Labour right’s failed attempt to smear leading Jewish activist

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 an OpenDemocracy article 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.

Glyn Secker at a 2012 demonstration
Glyn Secker at a 2012 demonstration. (inminds/YouTube)

“The media depiction of Momentum as an unstoppable Bolshevik juggernaut riding roughshod over a meek and defenceless moderate membership is laughably far from the truth,” Secker said.

“What we faced in DaWN, as in numerous CLPs around the country, was a remorseless battle from the incumbent party officials to obstruct new, enthusiastic party members from working to get Corbyn into Downing Street. At our AGM on March 1, we managed to win some semblance of democratic accountability. Then a trapdoor opened under me – an email from the Governance Unit on March 7 telling me that I was the subject of an ‘administrative suspension’ for ‘comments made on social media that may be in (sic) antisemitic’.”

Under party rules, administrative suspension is an urgent action designed to address real threats to public order or disruption of party business. Secker sees this is an outrageous slur: “It was designed to silence me. The tactic is clear – if they cannot win the argument they simply remove their adversary.”

Secker believes his suspension, and readmission five days later, prove what many activists have long suspected – that the Labour party’s governance unit has been working in a concerted attempt to take down Jeremy Corbyn supporters. They were trying to pin Secker’s removal to a dirty dossier about a pro-Palestinian Facebook group, which was released on the day of Secker’s suspension and used to smear the Labour leader generating headlines like this in The Sun:  “ANTI-JEW SHAME – Jeremy Corbyn exposed for being a member of a Facebook group containing anti-Semitic posts.”

Secker’s suspension was dropped when the Governance Unit realised they couldn’t make their allegations stick. The dossier didn’t provide the ammunition they’d been hoping for. The second letter from Sam Matthews, Head of Disputes, said as much: “The action was taken in light of the publication of the report into the ‘Palestine Live’ Facebook group.”

The dossier came with an accompanying blog, by self-declared anti-Palestinian activist David Collier, containing the words: “Jewish Voice for Labour need to be thrown out of the Labour Party.”

Secker is secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, an organisation for progressive Jews in the Labour Party launched at the party conference in September 2017. JVL has been forthright in confronting unjustified and malicious disciplinary actions such as those against left party members. Its other main role is to clarify the distinction between Jew, Israeli and Zionist; to be clear that neither Zionism nor an identity with Israel are core components of Jewish identity, and it is not, therefore, intrinsically antisemitic to criticise Zionism or Israel. If this is understood, people are less likely to fall into antisemitic generalisation when talking about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Secker is far from the first Labour Jew to be accused of antisemitism. This was the original accusation levelled at Tony Greenstein, who was suspended for two years. In Hampstead and Kilburn, Jewish party members have had to resort to letters in the local paper to refute charges of “obsessional Jew-baiting”.  Liverpool Riverside members, including several Jews, face relentless public denunciation. Jackie Walker has been suspended since September 2016 and has waged a widely supported, eloquent and often moving campaign in her defence.

Most notoriously, Professor Moshe Machover, 81, founder of the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen, was summarily expelled in October 2017 and then hurriedly but grudgingly reinstated after a storm of protest. He is still demanding retraction of the antisemitism allegations made against him and an apology for his treatment. Glyn Secker will be following suit.

What unites all these Jewish victims of the Labour purge is that they are pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Corbyn. They are critical of the state of Israel and therefore key targets for the pro-Israel advocates who have made common cause with the Labour right. The right fear, and wish to destroy, the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn because he is a socialist; the pro-Israel lobby want the same because he is the first leader of a major western political party to actively support the campaign for justice for Palestine.  On both counts, he is a threat to the political establishment that preceded him and that still controls the Labour party machine – as well as a hate figure for sections of the mainstream media.

David Collier has a history of collaborating with rightwing Zionists with a penchant for disrupting pro-Palestinian gatherings. In January 2018 he and two others were barred from Warwick University campus after they had travelled to the city intent upon denouncing “vile antisemitic slurs” at a lecture advertised by the Palestine Society. It turned out to be an innocuous event about fertility organised by a small group of researchers and students. Despite this Collier published a malicious and inaccurate blogpost about the talk claiming antisemitism which led to a series of hateful and threatening emails to the speaker and organiser.

His latest dossier appears to reveal some hateful antisemitic material on a private Facebook group, called Palestine Live, set up around 2013. It has no organisational links with any pro-Palestinian bodies and was established by an independent activist as a clearing house for information about Palestine and related activities, most of it anti-racist and human rights related. The majority of those who joined – or simply found that they had had their names added without asking – treated the site as an occasional source of information. As with most sites, few users see more than a tiny proportion of the traffic on it. This is no excuse for the fact that it has carried some clearly unacceptable posts linked to anti-Jewish, Holocaust denial and conspiracy theory websites. Most of those responsible, slightly more than one per cent of the 3,200 group members – have been removed, but not all.

This should not have been allowed to happen. It reminds us of the danger of lax moderation by social media admins and is a warning to casual users to check who else is frequenting seemingly interesting platforms we dip into. But the purpose of Collier’s dossier is not to offer helpful advice to the Labour left. It is to blacken their names – guilt by association – by asserting that they tolerate, or even promote, hatred of Jews. Tellingly, Collier could find nothing to say about Glyn Secker except to suggest guilt by association: he “has had minimal interaction on the site. He posted rarely but was aware of his affiliation with the group.”

Journalist Asa Winstanley, himself one of the dossier’s targets, has described how Collier infiltrated the Labour Party conference in Brighton last year in search of an antisemitic conspiracy. He reports how Collier turned his racism against me, suggesting that having a son with a Muslim father disqualifies me from commenting on Israel and Palestine.

Many mainstream media have picked up Collier’s allegations in the past, reproducing his assertions as if they were gospel truth. The Guardian was one of those to do so this time.

Shouldn’t there have been alarm bells ringing in the Guardian offices where staffer Jessica Elgot penned her article, quoting the dossier without any explanation as to who wrote it or why?

Collier’s work contains ample warnings of his highly partisan agenda. This is just one of his snide comments: “We cannot have a modern Labour voter without a little bit of Holocaust denial, can we?” Hardly the words of an independent researcher.

Jackie Walker obliged the Guardian to correct one error in its description of the charges against her. Even so its piece testifies to an alarming media alacrity to accept at face value and without investigation even the most extraordinary antisemitism charges against Corbyn and the left. Doubly alarming, because it’s an obsession that is extending to university campuses and council chambers, threatening free speech and open debate.

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