Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

Chilling effects: the politics of anti-semitism in the UK

A former specialist adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee has written a detailed critique of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report on anti-Semitism. We find out why.

lead Giving evidence to members of the Home Affairs Select Committee at the Houses of Parliament, London in 2016. Press Association Archive. All rights reserved.

Rosemary Bechler (RB): David, what prompted you to write your detailed and lengthy critique of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report on anti-semitism, which you accuse of being a ‘partisan party political polemic’... how did you get involved?

David Plank (DP): Nothing in my background would necessarily have led to an interest in this area. My professional background is in local authorities, in “social services” as it was then. Since retirement, amongst other things, I have written three reports for The Cambridge Commons, as co-author with Stuart Weir and Deborah Padfield of the initial Cambridge Fairness Review Report , and as author of two further reports in the Fairness Review on social care. I am angry about the way events are going and the destruction, and I use that word calmly, of social care in our country. Since I retired in 2002, and especially in recent years, I have been involved in the Labour Party. But why this issue?

Well, of course I grew up during the era of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the days when Britain was the colonial power to the present day. Like many people of my age and education I am sensitive to the issues involved and have been aware of the powerful narrative, which I too espoused, of Israel as the underdog and so forth.

I read this report out of interest primarily because I had been surprised and shocked at the way the Labour Party was being portrayed – vilified I would now say – in relation to anti-semitism. I had made my own individual submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry as a Labour Party member. So I was alerted to the Home Affairs Committee Report by this process, and was then surprised to hear of its criticism of the Chakrabarti recommendations.

I am a reader of select committee reports and I have found them habitually to be a very useful source of information. I haven’t always agreed with the conclusions they come to, but usually they have a good basis in fact. The Defence Committee, for example, has done some excellent work. It so happens that back in the late 80’s, the 1990’s, I was a specialist adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee and therefore do have some inside knowledge of how Select Committees should work.

RB: How does one become a Specialist Adviser?

DP: By the usual channels, so in this instance through the Local Authorities Associations, the professional associations in social services, being seen as somebody that they would want to give advice. I had a personal interest as well as a professional one – I had been  a campaigner on behalf of people, as it was described then, with a mental handicap, and therefore interested in the work that the Social Services Committee was doing, including everything that was involved in the Care in the Community initiative. It was in relation to that wider initiative that I was employed.  

My role was to talk with members of the committee, advise them on policy and the points they should be addressing in their inquiries, assist them when they were asking questions at hearings of evidence by passing relevant notes to them, and so forth, and most significantly to comment on the terms of reference and the report itself, particularly the draft reports. I found it a fascinating experience, working with a very interesting bunch of MP’s, ranging from Edwina Currie to the Ulster Unionist Martin Smyth, Renée Short, Frank Field, Nicholas Winterton, Michael Meadowcroft.

I say this because with these very different individuals I never had any difficulty in agreeing the standards that a committee report should meet. It was assumed that you needed to have evidence for whatever you were going to say. And the evidence was as important as the report and was published together with it, (whereas now it is on some remote online link.)

But as I began to read this Home Affairs Committee report, I became more and more appalled, and despite having a lot of other things to do, I felt impelled to put my thoughts down on paper, not initially with a view to publication, but just to sort out my feelings about it.

To use the words of the Committee’s Interim Chair on the day its report was published when commenting on the Shami Chakrabarti Report, my feeling to put it mildly was that the Committee’s Report was not worth the paper it was written on, beginning with the complete absence of terms of reference. A Select Committee must be clear about what it intends to do, which is why clear terms of reference for inquiries are essential. But this inquiry has no terms of reference at all. That the Home Affairs Committee either decided not to have terms of reference or neglected to adopt any for an inquiry of such importance and sensitivity, professionally I found gob-smacking.

And inevitably therefore, the Committee’s inquiry was subject to the happenchance of whatever was going on around it, including something that it clearly paid a lot of attention to, which was the right wing media with its anti-Labour and particularly anti-Corbyn agenda. Unfortunately increasingly I have to include the BBC under that heading because of the account they take of the printed press.

By way of background I should also say that I had been sensitized to this realisation by the ground invasion of Gaza. My wife, who has been in the Labour Party for 47 years, a councillor and so forth, and I, were like so many people aghast at what had happened there. The BBC had lost its investigative edge, and stopped producing good journalism. Its coverage of Gaza was a mimicry of the right-wing printed press. That was a seismic moment for us and many people in the Labour Party and elsewhere, which was not represented in the mainstream media – and that sensitised me to some of the issues in the report.

