JLM is not fit to train anyone

It is well known that I personally and FSOI collectively do not believe the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) are appropriate politically to train Labour Party members on antisemitism. What we did not know until this week is that they do not understand the basic ethical and legal duties of a training organisation in any circumstances, on any topic.

The JLM advertised and ran a training session on antisemitism at the Labour Party conference as part of the main conference programme, not as a fringe event. While they did not announce ground rules of confidentiality at the start of the session, as they should have done, participants had the reasonable expectations that normal standards of training events would apply. While participants noted that the JLM were videoing the event they assumed this was for internal JLM use so they could review this pilot session to iron out any problems for the future. They may have been naïve in not questioning the use of the camera but that was because they trusted the good faith of the organisers. JLM failed in their basic, and legally required, duty to announce that the session was being videoed, for what purposes the video would be used and to seek the assent of all attendees to being filmed.

Anyone with experience of any training, and a fortiori of anti-racism training, know that the only way to get people to engage with difficult issues is to allow them to try out ideas, emotions and understandings in a non-judgemental and confidential space.

This is what underlies the anger of many people about the release of extracts of the video to attack Jackie Walker. 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 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.

We do not know if JLM as an organisation leaked the video, that is irrelevant. As the owners of the video they had a duty to keep it private. If it was released without authorisation they should have condemned the leak and promised action against whoever leaked it. They did not, they did just the opposite and exploited the leak for partisan political ends. Neither has the sponsor of the meeting, the Labour Party, denounced this unethical act or asked the Compliance Unit to investigate the circumstances in order to launch action under Party rules. This is a far greater breach of Party codes of conduct than the random tweets that have been occupying them for the last few months.

The Labour Party must announce that they are abandoning any plans to employ JLM as trainers; they are clearly unqualified for the task.

JLM and their supporters have been trying to, and regrettably succeeding in, creating a moral panic around Jackie Walker on the back of their unethical actions: actions that are probably illegal under the Data Protection Act.

It is particularly regrettable that Jackie’s comrades in Momentum rather than protecting her have joined the jackals seeking to damage her. Carefully orchestrated leaks to the press about sanctioning her are further compounding her distress. Setting up a kangaroo court with as much similarity to natural justice as the worst of the Labour Party’s manoeuvres must be condemned by everyone with any respect for individual rights.

It appears that Momentum are more concerned about their reputation than their political integrity. Do they not realise that if Jackie is thrown to the wolves it will not end there? The right-wing will be emboldened and pick their next victim who will be more vulnerable, not less and will despatch those who will challenge them one by one. Momentum will show itself to be not a credible political force to achieve desperately needed change but, in the time worn phrase, useful idiots. We must exert all our energy to stop them making this horrendous error when their Steering Committee meets next week.

Mike Cushman

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