FSOI MEDIA NOTICE – Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

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PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: LIVERPOOL NOVOTEL, 7.30 PM, SUNDAY SEPT 25

Zionism and antisemitism all the rage at Labour Party conference fringe

  • Three fringe meetings in 3 hrs on allegations against Corbyn supporters
  • Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
  • Jewish activists will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”

Defenders and opponents of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will clash over interpretations of Zionism and antisemitism in three separate meetings in the space of as many hours on the first day of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.

The spectacle comes about because of an initiative by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), a network of mainly Jewish activists opposed to the deployment of antisemitism allegations to silence Corbyn supporters who campaign for justice for Palestine.

A meeting originally planned by FSOI at the conference fringe hub of the grassroots Momentum movement has now been taken over by Momentum itself. It will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”

FSOI has organised a separate meeting titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt”, also featuring Jackie Walker, at the nearby Novotel later the same evening.

It will pose a direct challenge to the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, while the JLM – one of the main architects of the silencing – has chosen to hold its own rally at the same time.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi who will chair the FSOI meeting said it would be “the only chance during the four days of conference to uncover the truth behind the devastation wreaked upon Labour by exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism.”


NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Who is Jackie Walker? (From Jews for Justice for Palestinians website)

Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker is a lifelong anti-racist campaigner of both African and Jewish heritage who has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism and then reinstated.

  1. What is FSOI?

Free Speech on Israel rejects the assertion, by die-hard supporters of Israel such as the JLM, that expressions of opposition to the political ideology of Zionism are equivalent to anti-Jewish racism. FSOI says opposition to Zionism is rooted in defence of Palestinian rights, which have been abused by Israel since its creation.

  1. At the Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) meeting at the Novotel, 40 Hanover Street, at 7.30 pm, Jackie Walker will share the platform with British Palestinian lawyer Salma Karmi-Ayyoub and Glyn Secker, who captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians in 2010. The vessel was seized by Israeli forces as it attempted to breach the siege of Gaza.
  1. The Momentum meeting at 5pm at 1 Great George Street will feature Jackie Walker, Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement); Rhea Wolfson (recently elected to the Labour NEC) and FSOI speaker Professor Jonathan Rosenhead.
  1. The JLM has devoted all its energies since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader to denouncing him for failing to root out party members sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It has been a prime mover behind the idea that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Israel and Zionism. Its meeting, which coincides with the FSOI event, is advertised as a Rally Against Racism and Antisemitism, although the organisation has no record of anti-racist campaigning.

Jackie Walker Responds to Accusations of Antisemitism

Reprinted from Jews for Justice for Palestinians signatories blog

On 4th May this year Labour party activist and a vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, was suspended from the Labour party. The charge – alleged antisemitism. Jackie is a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Here we discuss the affair with her, partly in our words, partly in hers.

Who is Jackie Walker?

Jackie Walker

Jackie describes her background like this:

I am Jewish, my Russian born Jewish father and Jamaican born mother of Jewish descent brought together in their shared political commitment to the Civil Rights movement of 1950s America. My mother brought me to England in the late fifties. My experience is not untypical of blacks of that generation. I have been a victim of violent, structural, and persistent racism ever since I arrived in this country in 1959. As a young child I was spat at and beaten by adult racists in the street. I was bullied and ostracised at school, have been victimised at work, been refused accommodation and consistently excluded from structures of power. My personal response to this, my own everyday resistance, was not to become a particularist or a separatist but to be a universalist.

Indeed Jackie has been a long-standing antiracist activist, who used to train police in Dorset in anti-racism. Recently she played an important part in the defeat of Nigel Farage’s UKIP campaign in the Thanet constituency where she lives.

So an accusation of antisemitism against Jackie is bizarre, to put it mildly. What was the accusation?

The accusation was based solely on a quote taken out of context from Jackie’s Facebook page on 27th February 2016. It was not a public posting but part of a private discussion with a Zionist friend and others about the African holocaust and the fact that Jews – notably Jackie’s own Portuguese Jewish ancestors whose history she has researched – had been involved in the sugar and slave trade. Her Facebook contribution was reduced to a sensationalist and inaccurate headline in the Jewish Chronicle (in an article which appeared on the same day the Labour party sent her a letter notifying her of the suspension, well before Jackie could have even received official notification): “Momentum Activist says the Jews Caused the African Holocaust.”

It turns out that her discussion was made public courtesy of the Israel Advocacy Movement which had hacked Jackie’s Facebook page, no doubt as part of its campaign to target and attempt to discredit critics of Israel, particularly those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The lifting of the charge and after

The Labour party is never very forthcoming about allegations, charges and suspensions or how it comes to its disciplinary decisions. But before the end of May, the charges against Jackie were dropped: “Following the outcome of an investigation, Jacqueline Walker is no longer suspended and remains a member of the party.”

For Jackie it wasn’t so simple – first being charged, now not, it was impossible to go back to the status quo. The world of hate which unfolded following her suspension might have been extreme – it got a lot worse after the suspension was lifted. Jackie says:

“As soon as the Jewish Chronicle wrote the first article, trolls circled for the kill, posting spooky blacked up faces (and worse) to my account. The Jewish Chronicle led the attacks, querying my Jewish identity (a racist move in itself), my work as an anti-racist activist and my political commitment.

When my suspension was lifted the Spectator added its journalistic spleen. Indignation at my alleged breach reached the heights of irony when Nigel Farage, anxious not to miss out on the fun being had by, among others, Labour MPs and officers of the Party, dedicated an article in Breitbart and a good dose of righteous indignation on national TV to publicly calling me out as a racist. This widespread hate campaign led to public abuse, strangers shouting ‘racist’ as I walked to the tube. With the murderous racist political discourse now taking the place of debate I became conscious I was recognisable on the street.

Then there were the smears, grist to the mill of every witch-hunt, the guilt by association innuendos like reproducing my Facebook post alongside the nonsense peddled by the Nation of Islam. These are barely worth a response except to say the Nation of Islam is an antisemitic group which seeks to set Jewish and Black people against each other. Any examination of my work, my writing, my life, would make clear my opposition to this ideology.”

What exactly did Jackie write on Facebook?

Jackie says:

My aim was to argue that there are no hierarchies of genocide; there is no way to quantify or qualitatively describe the indescribable, the indescribably inhumane acts that are part of our histories. When a friend raised the question of “the debt” owed to the Jews because of the Holocaust I replied “Oh yes – and I hope you feel the same towards the African holocaust? My ancestors were involved in both – on all sides as I’m sure you know, 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 which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator.”

