Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller, Pluto Press (2019)
Those of us who have followed the interminable anti-Semitism story manufactured against Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, know that the media coverage has been fatally skewed.
This new book presents the proof in a systematic manner.
It traces the witch hunt against the left and Palestine solidarity in the Labour Party that has been intense since Jeremy Corbyn first ran for leader in 2015.
These authors even became part of the story they sought to shed light on, when book chain Waterstones canceled a launch for their book during the Labour conference this year, after coming under pressure.
For the book, Philo and Berry commissioned a national poll and ran focus groups to understand British public opinions around the party and the issue of anti-Semitism.
Their findings confirm what Labour’s grassroots membership has known all along – that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is being grossly exaggerated and fabricated as a political weapon against Corbyn.
This campaign has been led by the Israel lobby and the right-wing faction which remains devoted to Tony Blair.
Despite a now years-long all-out establishment war against Corbyn, the left-wing, Palestine solidarity veteran, Labour’s members overwhelmingly reject the notion that the party leader or his popular movement are anti-Semitic.
As I reported back in 2016, only 5 percent of those polled at the time agreed that anti-Semitism is a bigger problem in Labour than in other parties. The largest group – 47 percent – said it was no worse than in other parties.
Polls of the Labour membership since then have run broadly along the same lines.
But Philo and Berry’s new study is not confined to Labour members and looks instead at the general public. It comes to some staggering conclusions.
The all-out media campaign smearing Corbyn as an anti-Semite has had an effect, leaving the public with a stratospherically exaggerated impression of anti-Semitism in the party.
In February this year, Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby released figures of formal complaints to the party. Those figures show that, during the nine months prior, only 673 party members had even been accused of anti-Semitism.
In a party with around half a million, that amounted to about 0.1 percent of the membership.
In a letter to Labour’s right-wing deputy leader Tom Watson a few months later, Formby further explained that “anti-Semitism-related cases that have been taken through the stages of our disciplinary procedures since September 2015 relate to roughly 0.06 percent of the party’s average membership during this time.”
Yet despite these low figures, the national opinion poll commissioned by Philo and Berry found that this reality was not getting through to the general public.
“On average, they believed that 34 percent of Labour Party members had had complaints for anti-Semtism made against them,” they write in the book, an astonishing 34,000 percent exaggeration of the actual figure provided by Formby.
Only 14 percent of those polled believed that the figure of those accused was less than 10 percent of Labour members.
By any standards, we have to admit this has been a major historical achievement for the corporate media.
The British establishment was threatened by the prospect of a socialist government in Britain, so its propaganda system, the corporate media, was deployed to prevent that prospect.
It brings to mind Malcolm X’s famous dictum about the press making the criminal look like the victim and making the victim look like the criminal: “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
The book uses similar methods to Philo and Berry’s 2004 study Bad News From Israel and its 2011 second edition, More Bad News From Israel. Both were essential reading to understand exactly how the corporate media is generally biased in favor of the Israeli narrative.
Lerman, in particular, gives a searing indictment of the definition as the inherently anti-Palestinian document that it is.
He explains the history of the highly misleading Israeli concept of “new anti-Semitism” that the state has promoted over the last few decades to shield itself from criticism.
The brilliant left-wing academic David Miller rounds out the book with a case study of a “Labour anti-Semitism” smear campaign – the one run against him.
This book is essential reading, and I found the timeline of events since Corbyn was first elected in September 2015 particularly useful.
Where the book seems rather thin and slightly vague is in its prescriptions of what could have been done to avoid the mess in which Corbyn and the rest of the Labour leadership now find themselves.
While fine, these prescriptions seem to avoid the main point of Jeremy Corbyn’s failure: he should have forcefully rejected “Labour anti-Semitism” as the lying smear campaign that it has been all along.
He should have openly defended Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and, latterly, Chris Williamson. Instead, he has remained silent at best or – as with Livingstone – been complicit with media lies about them.
These three and so may other left-wing, anti-racist anti-imperialists have been tossed by the wayside, and the popular movement that won Corbyn the leadership is being slowly driven out of the party.
Even among that tiny 0.06 percent, many are innocent. Allegation does not constitute guilt.
This book is a useful contribution toward at least understanding what has really happened.
The consequences will be with us for decades to come.
Asa Winstanley is a reporter and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.