The expulsion – after many months – of Brighton-based activist Tony Greenstein from the Labour Party is seen by many as long overdue, and as an indication that the Labour Party is serious about dealing with anti-Semitism in its ranks.
I’m not going to comment on the Greenstein case, but on the reasons given by the Labour Party’s NEC for the expulsion.
Officially, the Labour Party has announced that it found Greenstein guilty on three counts of breaching Labour rules.
However, Jewish News reports that a Labour Party spokesman went on to say that this was:
“not a case about Mr Greenstein’s right to hold his ‘anti-Zionist’ views, or about whether Mr Greenstein is an antisemite. The NEC’s (National Executive Committee’s) case is that Greenstein’s use of the term ‘Zio’ is antisemitic, but the NEC does not otherwise allege that Mr Greenstein’s conduct was antisemitic”.
In other words, the case was not about the fact of Greenstein’s views, but the language in which he chose to express them. And the logic of this judgement is not that holding anti-Semitic views is incompatible with Labour Party membership, but that expressing them in a certain way is. And it is difficult to see how that position is compatible with Labour’s apparent adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which is about perception: it goes much further than the use of inflammatory language.
It may be that the NEC felt that it should focus on the issues where it was confident of winning its case. But the wider logic of that statement is that, beyond the use of inflammatory terminology, the NEC has washed its hands of addressing wider issues of anti-Semitism. Obviously the expression of views is evidence of anti-Semitism, and the use of certain words all the more so, but the implication of the ruling appears to be that the NEC is unconcerned about the conduct of anti-Semites who mind their language. In other words, it looks like a variant on the old dictum of “thou shalt not get found out”.
This is not “zero-tolerance” by any definition. And at a time when there are real concerns about anti-Semitism within Labour (especially in relation to its expression on social media) and when many Jewish Labour members feel uncomfortable – or have simply left – that’s not remotely good enough.