On Ken Loach; or why the fight against antisemitism deserves better than these authoritarian expulsions

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If I was going to write about Ken Loach’s expulsion from the Labour Party here are some of the things I’d say:

These are more notes and parentheses than a finished article, but they’ll give you a sense of what’s been troubling me.

(1) That what put Ken Loach in line for expulsion was that he has spoken on the platforms of what is now a proscribed organisation, Labour Against the Witch-hunt. For the time being, Labour seems to have accepted they could not expel him for this: he spoke prior to those groups’ proscription and was never a member.

It may be that Loach’s public platform gave him a protection which other members of the party have been denied. Others have been threatened with expulsion for behaviour which was permitted and within the rules when they did it.

(2) He was actually expelled for refusing to denounce other members of that group: “I will not disown those already expelled”)

(3) This has also been the pattern in several other high-profile expulsions (eg the Israeli exile Moche Machover), that members are being suspended/expelled not for anything they themselves said but because they have attended meetings with people in the audience who Labour had previously expelled.

The Machover case is especially depressing. The Party invoked against him a clause in its Code of Conduct, which states that “Those who consistently abuse and spread hate should be shunned and not engaged with in a way that ignores this behaviour”

This sentence was treated as if it contained two potential breaches of the Labour Party Code, either a) a positive act of encouraging former members in their antisemitism, or b) an omission of failing to shun them.

Among the many fallacies here is that it makes an expulsion offence for another member of the Labour Party in good standing was to approach an expelled member, talk to them, remind them of their previous behaviour, and seek to challenge it consistently, over time, as might befit a former member whose behaviour had been at different times both comradely and objectionable. The punishment has the consequence of making antisemitism a greater offence from the perspective of the Labour Party than any crime is in the sight of the British state. For we have in our society all sorts of people whose roles are to engage with former offenders, to educate them and reintegrate them into society after their punishment has ended. Criminals are human beings, and capable of redemption. Labour deems the antisemite, by contrast, uniquely incapable of ever changing and entitled to no further contact.

(4) That what Labour’s compliance officers are doing is what lawyers call “satellite litigation”, i.e they are not disciplining people for actual online racism, rather they are looking for something else, an activity before or after that or to its side, which can be presented to a friendly press as evidence that Labour is dealing with anti-Jewish racism. Non-lawyers might call it a displacement activity.

(5) That Labour does have a problem with antisemitism, especially online

I have just written a 100,000 word book, on this issue, it excoriates some of those guilty of behaviour that either was racist or was within touching distance of racism. Those guilty of it included MPs, the Vice-Chair of Momentum, and a former Mayor of London an elected politician with the largest constituency of anyone in Britain. Unlike many people on the Labour left, I do not believe for example that the EHRC report exaggerated the scale of anti-Jewish racism, my sense is that it and other key documents tended to understate the problem.

(6) But this method of expelling people for vague associations with people with whom they have had little contact, is misconceived, to anyone watching it seems high-handed and offensive and discredits the idea of fighting racism

(7) That what the EHRC report required the party do was actually confront racism – ie explain to people which behaviour crossed the line, why it was wrong, and (in less serious cases) giving the people concerned a chance to learn and change their former behaviour and reject it.

One of the ways the EHRC did this was by saying that the party should, “Make sure that all members found to have engaged in antisemitic conduct (apart from those who are expelled) undertake an educational course on identifying and tackling antisemitism, regardless of the level of sanction applied.” That proposal makes no sense if the Party now adopts a position that all those guilty of antisemitism, or guilty of having given an interview to an organisation which went on to be proscribed, or guilty of attending a meeting an which an expelled person was present, etc, should be expelled, rather than (if they are accused of antisemitism) remain in membership and attend training.

(8) That Labour has dodged the task of educating its members on why antisemitism is wrong. Instead of which Labour has concentrated on trying to generate figures of large numbers of expulsions in order to give the impression of taking the issue seriously

(9) Rather than fighting a battle against racism, it is simply trying to push the problem elsewhere. I and other Jewish socialists are part of the online left and this is much broader than the Labour Party. When Labour expels people not for antisemitism but for tangentially-related behaviour (membership of a proscribed organisation, attending a meeting at which an expelled person was present, etc) it does not reduce the number of racists in the world by one person. All it does is turn people against the idea that antisemitism is worth fighting. It invites the left to rebuild itself around a shared myth that there was never any antisemitism in the party. It turns some people who said unpleasant things into victims. It makes other people more likely to adopt an antagonistic relationship towards me and other Jews.

(10) There is a fight to be had against anti-Jewish racism. For all the mistakes he made, Jeremy Corbyn was an ally in that battle. By contrast, Keir Starmer and his supporters have never shown the least interest in helping people like me.

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