Reposted from his blog by permission
The ongoing Ken Livingstone (“Get Corbyn!”) saga grows yet more preposterous. After outrage that the former London mayor had said Hitler was a Zionist (when he clearly hadn’t, as I pointed out at the time here and here), Labour suspended Livingstone amid accusations that he had made antisemitic, offensive and false historical claims.
Now as Livingstone fights to avoid expulsion before a closed hearing of the party’s national constitutional committee, it emerges that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, has written to Livingstone saying that the hearing is not interested in the historical accuracy of his statements or whether what he said was antisemitic. Rather, it is about whether his conduct has been “grossly detrimental” to the party. Continue reading “Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone”
We have posted our rebuttal of Duvall’s assertions about the nature of the IHRA definition; Tony destroys the fictions he wrote about the situation in Palestine/Israel. One of Israel’s major exports is Hasbara: the Hebrew word for what we call propaganda. It appears that Duvall is a loyal customer of the Hasbara store and retails Israeli, what we will politely call, fictions with a straight face. He may assume that people with less knowledge of the dire situations of Palestinian people in ’48 Israel, in the occupied territories and in the diaspora might be taken in by these fabrications: an increasingly dubious assumption. It is an insult to our intelligence that he expects FSOI activists and our friends to be so easily misled.
The Chair of Hampstead and Kilburn Constituency Labour Party used his position to block discussion of a properly submitted motion on the scandal disclosed by the Al Jazeera series ‘The Lobby’, at their monthly meeting on 15 March. He used the IHRA (mis)definition) of antisemitism to back his partisan ruling. He claimed that discussing Israeli subversion in Britain before discussing Russian subversion in the United States was antisemitic. He acknowledged that the movers of the motion were themselves Jewish but patronised them saying their actions were ‘inadvertent and meant in good faith’. He sided with those Jews who were distressed by discussion of unacceptable behaviour by Israel over those who were outraged by the Israeli actions.
The rules of debate meant that there could be no speeches to contest the questionable assertions of the Chair. Despite a clear majority of the meeting opposing his ruling, there was not the two-thirds majority required to force a debate.
We have been criticised as scaremongering for claiming the IHRA definition will stifle Free Speech. This is another example of the censorship regime encroaching on our legal right to freedoom of expression to put alongside the clampdown on University campuses.
Free Speech on Israel wrote to all Greater London Authority (GLA) members to rebuke them for their hasty unanimous adoption of the flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism. Len Duvall, leader of the GLA Labour Group replied on behalf of the Group. His response was so inadequate that I felt impelled to respond personally in advance of the collective FSOI rebuttal.
Thank you for your reply to the Free Speech on Israel letter about the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. FSOI will be sending you an organisational reply shortly but this is my personal response.
I fear you misunderstand our concerns about the definition and indeed about the nature of the Israeli state.
I have concerns about the definition which fall into three separate, if occasionally overlapping, categories. The definition is:
Thirteen Jewish female members of the Labour Party have called for a review of a decision by general secretary Iain McNicol on a complaint brought against former Israeli Embassy employee Ella Rose, who now heads a pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).
They say Ella Rose’s abusive and threatening behaviour, caught on camera in a documentary film, The Lobby, is intimidating to them as campaigners for Palestinian rights and critics of the state of Israel.
The swift, discrete and sympathetic handling of Rose’s case contrasts markedly with treatment meted out to many party members who have been unjustly charged with antisemitism, suspended from membership and subjected to months’ long investigations, often in the full glare of publicity, through processes with scant regard for principles of natural justice.
McNicol said that in Ella Rose’s case the matter was closed after she “expressed regret” for some of her actions.
In response to your judgement in the case of Ella Rose, we cannot accept the contrast with other disciplinary cases where you have given considerable weight to testimony from complainants stating that they were upset or offended by an individual’s words or actions.
We wish to put on record that we, Labour Jewish women, have been not only offended and upset but also intimidated by the behaviour of Ella Rose. (You will see that this letter is signed by a larger group than the one that made the original complaint.)
The authors of this ‘pamphlet’, are all Labour Party members, all members of the health professions. Over the last year there has been a concerted effort to bully the Party into silence on Israel/Palestine, and we have witnessed the Party leadership buckle under the pressure. This campaign aimed, first, to confuse the struggle for civil rights in Israel/Palestine with racial prejudice; and, second, to demonise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, a grass roots, human rights-based movement of non-co-operation with institutions complicit in Israel’s Occupation, undertaken in response to a call from the collective voice of Palestinian civil society. Our opportunity to express and act upon the compassion and solidarity we feel for the Palestinian people is at risk of being seriously eroded.