When I began thinking about it, I started drawing on what I had learned from different voices within the British Jewish communities when I looked into the controversy around anti-semitism at the time of the Chakrabarti Inquiry. I had come across bodies like Independent Jewish Voices, Free Speech on Israel and others – enough to clarify something that had been making me increasingly uncomfortable, which was the need to understand that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was one voice, not the voice of the community as it claims, and that indeed there were lots of different voices.

When I saw the methodology that they employed in the report – basically to invite certain bodies to give evidence to them which came from a particular strand of British Jewish hues of opinion which happened to be heavily identified with a pro-Israel perspective – this feeling of discomfort was intensified.

The untutored Golda Meir image I once had of Israel has changed to something very different from that under Mr Netanyahu, given the power of the ultra orthodox group in the coalition governments, and the active support of the Israeli Government for the settler movement, which I am not alone in having found deeply disturbing.

Inevitably, you look on the net for alternative accounts of what is going on, and I have taken an interest in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign because of the suffering of the Palestinian people. I don’t exclude the suffering of Israeli citizens living close to Palestinian areas who are subject to rocket attacks. Of course I don’t ignore that. But I see a huge disproportion between this suffering and the over 2,000 Palestinians killed in the ground invasion of Gaza, by Israeli accounts as well as other accounts including that of the United Nations.

I couldn’t see any of that in this report. Where was the major world issue of Palestine and Israel which has undoubtedly changed the narrative predominant in this country? It is not even addressed. Where was it? What did the Committee think were the reasons why the Labour party had become sensitised to Palestinian issues? They didn’t even appear to be aware of them.

And then, I was just appalled by the hijacking of the Committee by the Labour party’s dissension, to put it at its mildest.

RB: In your critique of the report you are critical of the political make-up of this Home Affairs Committee.

DP: Because of what happened in relation to Naz Shah, she was proscribed from membership, so was not an active member of the Committee. Chuka Umunna, whose contribution I cover at some length in my critique in my view played a highly party politicized role in the whole conduct of the Committee. His conduct in the questioning of Jeremy Corbyn was reprehensible, highly prejudiced, as I have explained at length. The only other Labour Party member, David Winnick, was much more responsible in my view, certainly more civil – and civility is a key qualification in political debate. Nonetheless as I say in the Critique, at the end of the day we have five Conservative members of the Committee and a vocal Labour MP critic sitting in judgement on the Labour Party and in particular on its Leader, issuing a highly unbalanced and biased report which majors on the Labour Party, not on anti-semitism in the UK which is what the Report’s title says it is about. A report which shows all the signs of having been hijacked by an internal, major bust-up within the Labour Party, and of which the Conservative Party members have taken advantage. And which uses innuendo and an inaccurate account of its recommendations in an attempt to discredit the Shami Chakrabarti Report – a report which has a much stronger evidence base and considered conclusions within its Labour Party set remit. As I say in the Critique, the Committee should have halted its inquiry when the risk of becoming embroiled in the PLP’s affairs became evident as it clearly did early on. Instead of which it ploughed on regardless.

Leader of the Labour Party in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee in London answering questions on the rise of anti-Semitism, July 2016. Press Association Archive. All rights reserved.

It is important for me to say that I have played an active part in the Labour Party since the PLP’s vote of no confidence in the Party’s Leader. Not in the bust-up in the PLP of course, but I am a participant nevertheless.

RB: As a Labour Party member?

DP: Yes, inasmuch as before Jeremy Corbyn came on the scene, I looked at the list of candidates together with my wife.  We said, “none of the above”, because we had become disaffected with the way the Labour Party had been captured by New Labour and the British establishment.

This is summed up for me by an account Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level (2009), gave at a recent conference of a Labour MP who came up to congratulate her on a speech she made around the time of that ground-breaking book. She asked him what he was going to do about it, that is the great inequality and the highly adverse effects she had described, at which point he took a step back physically and said, “We have been instructed not to talk about inequality!”

Just as some of us have been instructed not to talk about immigration (or migration as I prefer to refer to it.)  So when Jeremy Corbyn came on the scene and started talking in the way me and my wife and various others talk normally, it was like a breath of fresh air and we got involved! We got involved in Momentum which we enjoyed a lot – it was the youth but not just the young people, the vigour and the fresh vision that burst on the scene that impressed us.

