BBUK and BBLBIA write an open letter to Lord Prescott

Report by Jeremy Havardi

6 May 2019

Dear Lord Prescott,

I am writing this open letter to you following your recent remarks to a Jewish journalist which were reported in The Jewish Chronicle. In the exchange, the journalist asked you to comment on Labour’s grave problem with antisemitism and you reportedly responded by asking what she could do ‘about Israel and its behaviour.’ You added: “All of this is about Israel… dead children…settlers on someone else’s land.”

We believe these comments are incendiary and highly irresponsible for several reasons. 

Firstly, you ignore the fact that a great deal of the antisemitic rhetoric from Labour supporters has had nothing to do with Israel. Some members have talked about the ‘Rothschilds’ controlling the economy or complained about Jewish domination of the media; others have denied the Holocaust took place, explicitly tried to link Hitler and Zionism or called Jews ‘Zios’; a few have alleged that Zionists were behind the Paris terror attacks and the rise of ISIS. None of these cases have anything to do with supporting Palestinian rights or protesting about Israeli policy.

Secondly, you are engaging in victim blaming by suggesting that it is up to Jews, the victims of antisemitism, to solve the prejudice directed at them. Jews are not responsible for antisemitism; antisemites are. It is not Jews who weaponise antisemitism as has been claimed so often. Instead, antisemites weaponise it by suggesting that accusations of racism are made in bad faith, part of a tactic to either silence criticism of Israel or smear the Labour leadership. Given that some of Mr Corbyn’s sternest critics have come from his own party and are supporters of a Palestinian state, this is a particularly egregious untruth.

Thirdly, we believe that your victim blaming falls foul of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, specifically the example of ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.’ I hardly need to remind you that the Labour Party recently adopted this definition. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that you have fallen foul of the IHRA guidelines. In 2014, while condemning Israel’s actions during Operation Cast Lead, you compared Gaza to a ‘concentration camp.’ ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is another example of antisemitism according to IHRA. Whatever you think of Israeli policy towards Gaza, there is clearly no racial genocide taking place there as any unbiased observer will tell you. Such comparisons merely trivialise the horrors of the Holocaust.

You should acknowledge the hurt that your comments have caused and how they have breached the IHRA guidelines that your own party has signed up to. 

Yours sincerely 

Jeremy Havardi 

Director, B’nai B’rith UK’s Bureau of International Affairs