Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’

By Tony Greenstein.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has just published a Report, Anti-Semitism in the UK.  The first and most immediate question is why, when other forms of racist attacks are at an all-time high, the Committee should spend its time examining the least widespread or violent form of racism?  By their own admission, anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total just 1.4% of all such crimes, yet anti-Semitism has its own Parliamentary Report.

In its section ‘Key Facts’ the Committee informs us that there has been a rise of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015.  Shocking you may think.  The rise is from 500 to 557.  But 24% of the total, 133 incidents in all, were on social media.  Of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents, fully 44 of the 57 were on social media.[1]  Obviously it is not very pleasant to receive anti-Semitic tweets such as those above (which were sent by Zionists!) but it is clearly different from acts of violence.

If one looks closer at the Community Security Trust’s Report quoted from then it turns out that there were just 41 violent incidents.  If one delves a little deeper it turns out that there was actually a 13 per cent fall in violent incidents for the first half of 2015 and none of these were classified by the CST as ‘Extreme Violence’, i.e. they involved potential grievous bodily harm or threat to life.  This is good not bad news.  Why would the Select Committee wish to exaggerate the incidence of anti-Semitism?

Most of the anti-Semitic incidents involved ‘verbal abuse’ and it is difficult to know how many of these were genuinely anti-Semitic and how many were of the kind ‘why do you bomb children in Gaza’.  G given that the Board of Deputies of British Jews does its best to associate Jews with Israel’s war crimes, is it any wonder that some people take them at their word?

Contrast this with anti-Muslim hate crimes.  According to a report from the Muslim Hate Monitoring Group Tell MAMA, British Muslims are experiencing an “explosion” in anti-Islamic.

The annual survey by Tell MAMA found a 326 per cent rise in incidents last year, while the Muslim Council of Britain group of mosques said it had compiled a dossier of 100 hate crimes over the weekend alone.

Unlike anti-Semitism, ‘many attacks are happening in the real world – at schools and colleges, in restaurants and on public transport. The number of offline incidents rose 326 per cent in 2015 from 146 to 437’  The effect has been that many Muslim women – especially those wearing Islamic clothing –were being prevented from conducting normal “day to day activities”.[2]

Yet the Committee, which was chaired by Keith Vaz, has shown no interest in anti-Muslim racism.  Why might that be?

Somewhat confusingly for a Report that is supposed to be about anti-Semitism, another of its Key Facts tells us that ‘Research published in 2015 by City University found that 90% of British Jewish people support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and 93% say that it forms some part of their identity as Jewish people, but only 59% consider themselves to be Zionists.’  [3]  In reality this Report is not about anti-Semitism but the use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against anti-Zionists.

This Report dips in and out of what it is quoting without any attempt to put anything in perspective.  It probably is true that 90% of British Jews support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, but how many of them appreciate that a Jewish settler colonial state is an inherently racist state?   What is interesting is that although the Report admits that only 59% of British Jews consider themselves Zionists, 31% don’t.   Even more interesting, the Report states that ‘in 2010, 72% of the respondents classified themselves as Zionists compared to 59% in the present study.’  As to why that is, the Report offers two different explanations:

  1. Jews believe that criticism of Israel is incompatible with being a Zionist and
  2. the frequent use of the term ‘Zionist’ in general discourse as a pejorative or even abusive label discourages some individuals from describing themselves as a Zionist.

If the latter is correct, then this is clearly a good thing as anti-Zionist criticism of the State of Israel is having some effect and is deterring Jewish people from identifying with a racist ideology.  However the Committee draws the opposite conclusion because it considers Zionism a good thing.  Therein lies the problem.

Amongst other ‘key facts’ was the report of a survey of Labour Party members who joined after the 2015 General Election, 55% of whom agreed that antisemitism is “not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel”.[4]  Clearly, despite the bombardment of the mass media about fake anti-Semitism, most party members are dismissive of this fable.  When Owen Smith debated Jeremy Corbyn in Cardiff and claimed that he hadn’t taken ‘anti-Semitism’ seriously, he was booed.  In reality very few Labour Party members sincerely believe in this hype.

A Report whose primary motivation is to attack Corbyn and the Labour Left

It is curious that a Report on anti-Semitism should start off with a section ‘Anti-Semitism in the Political Parties’ before homing in on just one party, Labour.  Labour is the target throughout this ill-conceived and politically tendentious Report.  It immediately begins with the suspension of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone and others (who it estimates range from 18-40) for’ anti-Semitism’.  Since no one has been tried or found guilty of ‘anti-Semitism’ one can only assume that the presumption of innocence has been abandoned by lawyer Chuku Ummuna and his Tory friends.  Livingstone expressed an opinion that Hitler supported Zionism.  He may be right or wrong, it may even give offence to those who find the truth unpalatable, but anti-Semitic it is not.  Naz Shah made a joke about how much nicer it would be if Israel was located within the borders of the USA as that would mean less death and destruction all round.  She borrowed a map that originated with the Jewish Virtual Library, hardly the greatest act of anti-Semitism the world has known!

After noting that the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks come from the far-Right, the Report then speaks about ‘the fact that incidents of antisemitism—particularly online—have made their way into a major political party’ despite not having established any facts to support this.  It is this sleight of hand, asserting that which it is supposed to be proving, which runs throughout this Report.

The Report tried to come up with a definition of anti-Semitism but it did this in a very curious way by aiming to maintain ‘an appropriate balance between condemning antisemitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech—particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel.’  It is curious in two ways – firstly what has criticism of Israel got to do with a definition of anti-Semitism?  The underlying assumption is that criticism of the State of Israel is somehow anti-Semitic.  Because Israeli racism  is based on its self-definition as a Jewish state, i.e. a state where Jews have privileges, it is assumed that criticism of its racism is therefore anti-Semitic.  This is the ‘logic’ that the Report employes throughout.  Anti-Semitism is hatred of or discrimination against Jews as individuals or violence against them.  A state is not an individual or a victim of racism.  Secondly what is ‘legitimate’ criticism of Israel and in whose eyes? Continue reading “Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’”

Student leaders denounce false, selective & partisan HASC report and the unjust targeting of Malia Bouattia

Open Letter to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on report titled ‘Antisemitism in the UK’

We, the undersigned, note with grave concern the findings of the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) on anti-Semitism. The report’s findings on the sharp growth in anti-Semitic incidents in the last year is deeply troubling, and is an urgent call to all those involved in fighting against racism, oppression, and for a better society more generally. We welcome the reports calls to take on anti-Semitism, as well as its focus on greater recognition of under-acknowledged areas of abuse, such as online platforms.

Unfortunately, despite outlining that the large majority of anti-Semitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, caused by the far right, the report fails to address these groups in any detail. Instead, it focuses virtually all of its attention on the Labour Party and the National Union of Students (NUS), without providing any evidence that these organisations are responsible for the deplorable situation it describes. This undermines the report and casts doubt upon its authors’ intentions. We believe that in order to address the growing reality of anti-Semitism in society effectively, we have to do so without falling prey to partisan selectivity.

We strongly regret the report’s recommendation that would suggest legitimate criticism of Zionism to be considered as hate-crimes by the government, effectively equating them with anti-Semitism. Zionism is a political ideology that continues to express itself through the actions of the State of Israel. It is one that is held or rejected by both Jewish people and non-Jewish people. Zionism and Judaism are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. As with all political ideologies, it should be open to discussion, scrutiny and debate. This is the long-held position of many Jewish academics and key figures, and one we are disappointed that the report is unable to reflect.

We are extremely alarmed at the way NUS’ National President, Malia Bouattia, is being singled out for her views on Israel by the HASC in its report, and depicted as the source of anti-Semitism in Higher Education. Bouattia’s repeated assurances, within the union and in the media, that she will address concerns and revise her language, are completely ignored by the HASC report, despite the fact that she has done just that and reiterated her commitments to do this in her submission for the HASC report.

Furthermore, Bouattia has outlined – on numerous occasions and in her written submission to the HASC – the actions she and NUS are taking to fight anti-Semitism which include: supporting NUS’ Anti-Racism and Anti-Fascism Campaign, continued work on interfaith and campus cohesion, interfaith work focused specifically on anti-Semitism, upcoming work on tackling hate crime, an Institutional Racism Review inclusive of anti-Semitism which she demanded, as well as working alongside the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Holocaust education. The report fails to acknowledge any of these endeavours.

The HAC also seem to be misinformed about recent developments in NUS’ Anti-Racism Anti-Fascism (ARAF) Committee. Under Bouattia’s leadership, the Jewish representative on NUS’ ARAF Committee is now elected by Jewish members of the union’s National Executive Committee. Previously, representatives were appointed by the NUS president. The report claims the reverse to be true.

Finally, we believe this report’s selective and partisan approach attempts to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movements. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow these claims against us to go unchallenged. We demand a revised report that is impartial and contains factual evidence. We demand that all false statements are retracted, especially in relation to the sections regarding campus anti-Semitism, along with an apology to those who have been vilified by the inaccuracies and partisan biases it contains. Our movement will remain principled in its work defending human rights, freedom of expression, and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms.