She elaborates:

Yes, I wrote “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. These words, taken out of context in the way the media did, of course do not reflect my position. I was writing to someone who knew the context of my comments. Had he felt the need to pick me up on what I had written I would have rephrased – perhaps to “Jews (my ancestors too) were among those who financed the sugar and slave trade and at the particular time/in the particular area I’m talking about they played an important part.” The Facebook post taken by itself doesn’t, and can’t possibly reflect the complexity of Jewish history, of the history of Africa, the history of people of the African diaspora and the hundreds of years of the slave trade. The truth is while many peoples were involved in this pernicious trade it was the rulers of Christian Spain and Portugal that ordered the massacre and expulsion of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsular who forced Jewish communities to seek refuge in the New World and the Caribbean. It was European and American Christian empires that overwhelmingly profited from the kidnap, enslavement and death of millions of Africans and I’m happy to make explicit and correct here any different impression my Facebook post gave. The shame is, at a time when antisemitism has been weaponised and used against certain sections of the Labour Party, nobody asked me before rushing to pin the racist and antisemitic label on me.”

And further:

“If my historical understanding is shown to be wrong by future research I will of course adapt and change my views as necessary. For the record, my claim, as opposed to those made for me by the Jewish Chronicle, has never been that Jews played a disproportionate role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, merely that, as historians such as Arnold Wiznitzer noted, at a certain economic point, in specific regions where my ancestors lived, Jews played a dominant role “as financiers of the sugar industry, as brokers and exporters of sugar, and as suppliers of Negro slaves on credit, accepting payment of capital and interest in sugar.” [1][2]

No people are exempt from truth. No people are better, more moral than any other. None deserve higher protection from the eye of history. All of us are subjects, products of material historical development. As Kagan & Morgan point out, “Jews in the Atlantic constituted a stateless minority, a ‘nation within a nation,’ the counterpoint to imperial cultures of early modern Europe; and yet from the fifteenth century onwards, Jews were also key participants in the effort to expand European empires into the western hemisphere and the broader Atlantic world. In short, they were, as Jonathan Israel has noted, simultaneously agents and victims of empire.”[3]

This was the point I was attempting to make on Facebook, in a comic-strip, abbreviated, inadequate, deficient sort of conversational way. This was my point, as the Israel Advocacy Movement could see even as they decided to weaponise my words. No peoples have a monopoly of suffering or virtue. No peoples are special or free of the complexity of history. That is as true in the Middle East now as it ever was anywhere, in all places, with all peoples, across the diversity of our globe and so it will remain until, and unless, we achieve the goal of all internationalists – the liberation of humanity.

Endnotes

[1] Arnold Wiznitzer, in Jews in Colonial Brazil, quoted in Jane S Gerber (ed.) The Jews in the Caribbean (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2014) p51

[2] Indeed, Eli Faber says in his book Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight: ”However, their contributions to the sugar industry were far more significant when it came to providing capital, exporting sugar, and advancing credit for slaves. As creditors, according to the historian of the Brazilian Jewish community, “they dominated the slave trade.” Faber’s footnote refers to Witnitzer, The Jews in Brazil, 67-73

[3] Preface ix, Atlantic Diasporas: Jews, Conversos, and Crypto-Jews in the Age of Mercantilism 1500-1800, (ed.) Richard L. Kagan & Philip D. Morgan (The John Hopkins University Press, 2009)

Postscript:

Jackie Walker’s memoir Pilgrim State appeared in 2008 and was described by Good Reads as “a stunning memoir which tells the story of Dorothy Walker – equal parts beautiful, headstrong, brave and tragic. Her life is lovingly recreated by her daughter Jacqueline in homage to the remarkable woman she was.” In an interview by Tamara Gausi, Time Out says: “Jacqueline Walker’s remarkable Pilgrim State employs the story of her mother, Dorothy, to create a mythically charged meditation on blackness, Britishness, and belonging.” Louise Carpenter reviewed the book in the Guardian (13 April 2008) in Who are you calling a bad mother?

________________________

Appendix: Response to Chakrabarti

Here, as a separate item, though relating to some of the themes in the discussion above, is Jackie Walker’s response to the Chakrabarti report, marginally revised by her and posted on her Facebook page on 6 August.

[Just to say … since I made a comment on Black Lives Matter and the Chakrabarti Commission I have been inundated with racist comments …. again!

For information, this was my response to the Report – I re-post it as it seems many commentators are entering into a debate at the moment on a report they haven’t actually read ……or thought too much about.]

Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and Racism in the Labour Party made big news soon as it was published – and for all the wrong reasons, just one of the ongoing consequences of the “occasionally toxic atmosphere” that is “in danger of shutting down free speech within the Party rather than facilitating it.” Chakrabarti makes it clear her intention is not to “close down debate on delicate issues around all kinds of personal and political differences within the Party” but to conduct these debates “in a more trusting and constructive environment.” My response is made with the same intent.

As a recently suspended Labour Party member, and the only person as yet (at the point of writing) exonerated, I was bound to read Chakrabarti’s report, and the coverage that followed, with more than a little interest. I write as a long time Labour Party and anti-racist activist for whom Chakrabarti’s findings are personally and politically important. My partner is Jewish, his family observant, but I comment as a woman of mixed Jewish and other heritages who identifies as, and is perceived by others as, a black person of African descent.

Much of the mainstream media response to the Inquiry focused on anti-Semitism, was superficial, poorly informed or with one intent – destabilising Labour and its present leadership. Chakrabarti’s generally well expressed ‘state of the Party’ contextualisation of race relations, and her many well thought through and sensible recommendations, were sidelined as charges of anti-Semitism yet again took centre stage, immediately undermining the Inquiry’s key findings on BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) members.
At the core of the debate is the way competing claims by minorities are positioned in the (at this point in time) supercharged arena of Labour Party politics. In the political arena, perhaps more than elsewhere, race is about power – who has it, who is chosen to represent the Party, who gives power to others and how that power is communicated. Two areas are highlighted in the part of the Chakrabarti Report that focuses on BAME members – that of representation and vocabulary.

Chakrabarti begins with evidence; that in 2010 the BAME community voted for Labour more than double in relation to whites. She describes an unwelcoming environment and a lack of representation at all levels, including in Parliament, but also in the administrative structures of the Party, singling out the lack of black members in the NEC for special mention. What an irony then that it is the voices of people of colour, in particular those of African descent, that were so effectively sidelined in reporting of the Inquiry.

In today’s Labour Party Chakrabarti situates anti-Semitism within a set of feelings and responses as reported in many submissions by some in the Jewish community. Stereotypes limit the ability of peoples to be treated and respected as individuals and Chakrabarti’s comments on the need for sensitivity in the language of debate, whether on issues that relate to Israel or elsewhere, are to be welcomed. But there is acknowledgement that it is power, or the lack of it, that excludes and discriminates against BAME people in the Party, as it does of course in the rest of society. Blacks do not only feel under-represented, or stereotyped in the Party. They are under-represented. They may be members and supporters, they are of course, particularly in Labour’s urban heartlands, often the foot soldiers and voters, but BAME members are effectively excluded where it matters – from power.

Given the terms Chakrabarti was given for her inquiry, with the separation of anti-semitism from other forms of racism, it is however difficult to see how this focus on one minority, could have been avoided. If anti-Semitism is set apart from ‘other forms of racism’, can we be surprised when the Inquiry fails to attract a significant number of submissions from BAME groups, or when black individuals are significant only by their absence at its launch? The reception of the Inquiry in the media and elsewhere underlines the relative powerlessness of the BAME community. The paucity of any black response, at a national level, confirms the exclusion the report attempts to redress. In this three card trick discrimination against BAME members is the card that appears, I hope only for the moment, to have been made to magically vanish.