Our points of view and those of others like us have been made to sound controversial in the UK, although there is little here that has not been put forward in the pages of Israel’s own daily newspaper, Haaretz. We expect our efforts to be met with counter-arguments, and not further witch hunting. In this way, we hope that the membership will have the opportunity to appraise the relative merits of different points of view in the light of our shared ideals. Continue reading “Labour’s Relationship to Zionism and the Israeli State”
“By falling so far short of the standards required (it) does disservice to the honourable cause of combating antisemitism in the united Kingdom: and fuels the fires of misunderstanding and ill feeling which dog its discussion…”; and that “If I was inclined to borrow an expression from the Committee’s Interim Chair” (when describing the Shami Chakrabarti Report), “I would say the Committee’s Report is not worth the paper it is written on.” [Paragraphs 9.4 & 9.5]
This is confirmed after seeing the astounding and undeniable revelations broadcast on 11 – 14 January in four half hour programmes on “Al Jazeera Investigates: The Lobby”.
It is now my firm conclusion that the vilification of the Labour Party by the Home Affairs Committee and others is without foundation. The Shami Chakrabarti Report got it right about the level of antisemitism in the Labour Party; the Home Affairs Committee got it very wrong.
It is also clear that there has been an organized campaign against the Labour Party and its Leader, in which the government of Israel, through the Israeli Embassy in London, has played a central and proactive part. A part described by the Al Jazeera programme presenter, Clayton Swisher, as “covert action that penetrates the heart of Britain’s democracy”; and which Peter Oborne calls “… outrageous interference in British politics … (which) shouldn’t be permitted … (and) … should be investigated by our intelligence services.” [Peter Oborne is associate editor of The Spectator and former chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph.]
It appears from the programmes that parts of the Labour Party are involved in this “outrageous interference”, including the upper echelons of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) represented by Jeremy Newmark and the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) through its Parliamentary Officer, Michael Rubin.
The four Al Jazeera programmes provide substantial and convincing evidence of Israeli Embassy initiatives through Shai Masot, its Senior Political Officer, and in other ways, to undermine the Leader of the Labour Party and his supporters in the Party who are seen to be sympathetic to the Palestinian people. This involves the active support and influencing of groups within the Labour Party including the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, Young Fabians, and We Believe in Israel / Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (BICOM) – and the creation of other groups.
Amongst other things, Shai Masot, who first met the Al Jazeera undercover reporter at an LFI meeting, is recorded initiating a Young Labour Friends of Israel group through the reporter who is to be “chairman of it”, including getting him a job at the Israeli Embassy to support this activity. At a subsequent private meeting at a London hotel at which Ella Rose, Director of JLM was also present, the investigator meets Michael Freeman, Head of Civil Society Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, who explains that the Embassy is looking for someone to work on BDS (the world-wide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel’s actions towards the Palestinian people). The Guest of Honour at this private meeting is Gilad Erdan MK, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. Mr Erdan is recorded as saying: “I grew up with the ideology that the land of Israel (by which he means the historic land of Canaan or Palestine) totally belongs to the Jewish people … It (BDS) is a strategic threat to the future of Israel because if we will allow them to continue with all the lies they are spreading against Israel we will lose this fantastic young generation …”
The evidence presented in the Al Jazeera programmes makes clear that it is in this context that the vilification of the labour Party and its Leader should be seen – as should the vilification of others including Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students, and of Jackie Walker, Labour Party member and former Vice Chair of Momentum’s National Committee. All of whom are also vilified in the Home Affairs Committee’s report on antisemitism.
The Israeli Embassy’s interference in UK politics is not confined to the Labour Party. According to the programmes, other groups are also influenced including the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Young Conservatives and Conservative Future. The need to do this with the Conservative Party is seen to be less by the Embassy because, as Shai Masot says, new Conservative MPs are joining the CFI “automatically”, whereas Labour MPs are not joining Labour Friends of Israel and “… you need to get more people on board.” Nevertheless Shai Masot is recorded as noting that an initiative was taken to set up the Young Conservative Friends of Israel, “CFI yeah … CFI started with it one year ago because of my idea.”