To add your name to this statement sign here: https://goo.gl/forms/VROOugGVCUtN6MK93

Updated list of over 300 signatories here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1pTqtRyLSTmYTNi_NOBDXvq6A-Z7RjEfxLSPPGCZP8dg/mobilebasic



Free Speech on Israel note:

In the media furore over Malia Bouattia’s historic remark that Birmingham University was ‘something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education,’ with ‘the largest JSoc in the country whose leadership is dominated by Zionist activists,’ the context was entirely overlooked.

Bouattia’s 2011 article reveals a campaign of intimidation and harassment, by pro-Israel student groups, of Palestine solidarity activists on campus. Referring to events during Israeli Apartheid Week, that included a mock Israeli checkpoint, Bouattia wrote at the time:

Overall the events were a success and many of the students and visitors on campus witnessed the Zionist attempts of intimidation which contradicted their “peace” initiative. We reinforced that our approaches remain non-violent and that we have no intention of intimidating students as opposed to the continuous harassment and confrontations we experience from Zionists on campus. Our principle aims are to liberate and seek justice for the Palestinian. We therefore also wanted to contribute to raising awareness about Israel in the hope that Zionists may take the first step and admit their state’s inhumane and illegal actions are wrong and then perhaps this would be the first step to discussing genuine peace.

Not all members of JSocs are pro-Israel, identify as Zionists or oppose BDS, but JSocs are arguably ‘Zionist-dominated’, and committed to undermining the Palestinian civil society, non-violent, anti-racist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which represents its membership through Jewish Societies (JSocs), is a member of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS). Their mission is:

To connect students worldwide with the State of Israel as the central creative factor in Jewish life, and to pursue this through the encouragement of Aliyah, strengthening the State of Israel.

The WUJS, in turn, is an affiliated member of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) with, possibly, voting rights. WZO’s mission is ‘promoting Zionism & the Zionist idea and the Zionist enterprise through Israel Education as vital and positive elements of contemporary Jewish life.’ (See also Jews Sans Frontieres post on Birmingham JSoc)

Commons Home Affairs Committee ignored evidence

The Home Affairs select committee was presented with many different views of the nature of antisemitism. The committee ignored all those which did not fit in with its narrow purpose. It should have considered how best to protect British Jews; it failed. Instead it cherry picked submissions that absolved Israel or attacked Jeremy Corbyn.

We reprint Free Speech on Israel’s evidence which we hope fair minded commentators will consider even if MPs would not.

Mike Cushman

Free Speech on Israel submission to Home Affairs Committee inquiry into antisemitism

4 July 2016

SUMMARY

  • Those who claim to represent the Jewish community, and who are given voice by the media, do not represent a sizeable Jewish minority who are highly critical of Israel and the violations of Palestinian human rights.
  • There is no wave of antisemitism in the Labour party, whilst peaks of antisemitism in the general community correlate with the attacks on Gaza.
  • The allegations essentially constitute a campaign against the left leadership of the Labour Party and the success of the Boycott movement.
  • There is a conflation of Jew, Israel and Zionism such that criticism of Israel or Zionism is defined as antisemitism.
  • A particular form of Zionism, committed to territorial expansion and the expulsion of Palestinians, today informs both the Israeli government and the international Jewish establishment.
  • Where Israel, Zionism and Jew are conflated into one identity it should not be surprising that criticism of Israel’s actions or of its current political ideology may cause some Jews to feel personally uncomfortable or insecure. It is, however, incumbent on the critics to ensure criticism of human rights violations, and/or of the ideology which informs them, are accurately focussed and do not slide into criticism of Jews and become antisemitic.
  • Israel receives privileged attention because it has a special relationship with the UK, the EU and the USA, and claims to be a liberal democracy.
  • The EUMC committee’s ‘working definition’ of antisemitism has not been adopted by the EU and has been disowned by it’s successor committee, the FRA. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is a private body and cannot be cited to accord the ‘working definition’ any international legal status.
  • The Jewish Labour Movement’s proposed Labour Party rule change would be a gross violation of the principles of natural justice.
  • Due to its partiality, the JLM is not a fit body to provide the Labour Party with advice and training on antisemitism.
  • Very occasionally individuals on demonstrations display references to the Nazis and refuse to remove them. Streets are public places and it would not be possible to remove them without force. Citing this microscopically small and insignificant minority as representative of the demonstrations or their organisers is a calumny.

CONCLUSION

  • It is incumbent on Parliament and its Committees when taking evidence to include the Jewish groups which dissent from the mainstream Jewish narrative.

1. Who we are.

a ‘Free Speech On Israel’ is a network of Labour, Green and trade union activists, mainly of Jews drawn from Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jews for Jeremy, Independent Jewish Voices, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Young Jewish Left, and Jewdas. It came together to counter the campaign to brand support for justice for Palestinians antisemitic, and at concern for the lack of due process in the suspensions from the Labour party, with no published evidence.

b. Those interviewed or referenced by the Committee who claim to represent the Jewish community all identify themselves as Zionists who defend Israel from all and any criticism, namely the Board of Deputies of British Jews, The Jewish Leadership Council, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Community Security Trust, British Information Communications Media Organisation (BICOM), and the Zionist Federation. They are all well resourced, with their views amplified in the media. However, large sections of the Jewish community reject Zionism and between our different groups we believe we are representative of these sections.

c. A survey last year by Yachad, a liberal UK Zionist group found:
31% did not self-identify as Zionists
24% would support sanctions if they believed it would push Israel into a peace process,
This rose to 41% of under 30’s

A similar USA survey last year (only published in Hebrew) found:
just 42% believe Israel wants peace
only 38% believe Israel is a civilised society
only 31% believes it is democratic
21% believe the US should side with the Palestinians

It is evident that within the Jewish community there is considerable and deep disquiet concerning the nature of Israeli society, the Occupation and the discriminatory policies of the Israeli government. This diversity of opinion has been underrepresented in the media and, so far, in the public deliberations of your Committee.

2. Why the flood of accusations of antisemitism now?

a. In our collective experience running to thousands of person years, we have experienced only a tiny number of antisemitic incidents, none of which have been in the Labour Party, and we have seen no recent upsurge. Most of the current allegations relate to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

‘Could we see it as part of a broader campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, as the leading pro- Palestinian politician, and against the Boycott movement. Politicians have been silenced by fear of the antisemitic trope, which is intended to close down ethical, historically informed debate […] Settler and soldier brutality, casual killings, child arrests and imprisonment and abuse, land theft, house demolitions, and racism escalate daily. But criticism is deflected (by being defined) as visceral hatred of the Jewish state.’

These words (summarised) are not those of a conspiratorial antisemitic leftist, but of the internationally respected Oxford University Professor and author Avi Shlaim, who is also Jewish.

3. Understanding the nature of the complaints – the conflation of Jew, Israel and Zionism

a. The current accusations identify three areas as targets of antisemitism: Jews, Israel and Zionism. It is the tripartite conflation of these which creates the logic that criticism of any one is an attack on Jews and is therefore antisemitic. (Initially any criticism of Israel was so defined, recently however there has been a degree of moderation such that now not all criticism of Israel is defined as illegitimate).

This conflation is endorsed by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis, who has said, “You can no more separate it (Zionism) from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.” Continue reading “Commons Home Affairs Committee ignored evidence”

Partisan Report on Antisemitism discredits Home Affairs Select Committee

House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report:                    

  • Depends on evidence from almost exclusively pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn sources
  • Advocates re-defining antisemitism so as to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian voices, including making it a punishable offence to use the word Zionist “in an accusatory context”
  • Dismisses the Chakrabarti Report’s principled recommendations for fair and transparent disciplinary Labour Party procedures  in cases of alleged antisemitism and other forms of racism, proposing draconian, politically motivated measures instead

London, October 16 – The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee today issued a Report on Antisemitism in the UK that, while correctly identifying the far Right as the source of most hate crime, shows such bias in its sources and assessment of evidence that it calls into question the committee’s reputation and competence.

The Report, from a Tory dominated committee, takes up the weapons that have been used to try to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader by smearing those he has attracted to the Party with charges of antisemitism. The apparent collusion of Labour committee members reflects the dirty war being waged against Corbyn’s radical leadership by elements within the party.   

Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, from the Jewish-led campaign group Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), said the select committee had aligned itself with extreme pro-Israel advocates, by setting restrictive limits on what may and may not be said, threatening to close down free speech on Israel and Palestine.

“The dire record of antisemitism over the centuries and especially in the last one means that vigilance is essential,” said Prof Rosenhead. “But antisemitism is not, currently, the major racist threat in this country; nor is it a significant problem in the Labour Party. This report loses all sense of proportion. It risks actually weakening the defences against true antisemitism (‘hatred of Jews as Jews’) by trying to extend its meaning to include many legitimate criticisms of Israel.

