Lib Dem leader Farron ducks questions over sacking of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Farron ducks questions as David Ward fights to clear his name

On April 26, Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron caved into McCarthy-style pressure to dump one of his own parliamentary candidates, former Bradford East MP David Ward, who had been unjustly accused of antisemitism.

Ward is fighting to clear his name and has said he will stand as an independent candidate in the forthcoming general election.

The day after the sacking, I emailed Mr Farron offering to introduce him to Jews who could explain the widespread misuse of politically motivated antisemitism allegations. His reply, received on May 2, made no reference to any of my discussion points and was in fact a carbon copy of the reply he sent to others who had protested at the sacking of Mr Ward.

In a follow-up email, I challenged Mr Farron to justify the vacuous arguments in his message point by point. Having received no response, I am publishing our correspondence for the edification of students of the political art of evasion.

To tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

April 27, 2017

Dear Mr Farron,

I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked (when people discover that I am Jewish) questions along the lines of: “How is it possible that the Jews, who suffered such terrible persecution during the Holocaust, could go on to commit atrocities against Palestinians in the state of Israel, and continue to do so in the West Bank and Gaza?”

I recognise these questions for what they are – regretful expressions of bafflement at a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs. They are questions which usually lead to a discussion about the history of Israel and Palestine, during which I invariably have the opportunity to explain that despite the claims of the state of Israel to represent “the Jews”, actually many of us do not identify with Israel and resent the assumption that we all share its ideology.

If the people making comments like the one in my first paragraph above, which is almost word for word what David Ward wrote on his website in 2013, express any hostility to Jewish people or give any hint of harbouring hateful feelings against us, I have no hesitation in chastising them for their antisemitism. But there is nothing in such comments of themselves that even hints at hatred of Jews – which is what antisemitism is. Nor is it antisemitic to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. It’s controversial, yes, and it makes some people very cross, but it is decidedly not an expression of hatred of Jews.

I am, quite frankly, horrified that you have bowed to pressure from apologists for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, such as Eric Pickles, in blocking David Ward’s candidacy.

If you have been influenced by the government’s enthusiasm for a new definition of antisemitism which deliberately conflates it with criticism of Israel and Zionism, then I recommend reading a piece on the subject by Sir Stephen Sedley, a distinguished judge, himself Jewish, in the latest London Review of Books. Sir Stephen gives short shrift to the definition so ardently embraced by Pickles and Theresa May, warning that attempting to act upon it could result in legal suits for denial of free speech.

Once you’ve read it perhaps we could meet and you could explain to me why you have departed from Nick Clegg’s view that what David Ward said was neither racist or antisemitic.

Seriously, I would like to propose a discussion between you and other parliamentary colleagues, and some of my many Jewish friends who share Sedley’s understanding. We are on dangerous ground when we allow proponents of a partisan political (in this case pro-Israeli) stance to determine what may and may not be spoken about. Freedom of expression is seriously at risk here and you, as a Liberal Democrat, should be defending it, not conniving in its demise.

I look forward with interest to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

 

From: tim.farron.mp@parliament.uk

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 4:02 PM

Subject: RE: David Ward and antisemitism

Dear Ms Wimborne-Idrissi,

Recently David Ward was removed as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Bradford East.

Despite assurances to the contrary, David has consistently made remarks and statements which have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.

I have been clear that I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united.

I am also clear that this is part of a pattern of behaviour that is not consistent with those values, and therefore David has lost the right to seek to represent our party in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Farron, MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

 

To: tim.farron@libdems.org.uk

Date: 4 May 2017 at 00:17:19 BST

Subject: David Ward and antisemitism – your disappointing response to my detailed concerns

Dear Mr Farron,

I am deeply disappointed with your formulaic response to my detailed and personal concerns about the removal of David Ward as a candidate.

I addressed you sincerely as a Jewish human rights activist who is increasingly alarmed at the alacrity with which people in positions of authority, such as yourself, cave in to demands to deny freedom of expression to supporters of justice for Palestine. You sent me in return the same letter that I have seen on social media, posted by other people who wrote you entirely different messages.

I ask you now to do me the courtesy of responding specifically to my questions.

1.You talk about Mr Ward “consistently” making certain remarks and statements. But the abuse hurled at him is based almost exclusively on deliberate distortions (as I explained in my letter) of two comments made in 2013, neither of which deserve to be labeled antisemitic. Can you explain why you believe those remarks to justify exclusion from your party’s list of parliamentary candidates? And I do not mean why you believe these remarks are upsetting to a certain politically motivated group in society. I mean – what is fundamentally wrong with the things that he said? On what grounds do you discount the arguments that I put to you about this?

