Hodge, Zuckerberg, Free Speech, Offense And Outrage

Today I agonised on whether to write about Mark Zuckerberg or Margaret Hodge when I had a lightbulb moment: with the amount of overlap, I can write about both.

A quick refresher. Zuckerberg, in a discussion about Facebook’s role as an arbiter of news, said:

“…at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that [offensive content] down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-
(Kara Swisher) In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.
(Zuckerberg) It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly…I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.”

Hodge’s outburst came after the Labour party signed off on a new code of conduct for anti-Semitism that has reportedly (key word) only partly adopted the internationally-recognised International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. She is reported to have said “You’re a f****** anti-Semite and a racist…You have proved you don’t want people like me in the party.”

In both instances, there is a controversy over offensive content and a perception that institutions in positions of power are not doing enough to combat it. Zuckerberg’s response suggests a belief that Holocaust deniers do not intend to impart false information and cause damage. That view misses the point. Even if it didn’t, Zuckerberg’s wrong. Holocaust deniers are well known for deliberately imparting…you know what? Let’s use language that real people use. Holocaust deniers are racists. Imparting false information is lying. The damage they cause goes way beyond denying the murder of 6 million Jews (and, lest we forget,  homosexuals, political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and Slavs). Denying the Holocaust is often used in combination with other attacks on Jewish people to dehumanise them. This has real life consequences


Anti semitic attack.png
Screenshot of the linked article

Why then would Zuckerberg make a defence of the seemingly indefensible? I found Bill Palmer’s tweets compelling

I’m not entirely sure how Facebook works, but I wonder if Zuckerberg’s solution, not pushing stories that feature lies (what we laughably call fake news), is a way for his company to still take in advertising revenue but have a fig-leaf of respectability. If that is it, that’s the coldest of capitalism. He should drink a Fanta in celebration. Why Fanta? I’ll  let John Oliver explain

The Zuckerberg outrage links well with Margaret Hodge’s outburst. The cause of contention is Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) new code on anti-Semitism. I urge everyone to read Brian Klug’s story on this for opendemocracy.net which is the most balanced article I have seen. The story that is being repeated ad infinitum on the news is that the Labour party’s paper doesn’t adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in its entirety. This is…true, but not the whole story. As Klug says:

  • The NEC takes the IHRA “working definition”, in its entirety and without altering it one iota, using it as the foundation on which the Code is built
  • Five of the eleven IHRA examples are taken over bodily – word for word – into the NEC code where they reappear as examples
  • [One of the NEC guidelines is] identical to the corresponding IHRA example except for substituting ‘Nazi’ for ‘National Socialist’ (a difference without a distinction)
  • One of the IHRA examples is “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis”. The NEC Code incorporates this as example (f) and expands on it
  • Four examples from the IHRA list do not figure in the NEC list in par. 9 [but]… they are not, however, absent from the Code altogether

Labour’s policy in several key respects goes further than the IHRA guidelines. And, as Klug points out, the IHRA document is not intended to be a final, definitive article. Instead, it is:

“‘A working definition’…a work in progress; it is not the last word…”

The NEC have followed the advice of the IHRA document, strengthened it in places and made amendments in others, whilst retaining its language and, more importantly, its spirit. It leads me to ask two questions:

  • Why did Hodge call Corbyn an anti-Semite?
  • Was her outburst worthy of disciplinary action?

In her own words, Hodge has said that “Under Jeremy’s leadership, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has been allowed to infect the party’s approach to growing antisemitism”. The word “growing” is doing a lot of work in that last sentence. I could not find one reputable study that said anti-Semitism has grown under Corbyn. I understand why many Jews would feel Labour is soft on this emotive issue: Corbyn’s support of Palestine has often been painted as anti-Semitic and that, combined with the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, has lead to a perception that under his leadership, anti-Semitism has been allowed to flourish. This ignores two things: firstly anti-Semitism has been a problem in England for at least 100 years. Per haaretz.com:

“British Left’s anti-Semitism Problem Didn’t Start With Corbyn. It’s Been Festering for a Century. Anti-Semitism has been a recurrent feature of radical and socialist politics in Britain. We need more than denunciations and expulsions to confront how the left talks about capitalism, race and Jews”.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Corbyn’s Labour party has been proactive in suspending and investigating allegations of anti-Semitism. The Telegraph reported in 2016 that the party had suspended 50 members for anti-Semitic behaviour. I don’t think Hodge called Corbyn an anti-Semite because she thinks he is one. I think it probably has more to do with this or this

Hodge private eye.png

Hodge and Corbyn may be in the same party, but they are about as ideologically opposed as two people can be.

As to whether her outburst was worthy of disciplinary action. That one is simple. Yes. Yes it does. There are Parliamentary Party Procedures that ask for respect. But more than that, accusing someone of anti-Semitism is a serious claim. To do it because you have a disagreement about a document that addresses the issues you have is not justified. It’s political. Hodge has been against Corbyn for a long time. Anti-Semitism is the one accusation against him that seems to stick in the media. Hodge knows this. For her to conflate him with the same groups that fester on Facebook is, and let’s use language that we all understand, wrong, abhorrent and outrageous. Save that language for those that deserve it. Unless, of course, Hodge loves being in opposition





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