The suspension from the Labour Party of Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, and his hurried reinstatement, goes to the heart of attempts by Labour’s right-wing bureaucracy to drive out supporters of the left led by Jeremy Corbyn. It demonstrates how they used smears, from overtly anti-Corbyn, anti-Palestinian sources, to try and make false antisemitism allegations stick.
This is an edited and updated extract from anOpenDemocracyarticle by Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, media officer of JVL
Glyn Secker captained the Jewish Boat to Gaza in 2010. He is a long-standing executive member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians. He is also a Unite trade union delegate to Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) Constituency Labour Party general committee and political officer for Herne Hill branch. He is one of those members of the Momentum grassroots movement backing Jeremy Corbyn who only recently managed to break the stranglehold of the Blairite “Progress” faction which had dominated DAWN for years. Continue reading “Labour right’s failed attempt to smear leading Jewish activist”
This statement about the expulsion of Tony Greenstein from the Labour Party has been issued by Jewish Voice for Labour. Free Speech on Israel fully endorses this statement.
Expulsions and Ongoing Suspensions
JVL, along with all committed to democracy in the Labour Party, continues to be shocked by the unjust and unprofessional way in which complaints and disciplinary actions are being handled in the Labour Party. It has been clear that there has been one approach to concerns raised about left-wing members of the Party, especially when they are strong advocates for the rights of Palestinians, and another approach to concerns raised about members on the right.
We deplore the fact that a review of disciplinary procedures has not been included in the Party’s Democracy Review. These opaque processes, which seem to give virtually unlimited discretion to unelected officials, would not be tolerated by any affiliated trade union; but they have been employed for over two years to attack supporters of Palestinian rights, critics of Israel and supporters of the policies for which Jeremy Corbyn stands. These processes were heavily criticised in the Chakrabarti Report, which recommended that they be replaced by arrangements which respect due process based on natural justice. This report was accepted by the NEC, but after 20 months the recommendations on disciplinary procedures still remain on the shelf, whilst further suspensions and expulsions proceed.
The lack of due process in Tony Greenstein’s case has been appalling. Along with others, he had been suspended for an unconscionable length of time and now expelled, mainly on accusations relating to postings he has made after his suspension, and not for antisemitism. This shift in the charges against him was a belated recognition that such an accusation could never stack up against Tony, who has consistently campaigned against antisemitism, as well as against Zionism and the actions of the State of Israel.
Tony’s disciplinary panel stated that: “It [the NCC] must accept, and act upon, the findings of the Chakrabarti Report.” But his hearing was an abuse of the natural justice which Chakrabarti made the centre-piece of her recommendations. Against him stood a barrister, a solicitor and a full time national officer who oversees the disciplinary procedures, whilst he was only permitted representation if he could pay for a solicitor. He was not allowed to have any other advocate; his only support was to be accompanied by a silent friend.
In the current interregnum, and shortly with a new General Secretary in post, we trust that decisions already taken will be re-examined, with all outstanding proceedings being halted and then swiftly revisited should there be cases to answer using the basic principles outlined in the Chakrabarti Report.
Free Speech on Israel welcomes the statement from Unite defending the union’s South-East Regional Secretary Jennie Formby against antisemitism allegations.
Accusations levelled against Jennie Formby by the group calling itself Labour Against Anti-Semitism are just the latest in its campaign of malicious and baseless charges targeting the Labour Left.
LAAS was created and exists for the sole purpose of suppressing criticism of the state of Israel for its crimes against the people of Palestine. Its smearing tactics have nothing to do with combatting real antisemitism – hostility, prejudice or discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. They expose their malicious intent by citing a definition of antisemitism which has been discredited for conflating criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews, thereby endangering free speech for those campaigning for justice for Palestinians.
In attacking Jennie Formby LAAS are vilifying a committed anti-racist campaigner.
They are also deliberately trying to disrupt the important process of appointing a new general secretary of the Labour Party – a role Jennie Formby is eminently qualified to fill.