2.You assert that his remarks “have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.” I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this. Those who have publicly denounced him are all very clearly on one side of the Palestine/Israel issue. For those of us on the other side, who are struggling to defend our right to speak in support of the Palestinians, it is the arguments of those who denounce us as antisemites that are inflammatory. It is they, not David Ward, whose views are “considered as inflammatory” by us. On what grounds do you suggest that David Ward has inflamed opinion “on both sides?” Who, apart from those who wish to defend Israel from criticism, has been “inflamed” by David Ward’s words?

3.You assert your belief in “a politics that is open, tolerant and united” and allege that David Ward’s behaviour is inconsistent with those values. Can you show me any evidence of your openness and tolerance towards people campaigning for human rights of Palestinians? In what way does forcing out a candidate supported by his local party, solely because of his views on one contentious area of politics, serve to bring about unity?

I reiterate my offer to introduce you to other Jews who can help you and your colleagues understand the complexities of this issue, explained in depth at the launch on March 27 in the House of Lords of an authoritative legal opinion about the definition of antisemitism mistakenly adopted by the government and some other bodies.

I have so far kept this correspondence private but I will feel obliged to make it public if you are unable to satisfy me on the above points. I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.

Sincerely,

Naomi Wimborne Idrissi

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman talk about the FSOI journey

Film maker Jon Pullman interviewed Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman to produce this video on the FSOI journey to playing a vital role in defending the space for action in support of Palestinian Rights.

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward

It was inevitable that antisemitism smears would be deployed against supporters of Palestine at some point during #GE17. Even so it was a surprise to hear Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat party leader, cornered by pro-Israel lobbyist Eric Pickles in the House of Commons on Wednesday, appeasing the witch hunters by declaring that one of his own parliamentary candidates would be banned from standing.

The language used to denounce David Ward, former Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, as in so many of the cases we have seen in the Labour Party, the National Union of Students and elsewhere, takes us deep into Orwellian territory.

David Ward
David Ward

While Ward could probably sue the Jewish News for calling him “the Israel-hating, Jew-baiting former MP David Ward”, other media have been less hysterical but equally dishonest. Continue reading “The Orwellian defenestration of David Ward”

Walter Wolfgang speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

Walter Wolfgang, Former member of Labour NEC, speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

 

Walter Wolfgang, a 93 year-old survivor of the Holocaust, speaks of his deep regret after the Labour Party National Compliance Committee finds Ken Livingstone guilty of putting the party into disrepute by his comments about specific acts of collaboration between the Nazi regime and Zionist organisations during the 1930s.

see also

 

 

In Defense of Ken Livingstone

By FSOI Vice-Chair Jonathan Rosenhead.

Republished from Haaretz.

Ken Livingstone, enfant terrible of the British political left, was arraigned before a Labour Party tribunal last week for things he said in a radio interview in April last year. (He has been suspended from membership since that time.) The outcome of the hearing has produced a mighty uproar.

The affair has its origins in a surge of accusations of anti-Semitism against prominent Labour Party members in the early months of 2016. One casualty had been Labour MP Naz Shah, who at the time of the 2014 conflict in Gaza had tweeted extensively and not wisely. (She was then not yet an MP.) Livingstone rode in to her defense, and it was an interview with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio that led to the case against him.

One of Shah’s re-tweets had been a quote from Martin Luther King: “Remember that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Feltz asked Livingstone a question about Hitler, seemingly to pick up this point, but he misunderstood the thrust and responded with some views on Hitler’s interactions with European Zionist leaders in the 1930s, which he had written about decades earlier. This response turned out to be a gratuitous own goal, with escalating demands that he be expelled –which peaked last week when the Labour Party tribunal failed to sack him, but ‘only’ extended his suspension.

It is a shame that Colin Shindler gave such a one-dimensional account of the Jewish community component of this furor. Shindler paints a picture of a British Jewish population all but united behind Israel and against Livingstone, except for a few ”marginal” and “highly unrepresentative” types. Like me.

I need to declare an interest. Although my previous direct contact with Livingstone was limited to a conversation while walking down two flights of stairs after a public meeting some years ago, I was one of five Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence for the defense at Ken’s hearing a week ago. We testified in particular on the allegation that his remarks had been anti-Semitic. The oldest of us had got out of Germany as a child in 1937, with his parents lucky enough to make it two years later. My own back story is less dramatic. I grew up in a thoroughly Zionist family in Liverpool. I spent the summer of 1956 in Israel on the Jewish Agency’s Summer Institute project. I celebrated without any doubts Israel’s military victories from 1948 through to 1967. Many others have since then, like me, been forced by Israel’s continuing treatment of the Palestinians to rethink and regret our former position.

