“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.
3 February 2017