So, as I say I am not an innocent bystander. At the same time, I believe in standards of objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and the treatment of people with different views with civility. And the Committee did not abide by that! 

RB: So it was more than the absence of terms of reference that made the conduct of this Home Affairs Committee so different from the Select Committees you have been involved in?

DP: Yes indeed. For example, I would expect as a basic that the Committee would call for evidence. But I see no sign of such a call for this enquiry. Why not? I find that stunning. If there had been a call for evidence, which of course there was for the Chakrabarti Inquiry, it would have received a much wider representation of opinion from within the country than it did.

I think that omission is a cardinal sin. People did ask to give evidence. Shami Chakrabarti was one of them. And their offers were declined. I don’t know the inside story: all I know is what was said in public. Jeremy Corbyn said that Shami Chakrabarti had asked to appear before the Committee and “was not invited”.

A number of the people who were named in the report also received the same treatment. But that is a different, and another fundamental point. Writ large in the Chilcot Report for example, was the understanding that these are very serious allegations that are made against people in these reports, and people must be accorded the opportunity to read the draft text and comment on it.

Take the NUS president, Malia Bouattia. I didn’t include this in my commentary because I didn’t know enough about it then: I know a lot more now. But there are pages of criticism in the Committee Report in relation to the NUS President, and she was not given any opportunity to read the draft and comment upon it. That is disgraceful.

Jackie Walker did offer to give evidence and her offer was declined. Take the case of Jackie Walker, who is traduced in the report. She is readily identifiable: her name appears in one place, and it is assumed that she is guilty. Yet she was acquitted the first time around, cleared and as far as I am aware the second allegation against her has still not been concluded. (She was asked by Momentum’s National Committee to step down as its Vice Chair, but remains a member of the Committee.) I am very critical of the Labour Party, by the way, for not dealing with these things quickly: but that is a different point.

It is not that the UK’s Select Committee system has gone down the tubes since my day. There is a little bit of evidence of some rather less than adequate reports being issued by Select Committees to be found in the report of the House of Commons Liaison Committee back in 2012. There, they commented on Committees needing to have clear terms of reference, and without using the term “quality” they did pick up on a number of points that have been referred back to the relevant committees. But these are standards of which the Home Affairs Committee has taken no account whatsoever in this Inquiry! This is why I sent my critique to the Chair of the Liaison Committee as well as the Chair of the Home affairs Committee, knowing that this was not just a matter of my opinion. Because the Liaison Committee, which is made up of the chairs of all the select committees, has a responsibility to Parliament to ensure proper standards. I have not yet received a response to my recommendation that the Liaison Committee ensure committees’ reports achieve basic standards of impartiality, objectivity and adequacy of evidence including strict adherence to the rule of no party politics.

RB: You comment on the Report’s frank admission that some of its findings were based on “a self-selecting survey of British Jewish people”. Their testimony fed directly into several headlines in the press. Of course, as you point out, what this testimony amounts to depends very much on what “self-selecting” actually means.

DP: The suspicion in my mind – but I haven’t been able to verify it because the information is not available – and it is not available from its source on the Community Security Trust’s website either – is how the self-selection took place and why the Committee selected this information. If a survey is just online it is inevitable that it will be heavily skewed by where it is online. You can produce it as information but only with a strong caveat to that effect and that context. And certainly not as a “Key Fact” at the top of a report as the Home Affairs Committee did on this occasion.

In my view the Committee was looking for information that supported a view that it already had. This was accepted by the Committee at face value. What one interest group said, whether it was the Board of Deputies of British Jews spokesperson Jonathan Arkush or the Jewish Leadership Council or what a particular individual said such as Ruth Smeeth MP, was just reproduced as fact. When one looked behind these statements, they weren’t necessarily fact – as was clearly the case with Ruth Smeeth’s claim of anti-semitic conduct at the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti Report which while the conduct concerned may have been rude, was not anti-semitic. So in addition to not seeking out other views, different views such as those of Independent Jewish Voices and Free Speech on Israel, the committee was doubly partial in also accepting at face value without challenge other views.