“For those of us who argue, along with many other Jews and Israelis, that the Zionist project has inflicted intolerable injustice on the Palestinians, the adjective ‘Zionist’ inevitably has an ‘accusatory’ aspect.  But it is directed against the State of Israel and its founding ideology, not against Jews.”

NOTES

  1. House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry2/publications/
  2. Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. 
  3. Prof Jonathan Rosenhead explores the workings of the campaign to discover antisemitism in every corner of Corbyn’s Labour Party https://opendemocracy.net/jonathan-rosenhead/jackie-walker-suspense-mystery
  4. Free Speech on Israel submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry. https://www.scribd.com/doc/315237906/Free-Speech-on-Israel-Submission-to-Chakrabarti-Submission
  5. Asa Winstanley exposes the fabrication of many antisemitism allegations https://electronicintifada.net/content/how-israel-lobby-manufactured-uk-labour-partys-anti-semitism-crisis/16481

Jackie Walker: a suspense mystery

Reprinted from openDemocracy.

By Jonathan Rosenhead

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be suspended once may be regarded as a misfortune; twice looks like carelessness. But whose?

Like all great mysteries, the defenestration of Jackie Walker from the Vice-Chairship of Momentum, and her renewed suspension from the Labour Party, has quite a back story. Where to begin? In 1954 when she was born? On May 14, 1948, Israel’s birth date? On 12 September 2016, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party? In 1920 when the organisation Poale Zion affiliated to the UK Labour Party, or in 2004 when it was re-launched as the Jewish Labour Movement?  Or (as with most public accounts of the events causing Jackie Walker’s latest ‘offence’) at 11.30am on Monday September 26, ending one hour later when the training session on antisemitism at the Labour Party Annual Conference in Liverpool limped to a halt.

I think that we can do better than that.

Defining holocaust and antisemitism

I will start with that infamous training session and work back. It is by now well known that Ms Walker a) belittled Holocaust Memorial Day; b) said that the fuss about the danger of attacks on Jewish schools was being over-blown; and c) saw no need for definitions of antisemitism. Some facts will intrude on the elegant simplicity of this story.

On Holocaust Memorial Day she got her facts wrong, saying that it only commemorated the Nazi Holocaust, and ignored other genocides including that perpetrated on Africans by the slave trade. In fact International Holocaust Memorial Day does in principle mark all genocides from the Nazi holocaust onwards. In practice, however, the commemorations virtually ignore the slaughter of some 2 million Romani, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled and many others under Hitler’s regime, and for example, only pays  lip-service to Rwanda. It is the Jewish narrative that dominates.

But consider that arbitrary cut-off date. It handily excludes those undoubted but historically inconvenient earlier genocides. Evidently the United States might have felt sensitive about an annual focus on the deaths of so many millions of Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (even though historians dispute whether this was deliberate – or just stuff that happened). Britain had its significant role in the slave trade and the treatment of aborigines in Australia to keep out of the picture. And so on. The absence from Holocaust Memorial Day of the millions of slaves who died on the Atlantic crossing and then through the brutal conditions of slave labour is no accident, no act of God. And it is no sacrilege for Jackie Walker to point up this glaring omission.

It has been taken as read by most mainstream commentators that when Jackie Walker said (while asking a question of the training session tutor, Mike Katz, of the Jewish Labour Movement) that “I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with”, what she meant was that it wasn’t worth defining because it wasn’t that important. What actually happened before her intervention sheds a quite different light.

I was present at the training session, and have also had the advantage of consulting a transcript of the proceedings. This shows that a few minutes before Jackie Walker’s intervention a (Jewish) attendee at the session asked Katz “We don’t know what you’re working from. Do you think you can give us what your definition of AS is?”. Katz replied “The standard definition of antisemitism is actually the European Union Monitoring Centre….” at which point several other members objected that the EUMC definition had no status, was deeply flawed etc. This context clearly shows what definition Jackie Walker was objecting to.

How not to define antisemitism

The ‘EUMC working definition’ is a cause celebre. It is called a ‘working definition’ because it was never formally adopted by EUMC (which itself no longer exists). When it existed it was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. In 2004 it commissioned a definition from a working group, which was effectively taken over by the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, both bodies with a strong Zionist orientation.

It was in fact the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism and extremism, attorney Kenneth Stern, who was the main author of the EUMC definition. Stern is deeply concerned about what he calls “politically-based antisemitism, otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism, which treats Israel as the classic Jew. Whereas the Jew is disqualified by antisemitism from equal membership in the social compact, antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.”  In other words, according to Stern, if you are opposed to the Zionist political project, or indeed advocate a boycott of Israel, then you are an antisemite. So, despite its name, the EUMC definition did not originate in the EU at all but from a pro-Israel lobby group in the USA.  With this understanding, the American spellings in the document become understandable.

But why take so much trouble over a definition of something so straight-forward as antisemitism? Brian Klug, an Oxford academic who specialises in the study of antisemitism manages it in 21 words: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. The EUMC working definition by contrast took 500 words, a whole page. That is because it lists a whole raft of types of statement that can be considered prima facie evidence of antisemitism, most of them about Israel. The purpose, which should have been transparent, was not to define antisemitism as commonly understood, but to extend its reach so as to embrace and proscribe a range of common criticisms of Israel, often called ‘the new antisemitism’, or even ‘antisemitic anti-zionism’.

The institutional history of this definition is chequered. It is called a ‘working definition’ because the EUMC itself never adopted it. When the EU closed down the EUMC in 2007 its functions were transferred to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which declined to endorse the definition and indeed removed it from its website.  The FRA is on record as stating that it is “not aware of any public authority in the EU that applies it”, and that it has “no plans for any further development” of it.

In 2006 the EUMC definition was taken up and promoted in a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism under its chair (then MP) Denis MacShane. But in 2015 under its new chair, John Mann MP, the group brought out a further report which did not repeat this call. Instead it commissioned a sub-report from Professor David Feldman (later Deputy Chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry) which came down in favour of – the Brian Klug definition. In 2011 my own union, UCU, after one failed attempt to use the EUMC definition internally, resolved at its annual conference to exclude it from any future role in disciplinary cases. In 2013 the BBC Trust agreed that the definition had no standing.

This was the ‘definition’ that Mike Katz and the Jewish Labour Movement refer to as the ‘standard’ definition – and which Jackie Walker said she could not work with.

The Jewish Labour Movement

The Jewish Labour Movement, mostly under its former name of Poale Zion, has been an affiliated organisation of the Labour Party since 1920. Its origins were as a movement of Jewish/Marxist/Zionist workers across Europe in the early days of the twentieth century. With Jewish immigration to Israel it became a major force there, and through a dizzying series of splits and re-mergers became the origin both of Mapai (Israel’s governing party for decades) and of its left rival Mapam.

In 1920 Poale Zion in the UK could be seen as an authentic representative of the then numerous Jewish working class. In the 1930’s its supporters included Labour NEC member (later party chair) Harold Laski. Postwar it retained influence – this was a period when almost all progressive people in the UK were moved by the trauma of the holocaust, excited by the socialist experiment of the kibbutz movement, and admiring of ‘plucky little Israel’ trouncing its many Arab neighbours. Prominent parliamentary backers included left icons like Ian Mikardo and Sidney Silverman. In 1946 Poale Zion had 2000 members.

How things have changed. Nearly 50 years of illegal occupation and settlement, population punishment by blockade, and the repeated deployment of a formidable state killing machine against civilians with nowhere to hide long ago ended the love-in. Large swathes of the left, and indeed of the centre ground of British politics, believe that the automatic support for Israel by the governments of the UK and other developed countries is both morally indefensible and in the longer term pragmatically disastrous.

How did all this affect Poale Zion? In effect it shrank, and despite a 2004 attempted rebrand as ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ became inactive and nearly invisible. It remained, as it still is, affiliated not only to our Labour Party but also to the Israeli Labour Party and the World Zionist Organisation. However as late as 2015 its website remained totally inactive, though it seems to have maintained an email list. In February 2016 its chair Louise Ellman MP (who during this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool asked for her own constituency Party in that city to be suspended on grounds of entryism) stepped down, to be replaced by Jeremy Newmark. It is from that point on that a new, brash and aggressive Jewish Labour Movement leapt into view. There is no publicly available information on where its evidently ample funding comes from.

Newmark is active in his local Labour Party, but was until the other day far more known for his former role from 2006 until 2013 as Chief Executive of the umbrella group the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC). Before that he was communications director for the then Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs.