I come now to the issue of vocabulary, in particular comments on the use of the term ‘holocaust,’ a point that concerns many people of African descent who await both recognition or recompense for past wrongs inflicted.

Chakrabarti makes plain her Inquiry is an attempt to bring people together. To stand in solidarity, as Chakrabarti suggests all minorities need to, people of African descent must see the structures that exclude them from power, and have kept them silenced for so long, being changed. This is the only way in which attempts to build an inclusive Party will succeed.

Groups that have suffered oppression need to have conditions, a level playing field, in which they can form united political fronts, working in solidarity with others, rather than having to fight for a place at the table, forever bogged down in disputes about equity, access to power, or the meaning of the past. If the Party does not succeed in this, Labour will remain entangled in the impossible task of being a moral referee as minority ethnic groups engage in a ‘competition of victimhoods’ in order to gain, build or protect recognition.

Others have argued elsewhere for dropping the use of the contested terminology of ‘holocaust’ and replacing it with ‘genocide’. Some suggest opening Holocaust Day more fully to all communities that have suffered mass murder. As Jews retain the word Shoah, so peoples of African descent refer to Maangamizi for their holocaust. Maangamizi describes the slave trade and history of enslavement when millions of Africans were killed, tortured, kidnapped and enslaved for profit but it also refers to the genocides and deprivations of colonialism and the ongoing, consequential suffering and oppressions of peoples of African descent.

I am in agreement with Chakrabarti there are, and can be, no hierarchies of suffering. The Inquiry rightly warns of dilution of effect ‘if every human rights atrocity is described as a Holocaust’. However, I cannot see the term ‘holocaust’ as something the Labour Party can, or should police, though it may provide a useful forum where terminology can be discussed. As ever, the Labour Party must recognise the right of minorities to both name themselves and choose how their history is narrated.

I trust in the strength of people of colour to keep with the struggle to change society for the better. I place my trust in the ability of the labour movement to not just listen to the experience of people of but to act in solidarity with them. It is with hope, as ever, that I ask our leaders listen to the concerns of people of colour whose voices before, during the Inquiry, and even now, remain barely attended to.

Is Zionist a rude word?

Jonathan Rosenhead of FSOI responds to Mary Davis’s Open Democracy article Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Reprinted from Open Democracy

Words trail meanings beyond their formal definitions. Raymond Williams in his Key Words leads us through the dizzying journeys that words we thought we knew well have taken over their history. For example, who nowadays brings to mind what ‘Protestants’ were protesting about? Or take ‘fascism’. This theory and practice of authoritarian politics is now so entangled with its delivery of the holocaust that outside academia it is used as a swear word plain and simple.

Words are deployed as moves in a strategic battle. This comes out in the titanic struggle between Alice and Humpty Dumpty. Humpty Dumpty says “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”, but is challenged on this by Alice. ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

To Mary Davis (“Contestation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism”, openDemocracy, 27 July 2016) words are quite straight forward, Humpty-Dumpty-style. Contested words are deployed in unitary meanings of her choice. The result is of course a coherent story – of Zionism, the stages of development of Jewish settlement, the possible ways forward from the current impasse. However by failing to engage with the other competing versions of this story we get an account remarkable in its lack of nuance. News flash: Mary Davis wrestles with a straw person, and wins!

Antisemitism has in recent months become an active concept in British politics for the first time in most living memories. Many, indeed most, of the allegations of antisemitism that have been made are about statements (not actions), and they are statements about Israel and about Zionism. I will turn to those allegations later, but first need to do some house cleaning around the subject of Zionism.

Zionism in theory

The main thrust of Davis’ argument is that Zionism is not a monolithic movement; historically it has had its internal divisions, its left and right flanks. Back in the day it was Mapai to the right of Mapam (though she gets these the wrong way round). Further to the right still was Herut, the offspring of the arch revisionist Jabotinsky, and the progenitor of Netanyahu’s Likud. She seems to enlist the fact that Yitzhak Rabin, though a Zionist Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated by Yigal Amir, also a Zionist, in support of this thesis of multi-strand Zionism.

Zionism, she seems to say, was and still is fractured: therefore, by implication, criticism of Zionism as a whole should be off limits. But surely the existence of different tendencies within any significant movement almost doesn’t need saying. This is just politics, the struggle between different interests and interpretations, and it is found pretty well everywhere. It certainly doesn’t constitute a veto against making rather general observations about the movement as a whole. Otherwise it would be illegitimate, for example, to interpret, or even make evaluative comments on, those many non-monolithic movements that continue to shape our world: capitalism, liberalism, racism come to mind. Also nationalism – in which Davis herself roots the late nineteenth century origins of Zionism.

The distinctive difference of Zionism from other manifestations of nationalism is this – that it could realise its ambition of national self-determination in a defined territory only by taking someone else’s. One can appreciate the driving need felt by many (by no means all) Jews for a safe haven from antisemitism, but at the same time see the whole future tragedy in embryo in that crucial contradiction.

What sort of ‘ism’ is Zionism?

Growing up in a committedly Zionist household, I celebrated the 1948 ‘War of Independence’, and all the subsequent triumphs of Israeli arms. I was repeatedly surprised when Israel didn’t then make a favourable peace with its neighbours, but instead grew progressively more bullish and bully-boy as it grew stronger.  At the time I put it down to short-sightedness by politicians of limited vision. But after 50, 100 years a more systemic explanation is surely required. The short-hand version of this is that Zionism in practice is an idiosyncratic late version of colonialism (another ‘ism’) – transposed from the nineteenth century and still attempting to survive in the very different environment of the twenty-first.

The uncommon though not unique feature of this colonial project is that there is and has been almost no desire to exploit the labour power of the indigenous population. On the contrary. When land was bought for settlement the Palestinians on it were evicted. The Hagganah, which became the IDF, was formed to keep Arabs off the land that had been cleared in this way. Aggressive propaganda, intimidation and violence was used to pressure Jewish-owned enterprises to use Jewish rather than Arab workers. This forceful eviction of Arab workers was one of the precipitating causes of the Arab Revolt in 1936. The key figure in this campaign for ‘Jewish Labour’ was David Ben Gurion, later first Prime Minister of Israel.

This identification of Zionism as a form of colonialism is not just post hoc rationalisation, but was quite evident to Zionism’s founders. In 1917 Ber Borochov, the relatively progressive Zionist cited by Davis, wrote about the time “when the waste lands are prepared for colonization”. Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, wrote in The Iron Wall that “’My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries.  I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.”

Zionism was ‘sold’ as a project of “a land without people for a people without a land”. This was not a statement of fact but of intention. (The late nineteenth century founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, confided to his diary that if Palestine was to be successfully settled the local population would have to be removed.) Zionism sought to get the land, but with as few of the indigenous people as possible. Never letting an opportunity go to waste, in the confusion of the 1948 war out of which Israel was born 80% of the Palestinian population was ejected, by force or the deliberately fostered fear of force. Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and its subsequent sealing off in a still ongoing 10-year siege is a way of ‘containing’ 1.5 million Palestinians on the smallest imaginable patch of ground. Israel’s most intractable problem results from the obverse of this coin. Israel’s 1967 conquest of Jerusalem and the West Bank gave them control of 3 million Palestinians they really don’t want. The Wall is being built to filch as much extra land as possible, and forget the Palestinians on the other side.

