who would defend Israel from those who would attack its legitimacy, championing, say, the boycotts movement. While the authors go out of their way not to stray beyond the evidence, the emergence of home-grown groups "sprouting like mushrooms in the rain," as inspired by the likes of disgraced Embassy worker Shai Masot (who in 2017 was exposed as donating 1 million to the Jewish Labour Movement) and the fact that much of the antisemitic abuse seems to be online, sprouting suddenly in the summer of 2016, would indicate that there was very little that Corbyn could have done to stop the attacks though the authors offer some helpful advice on what turned out to be a PR disaster.
The longest chapter is from Lerman, who has been writing on Jewish communal politics since 1985. The politicisation of antisemitism is nothing new, but this crisis reached unprecedented levels of ferocity. His expertise is invaluable on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which though not fit for purpose, was eventually embraced by the party. It is in fact the weapon of choice in the so-called "new antisemitism." He also explains why the principle introduced by Sir William MacPherson whereby it is the victim who should be allowed to define what racism is cannot be transferred from the original context of changing the culture of an institutionally racist police force to that of highly politicised antisemitism allegations. Symbolism triumphs over substance and subjectivity over objectivity. Lerman also explains how inept is the charge of "institutional antisemitism" as applied to the Labour Party though with the current investigation by the EHRC another ticking bomb has been primed. And Lerman also gives us some insight into the "Jew-on-Jew" wars in the UK that revolve around Israel, and how the Palestinian voice is silenced though he ends with a plea that hate speech should be met with more speech.
Miller's chapter is the shortest, but it offers a chilling insight into how false allegations of antisemitism can arise, ironically in giving a carefully circumscribed talk on "How to stand up against intimidation at campuses" at Friends House. On the subject of what is going on, the disturbing cancellation of the book launch at Waterstones (praised by hawkish groups such as the CAA) cannot be passed over in silence.
This is an extremely helpful book that will hopefully broaden the conversation as regards the strategy deployed by Israel's "defenders." My only plea is that the conversation does not end with this book. Invaluable is the timeline of events running into thirty pages, though here I think it can be extended by offering more detail the particular tactics of those hawkish defenders surrounding those symbolic but unsubstantial allegations lodged against Corbyn. These must be read in parallel with the tragic events of Gaza that received such nugatory coverage in the mainstream.
Bad News for Labour by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman, and David Miller (London: Pluto Press, 2019). Acknowledgements: vi. Preface: vii. Timeline of Events: 189. Bibliography: 224. Index: 262-72. Available: https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745340661/bad- news-for-labour/
For my long review:
For other reviews:
http://www.bricup.org.uk/documents/archive/BRICUPNewsletter133.pdf https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/further-reflections-on-bad-news-for-labour/ http://fathomjournal.org/book-review-bad-news-for-labour-antisemitism-the-party-public-belief/
(Photo credit: Morning Star).