Since my critique was published, I have had quite a lot of feedback from people who are active and interested in this area, including points about the Introduction to the Home Affairs Committee’s report which talks about the rise in antisemitism according to Community Security Trust (CST) figures. Again, you can’t just take those figures at face value. You have to include information about how the CST assembles their facts, and you have to examine where the emphasis lies. I understand that the same source identifies a decrease in anti-semitic incidents involving violence: but this was not reported by the Committee whereas the reported 11 per cent overall rise was without any context to explain that 77 per cent of this increase is via social media which, though real and vile, is a different phenomenon – and is another example of selective reporting.

Add to this the prejudicial effect on public opinion of the barrage of media coverage of these issues and the media treatment of the Labour Party, and that is why I am now using the word ‘vilification’ with regard to the Labour Party. It is more than unfair. There is a deliberate attempt to vilify a party that contemporaneously has become more sympathetic and more open to the views of the Palestinian people – and to their treatment by the government of Israel.  That is not coincidental. I have become much more exposed since I wrote this critique to thinking about the way the Israeli state operates. I would need to do a lot more research to understand this. But I am very concerned about it.

The House of Commons Select Committees are a key part of our democracy. They are given their power by the people through their elected representatives in parliament to do authoritative work which carries weight, which counts. And what this Report represents therefore in that context is an abuse of power. It uses legitimate power to achieve illegitimate ends and that is a fundamental disgrace. Although my original feeling was of shock, when I disentangle all these reasons, that is the single conclusion that I have reached, that this was an abuse of power.

That the BBC continues to quote from that Report is shocking. It did this when it interviewed Shami Chakrabarti the other day in her Shadow Attorney General role. At the end of that piece, Nick Robinson raised the Report and the Committee’s criticisms of her Inquiry as if those criticisms had come from an authoritative source and had due weight as a result. That is wrong. Nick Robinson has been sent my critique but has not acknowledged receipt. The BBC should not be using that report. Shami Chakrabarti dealt with it very well. She talked about the Committee having been politicised, which is the approach that both she and Jeremy Corbyn have taken to these criticisms from the outset. And the Committee was indeed politicised.

I mentioned the feedback I have received. One point I wish to make in light of this concerns Ken Livingstone who some saw as harshly treated in my comments. Therefore, I have looked at this again in some detail. I never thought that Ken Livingstone’s remarks were anti-semitic. My more detailed assessment confirms this. They were crass in the extreme and for so experienced a senior politician ill-judged and desperately ill-timed. But crassness and ill-judged timing do not constitute anti-semitism.

RB: What response have you had to your detailed critique so far?

DP: Not a lot. The Home Affairs Select Committee told me my comments had been passed to the Chair and the Clerk. There was no response from the Liaison Committee until I chased them and then they confirmed that it had been passed to their Chair. And interestingly, there has been no response from the Labour Party.

RB: What do you think of that?

DP: As a result of all this, there has been a chilling effect in relation to the Labour Party in people being able to express their views on what is and what is not anti-semitism – along the same lines as “don’t talk about inequality: don’t talk about immigration.”

RB: The debate within the Labour Party has been effectively silenced?

DP: I‘m not into conspiracy theory so I wouldn’t say that there was an organised attempt, but there has been an ignoring, an exclusion in the mainstream media and elsewhere, of such views as mine and other people who have been similarly critical of this process. Free Speech on Israel did take an interest when I approached them and have placed my commentary on their website, which is how a lot of people got to hear about it.

RB: Let’s talk a bit about the Labour Party itself, beginning with the Chakrabarti Inquiry and its recommendations. It doesn’t seem to have clarified much with respect to due process in the Labour Party, would you agree?

DP: I disagree with that. I think in terms of procedures for dealing with allegations, Shami Chakrabarti had a very clear and carefully considered view about what constitutes proper transparent procedures which ensure due process and proportionality to achieve natural justice for both complainant and complained against – including better control and more proportionate use of interim suspension, the identification of complainants unless there is substantial and demonstrable good reason not to do so, proper confidentiality for those complained against, improved right of redress, and appropriate time limits for each stage of the process. This is summarised in the nine step end to end process that she recommends to the Labour Party. [Chapter 5 of the Report] This substantial improvement is almost completely ignored by the Home Affairs Committee. Its spirit could with benefit have been applied by the Committee to its own inquiry which failed to ensure natural justice for the individuals named in its report.