This thrust is not seriously contested within the mainstream Israeli political system. Isaac Herzog of the Labour Party (now merged into the Zionist Union) is leader of the Israeli opposition. His policies include maintenance of the occupation, and the completion of a barrier cutting off Jerusalem from the Palestinian villages around it. See Gideon Levy’s recent article in Ha’aretz, (August 31, 2016):

“There is no radical left in Israel. Such a left is anarchist and sometimes even terrorist, as in Europe and Latin America. In Israel, where even Isaac Herzog is seen as “left” and Yair Lapid as “center” – when they’re both moderate right – what counts as radical left is the only left that exists here, and that is moderate left. All the rest are 50 shades of right wing, with an alarming, herd-like consensus and too little real difference of opinion.

Everyone agrees on all the wars, everyone enlists together against all international criticism and meanwhile the occupation arouses no active resistance. And wonder of wonders, in this sticky, unified mess the negligible minority that thinks otherwise, the extinct species, manages to arouse rage and hatred to such an extent that you’d think it was a majority. Such rage can only attest to one thing: the majority’s uncertainty about the rightness of its way.

The litmus test isn’t whether you identify with the left or right, but whether you identify with Zionism, that deceptive, undefined, anachronistic, expired value that distinguishes between legitimate Israelis and the rest. Are you on our side or the enemy’s? Say “Zionist” and you’re not radical. Good, you’re saved. Say “not Zionist” and you’re out. A pity, you’re extinct. When Zionism is a religion, heresy is treason. Anyone who dares to undermine Zionism’s validity, as the majority sees it, is radical left, illegitimate, and lately even criminal….”

Zionism in practice

The consequences of this over-late colonial project have been and remain dire for the Palestinians.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and the repudiation by Israel of the Geneva conventions-attested rights of affected populations has split the Palestinians into 3 components – those living in pre-1967 Israel, those in the occupied territories, and the diaspora of displaced Palestinians in Middle East refugee camps scattered around the world. Their ability to communicate is deliberately restricted by Israeli policies. The ‘matrix of control’[1] over all aspects of Palestinian life has been extended over the years by the most modern technology, drastically restricting not only their daily activities but also the functioning of their culture and community. Palestinian national identity and institutions are under continuous siege by Israel, in what has been described by Kimmerling as ‘politicide’[2]. The Palestinian nation has not died, but many thousands of Palestinians have. I will deny myself the opportunity of providing here a list of inhumanities perpetrated on them – I guess that readers know where to find that information.

The illegal occupation of Palestinian territories is also a running sore for Israel itself. Once it was admired by progressives for its social, even socialist, innovations. But around the world, except in elite circles, its frequent resorts to repression are close to pushing it into pariah status.  The BBC routinely polls respondents in 24 countries on which countries are seen as having positive or negative influence in the world. Since 2007 Israel has been down at the bottom with only Iran, Pakistan and North Korea below them – and sometimes not all of those.

Jews also are by no means exempt from this disenchantment with Israel. A survey carried out for the British liberal Zionist group Yachad in 2015 found that 31% of those surveyed self-identified as ‘No, not a Zionist’. Among the under 30’s the proportion who would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would encourage the Israeli government to engage in the peace process rose to 41 percent. A report (in Hebrew) published in February found that Jewish American students also have an increasingly negative image of Israel:

  • only 42% believe Israel wants peace.
  • only 38% believe “Israel is civilized and Western”.
  • only 31% believe Israel is a democracy.
  • no less than 21% believe The US should side with the Palestinians.

It is in this environment that the Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, including academic boycott, has been going from strength to strength world-wide. This whole BDS movement, according to Davis, is teetering on the edge of antisemitism, and its academic strand “can definitely be construed as anti-semitic”. That’s a claim worth deconstructing, before then moving on to the jackpot question – how are we to understand the amazing increase in rhetoric about antisemitism, quite divorced from any actually discernible increase in antisemitism itself?

Singling out Israel

It was in 2005 that a consortium of 170 Palestinian organisations issued the call to world civil society for a campaign of general boycott divestment and sanctions against Israel. In fact the academic and cultural boycotts had been launched a year earlier, by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Since Davis regards the academic boycott as her slam dunk case, I will take it on.

She says that academic boycott by not focusing purely on the Israeli state, and instead “boycotting only Jewish academics”, demonstrates its antisemitism. It is remarkable how many people who feel qualified to hold forth on this topic seem not to have carried out their due diligence. Israeli universities have Jewish, Christian and Moslem academics, and no doubt other religions besides. For that matter, they also have academics not only from Israel but from around the world. Jewish academics are not singled out for boycott. Nor are Israeli academics – because none of them are boycotted! The boycott does not target academics, or seek to interfere in any way with their work. Mary Davis only has to go to the PACBI website to find this out.

The academic boycott targets university institutions. As a supporter of this boycott I will not attend conferences held at Israeli universities, or get involved with their appointments or promotion processes. I will not teach on any programme based at the university, and I will not engage in joint research if the support funding is based there. But I have no trouble working with or receiving at my university any Israeli academic; and there is no impediment to their participating in international conferences or publishing in international journals on a level playing field with everyone else.

How should one understand Mary Davis’ statement that the boycott targets Jewish academics? That she hadn’t done her homework before writing her article? Or that she did know that there was no individual component to the boycott, but thought she would use the argument anyway? A tough call.

There is another argument that she might have made, as many people do: that singling out Israel for this treatment when other states have committed far worse crimes is surely evidence of antisemitism. [To grapple with the logic of this claim is a bit more complex. There are two factors in the answer, both to do with the reason why boycott is deployed at all.]

The explanation is that boycott is not a moral imperative, a way of demonstrating ones’ abhorrence of a certain regime (though it may offer that release also). It is, rather, a practical tactic to change the cost-benefit calculation for the actors in the conflict. Boycott enables the individually weak, by combining non-violently, to gain some purchase on an otherwise intractable situation. There is no point in mobilising support for a boycott if powerful state actors (e.g. our own governments) are already on the right side of history. And equally a boycott would be a waste of all the participants’ efforts if there was in effect, no significant trade or interchange with the target country.

Think North Korea. An execrable regime, but neither a commercial nor an academic boycott would find much purchase on the situation. It would be hard to mobilise a boycott campaign to do, effectively, nothing.

Israel, like South Africa before it, is a state built on discrimination. As Desmond Tutu says “this, in my book, is apartheid”. There are other parallels. Israel now, as South Africa previously, is both supported to the hilt by the USA and UK governments and most of Europe, and an integral part of the same economic, intellectual and cultural community as us. Boycott becomes a viable and appropriate policy.