It is true as Shindler says that the great majority of us (around 90 percent, according to a reputable 2015 survey) express some degree of attachment to Israel. Indeed I do myself. However what he glosses over is that more than 40 percent of respondents, when specifically asked, declined to describe themselves as Zionists. Those who self-describe as Zionist have actually decreased from 72 percent to 59 percent in just five years. My own subjective experience is that of those who still do identify as Zionists a substantial proportion express criticisms, some verging on disillusion, with the actual policies of successive Israeli governments.

It gets worse. What the survey calls “dovishness” increases the younger you are, and the more education you have. Among under-30s, the percentage who say they would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would get Israel to negotiate for real with the Palestinians rises to 41%.

It is not only Shindler who paints a picture of a united Jewish community “up in arms” because the “anti-Semite” Livingstone has not been expelled. On the day of his non-expulsion Haaretz reported the Jewish Leadership Council as blasting the Labour Party. An article by Daniella Peled quoted incandescent condemnation by the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Holocaust Education Trust. The UK’s Jewish communal organizations have indeed been jumping up and down and making a lot of noise, in unison. But this apparent unanimity is a construct.

These organizations effectively blanket out any coverage of this dissident, alternative Jewish perspective. It is as if the Jewish organizations which take a skeptical or downright critical view of Israel – Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Socialist Group and others – do not exist.

So what did Livingstone say that makes his expulsion so compulsive? He said, in his now infamous radio interview, that when Hitler became chancellor “his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism…” This Transfer (Ha’avarah) Agreement is, perhaps unfortunately, solidly based in fact –  and many more people probably know that now than did before Livingstone’s gratuitous history lesson. The agreement was based on a unity of purpose (but not of motivation) between the Nazi regime and a range of European Zionist organizations, which lasted through to 1937. The Nazis wanted Jews out of Germany, and Zionists wanted Jews to settle Palestine. As a quid pro quo for the arrangement Zionists called off the economic boycott of Germany and gave other assistance to the faltering German economy.

How could this statement of facts be seen as anti-Semitic? One neat solution found by Livingstone’s enemies was to misquote it, either as “Hitler and the Zionists collaborated”; or even as “Hitler was a Zionist.” The host on a BBC radio program swore blind to me that Livingstone had said just that.

Quoting historical facts can hardly be anti-Semitic, which is presumably why the Labour Party didn’t even charge him with it. The allegation was, rather, of “bringing the Party into disrepute” – a nicely vague and plausible accusation, for which he received a two-year suspension. No penalty was imposed on all those MPs and other Labour worthies from the right of the Party who seemingly thought they might be able to get rid of one of the Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s most effective supporters. They brought the party into disrepute but, of course, were not charged.

There are multiple casualties in all this. Foremost there is the truth, bent and misused for partisan purposes. Second, the Labour Party, brought even lower in popular esteem by the continuing disloyal attempts to unseat a leader with a radical mandate – and one who supports the Palestinian cause. Third, the fight against anti-Semitism. Until recently there was no doubt about what the concept meant, and that it was anathema to all but an unsavory fringe. Individuals and organizations who think that it can be raised into both a shield against criticisms of Israel, and a weapon for taking back control of the Labour Party, are trying to politicize the notion of anti-Semitism. Only the real anti-Semites will benefit from the resulting confusion.

145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party

We can’t add more names as the letter has been submitted to Corbyn, but do indicate your support in a comment

We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say 'I am Jackie Walker'
We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Dear Jeremy,

We are writing to you as members of the Labour Party. We are a predominantly Jewish group and are writing to ask you to review your behaviour on the question of Israel/Palestine. We understand that amongst reasons given by the Labour Party for claiming that Jackie Walker, the ex-Deputy Chair of Momentum, is antisemitic, the following are included:

  1. Regularly posting on Israel
  2. Describing Israel as a racist state
  3. A pattern of behaviour that causes offence to some members
  4. Claiming that there is an antisemitism witch-hunt
  5. Claiming that there is Israeli involvement in British politics
  6. Saying the Right of the party is using this witch-hunt for political purposes
  7. Saying adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism is an attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel and to silence pro-Palestinian voices

We would therefore like to let you know that we are too are ‘guilty’ of such charges, not because we are antisemitic but because we believe these to be reasonable statements, accurately describing Israel’s policies and actions. Continue reading “145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’”

Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone

UPDATE April 7 – The pro Israel lobby, aligned with right-wingers across the political spectrum and media, have reacted with such fury to the suspension rather than expulsion of Ken Livingstone, that the Labour leadership has capitulated to the pressure and referred the case once again to the party’s National Executive Committee, abandoning any semblance of natural justice or democratic process. Nonetheless the involvement of Jewish party members in defending Ken Livingstone generated sufficient interest for a few broadcasters to run interviews with some of those who witnessed on his behalf.
 