Free Speech on Israel is saddened to learn of the death of Sam Semoff. Sam was a dedicated supporter of FSOI, opponent of Zionist oppression of Palestinians and a leading figure in campaigns against privatisation of the health service
Sam’s comrades in Liverpool have published this tribute
It was with great sadness that we heard of the passing of the much loved American Jewish socialist and fighter, Sam Semoff.
Sam was a stalwart of Liverpool Friends of Palestine for many years, but also became the figurehead of the campaign against the PFI funded new Royal Liverpool Hospital. Attacked personally by Liverpool’s mayor in the Liverpool Echo, Sam continued to campaign for the NHS during the last days of his life, and his death a week before the collapse of Carillion cheated him of the satisfaction of public vindication.
His involvement in politics went back to the sixties, something I only learned about recently. He acted as my Silent Friend when I was interviewed by the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit last year, and it was during this interview that I caught a glimpse of this history. Sam wasn’t a very good silent friend, in that he wasn’t at all silent. We recorded the interview, so I can quote him here, word for word. When the Labour Party interviewer recklessly invited Sam to ask a question at the end of the interview, Sam asked him for his definition of antisemitism. I quote:
I moved to Britain in the seventies. Ahm. I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish household, in New Jersey.… the majority of the community was Jewish but there was a small segment of Polish Catholics who used to beat me up as a kid coming home from school because I killed Christ. I lost an aunt in the holocaust. So I’m a bit sensitive, ahm, when I keep hearing the word, which you used frequently, anti-Semitism. I would just like to ask, plain and simple, what’s your definition of anti-Semitism?
When he received the answer that the Compliance Unit was using the Zionist definition used by the Community Security Trust (a pro-Israel lobby group, which incorporates anti-Zionism within the definition of antisemitism) Sam gave the young man a lecture on the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Again, Sam’s words:
By using the CST definition of anti-Semitism, which includes opposition to a Jewish state in its anti-Semitism definition, well, it will completely skew any report that you will do. I’m Jewish, as I say, my definition of anti-Semitism is when someone says to me, ‘I hate you because you’re Jewish’. If someone expresses dislike or animosity toward a group of individuals because they’re Jewish, that’s anti-Semitism. It has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with a, a Jewish state. I’m a Jewish person and I question its existence and if you’re gonna use the CST definition of anti-Semitism, then that will skew your investigation completely.
The exchange (if you can call it that – the young interviewer was completely out of his depth and didn’t have much to say in reply) was very funny, despite the seriousness of the issues. It ended with Sam adding a parting comment, in which he explained his journey from youthful left Zionist to campaigner on behalf of Palestinian rights, and in which he also encapsulated what he felt was the heart of Jewishness. It chimes with me, and is why I am such an admirer of many Jewish people and their traditions.
No, there’s something else. It’s just… I remember a political gathering at a friend’s house, just after the six day war. 1967. Sorry, but it’s relevant. We were mostly Jewish. I was still clinging by my fingernails to some notion of left Zionism, but there was an old fella there who didn’t say too much, and he changed me. He’d come down from New York, and he was in a wheelchair. He was in a wheelchair cos of the Freedom Summer. 1964. He’d gone down on a voter registration drive in Mississippi and he’d taken a bullet in the spine. Right? This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.
You were a mensche, comrade. Farewell.
Jon Davies has written this obituary
Sam Semoff was born to an orthodox Jewish mother and a Jewish communist father, who emigrated from Eastern Europe to Pennsylvania to become homesteaders. An early attachment to left Zionism was dispelled by a meeting in the late sixties with a wheelchair using Jewish activist who’d taken a racist’s bullet whilst on a voter registration drive in the deep south. The germ of his pro-Palestine campaigning was sown by this meeting: “This old guy personified to me what being Jewish was about. Being Jewish, it’s about equality, it’s about the struggle for justice, right? And the whole idea of the only ethnic state on the planet, right, it’s an obscenity. And I’m saying that as a Jewish person.”
Working in the early days of electron microscopy, Sam arrived in Liverpool in the early eighties, having been offered a PhD place, and then a research post at the School of Tropical Medicine. Two lists of student landlords were discovered, one of landlords who accepted non-white tenants and another which didn’t. Sam’s complaint to Senate over this condoning of racial profiling was denied and when he went public, the promised research position went to someone else.