Davis says that Israel is repeatedly “singled out for special treatment”. It is indeed singled out among those countries that systematically violate human rights. Its receives special treatment to the tune of $3bn annually from the US (the highest gained by any country), plus a cast iron diplomatic shield at the United Nations. Other transgressor countries have suffered serious economic sanctions, but Israel is rewarded.

Antisemitism everywhere

While I have been writing there has been an elephant in the room. More and more fidgety it is now positively insisting on getting into my critique. The issue is: just why is Mary Davis writing this piece now? Why is the Chief Rabbi jumping up and down about antisemitism right now? Why did John Mann waylay Ken Livingstone about it? Why was it that Sadiq Khan ‘warned’ (Daily Express)/ ‘accuses’ (Daily Telegraph, Independent)/ ‘savaged’ (Evening Standard, Daily Mail) Jeremy Corbyn over his handling of antisemitism in the Labour Party? That’s the Daily Mail, always so delicate on questions of antisemitism, from the 1930’s through to calling out Ed Miliband’s father Ralph as ‘unpatriotic’.

On August 28 the Campaign Against Antisemitism, founded during the attack on Gaza in 2014 to defend Israel from criticism, produced some telling statistics:

Last year the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted a record 15,442 cases of hate crime, but we are only aware of a dozen prosecutions for hate crime against Jews.

Of course the CAA deduced from this that “British Jews are being denied British justice”.

The statistical rigour is rudimentary. But if it is possible to believe that prosecutions for anti-Semitic behaviour really do amount to something like 1 in 1000 of the total, a more plausible explanation is surely that this issue is dwarfed by other forms of intolerant utterance and behaviour – against gays, immigrants, Poles, Muslims…. There is virtually no evidence that there has been a sharp increase in antisemitism; there is plenty of statistical (for example from the Community Security Trust) and experiential evidence that the level has been low for years, interrupted by bulges when Israel attacks Gaza.

I am a member of Free Speech on Israel, an organisation set up in April by Jewish Labour Party supporters alarmed about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Alarmed, that is, by a moral panic that completely denies our own experience. Those in the room at the foundation meeting had something like 1000 years of lived experience of the Labour Party, and no one could recall a single instance of antisemitism. This is broadly consistent with wider experience. When the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs was asked on Radio 4 about his own experience, his response was, from memory, “Well….actually I haven’t experienced any antisemitism myself. Which is quite odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.

Nevertheless evidence is being dredged up, of carelessly worded tweets and Facebook postings, and leading to instant suspensions from Party membership. (This policy was excoriated in the report of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party.) Nearly all of the ‘evidence’ predates Corbyn’s leadership is nevertheless being blamed on him. Other evidence was simply fabricated – as in the allegations of engrained racism in the Oxford University Labour Club. Nevertheless the mainstream media continue to serve as an uncritical megaphone for the innuendo, and worse.

In this stunningly successful offensive there is every appearance of coordination between diehard supporters of Israel, and the irreconcilables in the Labour Party who cannot accept Corbyn’s leadership. Appearances can of course be deceptive. (One of history’s sadnesses is that we almost never get substantive evidence about actual conspiracies until it is too late to matter.) But since there is in any case a clear shared interest in the defenestration of Corbyn perhaps no explicit pre-communication was needed. Israel is threatened by the installation of the first major party leader in Europe with a committed record of supporting Palestinian rights. Many Labour MPs feel deeply threatened by a leader (and associated membership) who are almost as far left as Harold Wilson was.  So there is a natural affinity of purpose.

Israel, Zionism and anti-Zionism inhabit the political realm, not a religious or ethnic one. What has been called the ‘weaponisation’ of antisemitism is deeply unprincipled. Antisemitism is an ugly phenomenon, and its spores still lie scattered through all western societies and some others. By deploying the spectre of antisemitism in disreputable campaigns its currency is degraded.

Brian Klug’s influential working definition of antisemitism is that “antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. Assuming, often aggressively, that all Jews support Israel and Zionism is, paradoxically, making the same simplifying assumption that anti-Semites do – namely that all Jews are in important respects the same. We are not.


[1] Jeff Halper ‘The 94 percent solution: a matrix of control’, Middle East Report 30:3, Fall 2000

[2] Politicide: The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon, Verso 2006.

Who owns the anti-Corbyn front – us says Tory peer

Danny Finkelstein asks in the Jewish Chronicle ‘Is our Corbyn Strategy Working?’ The JC notes that Finkelstein is associate editor of the Times; it does not note that he is a Tory peer. So who is the ‘our’ in ‘our strategy’? Is it the Tory Party, is it the Zionist community, is it Tory Zionists? The article does not directly tell us so we have to infer ownership from the content.

Finkelstein gives three examples of alleged ‘antisemitism’; each one related to Israel and not British Jewry. He goes on to write:

For years, anti-Israel feeling has been growing on the left and it has slowly been changing into an antisemitic theory about Zionism as the ideology of worldwide imperialist occupation. By this means, every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel and to Jews.

This starts from a valid premise: the left, but not only the left, has grown increasingly critical of the actions of the Israeli state. It is also true, but not noted, that it is becoming increasingly common for people who pay attention to Palestine/Israel to identify the criminality of the state to be organically linked to the Zionist ideology that led to the founding of the state and is used by it to justify its actions. However, Finkelstein then makes a daring leap into fantasy by not only identifying criticism of Zionism as an ‘antisemitic theory’ but claiming that Zionism is seen as the ideology of imperialism and that everything is blamed on the Jews. Because he is preaching to the gallery he sees no need to provide any evidence for this claim; fortunate for him as such evidence is scant or non-existent.

What is true is that Zionism sits easily with western imperialism. It is a settler-colonial project that is only legitimate within an imperialist view of the world. A view that any territory, anywhere can be alienated from its long term inhabitants for the benefit of militarily superior invaders. It is also true that Israel has geo-political interests in the Middle East and that they lobby the US and other Governments to take action that would advance Israel’s interests. A recent inconvertible example of this was Israel’s intensive lobbying to try to derail the deal to end Iran’s nuclear adventures.

None of this remotely supports the contention that ‘every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel’. It is possible that somewhere on Twitter you can find a seriously misinformed, or seriously malevolent, individual who has alleged Israeli or Zionist or Jewish involvement each time a Western state has acted badly. However, Finkelstein’s claim is not about an individual misusing their keyboard: it is a claim that the mass of those challenging Zionism believe ‘it is all the fault of the Jews’. A serious but false and unsubstantiated charge.

Finkelstein declares ‘these very same people jeer when obvious examples of antisemitism are raised’. He can only write this because he cannot accept that with very few, if any, exceptions there is no obvious antisemitism once the exaggerations, misquotations and downright deceits are exposed. The jeering is for the cynical exploitation of Jewish fears not for any victim of abuse. The groans are for yet another instance of portraying the aggressor as the victim.

So who are the owners of ‘our strategy’. It is those who fear, correctly, that a Corbyn led Labour Party will challenge inequality and exploitation in the UK as well seeking the end of British exculpation of Israel’s crimes. The strategy is for the benefit of the wealthy and privileged and for the architects of Israeli apartheid. It is deeply regrettable that so many Labour Party MPs have signed up to a strategy at such sharp variance with Labour Party ideals and of such great assistance to the enemies of the Party and those it defends.

