An investigation into anti semitism in the Labour Party conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found Labour responsible for “unlawful” harassment and discrimination during Jeremy Corbyn’s 4 and a half years as leader.
When the 130-page report was published, Corbyn said the scale of anti semitism within Labour had been “dramatically overstated” by opponents. Shortly after, a Labour spokesman announced that Corbyn was being suspended for “a failure to retract his words.” What happened exactly and what is the Labour anti semitism row about?
After it was announced that Corbyn would be suspended, he reacted on Twitter by calling the move “political” and promised to “strongly contest” it. In other words, the previous leader of the Labour Party, who identifies himself as a socialist, is openly denying Labour’s anti semitism problem, even after being presented with flagrant and shocking evidence.
Corbyn’s suspension will remain in place while the party carries out an investigation into his remarks. Sir Keir Starmer, who has been Labour’s leader since April 2020, said the publication of the report had brought “a day of shame” for the party. The party added that Corbyn had been suspended “in light of his comments” and “his failure to retract them subsequently.”
The EHRC report found Labour responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act: political interference in anti semitism complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti semitism complaints as well as harassment, including the use of anti semitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of anti semitism were fake or smears. The EHRC found evidence of 23 instances of “inappropriate involvement” by Corbyn’s office.
Sir Starmer promised to implement the report’s recommendations “as soon as possible in the New Year.” While Corbyn tweeted that those who denied the party had an anti semitism problem were wrong and that he would “continue to support a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of racism,” in an interview, he did not retract his earlier comments and said: “I’ll be appealing to the party and those who made the decision to kindly think again.”
Sir Starmer defended the decision to suspend Corbyn, saying: “We cannot say ‘zero tolerance’ and then turn a blind eye. I was very disappointed in Jeremy Corbyn’s statement and appropriate action has been taken, which I fully support.” He further explained that he would not interfere with the party’s internal investigation into Corbyn’s statement.
Since 2016, Labour has been plagued by accusations of anti semitism and a number of MPs left the party in protest when Corbyn was leader. Jewish Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge said: “[The suspension] is the right decision following Corbyn’s shameful reaction to the EHRC report. [Labour] was finally saying enough is enough, anti semitism can never be tolerated.”
Although many applauded the decision to penalise Corbyn for his denial of anti semitism, which in itself is a clear act of anti semitism, groups on the left of the Labour movement attacked the decision to suspend him. The Socialist Campaign Group said it firmly opposed the move, adding “We will work tirelessly for his reinstatement.”
Momentum, one of Corbyn’s strongest backers, said: “It is a massive attack on the left by the new leadership and should be immediately lifted in the interests of party unity.”
What disturbs me is how surprised everyone seems to be by the results of the EHRC report. Is it really that unexpected? This investigation was launched in May last year after the EHRC received a number of complaints from organisations and individuals, including the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement.
Modern-day anti semitism can take many forms. Conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the global financial system and the media, attacks on synagogues, verbal abuse and hate speech, abusive memes on social media—these are, sadly, only the tip of the iceberg.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines anti semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” This implies that even ignoring anti semitism is an anti semitic act in itself. But let’s be honest here, Corbyn did more than simply disregarding anti semitism in the Labour Party.
Anti semitism was actually not regarded as a big problem in the Labour Party until Corbyn came along as leader in September 2015. Under his leadership, the party saw an influx of new members, many of whom were vocal critics of Israel. They believed that the UK, along with the US, should be tougher towards Israel, especially regarding its policies towards the Palestinians and its building of settlements in the occupied territories.
After Corbyn’s election as leader, attention quickly focused on what elected representatives were saying (and had previously said) on social media and elsewhere about Israel and Jewish people. There were claims that anti semitic tropes were being widely propagated and a number of incidents within the Labour Party attracted a great deal of attention.
Suspensions were made over alleged anti semitic comments while Jewish groups and even some of Corbyn’s own MPs constantly accused him and his team of failing to take the issue seriously enough. Several high-profile MPs walked out over abuse they received, the row threatened to tear the party apart. In response, Corbyn repeatedly insisted that anti-Jewish hate would not be tolerated in the party, yet critics said he was not doing enough to root out the problem.
