CST Blog

Should Jackie walk? What Labour can learn from football

1 June 2016

What have Jackie Walker, John Terry and Mario Balotelli got in common? Not much, you might think. Put them together, though, and you start to see why the Labour Party is in such a muddle over antisemitism.

In 2012, John Terry played for England in the European Championships while facing a charge of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. He was found guilty and punished on his return, but the sense that the FA was soft on racism, that they prioritised football over principle, lingered.

Two years later, the Italian footballer Mario Balotelli, then playing for Liverpool, was banned and fined by the FA after he posted an image of computer game hero Super Mario on Instagram. At first glance it was a cute anti-racist cartoon. “Don’t be racist – be like Mario,” it read. “He’s an Italian plumber created by Japanese people who speaks English and looks like a Mexican.”

Then came the racist payoff: “Jumps like a black man and grabs coin like a Jew.”

Balotelli is Black, has a Jewish grandmother and a Jewish foster mother. He clearly isn’t racist or antisemitic and he misunderstood the meaning of the cartoon, which he quickly deleted.

Nonetheless, the FA takes a strict liability approach to the use of racist language. They charged Balotelli under FA Rule E3, invoked the “Aggravated Breach” clause in Rule E3(2) because of the reference to ethnic origin and/or colour, and Balotelli was banned for one match, fined and sent on an educational course about racism in football. His apology was genuine and heartfelt.

We know all of this because the FA published their findings on the FA website. We also know the names of the people who sat in judgement of Balotelli, an outline of the evidence they heard and the reasons for their decision.

Contrast this with the Labour Party’s murky dealings over Jackie Walker, a party activist from Kent who was recently suspended and then unsuspended for an alleged antisemitic comment on Facebook.

Walker wrote, in a discussion about the Holocaust, that “millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews… and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.” She continued in a further post: “what do you think the Jews should do about their contribution to the African holocaust? What debt do they owe?”

Walker, like Balotelli, has Black and Jewish heritage. She insists that she didn’t mean her words in an antisemitic way but was trying to have a serious discussion about the legacies of enormous historical crimes – the Holocaust and slavery.

Nevertheless, the allegation that Jews played a leading role in the slave trade is a modern antisemitic myth. It was first published in coherent form by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in a 1991 book called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. Farrakhan, who is banned from entering the UK, has a long record of antisemitic incitement. His book is championed online by former Klansman David Duke and by other Holocaust deniers and assorted antisemites.

Farrkhan’s fraudulent scholarship has been debunked by many reputable historians of the slave trade. Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard University, called it “the bible of the new anti-Semitism” and “one of the most sophisticated instances of hate literature yet compiled”, based on an “unscrupulous distortion of the historical record.” Jews were involved in the slave trade, but not in disproportionately high numbers, not as its driving force and those who were involved did not act in the name of “the Jews”, as Walker put it.

Walker may well be unaware of this scurrilous history of her claim about Jews and slavery; she may never have read Farrakhan’s book. Her sense of herself as an anti-racist seems genuine and comprehensive. None of this changes the fact that she repeated an antisemitic slur and appears completely unapologetic about it.

If Walker were a footballer, she would be charged by the FA. We would know who heard her case, what evidence was presented and how a decision was made. It is highly likely, under the FA’s strict liability approach, that she would be found guilty. A temporary ban would follow, with an educational meeting where she would hear why her words caused such offence and upset.

Instead, because she is a Labour Party activist, she was readmitted to the party with no apology, no punishment and no contrition whatsoever. No information is given about how this decision was reached, nor who reached it. The lack of transparency is staggering.

The Left once taught the rest of society how to do anti-racism. It was the Left that came up with the concepts of institutional racism, of unwitting racism, of how people who genuinely think of themselves as unprejudiced can replicate racist ways of thinking and of how those ways of thinking can become embedded in the structures of organisations.

Now, because Jackie Walker is of the Left, thinks of herself as anti-racist and appears to be a well-liked and valued activist, the possibility that she wrote something antisemitic, even unwittingly, is rejected out of hand. Complaints about antisemitism are dismissed as a plot between “Zionists, the right of the Labour Party, the Tories and our right wing media.”

The campaign by Momentum and the Labour Representation Committee against Walker’s suspension isn’t much different from the FA’s decision to take John Terry to Euro 2012. She’s one of us, she’s a good activist, so hands off.

The consequence of all this is that it is now OK for Labour members to say that Jews were behind the slave trade, and that their living descendants owe some kind of debt as a result. This antisemitic myth has become part of the Left’s conversation about Jews. This is how antisemitism becomes normalised, and how Jews get squeezed out of the Labour Party.

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