Part of what you have to do in setting up these disciplinary procedures is to say what it is to cross the acceptable line, to transgress here or there. It’s now open to the Labour Party to do this, and I have written to Jeremy Corbyn arguing that they should work on the definition of anti-semitism and in particular on alleged acts about which there is substantial disagreement as to whether they are anti-semitic or not. Because a number of the allegations that have been made fall into that category, and it is therefore a matter of natural justice within the Labour Party that the Labour Party highlights these instances and does justice to people by recognising that there is this substantial disagreement about them.

It is for these reasons that my critique’s recommendation to the Labour Party is to recognize that there are areas of outright disagreement on what constitutes anti-semitic conduct – as well as adopting transparent accountability arrangements which respect the rights of individual Party members as well as the information needs of the wider world.  

RB: Of course, sorting this out is something that both sides in any of these arguments should be concerned to see implemented with dispatch. But there seems little urgency in the Labour Party to move on this.

DP: Well, I don’t disagree with that and think there are three explanations. One is the everyday explanation that the NEC which is responsible for these decisions has in practise over recent months been consumed with leadership matters and with the disaffection within the Parliamentary Labour Party. Their attention to other responsibilities has been diminished, which is not acceptable.

Second, is the sheer lack of staff and other resource including legal expertise, within the Party to deal with these matters - to which the NEC should give much more urgent attention than is evident to date.

The third strand is this degree of nervousness if not fright – I think fright is the word – about addressing anti-semitism and wider related issues in our community in Labour, issues which of course the Home Affairs Committee wholly failed to address. Yet there is a problem, a significant problem of anti-semitism in our wider society that the Home Affairs Committee scarcely mentions.

In my view, the Labour Party is not now a natural policy debating vehicle, thanks to the whole impact of New Labour and the oppressive influence that has been brought to bear from the top of the party on what is acceptable from the members below. The Labour Party, in some areas anyway, is a campaigning party with a small ‘c’ – canvassing and all that kind of thing. In Cambridge, the Labour Party is an exceptionally efficient election machine, but it doesn’t really debate politics. It used to. It doesn’t now.

In the case of Jackie Walker, I was concerned to say the least, that views expressed during a Party training session had been taken down and leaked to the Jewish Chronicle. This is of a piece with a number of actions which are about suppressing free speech. If you are not able to express personal views in a training session when invited to do so, where can you express them? This kind of behaviour within the Labour Party is a source of concern to a lot of members of the Labour Party. Too often we have an authoritarian and excluding approach which is the direct antithesis of what Labour should be about.

The Party machine is not sufficiently accountable to its membership and it is important that we work together in a co-operative spirit to improve this. Unexplained “auto exclusions” from Party membership, suspension of local constituency parties and apparently rigid interpretation of Party Rules should be consigned to the past.  I know that many members including some on the NEC are working to improve these matters.

RB: You make the point about how the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War coalition are consistently damned in the Home Affairs Committee Report as ‘hard left’ in ways that are supposed to exclude the possibility of their being taken seriously, but which also produce a kind of hysterical atmosphere without content. These enemy images are ill-defined but very suggestive.

DP: My critique shows how unjustly that epithet is applied by the Committee. It is simply not acceptable that the PSC, for example, is dismissed in this cavalier manner which disrespects the group and the Palestinian causes it seeks to take forward – which are supported by many honourable citizens here and elsewhere in the international community.

This also takes us back to the point about civility. While MP’s do take people to task in the Select Committees, there is a way of doing it and the behaviour towards Jeremy Corbyn at the Home Affairs Committee was disgraceful. This is not acceptable. We should be able to talk about issues in a polite and civil way, the mark of a civilised society. Being able to disagree about things in a polite manner which doesn’t dismiss the other person’s point of view or silence them is a cardinal litmus test of democracy and an open society. This criterion is being marginalised and it is very, very dangerous. We see it in a variety of ways in our political life. The spaces where you can exchange views and maybe change your mind are being screwed down. By people themselves. Yet these spaces are vital.

RB: So to my last question. Should we be welcoming the clarification of 'the IHRA definition of antisemitism' recently endorsed by the Prime Minister? The aim seems to be more prosecutions. Should this give us, including the UK’s Jewish community, greater confidence?

