Antisemitism in Political Parties

Lisa Forbes

2019: Labour Member of Parliament for Peterborough 

2015: Labour Party candidate for Peterborough

2012-2016: Labour councillor for Orton Longueville ward on Peterborough City Council

Incidents

1. On 14th September 2014, Lisa Forbes commented on a Facebook post that she had “enjoyed reading” a thread which claimed that Islamic extremism was created “by the CIA and Mosad [sic]”.

2. On or around 11th August 2018, Ms Forbes signed a letter to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party opposing the adoption of all eleven examples of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism into the Labour Party’s code of conduct. The letter states that “To endorse the BDS movement or to suggest that the State of Israel in its historic and current form is a racist endeavour are not expressions of antisemitism.”

3. On or around 15th April 2019, Ms Forbes, who was by then Labour’s candidate in the Peterborough by election, ‘liked’ a Facebook post which stated that Theresa May had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda.”

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Ms Forbes’ actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

By ‘liking’ a Facebook post which stated that Theresa May had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda” [3], she was deploying a trope regarding the supposed hidden power of diaspora Jews or Israel which originated in the antisemitic propaganda of 1970s Soviet Russia. In doing so, she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

The claim that ISIS was created or is controlled by Israel has become a common antisemitic trope on social media. By commenting that she had “enjoyed reading” a post which claimed that Islamic extremism was created “by the CIA and Mosad [sic]”[1], she was supporting “mendacious…allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective”, where the State of Israel is “conceived as a Jewish collectivity”; and which also “[accuses] Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.”

By signing a letter which states that “To endorse the BDS movement or to suggest that the State of Israel in its historic and current form is a racist endeavour are not expressions of antisemitism” [2], Ms Forbes was effectively “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination…by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.

Outcome

On 2nd June 2019, Ms Forbes’ posts in [1] and [3] were widely reported, and it was reported that she had apologised for liking the Facebook post in [3], claiming that she had “intended to like a video of schoolchildren praying in solidarity with the Christchurch attacks, not the views expressed in the accompanying text.” She also stated she would deepen her understanding of antisemitism.

On the 3rd June 2019 it was reported that the Jewish Labour Movement had withdrawn their support for Ms Forbes and stated that they would not campaign for her in Peterborough. 

It was also reported that the Guido Fawkes blog had published allegations that Ms Forbes was an active member of the Peterborough Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which operated a Facebook page containing posts which referred to “Zionist rats” and suggested that Israel had “improper influence” over British politics. 

On 7th June 2019, it was announced that Ms Forbes had been elected as MP for Peterborough, beating the Brexit Party by 683 votes. It was reported that Jeremy Corbyn had described her election as a “great win,” whereas a number of Labour MPs expressed concern over lack of Party action over the allegations of antisemitism.

On the same day, Ms Forbes gave a television interview in which she said: “I’ve offered to reach out to the community. I don’t have an antisemitic bone in my body and I’m willing to meet with the community, to talk to the community and I’m sure that if they do that, if they engage with me and listen to what I’ve got to say, I’m sure that they will agree.”

In response to calls for her to be suspended or have the whip removed, a Labour Party source was reported to have said: “Lisa Forbes did not make any comments herself or share any posts. She liked a video about showing solidarity with Christchurch victims without reading the accompanying text, which Facebook users know is an easy thing to do. She has fully accounted for this genuine mistake and apologised”. Jeremy Corbyn was also reported to have defended her, saying: “She has apologised for the remarks that she transmitted through social media…If there are complaints about her they will be investigated, not by me, but by our party system. She has made her position very clear. Lisa Forbes is a good woman. Not a racist in any way whatsoever.”

On 9th June 2019, Barry Gardiner, the Shadow International Trade Secretary, described Lisa Forbes’ liking the Facebook post in [3] as a “careless error”. 

On 10th June 2019, it was reported that MPs had challenged Jeremy Corbyn over Lisa Forbes’ election and the Labour Party’s commitment to tackling antisemitism, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Lisa Forbes apologised to MPs in the meeting for ‘liking’ the Facebook post in [3].

On 12th June 2019, it was reported that the Honorary Secretary of Peterborough’s Liberal Jewish community had complained that Lisa Forbes had not been in contact with either her or the national Liberal Judaism body.

On 17th June was reported that Jewish organisations had agreed to meet Lisa Forbes following her written apology. 

On 14th July 2019, it was reported that Ms Forbes had said: “I’ve reached out to some of the different community organisations that represent the Jewish community. Both nationally and in Peterborough. I’ve got meetings coming up with those organisations, I’ve got a meeting with the Rabbi who is responsible for the Jewish congregation in Peterborough. I’m determined I will regain the trust of the Jewish community.”

As of 12th November 2019, it is not known whether these meetings took place.

On 8th August 2019, it was reported that Ms Forbes had told the Peterborough Telegraph that she was following the Yad Vashem online training course on antisemitism, describing it as “educational and enlightening” and noting that it was “not a Labour Party course.”

We do not know whether disciplinary action has been taken by the Labour Party against Ms Forbes, and at the time of writing, on 19th November 2019, we have no record of any. However, the circumstances and outcomes of any such action would likely remain unknown, owing to the conditions of secrecy imposed by Baroness Chakrabarti’s report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

In November 2019, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to Ms Forbes, but did not receive a response.

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “bad”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 28th November 2019.

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