It was while in charge of the JLC that he gave evidence at a 2013 Employment Tribunal case alleging anti-Semitic behaviour by the University and College Union (my own union, by the way), brought by one of its members. In dismissing the case in its entirety (“We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”) the judgement remarked that “we have rejected as untrue” the evidence of Mr Newmark concerning an incident at the 2008 UCU Congress. And that’s not all – one “preposterous claim” by Newmark was described as a “painfully ill-judged example of playing to the gallery”. And yet more – Newmark’s statement (in the context of the academic boycott controversy in 2007) that the union was “no longer a fit arena for free speech”, was a comment “which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

Clearly Newmark is a man with a mission. It seems to be the identification and rooting out of antisemitism. And his arrival on the national Labour Party scene has coincided with the uproar about left antisemitism.

The surge in antisemitism

What surge in antisemitism? We do know that antisemitic incidents reported in the UK in the first 6 months of this year, as recorded by the Community Security Trust, rose by 15% above those for the previous year.  But percentage changes like these tell only part of the story. The actual number of such incidents recorded for the first half of 2016 was 557. And that figure is still below that for 2014, which were boosted by the Israeli assault on Gaza, so no surge.

By comparison, the official figures for hate crimes of all types in the UK has averaged over 220,000 annually over the most recent 5-year period. Antisemitism is a foul attitude which has had dire effects over the centuries. Vigilance is needed. But right now in the UK it manifests itself as a pimple on the bum of the far too many other offences committed out of hatred or fear of the Other.

Is it possible that despite the low levels of antisemitic behaviour in the general population there is significant antisemitism within the left and specifically the Labour Party? Attempts have been made to show that such views are either historically endemic on the left, or brought on by the Corbyn ascendency. (That these explanations are mutually contradictory is glossed over.) Those who really want to see this argument in extenso could consider reading David Rich’s recent book, timed for publication just ahead of the Labour Party conference. But there is contrary evidence.

In response to a moral panic about Left antisemitism seemingly expanding without limit, the group Free Speech on Israel coalesced in April out of a loosely-knit band of Jewish Labour Party supporters. Some 15 of us got together at a couple of days’ notice for the inaugural gathering. We found that over our lifetimes we could muster only a handful of antisemitic experiences between us. And, crucially, although in aggregate we had around 1000 years of Labour Party membership, no single one of us had ever experienced an incident of antisemitism in the Party.

Some time in May the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was interviewed on Radio 4 about the antisemitism ‘crisis’ by now gripping the nation. Helpfully his interviewer invited him to share some of his own personal experiences of antisemitism. His response, from memory ran rather like this: “Well….actually I have never experienced antisemitism myself. Which is odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.

The ex-Chief Rabbi and Free Speech on Israel are at one on this, if on little else.

The conundrum of evidence-free assertions

How then do we make sense of a ‘crisis’ for which evidence is so lacking? Well, one solution if you want a crisis and lack enough evidence is to invent some. Another is to redefine innocent behaviour as evidence of criminal intent.

The ‘crisis’ seems to have taken off big-time in February this year with the allegations (now known to be fabricated) of rampant antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club, leading to the establishment of an enquiry under Baroness Royall. Yet this ‘fact’ was factitious. The two students who made the claims have (respectively) resigned from the Labour Party and been kicked out of it! Both seem to have been supporters of another party. One of them formerly worked at BICOM, the well-funded PR operation that promotes Israel’s image.

As long ago as April a report in openDemocracy on accusations of antisemitism which led to early suspensions showed that nearly all of them related to remarks that people made, not about Jews, but about Israel and Zionism. Historical Facebook postings and Twitter feeds had been ransacked (by whom?) to find a careless nuance. A Labour member using the word ‘Zionist’ as a purely descriptive adjective in a tweet can be treated as a suspected antisemite for it. (I refer to the case of the Vice-Chair of my own constituency Labour Party, still suspended as I write.)

Curiously the mainstream media continue with their established narrative. Do their journalists investigate? Can they read?

Since the answer to at least one of these questions must be ‘yes’ we do need to look for another explanation of why, and indeed how, a crisis of antisemitism in the Labour Party which doesn’t actually exist has become a ‘fact’.

Making believe

If I were to say that there was a conspiracy to make this happen I would no doubt be accused of antisemitism (Jewishness is no defence) for an antisemitic trope and condemned to one of the circles of hell (the 6th probably), or at least suspension. So I won’t. But anyhow conspiracy was almost certainly unnecessary. There is a community of interest plus overlapping membership.

It is impossible to know from the outside exactly what and who have made this moral panic go with such a swing. Key individuals may well be Jeremy Newmark, well-placed in JLM, though only just in time, to fan these flames. The wily Mark Regev took up his post as Israeli ambassador in London at the start of April. In July Ella Rose left her job as public affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy to become Director of JLM. Who knows? Organisationally, judging by their public pronouncements there is an at least informal coalition of forces involving JLM, Progress (the Blairite pressure group), and Labour Friends of Israel which have all been promoting the idea that the left is permeated with antisemitism.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-19-14-59
Twitter/ 13 Oct 2016

What has made this alignment of forces a natural is that they have all wanted the same thing – the ejection of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour leadership. The Blairites (but let’s not forget the Brownites) understood that his consolidation in post threatened their whole vision of the Labour Party and its place in an orderly capitalist society with a human face. The Israelis had every reason to wish for a short tenure for the first major party leader in a developed country to have a record of supporting Palestinian rights. All the significant Jewish community organisations, now including JLM, sing from the same psalm book – the refrain is that an attachment to Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity in the twenty-first century.

So – if attacks on Israel’s Zionist project of securing the maximum territory with the minimum number of Palestinians can be construed as antisemitic, and this can somehow be blamed on Corbyn, everyone gains.

Making unbelieve

The whole operation has been breath-takingly successful for the last 8 months. And it is not over. JLM, for example, is pressing for a change in the Labour Party’s constitution that would make it (even) easier to exclude people on suspicion of harbouring antisemitic tendencies. It has influence at the highest levels in the Labour Party. The very training session run by JLM that led to Jackie Walker’s second suspension was set up by the Labour Party bureaucracy in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti inquiry. Their report recommended against such targeted training, and in favour of broader anti-racist education. But, hey, who’s counting? Not the Labour Party apparatus.

Free Speech on Israel aims to expose this soufflé of a Ponzi scheme. It rests on the shifting sands of unreliable evidence, and on assertions that contradict our (Jewish and non-Jewish) everyday experience. Not least, the claims about a Jewish community united in its alignment behind Israel is yet more make believe. The best survey evidence we have is that 31% of UK Jews describe themselves as ‘No, not Zionist’; and many of the remainder are deeply concerned over Israel’s policies.

We should suspend our belief.

Acknowledgement: I have been helped in writing this article by research carried out by The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley, and by his advice.

Sample letters to Momentum in defence of Jackie Walker

We are urging everyone who believes in Free Speech on Israel to write to momentum to urge them to end their harassment of Jackie Walker. There are many posts on this site giving the background to these events on this site. Messages should be sent to:

Messages need to be sent by Monday morning as the Momentum steering Committee is planning to meet on Monday to discuss removing Jackie from her position as Vice-chair: Jackie herself has not been invited to the meeting. Individually composed messages are most effective. If you are a Momentum and/or a Labour Party member please quote your Constituency in your message. Please send a copy of your message to info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk so we can let Jackie know of the support we are showing for her.

We are publishing the text of four letters sent by FSOI activists for you to quote from or adapt as you wish.

  1. An individual letter from Mike Cushman
  2. An individual letter from Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
  3. A letter from Tony Greenstein that has been signed by thirteen of Jackie’s supporters
  4. An individual letter from Helen Marks
  5. An individual letter from Sue Blackwell

1. Dear Jon

As a Momentum and Labour Party member I am alarmed to learn from the Guardian that Momentum is contemplating removing Jackie Walker as vice-chair.

I have shared platforms with Jackie and been impressed by her sophisticated understanding of the complex relationship between the twin evils of antisemitism and anti-Black racism. She speaks from an experience that few of us share and we should listen to her with respect.

Jackie, as a woman of dual heritage, has to deal with the inherited pain of two Holocausts, the Jewish tragedy and the African horror story. Dealing with one is difficult, managing to live with the impact of both doubly so. No one has developed a language for this. Jackie is trying to provide one, a difficult task in the best and most supportive environment; an almost impossible one when every utterance is malevolently misinterpreted.

Jackie is also being attacked for asking for the definition of antisemitism on which the JLM trainers were basing their session, a patently reasonable request. Definitions of antisemitism are highly contested and there is a large literature on the topic, both academic and polemical, which has reached no consensus. Anti-racism training sessions have consistently started from trying to reach a definition, or at least a description, of racism the participants can use to underpin a discussion. It appears that the JLM trainers both know with certainty what antisemitism is and, extraordinarily, are not prepared to share that definition with the trainees.

She is being attacked on the basis of leaks from a training session that were definitely unethical and very probably illegal. It is the officers of JLM who should be facing sanctions not Jackie.

I am shocked to see Momentum officers dancing to the tune of the JLM and the Labour right-wing, the very people I joined Momentum to oppose and to loosen their stranglehold on thinking in Labour.