Mike Cushman

A scurrilous and ill-informed attack on the left

Review of THE LEFT’S JEWISH PROBLEM: JEREMY CORBYN, ISRAEL & ANTI-SEMITISM

Dave Rich (2016, London Biteback Publishing)

I am writing this review as a long-standing Jewish feminist academic and activist. I am a social scientist and have been involved with research on higher education, feminism, gender and socialist politics throughout my academic life. I have written numerous personal, political and professional articles, chapters, and books – most recently Reclaiming Feminism: Challenging Everyday Misogyny (Bristol, Policy Press, 2016) and A Feminist Manifesto for Education (Cambridge, Polity Press, 2016).  Reclaiming Feminism is both a memoir and an argument for transforming the neo-liberal global academy in the direction of gender equality and socialist-feminist values. I focus especially on aspects of campus politics today. A Feminist Manifesto for Education is based upon my collaborative research, including with colleagues across the European Union (EU) (especially Ireland, Italy and Spain), to deal with gender violence and transformative politics. I was a founder member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) and the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST) a charitable organisation giving funds for projects on education, health, welfare and women in Israel and Palestine.

All of this preamble might sound incredibly defensive – perhaps it is – but I mention it as I don’t want to be attacked for my lack of knowledge or rigour. I also don’t want to be attacked for my Jewish credentials, familiar though this is as a Jewish trait. By way of further justification, I am the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and I was brought up in Zionist-socialist family, attending Habonim throughout my adolescence. In adulthood I have wavered over my Jewish socialist commitments: my children attended a Northwest London Jewish day school. I remain committed to secular Jewish socialism and, living in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, I am supportive of his approach.

Dave Rich argues that what he hopes to have done is to transform his ‘academic research’ for his PhD (although he never tells us who supervised it and in what field it was examined) into a more popular book. This is entitled, somewhat provocatively, The Left’s Jewish Problem where, on the cover, the o is a Magen David. The sub-title is Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism. Rich’s research is about the rise of the new left, mainly but not only in the UK, and its consequences in the UK Labour party today. However this is not a dispassionate or even a so-called insider account as a Jewish academic and activist. Either one of these approaches is what I expected. Not so: it is an extremely limited account of some narrow aspects of the British new left, those whom he dubs ‘the anti-Israel left of Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and George Galloway…that now allies itself with Islamist extremists who demand Israel’s destruction’.

At first glance, the book appears quite erudite, having numerous endnotes for each chapter and a substantial index. There are 6 substantive chapters, with an additional introduction and conclusion and a brief foreword. But there the semblance of scholarship or rational argument ends. The organisation of the chapters is not particularly logical in terms of the history of socialism and its relation to nationalism and/or Zionism. Nor is there any account of the rise of the British Labour party and its association with the rise of the new left and the role of Jews and/or Zionists within this.

There is no bibliography or even list of references. Book and chapter titles and references are buried in the endnotes. Even a cursory search of the index reveals many lacunae in the scholarly international work on the rise of the new left. I searched for names of Jewish left activists normally associated with the new left: names such as Judith Butler (who gets one very cursory mention), the late Professors Hannah Arendt or Stan Cohen, Danny Cohn-Bendit, Claude Lanzmann (the French socialist who made the film Shoah in 1985), the late Professor Ralph Miliband, Professor Steven Rose, Jerry Rubin or Professor Michael Walzer (long-term editor of Dissent in the US) to name but a few.  None of them appear in the index. Yet they are part of the rise of the new left both intellectually and ideologically, and are critically important to its current formation.

The book starts off rather propitiously and I was initially drawn to the project of looking at the twists and turns in the politics of the British Labour party, with which I have an ambivalent relationship. I had hoped to get some clarity and peace of mind about the current debates about anti-semitism and anti-racism in the Labour party. These had led to the setting up and subsequent publication of the excellent Chakrabarti report, published on June 30, 2016.

Unfortunately, the book does not look at left-wing Jews and their relations with feminism, socialism and the Labour party. It is, in fact, a rather tedious journey through a particular brand of left-wing politics, with a focus on very minor political groups and individuals, cherry-picking issues such as anti-apartheid, anti-racism, anti-Zionism, Islam and Palestine.

The most important omission, however, is any reference to the key role played by Ralph Miliband in the rise of the new left, from the post-war period. Michael Newman’s brilliant biography entitled Ralph Miliband and The Politics of the New Left (The Merlin Press 2002) illustrates how Miliband ‘stood as a beacon on the international left for the way he articulated and redefined socialist politics’.

Even more curiously, there is absolutely no reference to either of his sons – David or Ed Miliband – and the role that they have played in the Labour party.  Are they also part of the Left’s Jewish Problem or are they immune from anti-semitism? Given these lacunae I lost faith with this book being at all credible: it is quite simply a scurrilous and ill-informed attack on the left.

Professor Miriam David

Richard Kuper’s review

Let’s not talk about racism

A major report was issued about endemic racism in a major British institution; few people are aware of that although the report was widely reported.

Shami Chakrabarti was commissioned by the Labour Party to investigate “antisemitism and other forms of racism” in the party. Chakrabarti and her vice-chairs took their remit seriously; Zionist organisations and the British media did not.

The report raises critical issues about the treatment of members of BAME communities inside and by the party. These were obliterated by a media stampede to make the report a sideshow in the get Jeremy funfair and by a disbelief from the Zionist hierarchy that Jewish concerns were not placed centre stage.

The presentation of the findings was hidden under two confections.

Firstly, a malicious allegation that Corbyn had equated Israel and ISIS. It was clear to anyone hearing him talk or reading his words later that he had done no such thing.  He equated those who make false and racist allegations about Jews to those who make false and racist allegations about Muslims. He said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.” It is vexatious to wilfully misinterpret that to Israel equals ISIS and only makes sense as part of a campaign to demonise and undermine Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Secondly an accusation that Ruth Smeeth had been subject to anti-Semitic harassment. It may only be a coincidence that she made her allegation against one of the few Black men in the room. Journalists asked a series of questions about anything but the content of the report; mainly irrelevantly about Corbyn’s future or about the disciplining of Livingstone which was ultra vires for fear of contaminating the complaints procedure underway.

One question was from a Daily Telegraph journalist about a Momentum leaflet on deselection of Labour MPs. The leaflet had been handed out by Marc Wadsworth, a Black activist and journalist.  He had refused to hand a leaflet to Ruth Smeeth who had been pointed out to him as one of the first MPs to call for Corbyn’s resignation – he had never come across her of heard of her before. Wadsworth had seen the Telegraph journalist, Kate McCann, hand her copy of the leaflet to Smeeth and the two sat together. Wadsworth accused Smeeth of collaboration with the media. Smeeth, whose Jewish heritage was totally unknown to Wadsworth chose to interpret the accusation as an antisemitic slur and departed the room. Later she claimed, despite video evidence to the contrary, to have fled the room in tears. This farrago became a major news story and was turned into an attack on Corbyn for failing to intervene in an event that had never happened. Ever since, it seems no media comment on the report fails to undermine it by referring to at least one these two imaginary events. Once an association has been promulgated it attracts a life of its own – fiction becomes historical fact.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust, the Jewish Chronicle all gave major prominence to these two inventions even while giving guarded welcome to the report. The accusations were picked up by Jewish and Zionist bloggers and tweeters and broadcast globally; the content of the report and its welcome were not.

