On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.
On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)
A slow-motion car crash in action
Gradually over the coming few days certain enhanced features of Haringey’s arrangements for democratic accountability emerged:
- The Labour Group on Haringey Council had already debated and adopted the proposal. A three-line whip was imposed. That meant that any councillor who didn’t vote in favour at the council meeting would lose his or her Labour affiliation, and would be automatically disqualified from re-selection for Labour in the 2018 council elections.
- The Council rejected two applications to admit and listen to delegations on the motion – one from Haringey Justice for Palestinians (affiliated to Palestine Solidarity Campaign), and one from Labour Party and Momentum members). The Council is legally obliged to listen to such delegations if requested by 10 local residents – which these were. However the catch is that the requests have to be received in advance. The deadline: 14th June – that is, before the agenda was publicly known!
- The Council can nevertheless decide to accept applications that are technically out of time. However the Mayor decided not to do this, on the grounds that the agenda was an extremely crowded one. So overloaded that on the night only 10 Councillors were able to give separate speeches of appreciation of a much admired Council official who had died in March. Time occupied – 40 minutes.
- Other business, nearly all mundane, formal and consensual, remorselessly filled up the rest of the two and a half hours allocated to the meeting. The clock ticked up to 9.50pm, allowing it would seem just 10 minutes for the final item, the discussion of the antisemitism motion. When the public gallery erupted at this, the Council Leader promptly moved that the motion now be put (that is, with no discussion at all), a move which was passed overwhelmingly.
see also: The Haringey IHRA Your Socialist Voice
Who staged the accident?
Travesties like this do not happen by accident, they have to be planned. Sympathetic councillors told us after the meeting that there had never been any possibility that discussion on the motion would be allowed to happen. They knew this in advance. What we saw was a charade, the deliberate manipulation of supposedly democratic processes to avoid public scrutiny.
The Leader of Haringey Council is Councillor Claire Kober. Her right-hand man (make of that phrase what you will) is Cllr Joe Goldberg. We were told that both are in the Jewish Labour Movement – but have no independent evidence of that.
Labour Councillors had been informed during the Labour Group discussion that the IHRA definition as featured in the Haringey motion was identical to that approved by Jeremy Corbyn and the national Labour Party. This is untrue, and a Council Leader proposing so controversial a policy either knew that, or alternatively was utterly negligent in not having discovered the facts.
What the Labour Party nationally has adopted is the headline two sentence formal definition, only, which is so vague as to be nearly content-free. Iain McNicol has confirmed that in writing to local constituency parties. What Haringey Councillors were told the Labour Party had approved was the far longer document from IHRA which adds in the 11 ‘illustrations’ of likely antisemitic tropes, most of which reference not Jews but Israel. The councillors were sold a false bill of goods, and their leaders then carefully kept their pig in its poke.
Who and what gained from this?
Israel perhaps – though in reality the no-holds-barred fight against BDS in which this ‘definition’ offensive is a key weapon can only postpone the inevitable – that Palestine will be free.
The right-wing of the Labour Party, perhaps. They can chalk up another paper victory, and hope to exploit and intensify the atmosphere of increased internal paranoia, suspensions and expulsions. The aim – to resist, Canute-like, the tidal wave of support for the Labour election manifesto and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Who and what lost?
The people of Haringey, who saw the Council’s processes manipulated for political ends that have nothing to do with their welfare.
The cause of racial and religious tolerance in this multi-ethnic part of north London. A local imam who has been deeply involved in inter-communal affairs expressed his disgust at what he had witnessed. Haringey just lost an interlocuter.