If you believe that moving against Jackie will increase the security of Momentum and strengthened Jeremy’s position you are more naïve than I believed possible. You are not being enjoined to ditch Jackie to strengthen Momentum and Jeremy but just the opposite. If they get Jackie’s scalp they will not be sitting back saying ‘job done’. They will be setting their sights on their next target and then the one after that to weaken and divide us.

I joined other Momentum members in the pub yesterday to celebrate Jeremy’s re-election but what was meant to be a party turned into a bitter contemplation of Momentum’s leadership wrecking an organisation days after the success of TWT [The World Transformed] and wondering if they have a future in a Momentum that treats its best activists I this manner. I have been receiving emails all day from members in other constituencies telling the same story. According to the Guardian, “A spokesperson for the leftwing grassroots movement, which was set up to support Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, confirmed members wanted her to go.” I do not know which members the spokesperson was talking about, there has been no consultation and many, many members want her to stay.

One of our aims is to democratise the Labour Party; we can’t do that through an organisation that mimics the worst practices of the Compliance Unit and works through a system of kangaroo courts.

Please, even at this late stage, draw back from the precipice and do not undermine our hopes for the future.

Fraternally

Mike Cushman
Streatham CLP and Momentum

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2. Dear Jon,

I am writing to you as a Jewish member of both the Labour Party (Chingford and Woodford Green CLP) and of Momentum. I have opposed racism and supported human rights and social justice for half a century – since my teens. Therefore, naturally, I have been a fervent supporter of Jeremy’s leadership of the party from the first.

I am also a long-standing supporter of the campaign for justice for Palestine – a position I regard as entirely consistent with the Jewish values I grew up with. It is axiomatic in my family that the mass slaughter inflicted on Jews in Europe should never be inflicted on any other people, anywhere.

This past year we have seen Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist project attacked by a powerful combination of forces. Pro-Israel lobbyists, well practised at alleging that critics are motivated solely by hostility to Jews, have handed the perfect weapon to the political and media establishment ranged against him. They assert that criticism of the state of Israel or of Zionism is an assault on Jewish identity and therefore a kind of hate speech. But as you know, many Jews are not Zionists, while plenty of non-Jews are.

I chaired a meeting in Liverpool last Sunday where Jackie Walker shared the platform with a British Palestinian lawyer and a leading Jewish pro-Palestinian activist. Her contribution to our understanding of the anti-Corbyn campaign was hugely appreciated by the Momentum supporters who packed into the hall to hear her speak.

Jackie’s unique perspective, with her combined Jewish and African-Caribbean heritage and her history of anti-racist, left-wing activism, makes her a hate figure for Corbyn’s opponents. It would be shameful for Momentum to capitulate to the witch hunt which has seen newspapers, broadcasters and social media pundits uncritically reporting every allegation against Jackie and other Labour or Momentum members – of antisemitism, misogyny, bullying and support for terrorism.  There is, actually, a nasty whiff of racism and misogyny in their targeting of Jackie. Her Jewish heritage is often deliberately passed over.

She has been a victim of distortions and deliberate falsehoods, such as those exposed by investigative journalist Asa Winstanley and still repeated with such frequency that they have become received wisdom, lightly tossed into the conversation in Radio 4 comedy shows.  Everybody now “knows” that Jews are not safe in Corbyn’s Labour Party and Jackie Walker is an antisemite.

As someone whose mother had been called a Christ-killer when she was a little girl at school, I think I am pretty sensitive to prejudice and stereotyping directed at Jews. I do not tolerate it – nor any other form of racism – in the Labour Party, the Palestine solidarity movement or any other setting. Though I personally I have not encountered it, I acknowledge that antisemitism exists in the party, as in the rest of society. There are recommendations in the Chakrabarti Report that would – if implemented – strengthen the party as a bulwark against all forms of racism, which is absolutely essential in the post-Brexit world. Jackie will be a great asset in building our anti-racist movement.

I have been alarmed at the reluctance of our side to fight back. Jeremy has been incredibly conciliatory, restricting himself to pleading his own impeccable anti-racist credentials and swearing to stamp out the antisemitism that is alleged but not proven, thereby giving credence to the idea that Labour does indeed “have a problem with Jews”.  Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement, in a debate at The World Transformed on September 25, used the fact that Jeremy had set up the Chakrabarti Inquiry, to explore antisemitism and other forms of racism, as proof that antisemitism was the huge problem the JLM alleges! We are in a Kafkaesque, looking-glass world where querying the veracity of an antisemitism allegation is taken as proof of antisemitism. Let’s throw in Catch 22 and a dollop of McCarthyism for good measure. Sacrificing Jackie will not do anything to keep the circling sharks at bay.

Please respect the voices of the vast number of Momentum supporters who value Jackie’s contribution and will feel disillusioned and betrayed if she is forced out.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
Labour Party and Momentum member

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3. Dear James Schneider and Jon Lansman,

We are Jewish members of the Labour Party.  We are writing to you concerning reports in the press, which you have not denied, that Momentum’s Executive Committee is preparing to throw Jackie Walker to the wolves at its meeting next Monday.  The reason for this is because of the wholly false anti-Semitism accusations that have been leveled against her.

We urge you not to remove Jackie as Vice-Chair of Momentum.  When a comrade is under attack then you defend them and extend the hand of solidarity.  An injury to one is an injury to all.  Betraying a comrade in order to ease the pressure on you is contrary to all Labour movement traditions of solidarity.   The Jewish Labour Movement [JLM] will not stop at Jackie Walker.  They will look for new targets for their ‘anti-Semitism’ witch hunt.

The JLM is not an ordinary affiliated socialist society.  It has a close relationship with Israeli state agencies, for example its newly appointed Director, Ella Rose, came directly from the Israeli Embassy.  The ‘anti-Semitism witchhunt’ over the last year has been a carefully orchestrated and co-ordinated affair alongside papers like the Daily Mail.  Jackie is but the latest target for those who are using ‘anti-Semitism’ as a means of attacking Jeremy Corbyn.

The JLM invited to Labour Party Conference representatives of Ha Avodah, the Israeli Labour Party.  This is a party that presided over the forcible expulsion of ¾ million Palestinian refugees and placed Israel’s Arabs under military rule until 1966.  The ILP initiated the settlements in the West Bank.  Earlier this year, its leader Isaac Herzog stated that the ILP mustn’t be identified as an ‘Arab lovers’ party.  If Jackie Walker had talked about ‘Jew lovers’ then the charges of anti-Semitism against her would be justified.  Herzog later described his ‘nightmare’ of waking up to find that Israel had an Arab Prime Minister.  If Jackie had spoken of her fears that Britain might one day have a Jewish Prime Minister then she would rightly be called an anti-Semite.  If anyone should be called out for racism it is the JLM.

Jews who are not Zionists cannot join the JLM because of its affiliation to the World Zionist Organisation and its Jerusalem Programme, which speaks of ‘the centrality of the State of Israel … in the life of the (Jewish) nation’.  The ‘Jewish nation’ means Jews in Israel or the Diaspora.  This includes ourselves and Jon Lansman.  The idea that we are Jewish not British nationals and Israel is the centre of our lives is a deeply anti-Semitic one.

The Jerusalem programme also speaks of ‘Settling the country as an expression of practical Zionism.’ Settlement means occupying the West Bank and Golan Heights as well as Judaising Israel.  That is why Israel is a racist settler colonial state.

Last Monday the JLM held an ‘anti-racism training’ session at Labour’s conference.  The session was filmed without the agreement of participants and contrary to all ethical considerations.  It was then leaked to the media in order to wage a vicious racist attack on Jackie Walker and other Jewish dissidents present.

Even before the ‘training session’ the JLM had been conducting a political lynching of Jackie.  It had refused to accept that the false accusations made against Jackie, that she had alleged that Jews were the main financiers of the slave trade, were untrue, despite her being acquitted of these allegations last May.

In the Jewish Chronicle of 24th September Jeremy Newmark, Chair of JLM was quoted as saying of John McDonnell’s appearance on a platform with Jackie that

“The Shadow Chancellor … must explain his defence of Walker which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance (of antisemitism). This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.’

What happened at the session was all too predictable.  Having the JLM hold an anti-racist training course was like the General Medical Council asking Harold Shipman to organise a course on medical ethics.  This was why the Chakrabarti Report stated that:

‘having gauged the range of feelings within the Party, it is not my view that narrow anti-racism training programmes are what is required. There is a grave danger that such an approach would seem patronising or otherwise insulting rather than truly empowering and enriching for those taking part.’

Instead of stabbing Jackie in the back and running scared of the media’s faked concern for ‘antisemitism’ you would be better spending your time finding out why the JLM was allowed to undertake an ‘anti-racist training session’ in the first place.

What Jackie Walker said may have enraged the Zionists, for whom the holocaust serves primarily as an ideological justification for Israel’s crimes, but it was not anti-Semitic.

