The latest research on the prevalence of anti-semitism on Twitter means Labour MP Ruth Smeeth has some very serious questions indeed to answer, as Alan Maddison observes on the Jewish Voice for Labour website.
Smeeth has been one of the key figures in Labour arguing that under Jeremy Corbyn the party has faced a supposed “anti-semitism” crisis – and she has claimed to be one of the prime victims of anti-Jewish abuse inside Labour. She alleged in the British media that she had personally received some 25,000 abusive messages online, most of them via Twitter, in a few days in June 2016, during a spat over the Chakrabarti inquiry’s findings on anti-semitism and the Labour party.
There’s just one problem with her claim. There is no easy way to see how it could possibly be true – not by a very long shot indeed. A new study by the Community Security Trust identified only 15,000 anti-semitic tweets for the whole of the UK in a 12-month period that included June 2016. Either the study was grossly flawed, or Smeeth – how can I put this? – has an extremely poor grasp of maths.
This is not a marginal issue in the Labour party. Smeeth did huge damage both to Corbyn’s personal reputation and to the party’s image in that period. She claimed that his followers were responsible for a supposed anti-semitism problem and that under his leadership the party was no longer ‘a safe space for British Jews’. A headline in the Evening Standard newspaper, for example, quoted her saying: “I’ve never seen anti-semitism in Labour like this, it’s normal now.”
Such quotes reignited the fire that the Chakrabarti report would have otherwise extinguished. The report, which found little evidence of anti-semitism in the party, was entirely sidelined by the media furore that ensued from Smeeth’s claims.
The kind of public relations damage she caused the party may even have lost it a handful of seats at the subsequent general election – one of the closest-run in recent memory – allowing Theresa May’s Tories to stay in power.
Remember also the wider context. The Labour party’s Blairite bureacrats have been waging a witch-hunt against Corbyn-supporting activists, many of them anti-Zionist Jews. They have been suspended and expelled on trumped-up charges either of anti-semitism or of damaging the party’s image.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Smeeth did far more damage to the party’s image and standing through her allegations than any of these activists.
Will she be investigated? Will she be suspended? Will she even be criticised? Don’t hold your breath.