A private meeting of “sympathetic Labour activists” at the Labour Party Annual Conference last September, was addressed by Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador, at which Shai Masot was also on the platform alongside the Ambassador, as was Jeremy Newmark of JLM. Jeremy Newmark is recorded as saying: “Just to get Clive Lewis, as one of Corbyn’s key lieutenants, onto an openly Zionist JLM platform took a lot of heavy lifting”, “Everything is wheels within wheels, it has created a bit of division within Momentum … We already have actual intelligence, that from Momentum political directors’ meeting last night they passed a vote of censure on Clive Lewis just for coming to our meetings and speaking.”
Michael Rubin is recorded in the same programme as saying: “We work with the Embassy quite a lot. When bad news stories come out about Israel, the Embassy sends us information so we can still counter it. We work really closely together. But a lot of it’s behind the scenes … but they (young Labour people) wouldn’t be happy if it (LFI) was seen as an Embassy thing… Being LFI allows us to reach out to people who wouldn’t want get involved with the Embassy … we obviously want the same end goal of getting more people to be more pro-Israel and understand the conflict. It’s just how you do it.” Other remarks from Shai Masot on purportedly independent groups he has been instrumental in setting up in Britain, including nudge, nudge, wink, wink type body language, indicate his clear view that LFI is not a body independent of the Israeli Embassy.
The programmes show regular interaction of this kind between JLM, LFI and Israeli Embassy personnel including the Deputy Ambassador as well as the Ambassador at the Labour Party’s Annual Conference and elsewhere. This includes contact at informal events such as the JLM summer barbecue where another attendee said to the undercover investigator, “Oh, you know Shai? How interesting, I work with Shai. I work for the Ambassador.” It was at this event that Jeremy Newmark welcomed Ella Rose to her new post as JLM Director and made clear that, “Ella was by no means the person … that had the most Labour Party and political experience. But there was something … as trustees (of JLM) we felt mattered much more, which is that she is one of you” – referring to her experience as President of the Union of Jewish Students where “she … fought the campus battles alongside you …” and why trustees appointed her “… to go on to play an incredibly critical role at the lead of the struggle against antisemitism in the Labour Party.”
At the private meeting with Labour Party activists at the Party’s Annual Conference referred to above, the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev, is recorded as saying: “The fashion is, if you are on the left today, you are probably very hostile to Israel, if not antisemitic.” Mr Regev also describes Hamas and Hezbollah in wholly derogatory terms as “These people are misogynistic, they are homophobic, they are racist, they are antisemitic, they are reactionary. I think that’s what we need to say”. Mr Regev made no reference to the origins of these bodies in the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine by which they were forcibly dispossessed, as they see it, or to their current status within the Palestinian diaspora in the government of Lebanon and Palestine Authority.
Some Labour MPs also appear caught up in these events, though it is not clear whether a wholly conscious part is being played or not. The vividly painful filming of Joan Ryan MP, Chair of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), when asked questions by the admirably persistent Jean Fitzpatrick at the LFI’s stand at the Labour Party’s Annual Conference last September, shows shameful resort by the MP to an allegation of antisemitism without any foundation in fact. Joan Ryan’s painfully embarrassing inability to answer Jean’s informed questions about the two-state solution, led her to make an official complaint of antisemitic conduct against her fellow Party member backed up by Alex Richardson, her Parliamentary Assistant, who witnessed the encounter. It is appalling to see how perfectly fair and polite, if persistent and clearly uncomfortable questioning, was first not addressed because Joan Ryan did not have an answer, and then “twisted” to use the Prime minister’s word, to conjure out of the air things which had not been said or implied to make them antisemitic. This is unintentionally acknowledged in Alex Richardson’s recorded remarks shortly after the encounter when he said: “… and although nothing antisemitic was said, I’m sure there were undertones of it and it was brought upon by that context.”