He was active in the Labour Party during the eighties, resigned over the Iraq war, and then rejoined with the election of Corbyn as leader. He was briefly Chair of Liverpool Riverside CLP just before his long-time political adversary Louise Ellman, a committed Zionist, was accepted as candidate. His activism involved him with the Somali community, with which he had close links, pro-Palestine solidarity, and, latterly, with campaigns to save the NHS, against the closure of Liverpool Women’s Hospital and to prevent the building of the new PFI funded (Carillion!) Liverpool Royal Hospital. He was a regular on pickets and demos, latterly lugging his bottle of oxygen.
Zionism grievously damaged the inspiring tradition of Jewish leadership in struggles against injustice and autocracy. Sam Semoff’s life is a shining example of how it has nevertheless survived. His warmth, engaging twinkle and unquenchable battling spirit will be hugely missed.
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process
Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews.
Theresa May misled the British public by pretending that the IHRA definition of antisemitism included the examples linking antisemitism to criticism of Israel and urging all public bodies to collude in this chilling of free speech.
A year ago, Theresa May urged all UK public bodies to adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) document on antisemitism. The document contained a 39 word definition:
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities
It also lists 11 illustrative examples of antisemitism, seven of them relating to Israel.
Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.
This letter was sent to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, on 25 November.
Dear Iain McNicol
Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led group of mainly Labour Party members formed to contest restrictions on debate about Palestinian rights and Israeli Government actions and to contest antisemitic speech and actions as well as false allegations of antisemitism.
FSOI wishes to express its grave disquiet about the current operation of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and in particular in relation to the mishandling of the case against Tony Greenstein who has a long record of both challenging antisemitism and racism and campaigning for human rights. The dossier presented to Tony Greenstein contains many robust statements and vociferous criticism of Israel’s actins but nothing that can remotely be judged as being antisemitic or uttered with antisemitic intent. Continue reading “FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein”
When Gary Spedding sent his riposte to Emily Thornberry’s remarks on Israel’s ‘Right to Exist’ he got a surprising response. Labour List preferred censorship to debate.
Fortunately, Jewish News, the UK publication of the Times of Israel had more faith in its readers ability to survive encountering something they may disagree with and published it online.
It is the outlawing of reasonable criticism of Israel that was the reason for the setting up of FSOI. The attacks on free speech come in many form:, denial of spaces for meetings; disciplining of people who defend Palestinian rights; and, as in this case, straight censorship. We are pleased to republish Gary’s article which repeats the simple point that states are human creations that are not, unlike their citizens, endowed with rights. They come, like South Sudan, and disappear, like Yugoslavia. Israel is no different.
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary is wrong on Israel’s ‘right to exist’
Last week, in a high profile speech marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated that there is “no place in the Labour Party” for anyone who holds the “abhorrent view” that Israel has no right to exist.
Such a notion is extremely controversial. And one that has been peddled by the Israeli establishment for decades. This piece of political rhetoric is actually designed to shut down any hope of a fruitful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli figures have been pushing for foreign politicians, in countries that have highly regarded parliamentary democracy, to adopt this problematic soundbite when discussing Israel as it gives it a veneer of legitimacy.
Let me be clear from the outset that I firmly believe that all people, including Jewish people, have the right to both individual and collective self-determination. To quote President Woodrow Wilson, who was a strong proponent of the principle; “people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent.” However, there are conflicting definitions and legal criteria surrounding self-determination itself and the plain truth is that no state or political entity has an inherent “right to exist”, and as such this term is legally meaningless. One of the reasons the ‘right to exist’ won’t be found codified in contemporary international law that it is near impossible to fulfil for the thousands of unique nations on the planet today.
Emily’s highly toxic statement is dangerous to both Labour Party members and the wider community engaged on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She has, like so many before her, confused a people’s inalienable right to self-determination with a non-existent ‘right to exist’ that is associated more with nation-states than people – in particular, ethnocratic states like Israel.