DP: The single sentence working definition adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) may be useful to some as just that – a working definition. The problem arises from the associated examples with which the IHRA guides its work, some of which are the subject of the controversy and outright disagreement referred to in my Critique. [Paragraph 7.20]

The “contemporary examples of antisemitism” listed by the IHRA are all prefaced by a key clause that they “… could, taking into account the overall context, include …”. The crucial qualification of “taking into account the overall context” is almost certain to sink without trace in the practical application of the proposed definition to alleged criminal offences by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service – and in relation to their responsibilities by local authorities, universities and other public bodies – which, according to a BBC report, are those likely to be obliged to apply the definition. [Breaking news, 12.12.16]

One also has to ask why anti-semitism? What is it that singles out anti-semitism from other forms of racism which warrants this very specific and high profile attention as to its definition and pursuit over and above what the law already provides? The evidence of recorded anti-semitic incidents does not appear wholly to support such special attention. Clearly, antisemitism is a significant problem requiring determined action by the authorities within the law. Clearly, the level of recorded anti-semitic incidents has increased since the 2014 ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces and is remaining at a higher level unlike previous spikes. However, it remains lower than the spike in the first half of 2009 when 629 incidents were recorded and social media was not as prevalent as it is now. Therefore, it is not clear why anti-semitism amongst the various forms of racism is thought to require the special and singular attention it appears to be being given now.

Arguably, the case for combating Islamophobia is as great if not greater than that for anti-semitism. So, why is the government not devoting similar attention to both? Without a clear answer to these questions I am uneasy about the basis upon which the government is proceeding.

This unease becomes concern when account is taken of the highly politicized context of the Prime Minister’s announcement of 12 December. On the same day the BBC in its breaking news issued a report headed “Anti-Semitism: Theresa May attacks “twisted” Labour views”. In this the Prime Minister is quoted as having said at a lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel in London, “It is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics. Of course, I am talking mainly about the Labour Party and their hard-left allies.”  This was clearly timed to coincide with the Prime Minister’s announcement from 10 Downing Street. Given the highly dubious nature of the allegations against the Labour Party in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular as evidenced in my critique, this statement by the Conservative Prime Minister, which has not been denied by her office, looks like further evidence of highly regrettable party politicization of this most important, controversial and sensitive issue.

The accuracy of the Prime Minister’s remarks is brought into question by the same account of anti-semitic incidents issued by the Community Security Trust. This report shows that for the first six months of 2016, 24 per cent of all the 557 recorded incidents were “politically motivated” (135). Of these, 98 were classified as “Far Right”, 32 as “Anti-Zionist” and 5 as “Islamist”.  

That the Labour Party is reported to have welcomed the introduction of a new definition does not improve this situation or make it more acceptable. In my view the Party has been scarred by its unjustified vilification and, understandably, may not want to be seen as obstructive at this time. After all, if the Party expressed well-founded reservations, it would undoubtedly be portrayed as yet more evidence against it.

Also, the Party may not take exception to the IHRA’s one sentence working definition which is consistent with the commonplace explanation of antisemitism Jeremy Corbyn gave in his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. [Paragraph 11 of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report] But as I have said, it is the guidance which is the real problem, not the one sentence. It is to be hoped that the Labour Party will refine its position in due course. 

Jeremy Corbyn, alongside Inquiry chair Shami Chakrabarti, answer questions arising from Labour's anti-Semitism inquiry findings in June, 2016.Jonathan Brady/ Press Aassociation. All rights reserved.

It is regrettable that the Home Affairs Committee and now the Government appear to have overlooked the constructive work done in this very area for the Parliamentary Sub-Committee Against Antisemitism by Professor David Feldman in his January 2015 Sub-Report. This report by the subsequent adviser to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry seems to provide a more fertile base for progress in this vexed and contentious area.

Proper conduct in government is crucial to a civilized and civilizing society. Such conduct is not evident to me in this policy announcement. In my view this initiative may set back the honourable cause of combating anti-semitism not advance it. It is certainly not likely to advance the equally honourable cause of free speech; indeed it is likely to have a chilling effect upon it.

David Plank’s more detailed written response to the last question on the proposed definition of antisemitism is available at Free Speech on Israel.

About the authors

David Plank is a former local authority Chief Executive and Director of Social Services. He co-authored Cambridge: Wealth and Want in 2015 – and two subsequent Fairness Review reports on social care.

RB, editor

Rosemary Bechler is a mainsite editor of openDemocracy.

Read On

See David Plank's further conclusions on watching Al Jazeera's series, 'The Lobby' (Free Speech on Israel).


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.