It is a fact that Holocaust Memorial Day has focused almost exclusively on the Nazi holocaust and has ignored the extermination of the Disabled and the Gypsies.  The doyen of Zionist holocaust historians, Professor Yehuda Bauer argued, in a debate with the late Dr Sybil Milton, Senior Historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that ‘the Nazis only attempted to annihilate one people, the Jews: Roma were not Jews, therefore there was no need to murder all of them.’  According to Bauer, ‘the Holocaust is very much a unique case.’ [“Gypsies and the Holocaust” Yehuda Bauer; Sybil Milton The History Teacher, Vol. 25, (Aug., 1992)].  As the late Elie Wiesel put it, to compare the sufferings of others with Jews was a “betrayal of Jewish history”. [Elie Wiesel, Against Silence, v. iii, 146.]  The truth may be uncomfortable but it is not anti-Semitic.

Jackie Walker was also right to question the JLM’s assertion that the EUMC’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism was the standard definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism.  This is simply dishonest.  In 2013, this definition was scrapped by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, as the Times of Israel reported ‘’The European Union’s agency for combating racism dropped its definition for anti-Semitism… We are not aware of any official definition [of anti-Semitism],” Blanca Tapia of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency told JTA on Tuesday.’

We are seriously disturbed by the report in the Guardian Momentum likely to oust Jackie Walker over Holocaust remarks and a similar report in the Independent that ‘Senior members of Momentum are “fuming” at her remarks’. It is your duty not to betray comrades.

The JLM voted 92-4% in favour of Owen Smith.  Anti-Semitism is a weapon to attack the left.  Any betrayal of Jackie Walker will be unacceptable to grassroots Momentum supporters who are sick to the back teeth of the cynical use of anti-Semitism to ward off criticism of Israel.

We also understand that Jackie Walker has not even been invited to the meeting which it is intended will dismiss her.  What kind of democracy is this?  Because of the racist abuse she has received from the JLM’s supporters Jackie has had to suspend her Twitter account.  Of, not being an  MP, this kind of abuse will not make the headlines.  Jackie is suffering extreme abuse which the JLM has given a green light to.  Abuse which openly states that Black people can’t be Jewish.  If you attack Jackie you will be a party to this abuse.

We are writing to you to demand that you stand up to the JLM when it demands the head of a well respected Black and Jewish anti-racist.  You will not be forgiven if you betray her.

Graham Bash                 Hackney North CLP
Haim Bresheeth            Hornsey and Wood Green
Mark Elf                         Barking CLP
Kenny Fryde                 Cambridge CLP
Tony Greenstein           Brighton & Hove District Labour Party
Abe Hayeem                 Harrow East CLP
Helen Marks                  Riverside CLP
Elizabeth Morley         Ceredigion CLP
Diana Neslen                Ilford South Constituency Labour Party
Dr Brian Robinson      Milton Keynes South CLP
Leon Rosselson           Brent Momentum
David Selzer                 City of Chester CLP
Sam Semoff                   Riverside CLP

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4. Dear Jon Lansman,

I am really concerned that as founder of Momentum your response to the anti-semitism witch hunt has not been more robust. Your advice to Momentum groups up to now has been that they should simply publish short statements condemning anti-semitism. Well, shouldn’t that be a given? You told them the problem would quickly go away if they did this. Well it hasn’t.

Why have you been leaving those of us who have been suspended or complained against to be falsely harangued in the press and to be at the mercy of a grossly undemocratic complaints procedure in the Labour Party that fails even to tell those suspended or complained against the grounds for the complaint and leaves them dangling not having any time scale for an investigation.In my case I haven’t even been informed of the complaint and just heard about it through the press and rumour.

It must surely be crystal clear to you that this sudden so called rise in anti-semitism in the Labour party is a cynical move to rid the party of Jeremy Corbyn, a leader who is both truly on the left and who has always been a campaigner for justice for the Palestinians.
Not only has this campaign by the JLM and the right of the party brought the party into disrepute and split it in a way that will make it harder to rid us of the Tories but it has totally debased the meaning of the term anti-semitic and whipped up a problem that was barely there before. Apart from some exceptions we Jews in the UK have been so fortunate that until recently we have been free of the kind of discrimination that other Jews have faced at different times. Even the former chief rabbi said he had not really experienced any incidents of anti-semitism.

I was at the training meeting that Jackie Walker attended during the Labour party conference. People may not have agreed with all she said but there was no way it was anti-semitic. She was doing what the trainer several times urged us to do, namely engage in debate. I have been at meetings in Liverpool where Zionist members of the community have come and heckled loudly and made their loud contributions but nobody ran to complain that they should be suspended or expelled or reported to the police. The occupation of Palestine and the actions of the Israeli government are emotive subjects and it is vital that people of different shades of opinion get together to discuss even if it is very painful at times.

Manuel Cortes is now bullying Momentum into taking action against Jackie Walker by threatening to reconsider TSSA’s support for Momentum if Jackie is still in post in a week’s time.His use of hyperbole is phoney and disgraceful.He talks about Jackie “holding such abhorrent racist views” . How can we discuss openly and with trust if those of us who hold views that don’t agree with pro Israel and pro zionists are vilified in this way?

Momentum itself is now the subject of concerted attack for being a hard left secretive body within the party. You surely realise that this too is just another form of attack on Corbyn? We at the grass roots are fighting off these accusations. Please do the same and stand by Jackie and the rest of us as we will try and stand by Momentum. You have done wonders in growing the Labour party. Don’t desert us when we most need your support.

Helen Marks

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5. Dear Jon and colleagues,

I write as a member of Momentum, and as a very new member of the Labour Party who joined after Jeremy Corbyn’s convincing re-election as
leader. I also write as an activist within my union UCU and as an
academic linguist.

In the welcome letter I received on joining the party, Iain McNicol
writes “The Labour Party always embodies the value of equality, fairness
and social justice.” I expect no less. Unfortunately these values do
not seem to be being applied in the case of Jackie Walker. I have read
in the Guardian that she has been suspended from the Labour Party for a
second time, and that instead of defending her against what is clearly a
witch-hunt, Momentum is joining in the attacks by proposing to remove
her as vice-chair at tomorrow’s meeting. This is apparently on the
basis of her contributions to a training session during the Labour Party
conference, which was a closed event but nonetheless secretly recorded.

I can understand why Jackie’s remarks may have caused offence to some
people, and perhaps they could have been better expressed. Nonetheless I
see nothing antisemitic or racist in them. What is wrong with calling
for Holocaust Memorial Day to be more inclusive?

But I would like to comment in particular on her statement “I still
haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with” which
has been greeted with outrage. To me it is perfectly comprehensible and
reasonable if taken in context. The Jewish Labour Movement, which was
running the training event in question, had stated that it was using the
EUMC Working Definition on Anti-Semitism. I have given conference
papers about the EUMC “working definition” and can state conclusively
that (a) it is not a definition and (b) it does not work. It is in fact
a motley collection of examples, several of which muddy the waters by
conflating criticism of Israel with genuine antisemitism. It is no
doubt because it is not fit for purpose that it has never been adopted
by the EU: the FRA (the successor body to the EUMC) does not use it and
it no longer appears on the FRA website. Despite this, many pro-Israel
groups continue to campaign vociferously for the definition to be
accepted as THE standard definition.

When I was on the National Executive of UCU, I was responsible for
bringing a motion to our annual Congress which distanced the union from
the EUMC “working definition” while continuing to fight all forms of
racism and discrimination. This motion was overwhelmingly carried and
is now UCU policy. In fact, I was the only non-Jewish speaker in
support of the motion: a succession of Jewish members of UCU stepped up
to denounce the EUMC “definition” as being completely unhelpful in
countering genuine antisemitism.

A member of UCU (Ronnie Fraser) subsequently brought a tribunal case
against UCU for alleged antisemitic discrimination, citing UCU’s motion
on the EUMC definition as evidence. One of his witnesses was Jeremy
Newmark, who was at that time the CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council.
He is now, of course, the chair of the JLM. The fact that his evidence
to the tribunal was dismissed by the judges as not being truthful should
give Labour Party members reason to doubt how constructive a role he and his organisation are likely to play in providing any training concerning antisemitism or winning Jewish voters.

I believe that when Jackie said “I still haven’t heard a definition of
antisemitism that I can work with”, Jackie was making a playful allusion
to the EUMC “working definition”. She is quite right not to accept it.
The Labour Party should distance itself from that definition, as my
union has done, and should encourage genuine debate about the nature of
antisemitism and how the party can identify and combat it.

I urge you to give Jackie your full support as a respected anti-racist
campaigner of long standing within the party. If you do not, the
witch-hunt will only intensify and those promoting it will not be
satisfied until they have the heads of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell
on a platter.

thank you for taking time to read this.