Yet both he and Joan Ryan had no compunction in making an official complaint to the Labour Party about a fellow Labour Party member on this non-existent basis. Not only that, but Joan Ryan went on that same evening to announce at a rally to combat antisemitism organized by the JLM, “We have also had three incidents of antisemitic harassment on our stand to the people who are staffing that stall today” – of which she makes clear subsequently that the one involving Jean Fitzpatrick was in her view the worst. Is this the stuff on which the internal assault on Jeremy Corbyn using allegations of endemic antisemitism as hammer blows with which to strike him, is based? Judging by this and other recorded episodes such as that of Ruth Smeeth MP described in my Critique, I share the view of Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian, expressed on the Al Jazeera programmes that as evidence they are “pathetic”. They are also illustrative of a disturbing mind-set, apparently all too willing to perceive inconvenient or uncomfortable behaviour as antisemitic, including justified criticism of Israel’s indefensible and unlawful conduct in the occupied West Bank. Despite being informed of the results of Al Jazeera Investigates, Joan Ryan asserted that her actions were “entirely appropriate”. This beggars belief.
The Al Jazeera programmes show that the LFI’s parliamentary officer, Michael Rubin, is not the only LFI officer to have regular contact with Shai Masot and the Israeli Embassy. Michael Rubin confirmed this in respect of LFI’s Chair, Joan Ryan MP, saying “So she’ll speak to Shai most days.”
The programmes also revealed the insensitive subsequent handling by the Labour Party of the complaint made by Joan Ryan, which caused Jean Fitzpatrick great and wholly unjustified anxiety. The Party’s letter to Jean Fitzpatrick does not make clear who the complainant was, referring inaccurately to her allegedly having spoken “… to a member of party staff”, not to the complainant. The complaint was eventually not upheld.
At the same LFI stand at the Labour Party Annual Conference, we also heard Chuka Umunna MP, after he had hugged Jennifer Gerber, Director of the LFI, and heard Alex Richardson’s unspecific account of the alleged antisemitic incidents involving Party members, say: It’s disgraceful. We’ll prevail. We’ll prevail in the end”. This was shortly after the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party Leader and shortly before publication of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report. This apparent reference to events inside the Labour Party provides further support for my Critique’s conclusion that the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into antisemitism had been hi-jacked by the internal Labour Party dissension following the PLP’s vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, a dissension which was pursued in the Committee’s Report.
The unacceptable treatment of Jackie Walker is also fully revealed in the Al Jazeera programmes. The alleged antisemitism took place at the same Labour Party Annual Conference at a purported training session led by Mike Katz, one of the Vice Chairs of JLM. Someone was secretly recording the trainer’s contribution and the subsequent debate. There is no antisemitism in what Jackie Walker said. Some might take exception to her comment on International Holocaust Day but it is not antisemitic. There was clear misunderstanding of her intent in making that remark, which Jackie Walker attempted to correct, but there was no exploration of her explanation, which is most surprising in a training session. It is clear that Jackie Walker, like Malia Bouattia, is an anti-Zionist, not an antisemite. I agree with Jackie Walker’s reaction of – let’s have a debate about that – Zionism and anti-Zionism – not about this – the false and destructive equation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
In practice, the abuse seems to be the other way round; first in the leaking of information to a news outlet, the Jewish Chronicle, from a training session by, it is claimed, a member of the JLM; second in the subsequent statement by the Board of Deputies of British Jews who called Jackie Walker “an unapologetic Jew baiter” – a most outrageous and unfounded remark from a supposedly respectable body towards a Jewish, black woman who is an anti-racism trainer and advocate in relation to the African Holocaust at the hands of the slavers; and third in the recorded conduct of Ella Rose, the then new Director of the JLM and formerly an official at the Israeli Embassy in London. Ella Rose, in addition to expression of a number of expletives, is recorded as saying: “I saw Jackie Walker on Saturday and thought, you know what, I could take her, she’s like 5’ 2” and tiny. That’s why I can take Jackie Walker; Krav Maga training.” [A hand to hand combat technique developed by the Israeli military.] I agree with Jackie Walker’s response when shown this recording that it was “breath-taking” and that it “says it all”.
Unless it has evidence of which I and others are unaware, the Labour Party should drop the allegation against Jackie Walker forthwith. It is not acceptable that the matter has not been concluded to date, which is also the case I understand with the complaint against Ken Livingstone.
These events illustrate the chilling effect on free speech the unjustified vilification of the Labour Party could well have – and appears to be having now. This is to the detriment of our open democracy and to our hard won right to speak up without fear or favour – in this instance for the cruelly oppressed people of Palestine. This is wholly unacceptable as the de facto annexation of the West Bank takes place in plain view through the Israeli state sponsored settler movement and the frequent bulldozing of Palestinian homes, olive groves and business premises – most recently resulting in the deaths of two Palestinians in the dawn raid by Israeli troops on 18 January to demolish the Palestinian Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran. In plain view, that is, to those who have open minds and eyes willing to see it – but not to those whose minds are closed and do not wish to see it for what it is.
