Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis: reviews

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Reviews of my book have started appearing. They include Liz Davies in Socialist Lawyer. Hers concludes: “…Renton also calls for a kinder, more appropriate complaints and disciplinary process. The factionalism which pervades Labour’s complaints system has been well documented, most noticeably in the infamous “leaked report”. Renton makes the point that a calmer atmosphere surrounding the complaints process would distinguish between antisemitic statements that cannot be tolerated, and a more nuanced approach to other more ambiguous statements, asking whether the maker had understood its offensiveness, would be prepared to withdraw it etc. Such a distinction is impossible, Renton says, when there are thousands of people staring at the disciplinary process, loudly declaring their own moral righteousness and their contempt for anyone who disagreed with them. Renton’s book speaks truth to the left. That is not an easy thing to do, or to read, but, for any principled socialist, it is absolutely necessary”.

The socialist magician Ian Saville also has kind words for the book at Labour Hub: “Renton singles out some individuals on the left who have made statements which clearly contain elements of antisemitism, and he demolishes the arguments they present with clarity and precision. But the bigger and most important charge is about many of us on the left who failed to challenge such arguments. It seems we were blinded by the transparent attempt by the right to use the issue to attack and destabilise the left. By ‘rallying round’ our friends in these circumstances, doubling down on supporting an ahistorical account of the Holocaust from Ken Livingstone, or of Jewish involvement in the slave trade from Jackie Walker, we gave ammunition to the right, further alienating many who could have been our allies.”

Keith Kahn-Harris, who had of course published his own superb book on the subject (Strange Hate) has reviewed mine for the Times Literary Supplement and Jewthink. In the latter, he calls my book “elegiac” and says, “I hope that David Renton’s book encourages open self-criticism on the Labour left regarding antisemitism.”

One of the most unexpected notes of welcome came from Philip Mendes at the Australia-Israel Labor-Dialog site. He sets out the many places at which he and I dsagree, while saying that mine is far better than those which have preceded it from other anti-Zionist sources,” and ends his piece with two question for me, and the anti-Zionist left more generally.

Jeremy Green’s review for his own website was reprinted by Socialist Against Antisemitism. Again, he’s very positive, concluding, “I’ve never met David Renton, though I’ve enjoyed reading his blog posts. We’ve exchanged a few messages via Facebook, mainly me telling him that I’ve appreciated something he’s written. But I wish I’d known him during the period that his book covers; it might have made it easier to live through the misery.”

At Philosophy Football, Mark Perryman has been perhaps the kindest of all reviewers, calling my book, “the definitive work for me on this most vexatious of subjects … Definitive in scope, politics and writing style this is a hugely impressive piece of writing and puts the Keir Starmer era Labour Party’s own pitiful efforts at antisemitism training to shame. Sadly the same Labour regime in all likelihood will ban David from speaking at Labour meetings on the subject because he doesn’t appear on some approved list to do so.  In the face of all that David’s book demands the widest possible platforms and readership, what a disappointment then it has come out from an academic publisher with their usual unimaginative cover and high price. No criticism of Routledge intended, well done for publishing it, but this book’s audience stretches way beyond academia, hopefully a more attractively packaged and reasonably priced second edition will be on its way soonest, in the meantime readers should grab a copy soon as they can.”

I will surprise no-one by mentioning that the good folks at Jewish Voice for Labour has also reviewed the book. At the centre of their review is a plea to the left that we must not give up on the idea that Labour’s difficulties were solely caused by the “Israel lobby”. Yes, the people who could see no evil in anything Chris Williamson, Ken Livingstone or Jackie Walker said have at last found something that offends them. I imagine that other reviews of a similar character will follow theirs.

EDITED to add (1.11.21). More reviews coming in; including Jonah ben Avraham for New Politics. He’s probably the first reviewer to have spotted that my book isn’t only about antisemitism, but is shaped by wider experiences of having to deal with selfish and destructive behaviour by people on the left. Ben Avraham concludes: “Renton’s book doesn’t have all the answers. His at times rosy optimism that what Labourites like Livingstone and Walker needed was a comrade in their ear, and not a boot out the door, is more a philosophy of changing hearts and minds than a strategy. Still, it is a philosophy that is despairingly rare on a left that has responded to repeated calls for accountability, from #MeToo to efforts addressing racial harm in left-wing spaces, first and foremost with the same kind of legalism and defensiveness at play in the antisemitism crisis. Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis points activists in a new, transformative direction for the next struggle.”

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