In 2018, anti semitic hate incidents in the UK reached a record high, according to the Community Security Trust. When Sir Starmer was elected, he made tackling anti semitism a top priority and promised in his acceptance speech to “tear out this poison by its roots.” After firing his shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey in June 2020 because she had shared an article containing an anti semitic conspiracy theory, perhaps it is time for Sir Starmer to stay true to his promise.
On Friday, British grime artist Richard Cowie, mostly known as Wiley, made some truly shocking statements on both Twitter and Instagram. From anti-semitic tropes to false conspiracy theories about Jewish people, Wiley’s comments even compared them to the Ku Klux Klan. He is now facing hateful backlash, an investigation from the police and has been dropped by his management.
After posting these offensive messages about Jewish people on Friday and being temporarily banned by Twitter, the rapper continued his rant as soon as his account was unfrozen on Saturday. What did Wiley say exactly and how did Twitter and the rest of the world react?
On Friday, the artist made many outrageous comments by amplifying common anti-semitic tropes and stereotypes as well as making an inflammatory comparison between the Jewish community and the Ku Klux Klan. Wiley tweeted that “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you start to understand why.”
Another of his reported tweets, which has now also been taken down read: “I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people.” Wiley also claimed that he would challenge the whole Jewish community on his own, that he was not scared and could handle them. “Jewish would do anything to ruin a black man’s life but it won’t work with me I am a savage.”
Anti-semitism is a belief or behaviour, including prejudiced or stereotyped views, that is hostile towards Jews, just because they are Jewish.
Wiley’s rants had a huge amount of identitarianism too, which is a post-World War II European far-right political ideology asserting the right of Europeans and people of European descent to culture and territories claimed to belong exclusively to them.
Wiley was first banned from posting on Twitter for a few hours, but on Saturday morning he tweeted to his nearly 500,000 followers that he was “Back in action.” The social media giants were slow to take action against what was going on. The artist’s Twitter account has now been temporarily locked, while Instagram said it had deleted some of his content.
The pressure from people asking that the two platforms close his accounts permanently has been growing. Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement: “There is no place for hate speech on Instagram. We have deleted content that violates our policies from this account and are continuing to investigate.”
Speaking about Twitter and Instagram’s way of dealing with Wiley’s hateful comments, Toni Vitale, partner and head of data protection at JMW Solicitors, said: “Twitter and Instagram have no liability themselves in the UK. In the UK, Electronic Commerce Regulation 19 says that an internet service ‘host’ is not liable for information on its platform, so long as the service it provides ‘consists of the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service’ — and it has no knowledge of unlawful activity and acts quickly to remove the offending information when informed.”
Vitale added that “Wiley is currently being investigated by the police under hate crime and malicious communications legislation. He may claim ‘freedom of speech’ and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights does guarantee everyone’s right to freedom of expression. However, Article 17 states: ‘Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention.’ This means any public comment aimed at destroying or limiting, for instance, a person’s right to a private and family life, or their peaceful enjoyment of property, or their enjoyment of rights in a way discriminatory of them compared to others, is not protected.”
Wiley’s now ex-manager John Woolf confirmed that the Twitter account, which is not verified, belongs to the London-born rapper. In a tweet posted on Friday evening that is no longer visible, Woolf initially said he was “talking to him privately.” He also said that, having known Wiley for 12 years, he knows “he does not truly feel this way.” Woolf later tweeted that “Following Wiley’s antisemitic tweets today we at @A_ListMGMT have cut all ties with him. There is no place in society for antisemitism.”
Priti Patel, the UK’s home secretary, said on twitter that posts were anti-Semitic and “abhorrent”. “Social media companies must act much faster to remove such appalling hatred from their platforms,”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has also stepped up by writing a letter to the two companies saying that their response was not fast enough. “It takes minutes for content shared on your platform to reach an audience of millions. When someone influential shares hate speech, in that time it may have an impact on the views of many who look up to them.”
The pungency of racism is undoubtedly real, relevant, and recurring daily. History cannot be reversed, but it is our duty to make sure it does not repeat itself. Wiley has permanently tarnished not only his reputation and his career but his life. In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, we need to understand that fighting racism equals fighting against all kinds of hatred.