Hear Jonathan Rosenhead (54 minutes in) and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi in separate Radio 5 Live interviews.
Watch Jenny Manson on BBC News Channel
Walter Wolfgang featured in this Sky News report
 
Celebrated film maker Ken Loach told Shelagh Fogarty on LBC that they should listen to Jews who are not uncritical supporters of Israel.
 
PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 04/04/2017
 
Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone
 
  •  Statement from Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence in support of Ken Livingstone at his hearing for alleged conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party. 
  • No justification for claiming all Jews are offended by Nazi/Zionism remarks
  • Views critical of Zionism are not antisemitic
  • It is contrary to freedom of expression to ban such opinions
We are alarmed that the Labour Party’s National Constitutional Committee has bowed to demands for the suspension of Ken Livingstone, excluding him from the life of the party until April 2018.

Continue reading “Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone”

Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone

Jonathan Cook
Reposted from his blog by permission

John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston
John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston

The ongoing Ken Livingstone (“Get Corbyn!”) saga grows yet more preposterous. After outrage that the former London mayor had said Hitler was a Zionist (when he clearly hadn’t, as I pointed out at the time here and here), Labour suspended Livingstone amid accusations that he had made antisemitic, offensive and false historical claims.

Now as Livingstone fights to avoid expulsion before a closed hearing of the party’s national constitutional committee, it emerges that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, has written to Livingstone saying that the hearing is not interested in the historical accuracy of his statements or whether what he said was antisemitic. Rather, it is about whether his conduct has been “grossly detrimental” to the party.
Continue reading “Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone”

Legal opinion blasts holes in pro-Israel definition of antisemitism

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

The launch on Monday of Hugh Tomlinson QC’s devastating legal opinion on the so-called IHRA definition of antisemitism marks a watershed moment in resisting Israeli-backed attempts to gag pro-Palestinian advocacy.

The definition, deliberately equating criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, was adopted in December 2016 by the UK government and has since been vigorously promoted by pro-Israel lobbyists to local authorities, universities, Labour movement organisations and other public bodies. Its rollout has coincided with an increase in bannings and restrictions imposed on pro-Palestinian activities, especially on campus.

As explained by eminent legal figures speaking at the launch, the Opinion drives a coach and horses through the definition, exposing it as:

  • badly drafted, confusing and not legally binding, i.e. public bodies are under no legal obligation to adopt or apply it
  • putting public bodies that use it at risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”
  • making public bodies liable to being sued if they curtail criticism of Israel that does not express hatred towards Jews.

Therefore pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.

Continue reading “Legal opinion blasts holes in pro-Israel definition of antisemitism”

Stephen Sedley slams IHRA (mis)definition

A revised version of this talk has been published by the London Review of Books

Distinguished retired Appeal Court Judge Sir Stephen Sedley said on 27 March at a meeting in the House of Lords

The purpose of this meeting is to draw attention to a growing concern about the misuse for political purposes of the concept of anti-semitism. The misuse in question is the conflation of criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews. Its political purpose is to prohibit or inhibit discourse or action inimical to the state of Israel.

Sir Stephen Sedley
Sir Stephen Sedley

There are two distinct backstories to the catch-all meaning of antisemitism with which this meeting is immediately concerned.

One is the longstanding, and largely successful, endeavour to segregate anti-semitism from racism. It has for a good many years been part of Zionist discourse to contend that racism is one thing –  based on concepts of genetic inferiority – and anti-semitism another, based on historical and theological as well as genetic factors. This is not the place to pursue the argument, save perhaps to note that anti-semites do not as a rule worry about whether their targets are observant, orthodox or secular Jews: their spleen is directed at members of a race.

The other backstory is the Zionist claim to represent all the world’s Jews – a claim welcomed by Islamic extremists. Nothing suits Islamic fundamentalism better than the idea that all Jews are equally implicated in the excesses of Zionism. The claim depoliticises Zionism and legitimises jihadist anti-semitism.[1]

Continue reading “Stephen Sedley slams IHRA (mis)definition”