In solidarity,

Sue Blackwell
(South Suffolk CLP)

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Defend Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of Momentum from the Racists of the ‘Jewish’ Labour Movement

Jackie Walker is pilloried for saying that the Holocaust is the property of all humanity

By Tony Greenstein

At Labour Party Conference just gone, in open defiance of the Chakrabarti Report, the Jewish Labour Movement held a ‘training session’ on Racism and anti-Semitism. The supporters and advocates of a Jewish state, which is a state where Jews have privileges over non-Jews, were given the role of educating delegates on the meaning of anti-Semitism. It is as if the General Medical Council had decided to hold a training course on medical ethics and appointed the late Harold Shipman as course director. It is and was utterly absurd.

At the LP conference the JLM had deliberately invited as ‘fraternal delegates’ a delegation from the Israeli Labour Party. You can gain some measure of the racism of the ILP from an article Herzog slammed for remark about ‘Arab lovers’ in the right-wing Jerusalem Post:

‘Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog has been trying to move his party to the center, but he appeared to have gone too far late Tuesday, when he told an audience in Ashkelon that his faction’s MKs needed to correct an impression that they are always “Arab lovers.”

“A false impression exists that we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the State of Israel,” he said at a toast for Labor activists ahead of the Passover holiday.’

What kind of Party is it whose leader talks about the need to avoid being seen as ‘Arab lovers’? Imagine that Jeremy Corbyn said that the Labour Party needed to avoid being seen as ‘Jew lovers’? I can remember when fighting the National Front and BNP being accused of being ‘nigger lovers’. Herzog, who not so long ago was trying to give Corbyn lessons on ‘anti-Semitism’ is the racist leader of a deeply racist party, yet the JLM invited a delegation from the ILP to Party conference.

At the ‘training seminar’ of the JLM, which was really a propaganda session, participants like Jackie Walker were covertly filmed in order that anyone questioning the racist agenda could then be reported to Iain McNicol and Tom Watson and then subject to disciplinary procedures. The entrapment of people who attended is a disgrace and the JLM should have no further part in any form of anti-racist training. Indeed the whole concept of ‘training’ for anti-racism is itself a reactionary concept. Racism is eliminated by joint work and shared experiences not by lectures from on high.

Last week I wrote two  blog posts – an Open Letter to John McDonnell – Don’t Condone the Race Baiters of the Jewish Labour Movement and The Jewish Labour Movement and its Political Lynching of Jackie Walker describing how Jackie Walker, Momentum’s Vice Chair, has come under sustained attack by the supporters of the Israeli state. What Zionists cannot bear most of all is that Jackie Walker is both Black and Jewish.  Numerous abusive tweets (we only hear about abusive tweets directed at MPs) by people who could not possibly know her have confidently declared that she is not Jewish. Why? Because it is an article of faith amongst most Zionists that Black people are not Jewish.

William Fishman, a Jewish historian, tells how the Zionists played no part in Jewish socialism and trade union struggles in the East End - Zionism was a petit bourgeois delusion
William Fishman, a Jewish historian, tells how the Zionists played no part in Jewish socialism and trade union struggles in the East End – Zionism was a petit bourgeois delusion

These racists are being led by Jeremy Newmark and Mike Katz of the inappropriately named Jewish Labour Movement (until 2004 it was known as Poalei Zion). I say inappropriate because when there was a Jewish labour movement in this country, it wanted nothing to do with the Zionist movement, which was rightly seen as a scab movement. The Zionists were, as the enclosed scan from William Fishman’s highly acclaimed East End Radicals shows, held in contempt by a very real Jewish labour movement which, at its peak, consisted of over 30 Jewish unions. A labour movement which helped destroy Sir Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists at the Battle of Cable Street, a struggle which the Zionists desperately opposed at the time along with their bourgeois cousins in the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In the early 20th century when there was a Jewish labour movement, Zionists were excluded as scabs
In the early 20th century when there was a Jewish labour movement, Zionists were excluded as scabs

The Zionists and the race baiters of the Jewish Labour Movement have never got over the fact that at her investigation Jackie was cleared of anti-Semitism. This was not surprising given that this indefatiguable fighter against racism and fascism in Thanet, helped lead the Kent anti-racist network in their fight against the National Front in Dover. You will never see Zionist groups at an anti-fascist mobilisation or doing work with asylum seekers or against state racism. Jackie made the ‘mistake’ of privately discussing, in a Facebook post with friends, the involvement of Jews in financing the slave trade. It is a historical fact that at certain times Jews did indeed play a major part in financing the slave trade. That does not mean and contrary to their allegations, Jackie has never said that it meant, that Jews therefore were the primary financiers of the slave trade.

It is because of these libellous attacks on Jackie that we asked John McDonnell to pull out of the JLM rally against ‘anti-Semitism’ last Sunday, which he did.

Zionist ‘anti-racism’ is purely an establishment affair. It is a right-wing form of ‘anti-racism’ which pillories the victims of racism and presents the racists in an anti-racist garb. It is an inversion of reality. Zionism manages to turn the victims of settler colonialism, the Palestinians, into the racists whereas the settlers are seen as the victims of those whose land they colonise. In the Zionist fantasy world, the Palestinians attack them, not because the colonists steal their land, water and resources – it is because they are Jewish!

What is most obscene is the Zionist use of the Holocaust to justify their settler colonial project. Zionism predated the holocaust, which began in 1941, by some 60 years. There was no connection between Palestine and the holocaust other than the fact that the Zionist movement sought to use the oppression and desperate situation of the Jews in Germany between 1933 and 1941 for their own advantage. What was despicable was that even during the Holocaust the Zionists preferred to look the other way. At no time during the years 1941 to 1945 was there a concerted Zionist campaign to save even a fragment of the Jews in Europe. The only interest of the Zionist movement was in emigration, selective emigration to Palestine.

It is a matter of historical record that the Zionist movement agreed a trade deal with Nazi Germany in August 1933, just when the Jewish boycott of Hitler was taking off world wide. It was agreed to by the Hitler regime precisely because it would destroy the Boycott of Nazi Germany. The Boycott had had a devastating effect on Germany’s economy. As Edwin  Black wrote in the ‘Transfer Agreement’

’For the entire first half of 1933 exports were down 51%. ‘That six month loss would have been greater except that the anti-Nazi boycott had not really commenced until late March.’ [p.223]

The Zionists preferred to break the Boycott because they wished to lay their hands on the wealth of German Jewry regardless of the fact that only the Boycott had restrained the hands of the Nazis. Between 1933 and 1939 60% of capital investment in Jewish Palestine was from Nazi Germany. The behaviour of the Zionists in Hungary and elsewhere has been well documented by more honest Zionists such as Ben Hecht inPerfidy. Suffice to say, the allegations of collaboration brought by the survivors of the Hungarian holocaust in Israel resulted in the Kasztner Trial in Israel between 1953 and 1958. The verdict confirming collaboration by the Zionist leaders in Hungary  caused the fall of the second Labour Zionist government led by Moshe Sharrett in 1955.

It is a matter of historical record that the Zionist movement was disinterested in the Holocaust whilst it happened. I post here 4 pages from ‘The Burning Ground’ the official biography of Ben-Gurion by Shabtai Teveth.ben-gurion-burning-groundben-gurion-burning-ground2

Jackie Walker raised the JLM’s hackles by questioning the uniqueness of the holocaust. To the Zionists it is a cardinal principle that the Holocaust is the property of the Jewish people alone.

Lucy Dawidowicz, a right-wing Zionist historian, in the Holocaust and the Historiansargued that subsuming Jewish losses under a universal or ecumenical classification is to effectively justify anti-Semitism. To Elie Wiesel it was a “betrayal of Jewish history”. [Norman Finkelstein, Holocaust Industry, p.45]  As Israeli journalist and historian Boaz Evron wrote, the real purpose of Zionist Holocaust awareness ‘is not at an understanding of the past, but a manipulation of the future’. 

For daring to raise the idea that mass genocide or holocausts might be the property of all humanity, that Africans, Cambodians, Jews and others have suffered at one time or another equivalent acts of genocide, Jackie Walker has been vilified. First into the fray was that well-known anti-racist newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. In a bizarre article Revealed: Jeremy Corbyn ally says Holocaust Memorial Day should not just be about genocide of Jews Jackie was attacked for being ‘insensitive and provocative’ i.e. debating the questions surrounding the holocaust and the lessons it imparts.  Particularly galling was her statement that it would be “wonderful” if Holocaust Memorial Day was not just about the genocide of Jews.

Although in theory HMD is open to all, in practice it centres around the holocaust of the Jews. Every other mass act of genocide is left on the periphery. On this Jackie is absolutely correct. In Israel school children are taken on trips to Auschwitz, not to learn about the lessons of racism but to reinforce their racism. Racism has become ‘a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth’ according to an article in Ha’aretz. Israeli Teenagers: Racist and Proud of It. This racism is as much part of the Labour Zionist tradition as that of Likud.

Again according to Ha’aretz, which is Israel’s sole liberal daily: ‘Nearly half of Israel’s high school students do not believe that Israeli-Arabs are entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel’. The same poll revealed that more than half the students would deny Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. Poll: Half of Israeli High Schoolers Oppose Equal Rights for Arabs

This is the racism that the JLM should be focussing on. Instead they invite Israeli racists to the Labour Party conference.