We do not assert that the Jewish and Zionist media and organisations deliberately set out to occlude the report’s findings on the racist treatment of BAME communities and its recommendations on curtailing and hopefully ending such behaviour. Such assertion is unnecessary to see an unconscious, but pervasive, disregard for the suffering of any other community than the Jewish one. An anti-racist response would be to celebrate that an investigation prompted by allegations of antisemitism, and a report wholeheartedly condemnatory of the occasional antisemitic behaviour it uncovered, was also led to reveal other and more widespread racist behaviour. Acknowledging the treatment experienced by other communities does not diminish the unacceptability of the racist treatment of Jews. There is however an unpleasant current in the Jewish community that sees the treatment of Jews as special and distinct from that suffered by others.

Chakrabarti was at pains to emphasise the distinctive nature of the Holocaust that should prevent it being used as an analogy for other historical or current events even other genocides. Each act of gross inhumanity has its own nature and needs its own consideration. It is necessary to understand the particular nature of each abuse, whether the Shoah, the Rwandan genocide, the Armenian genocide or the Atlantic slave trade – it diminishes each of them by lumping them together.

We expect people of all communities to oppose antisemitism; we equally expect members of all communities, and a fortiori their organised leadership, to oppose all forms of racism and discrimination and to use their experience to empathise with others not to compete in an abasing misery stakes.

Since the referendum street racist abuse, and violence, have escalated putting all minority communities at risk. Public racism has been become normalised in a way that we had hoped we had excised over the last four decades. So far, it seems, the abuse and assaults on Jews have not been the major problem. It is rampant Islamophobia and intolerance of anyone not speaking English that have been most prevalent.

We look to the Labour Party to defend members of all communities, it can only do that if it takes up Chakrabarti’s challenge to look at itself and embark on the long and painful process to reform itself. The report correctly commends the Party for promoting legislation over the last half-century to outlaw racism and other forms of discrimination, the Conservatives have no such record. As we all know the public actions are easier than the personal ones that challenge our own feelings and beliefs. It is much harder when petty and noisy squabbling drowns out the quiet voices of pain for short-term and factional gain.

Mike Cushman

Guardian publishes letter by 100+ Jews defending Corbyn and Chakrabarti

This letter appears in the Guardian on 9 August 2016

Shami Chakrabarti, the former director of Liberty and a lawyer with a well-deserved reputation for integrity, produced a thoughtful and important report on antisemitism and racism in the Labour party at the request of Jeremy Corbyn. It is highly regrettable that they are both now under attack because her inquiry did not find evidence to support allegations of rampant antisemitism in the party.

Such attacks say more about her detractors than they do about Chakrabarti. Their real objections concern her recommendation that the party’s disciplinary processes conform to the principles of natural justice, so that allegations of antisemitism and other forms of racism will be properly investigated, members cannot be suspended without knowing the charges against them, and people are protected against scurrilous and ill-founded allegations.

As Jews whose views are not represented by the chief rabbi, the Board of Deputies of British Jews or the pro-Israel lobbyists of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, we dissociate ourselves from the attacks on Chakrabarti and urge Corbyn to hold firm in implementing the positive recommendations in her report.
George Abendstern
Liane Aukin
Daphna Baram
Julia Bard
Sue Bard
Hannah Basson
Sandi Beecher
Shereen Benjamin
Sarah Benton
Craig Berman
Jo Bird
Rica Bird
Carla Bloom
Jenny Bloom
Louise Bloom
Professor Haim Bresheeth
Elizabeth Carola
Linda Clair
Mike Cushman
Ivor Dembina
Dr Judit Druks
Claudio García Ehrenfeld
Nancy Elan
Mark Elf
Liz Elkind
Deborah Fink
Sylvia Finzi
Louella Frankel Jones
Kenneth Fryde
Tessa van Gelderen
Claire Glasman
Monica Gort
Tony Greenstein
Abe Hayeem
Rosamine Hayeem
Professor Susan Himmelweit
Sue Hughes
Claire Jackson
Dr Vivienne Jackson
Selma James
Riva Joffe
Ann Jungman
Michael Kalmanovitz
Roisin Kalmanovitz
Monash Kessler
Simon Korner
Richard Kuper
David Landau
Pam Laurance
Leah Levane
Rachel Lever
Les Levidow
Susanne Levin
Rosalind Levy
Vivien Lichtenstein
John Lohrenz
Ruth London
Professor Yosefa Loshitzky
Deborah Maccoby
Professor Moshé Machover
Beryl Maizels
Jenny Manson
Miriam Margolyes
Stephen Marks
Martine Miel
Professor Simon Mohun
David Mond
Professor Mica Nava
Chaim Neslen
Diana Neslen
Esther Neslen
Helen Pearson
Rina Picciotto
Frances Rifkin
Roland Rance
Michael Rosen
David Rosenberg
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
Leon Rosselson
Maureen Rothstein
Michael Sackin
Caroline Salinger
Ben Samuel
Professor Donald Sassoon
Ian Saville
Miriam Scharf
Amanda Sebesteyn
Glyn Secker
Khalil Secker
Sam Semoff
Alexander Seymour
Professor Avi Shlaim
Ray Sirotkin
Dr David Sperlinger
Vanessa Stilwell
Alexandra Trone
Professor Clare Ungerson
Professor Philip Wadler
Margaret Wayne
Naomi Wayne
Sam Weinstein
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Devra Wiseman
Naomi Woodspring
Ben Young
Dr Gillian Yudkin
Professor John S Yudkin
Professor Nira Yuval-Davis

A Right Royall Mess

In Mid-February this year the Labour party announced an inquiry into antisemitism allegations in the Oxford University Labour club, following the resignation of Alex Chalmers, a vice-chair of the club who wrote on Facebook that: “A large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.” The resignation, and the outcry that followed, came swift on the heels of the club deciding to support Israeli Apartheid Week.

It was clear from the immediate reactions that many accepted the accusations at face value and such people found no difficulty is getting a spot in the media. John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, for example, who, as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary group on Antisemitism has form, finds antisemitism everywhere. He called for the party to sever ties with the club. Louise Ellman, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel was “deeply disturbed by the news that Oxford University Labour Club has decided to support Israeli Apartheid Week and by the revelations from Alex Chalmers about the troubling tone of the discourse in which this debate appears to have been conducted.” She said comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa were “a grotesque smear and the Labour party should dissociate itself from them”.