Here we have, as they see it, a dispossessed people being oppressed and further dispossessed by the strongest military power in the Middle East for whom the accustomed status of victimhood fits increasing ill. And which seems determined upon expansion of its territory way beyond Israel’s internationally recognized 1967 boundaries, not just in respect of the bitterly disputed areas of East Jerusalem. Yet our government seems unwilling to say boo to this goose and, in common with other governments, huffs and puffs to no effect, preferring occasional votes at the UN. Yet Mr Netanyahu asserts that legitimate protest through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign by the Palestinian people and others is “a moral outrage” – with no gainsay from those with the power to make it count. If anyone has the right to feel “moral outrage” it is the people of Palestine; and the people of our own country at a foreign government’s now exposed efforts to interfere in our democratic affairs.
At the same time it is important to get a better understanding of what is driving the forces inside Israel whose actions are seen to be so oppressive by Palestinians – as well as many Israeli and British Jews – and intrusive upon our democratic process – yet which seem from the point of view of those concerned to be appropriate and justified. Notwithstanding the military power referred to above, the fear of attack amongst Israeli civilians referred to in my Critique is not in any way confined to the areas within rocket range of Gaza – indeed it appears to be much more widespread and to play a significant part in the bitter division of views which surrounds the current debate of antisemitism in this country. [Paragraph 5.2]
It is in this bitterly divided context that the Al Jazeera programmes also vividly illustrate the great danger of the government’s proposed definition of antisemitism. They help to make clear the considerable scope for incorrect interpretation of a fair exercise of free speech in the intended examples in that definition, including: “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination …”, which many people unjustifiably equate with informed and persistent questioning of Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians, or with anti-Zionism which is inaccurately equated with antisemitism; and “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”, which as I point out in my comments on the proposed definition, is precisely how many British and Israeli Jews do see Israel – including, according to his own recorded words, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (see above).
From the Al Jazeera programmes and from other events such as Ruth Smeeth MP’s conduct at and after the launch of the Shami Chakrabarti Report, my clear impression is that there is an over-propensity on the part of some people involved in these matters to interpret conduct as antisemitic when to the objective ear it is not. It is imperative that the government does not encourage this by adopting its proposed definition. Its adoption would be harmful not helpful to the cause of combating antisemitism – and would risk that honourable cause being brought into disrepute.
It is also most important, as Peter Oborne says in the Al Jazeera programmes about Shai Masot and the Israeli Embassy’s “outrageous interference” in the United Kingdom’s democratic process, that it should not be tolerated in the quiescent manner the government affects. It requires full, fearless and open investigation.
It is imperative that the Labour Party respects the informed and objective conclusion of the Shami Chakrabarti Report that “The Labour Party is not overrun by antisemitism…” And that the Party disregards the conclusions of the Home Affairs Committee’s Report in this regard – as not being worth the paper they are written on.
It is time to stand up and speak out against these various outrages and not to be cowed by fear of being falsely accused of antisemitism. An accusation which does as much harm to Israel and its legitimate right to live without fear within its internationally recognized boundaries as to the equally legitimate right of the Palestinian people to be secure in their own homeland. This is what Jean Fitzgerald was asking Joan Ryan MP about: it is to our collective shame that answer was there none, other than hurtful accusation. We must also speak out against the neglect of the true facts by the BBC and the large majority of the privately owned British media. We need to stand up and be counted as true democrats in the honourable tradition of Tom Paine who, I guess, would have a thing or two to say about the current state of affairs. Perhaps “He who dares not offend cannot be honest” might be apposite.
In these videos Black Jewish Labour activist Jackie Walker, former vice-chair of Momentum, describes how she was targeted by the Zionist Israel Lobby, and falsely accused as being anti-Semitic. The Al Jazeera series The Lobby, uncovered the shenanigans of the Israel embassy and its Senior Political Advisor, Shai Masot, in four programme during January 2017. The investigation detailed how the embassy worked with Zionist organisations within the Labour Party to defame and harass critics of Israel. Jackie, iconic for her proclamation of her joint Jewish and Black identities was a prime target of this campaign.