The Independent reports Momentum vice chair Jackie Walker apologises over ‘appalling’ Holocaust comments quotes Jackie as saying that if she had caused offence she apologises. Jackie is and has been under an immense amount of pressure by those whose agenda is defending the United State’s guard dog in the Middle East. A state which has acted as the sponsor and supporter of every death squad regime in Central and South America. A regime which was the closest friend of Apartheid South Africa.  In reality Jackie has nothing to apologise for. The Zionists of course take offence when anyone questions their bogus assertions of ‘anti-Semitism’ precisely because they and we know that there is no anti-Semitism crisis in Labour. It is a great pity that Jeremy Corbyn has bowed to the prevailing wind. However it won’t do him any good because, as Kipling observed, paying Danegeld merely increases the appetite of the blackmailer and that is what Jeremy Newmark, Katz and the JLM are in the business of – blackmail.

The other ‘crime’ of Jackie Walker was to say that ‘I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with’ Possibly this is because the Zionist movement have been busy peddling for years the discredited European Union Monitoring Committee’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. It was a working definition which the Fundamental Rights Agency deleted from their website. This definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ tried to marry opposition to Israel and comparisons between Nazism and Zionism with anti-Semitism. The University College Union and the National Union of Students rejected it and even the Zionists finally admitted that the EU had ditched the agreement [Israel lobbyists finally concede that EU has ditched anti-Semitism “definition”]. The JLM however, led by Jeremy Newmark, who was openly accused by an employment tribunal of lying on oath, pretended at its ‘training session’ that the EUMC definition was the standard definition. That is a lie and he knows it.

According to the Independent ‘Senior members of Momentum are “fuming” at her remarks’. If this is true then they should take a long and hard look at their own behaviour. Cowardice rarely pays. Any sign of weakness from Momentum’s leadership will be capitalised on by the Zionists and the Tom Watsons of this world. Momentum needs to stand firm and reject the attacks on Jackie Walker. If Lansman backs down now, we will remove him from the leadership of Momentum when eventually a conference is called.

According to the Independent, The Holocaust Education Trust, founded by the paedophile Blairite Greville Janner, accused Jackie Walker of undermining and belittling “the distinct nature of the tragedy itself”. This is utter rubbish. Placing the Holocaust in an anti-racist context rather than exceptionalising and essentialising it, is exactly the opposite of undermining and belittling it.

Exceptionalising it by suggesting that it could only happen to the Jews when holocausts and mass genocide have been the lot of many people is to take the holocaust out of history. Essentialising it is to divorce the holocaust from the reasons it occurred, in other words it wasn’t fascism, the destruction of the German labour movement, the medieval myths fashioned into modern racism, it was something about the Jews themselves. The Zionist idea of understanding the Jewish Holocaust is not to understand it.

The HET stated that ‘The deliberate use of term Holocausts – plural – undermines and belittle the distinct nature of the tragedy itself, ignores that genocides are the result of diverse and unique factors, and also deprives the Jewish community of their collective memory.” This is nonsense. It is precisely by placing the Jewish holocaust in a relative and historical context that one can make sense of it. There are also other questions to ask such as why the holocaust has taken on this importance over 70 years after it occurred when it was barely mentioned in the first 20 years after it occurred. The answer seems obvious. As Israel moves further and further to the racist Right, as mobs chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’ become a regular feature of Israel’s political scene (it used to be ‘Death to the Jews’ in Europe) so the Holocaust is the shield to deflect criticism of Zionist racism. What is obscene is the use of the holocaust in order to justify today’s racism.

See also Jewish activists criticize Labour anti-Semitism training

Jewish Labour activists in defence of Jackie Walker

jackie-walker-28sept

In Defence of Jackie Walker

We are Jewish Labour activists who were with Jackie Walker at the training session on antisemitism led by Mike Katz, vice chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) during the Labour Party conference in Liverpool on Monday September 26. Like her, some of us were heckled when we raised questions unpalatable to others in the audience who share the JLM’s bias towards Israel, its coupling of Jewish identity with Zionism and its insistence on the uniqueness of Jewish suffering.

Jackie had every right to question the JLM’s definition of antisemitism and the tendency of mainstream Jewish organisations to focus entirely on the slaughter of Jews when they commemorate the Nazi Holocaust. We share her determination to build greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. Jackie responded appreciatively when one audience member described Holocaust memorial events involving Armenians and others.  She has since issued a statement on this issue, reproduced below.

We were shocked at the way the level of barracking rose as soon as Jackie began to speak. JLM supporters demonstrated contempt for her as a Jewish woman of African heritage who is a lifelong anti-racist advocate for the rights of minorities and a leading Labour Party activist in her Thanet constituency.

We unreservedly condemn allegations of antisemitism made against Jackie Walker. Calls for her to be disowned by the Momentum movement of which she is vice-chair, and for her to be suspended for a second time from the Labour Party, are reprehensible instances of the witch hunt to which she and other Corbyn supporters have been subjected over recent months.

The way Jackie has been treated demonstrates the unfitness of the JLM to deliver training on antisemitism. It is an organisation committed to one, contested strand of Jewish labour tradition to the exclusion of any other; it relies on a definition of antisemitism that conflates Jewish identity with Zionism; and it exploits its interactions with party members to set the limits of political discourse about the Middle East in accordance with its own partisan ideology.

By promoting the witch hunt, the JLM has helped to relegate the vile prejudice of antisemitism to a tool in the armoury of pro-Israel advocates, backed by Corbyn’s enemies in the political and media establishment.

Signed:

Graham Bash, Hackney North CLP
Rica Bird, Wirral South CLP
Leah Levane, Hastings and Rye CLP
Jonathan Rosenhead, Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP
Glyn Secker, Dulwich and West Norwood CLP
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Chingford and Woodford Green CLP


A statement from Jackie Walker

“A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France.

In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of antisemitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider’s definition and utterly condemn antisemitism.

I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise.”


Read Jackie Walker’s interview in the New Statesman
Read Asa Winstanley on Labour’s antisemitism training

Jewish pro-Corbyn activists respond to Kafkaesque “antisemitism” attacks

www.freespeechonisrael.org.uk          info@freespeechonisrael.org.uk

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

Jewish pro-Corbyn activists retaliate against Kafkaesque “antisemitism” attacks

  • Jewish activists denounce “Kafkaesque” attacks on Corbyn
  • Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker confronts her abusers
  • Conference fringe meeting will expose “exaggerated and downright false claims of antisemitism”

Jewish activists have denounced as “Kafkaesque” attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by a extreme Zionist organisation, the self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA),” which on Friday ratcheted up its campaign to brand pro-Palestinian campaigners as Jew-haters by filing a disciplinary complaint against the Labour leader.

“The CAA has managed to combine Catch-22, a McCarthyite witchhunt, a Kafkaesque nightmare and a surreal trip down Alice’s rabbit hole by alleging that anyone who questions allegations of antisemitism must be an antisemite,” said Jackie Walker, vice-chair of the grassroots Momentum movement.

Walker, a lifelong anti-racist campaigner of both African and Jewish heritage, has been subjected to an unrelenting campaign of vilification for discussing links between her Jewish ancestors and the slave trade.

She will confront her abusers when she speaks at two meetings about allegations of antisemitism on the first evening of the party conference in Liverpool on Sunday September 25.

Walker will join a panel discussion titled Jewish socialists against the anti-Corbyn witchhuntorganised 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.

The organisers call it “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.”

A meeting at Momentum’s conference fringe hub earlier the same evening will bring Jeremy Newmark of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) face to face with Walker to debate “Does Labour have an Antisemitism Problem?”

Council Boycott Ban Slammed

Reprinted from the Morning Star

The government was accused yesterday of “an attack on democracy” over its ban on local authorities and institutions observing an “ethical boycott” of investment in firms and countries deemed to be beyond the pale.

In “new guidance” for councils issued this week, the government claimed that “using pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries is inappropriate.”

The intervention follows announcements by a number of local authorities, universities and other institutions that they are disvesting from the multibillion-pound arms trade and regimes perceived as being unethical or in breach of international law.

War on Want senior militarism and security campaigner Ryvka Barnard condemned the guidance, accusing the government of seeking to protect countries such as Israel from criticism over their human rights abuses.

She said: “The government’s action is an attack on democracy and an explicit clampdown on the growing strength of the grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which aims to end government and corporate complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

“The government has given itself the power to veto decisions that it doesn’t like, overruling the democratic process and blocking local councils from making investment decisions in line with community values. This is plain wrong.”

War on Want argues that Britain has an “obligation” not to enable or support countries accused of egregious violations of human rights and international law, “which includes making sure that it is not financially or otherwise supporting Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.”

Local communities in England and Wales must be allowed to make their own decisions as to how they choose to invest their funds without interference from the central government, the campaign group argued.