Now some might argue that the right to self-determination automatically grants people the right to a state. I can certainly understand how one might reach this viewpoint given the fact people should be able to freely choose how to express their self-determination. And yet there are limitations and certain responsibilities accompanying self-determination – coupled with certain vagueness around how a national group can achieve it without infringing upon the same rights held by others within the same territory. This is one of the issues at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict; two people within the same territory with conflicting national movements.
In addition, the demand by Israel’s establishment that their state’s “right to exist” be recognised is, in fact, a major obstacle to securing a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. It was never a demand in the peace processes with Egypt or Jordan that Israel, as a Jewish State, should be recognised as having a ‘right to exist’ – although later the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan agreed that in signing peace treaties they had implicitly accepted Israel’s existence. By including this demand when it comes to the Palestinians it effectively shuts down any hope of a peace process, but also has the added bonus of defining terms of debate elsewhere in the world. This has meant the labelling of anyone who deviates from the status quo as being motivated by evil ideology, of wanting the ‘destruction of Israel’, and by default wanting the wholesale slaughter of the Jewish people – something which, outside of a tiny minority of extreme fringes, is actually ludicrous.
For Palestinians, recognising Israel’s ‘right to exist’ exclusively as a Jewish state would mean accepting the legitimacy of their own dispossession and expulsion, something they will never do, which is why the Israeli government insist on this as an early prerequisite for negotiations – because it is the Israeli government that has all the cards when it comes to building peace in a conflict mired by power asymmetries.
For people like me, who believe in the importance of allowing different visions for the future in Israel-Palestine, and as long as it’s within a non-violent political process, the words of the Shadow Foreign Secretary are alarming. I do not accept that I have no place in the Labour Party simply for holding the reasonable view that no states have an inherent right to exist. Those who share Emily Thornberry’s view are saying that there is no place in Labour for those who support a shared future for Israelis and Palestinians within a bi-national state, or any kind of solution where equal rights are enshrined and basic democratic freedoms codified and guaranteed.
Emily Thornberry appears to have inadvertently bolstered the language of the Israeli right, thus helping to sow anxiety and fear among Labour Party members who might wish to discuss alternative yet still sustainable, realistic and durable resolutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict. By telling people they have to accept that Israel, uniquely among all other states, has the right to exist and that the only solution to the conflict is that of a two-state solution, alternative visions for the future are pushed aside. Palestinian voices in particular are being stripped of agency, spelling disaster for any push for peace. We get nowhere by shutting out other parties to the conflict. Failure to bind them into a process ensures peace shall remain elusive.
I imagine a substantive majority of Labour Party members fall outside the terms defined in Emily Thornberry’s statement yesterday. We have seen a number of party members suspended for voicing entirely reasonable criticisms of Israeli government policy and the conduct of the Israeli state. I am deeply concerned that Emily seems to have a fairly weak grasp of the intricate and complex issues surrounding Israel-Palestine, and as a result she is prone to making statements imbued with toxic political sentiments, offering concessions aimed at pleasing too many audiences, without perhaps even realising the full extent of the consequences afterwards.
Her latest statement contributes to a growing push to have perfectly reasonable debate shut down and where pro-Palestine party members are targeted, marginalised, demonised and delegitimised by those who wish to see them silenced, or worse, expelled.
As a Labour Party member, I will continue to hold the consistent view that no political entity or state has a ‘right to exist’ and shall defend my right to a nuanced set of positions on Israel-Palestine as someone who very much desires to see a genuine and just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Review of Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh, Routledge 2017
David Hirsh, besides running the Engage website, which campaigns against the academic boycott of Israel, is a lecturer at Goldsmith’s College, University of London; and his book claims to be a work of objective academic scholarship. In the penultimate chapter — entitled “Sociological method and antisemitism” — which is an odd mixture of autobiography and methodology, he writes of undertaking sociological investigations “employing methodological rigour from the traditions of ethnomethodology and discourse analysis”. Yet underlying this very thin veneer of scholarly objectivity is a passionate rage which makes the book more readable than many other academic tomes and even gives it a certain entertainment value (hence the two stars on Amazon rather than the one that it really deserves). Contemporary Left Antisemitism is essentially a temper tantrum couched in sociological jargon.Continue reading “Engaged in Anger about Antisemitism”