Baroness  Royall, a Labour party whip in the Lords, was appointed to investigate and produced a report in May. Curiously, only a brief summary of the report was published, in which Royall made clear that she did not believe there was institutional antisemitism within OULC, but there were issues of ensuring a safe space for Labour students to debate and campaign. No reason was given for the non-publication of the Report and it was generally but erroneously assumed that it would be released when Shami Chakrabarti published the results of her wider investigation into the topic of antisemitism, racism and the Labour party.

Two rumours circulated as to why the report did not see the light of day. The first was that it revealed so many embarrassing incidents of antisemitism, its publication would do the Labour party untold damage. The other was a simpler one: that the report itself was a shoddy and embarrassing piece of work, best left unseen.

The Report has now been leaked to the Jewish Chronicle and we are in a position to assess these conflicting interpretations. The JC, unsurprisingly, headlines its story Baroness Royall report reveals Oxford Labour students engaged in antisemitism. The full Report is available for download here.

Naomi Wayne

See also Tony Greenstein’s analysis of the report: Baroness Royall’s Flawed Report on ‘anti-Semitism’ at Oxford University Labour Club 

FSOI deplores attacks on Shami Chakrabarti

Shami Chakrabarti, a human rights lawyer with a justified high reputation for integrity, produced a thoughtful and important report on antisemitism and racism in the Labour Party at the request of leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It is highly regrettable that both she and Corbyn are now under attack from sections of the Jewish community, incensed at the prospect of her joining the House of Lords simply because her inquiry did not find evidence to support their hysterical charges of rampant antisemitism in the party.

Such cheap attacks tell us more about the character of her detractors than they do about her. Her report recommended that the Labour Party radically transform its procedures so that well-founded allegations of racism and antisemitism can be fully investigated and action taken against perpetrators, while protecting members against scurrilous and ill-founded charges.

Black People Matter – Jackie Walker responds to the Chakrabarti Inquiry Report

Via Momentum.
Jackie Walker is Vice Chair of Momentum Steering Committee.

Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry into Anti-Semitism and Racism in the Labour Party made big news soon as it was published – and for all the wrong reasons, just one of the ongoing consequences of the “occasionally toxic atmosphere” that is “in danger of shutting down free speech within the Party rather than facilitating it.” Chakrabarti makes it clear her intention is not to “close down debate on delicate issues around all kinds of personal and political differences within the Party” but to conduct these debates “in a more trusting and constructive environment.” My response is made with the same intent.

As a recently suspended Labour Party member, and the only person as yet (at the point of writing) exonerated, I was bound to read Chakrabarti’s report, and the coverage that followed, with more than a little interest. I write as a long time Labour Party and anti-racist activist for whom Chakrabarti’s findings are personally and politically important. My partner is Jewish, his family observant, but I comment as a woman of mixed Jewish and other heritages who identifies as, and is perceived by others as, a black person of African descent.

Much of the mainstream media response to the Inquiry focused on anti-Semitism, was superficial, poorly informed or with one intent – destabilising Labour and its present leadership. Chakrabarti’s generally well expressed ‘state of the Party’ contextualisation of race relations, and her many well thought through and sensible recommendations, were sidelined as charges of anti-Semitism yet again took centre stage, immediately undermining the Inquiry’s key findings on BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) members.

At the core of the debate is the way competing claims by minorities are positioned in the (at this point in time) supercharged arena of Labour Party politics. In the political arena, perhaps more than elsewhere, race is about power – who has it, who is chosen to represent the Party, who gives power to others and how that power is communicated. Two areas are highlighted in the part of the Chakrabarti Report that focuses on BAME members – that of representation and vocabulary.

Chakrabarti begins with evidence; that in 2010 the BAME community voted for Labour more than double in relation to whites. She describes an unwelcoming environment and a lack of representation at all levels, including in Parliament, but also in the administrative structures of the Party, singling out the lack of black members in the NEC for special mention. What an irony then that it is the voices of people of colour, in particular those of African descent, that were so effectively sidelined in reporting of the Inquiry.

In today’s Labour Party Chakrabarti situates anti-Semitism within a set of feelings and responses as reported in many submissions by some in the Jewish community. Stereotypes limit the ability of peoples to be treated and respected as individuals and Chakrabarti’s comments on the need for sensitivity in the language of debate, whether on issues that relate to Israel or elsewhere, are to be welcomed. But there is acknowledgement that it is power, or the lack of it, that excludes and discriminates against BAME people in the Party, as it does of course in the rest of society. Blacks do not only feel under-represented, or stereotyped in the Party. They are under-represented. They may be members and supporters, they are of course, particularly in Labour’s urban heartlands, often the foot soldiers and voters, but BAME members are effectively excluded where it matters – from power.

Given the terms Chakrabarti was given for her inquiry it is difficult to see how this could have been avoided. If anti-Semitism is set apart from ‘other forms of racism’, can we be surprised when the Inquiry fails to attract a significant number of submissions from BAME groups, or when black individuals are significant only by their absence at its launch? The reception of the Inquiry in the media and elsewhere simply underlined the powerlessness of the BAME community. The paucity of any black response, at a national level, confirms the exclusion the report attempts to redress. In this three card trick discrimination against BAME members is the card that appears, I hope only for the moment, to have been made to magically vanish.

I come now to the issue of vocabulary, in particular comments on the use of the term ‘holocaust,’ a point that concerns many people of African descent who await both recognition or recompense for past wrongs inflicted.

Chakrabarti makes plain her Inquiry is an attempt to bring people together. To stand in solidarity, as Chakrabarti suggests all minorities need to, people of African descent must see the structures that exclude them from power, and have kept them silenced for so long, being changed. This is the only way in which attempts to build an inclusive Party will succeed.

Groups that have suffered oppression need to have conditions, a level playing field, in which they can form united political fronts, working in solidarity with others, rather than having to fight for a place at the table, forever bogged down in disputes about equity, access to power, or the meaning of the past. If the Party does not succeed in this, Labour will remain entangled in the impossible task of being a moral referee as minority ethnic groups engage in a ‘competition of victimhoods’ in order to gain, build or protect recognition.

Others have argued elsewhere for dropping the use of the contested terminology of ‘holocaust’ and replacing it with ‘genocide’. Some suggest opening Holocaust Day more fully to all communities that have suffered mass murder. As Jews retain the word Shoah, so peoples of African descent refer to Maangamizi for their holocaust. Maangamizi describes the slave trade and history of enslavement when millions of Africans were killed, tortured, kidnapped and enslaved for profit but it also refers to the genocides and deprivations of colonialism and the ongoing, consequential suffering and oppressions of peoples of African descent.

I am in agreement with Chakrabarti there are, and can be, no hierarchies of suffering. The Inquiry rightly warns of dilution of effect ‘if every human rights atrocity is described as a Holocaust’. However, I cannot see the term ‘holocaust’ as something the Labour Party can, or should police, though it may provide a useful forum where terminology can be discussed. As ever, the Labour Party must recognise the right of minorities to both name themselves and choose how their history is narrated.

It is in the ability of the labour movement to listen to the experience of people of African descent and other BAME peoples where I now place my trust. It is with hope that I ask that our leaders listen to the concerns of people of colour whose voices before and during the Inquiry, and even now, remain barely heard. I look forward to the changes to come.