HASC Report on antisemitism is a ‘partisan party political polemic’

A scathing critique written by a former specialist adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee, David Plank, has found that the HASC Report on antisemitism ‘is a partisan party political polemic which should not have been agreed and made public by a House of Commons select committee.’

He adds that the Report purporting to be the result of an inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom, ‘is no such thing. The Inquiry has no terms of reference: as a result, it is ill-defined from the outset. Its evidence base is partial and excludes a swathe of evidence sources that would have been essential to such an inquiry. It is unbalanced in the coverage it gives to political discourse as against other aspects of antisemitism in the United Kingdom – and grossly imbalanced within the topic of political discourse in the entirely disproportionate attention it gives to the Labour Party and personally to its Leader.’

The former advisor’s recommendations:

      1. The House of Commons Home affairs Committee should withdraw this Report and undertake a properly impartial, objective and sufficiently evidenced inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom. Individuals and organizations should not be named or otherwise made identifiable in the report of this and other inquiries undertaken by the Committee without due process and proper verification of evidence.
      2. The House of Commons Liaison Committee should examine the adequacy of the arrangements select committees of the House of Commons have in place to assure their inquiries and reports to ensure they achieve basic standards of impartiality, objectivity and adequacy of evidence – including strict adherence to the rule of no party politics.
      3. The Labour Party should consider the comments made above in relation to: a definition of antisemitism and the areas of outright disagreement as to what falls within it in the assessment of allegations; and accountability.

On the committee’s method, he has this to say:

The fundamental weakness arising from the Inquiry’s lack of clarity about what it set out to do is aggravated by the method used in the inquiry, which is also not spelled out and appears partial and incomplete. For example, why was evidence obtained from some voices in the communities of British Jews and not others? The Board of Deputies of British Jews is one voice that was heard. A different voice – the voice of Independent Jewish Voices – was not heard. Independent Jewish Voices is a significant body which states:

“We believe that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews is a body which claims authority to represent the Jewish community in this country as a whole – describing itself as:

“… the voice of British Jewry …” [Taken from website – my emphasis]

Why then did the Committee obtain evidence from one voice and give it much weight in its report and not obtain evidence from this other different voice – and indeed others such as the non-Orthodox communities which do not necessarily see their varied views represented by the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and its Chief Rabbi from whom evidence was obtained?  Why did the then Chair of the Committee reject a request from Shami Chakrabarti to appear before the Committee and give evidence? Why is great weight given by the Committee to the evidence of bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews when no weight appears to be given to that of other bodies with different views such as Free Speech on Israel? [Witnesses and Published written evidence on pages 63 & 64 respectively]

Some may not regard it as surprising that the Board of Deputies of British Jews has welcomed the Committee’s report given the weight the Committee appears to have attached to the Board’s views – and to those of other bodies from which evidence was obtained that some British Jews may see as like-minded bodies, i.e. the Jewish Leadership Council and the United Hebrew Congregations. Had the Committee obtained evidence from other known voices in the communities of British Jews – and given weight to the evidence it did have of different views – its account of Zionism, for instance, might well have been significantly different. The Committee gives the impression of not being sensitive to this crucial point. Had the Committee been as comprehensive in the evidence it took as the Chakrabarti Inquiry, its conclusions and recommendations might have carried greater weight than they do. [Compare the evidence listed on pages 63 & 64 of the Committee’s Report and the many more and more representative spread of organizations and individuals which contributed to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry following its call for evidence, pages 30 & 31 of the SC Report]

Read the detailed critique in full here.

David Plank is also a member of the Labour Party living in Cambridge and a former local authority director of social services and chief executive.

Defining Racism, Antisemitism, Zionism While Preserving Freedom of Speech

On the issue of needing a definition of antisemitism the Home Affairs Commons Select Committee (HACSC) recent report asserts that: “… defining the parameters of antisemitism was central to the question…”
The HACSC goes on to adopt what is essentially the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘working definition’. It is as follows:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”

The report discusses some criticisms of this definition including its unrecognised status and its attempts to extend the applicability of the term beyond the clearly limiting parameters of pure racism. If it be accepted that a racist statement is always necessarily general form of:
ALL ‘race’ ARE ‘pejorative’
We can see the IHRA definition of antisemitism attempts deviate this structure by claiming:

“ALL ‘Jews’ ARE ‘pejorative’ AND may be directed toward things of ‘Jewish nature’ = antisemitism”

The definitional extension applied here would seem to logically make proving an antisemitic claim more difficult to demonstrate. However, in the court of public opinion and the examples of antisemitism given by the IHRA, the crucial importance of the first clause of this definition and the ambiguity introduced by ‘may’ seems to completely ignored. This renders the effective definition to be perceived as:

“’pejorative’ directed toward things felt to be of ‘Jewish nature’ = antisemitism”

The HACSC recognises that allowing for subjective perception of antisemitism is not a tenable position when it says:

“for a perpetrator to be prosecuted for a criminal offence that was motivated or aggravated by antisemitism, requires more than just the victim’s perception that it was antisemitic.”

The need for objectivity is stress in the statement:

“It also requires evidence, and it requires that someone other than the victim makes an objective interpretation of that evidence.”

The report again goes on to justify its need for a clear definition:

“The difficulty of making such a determination in the face of conflicting interpretations underlines the importance of establishing an agreed definition of antisemitism.”

This can be seen as an additional problem to the ambiguity introduced into the IHRA working definition by the use of the word ‘may’.

Rather than deal with the structural problems with this definition and the examples that are provided the HACSC proposes the following particular exceptions:

  1. It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  2. It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.

The methodology of providing a loose ‘working definition’ and then seeking to restrict that definition by listing exceptions is fundamentally flawed. In this instance the HACSC is doubly flawed because it attempts to define antisemitism circularly in terms of antisemitism. The suggested modifications in no way bear on the general issue of subjectivity in interpreting antisemitic statements.

This is subsequent borne out by the way the HACSC report completely acknowledges the term ‘Zionism’ as a political concept worthy of discussion and yet goes on to be completely persuaded by personal testimonies alone that the word ‘Zionist’, and by extension its contraction ‘Zio’, has such “toxicity” that it can automatically be assumed to antisemitic. The report avoids explicitly falling into this fallacy, but by subsequently siding with the aggrieved John Mann MP at the hostility and “vilification” he received, the conclusion can be in no doubt.

The report singularly fails to remain objective by making this arbitrary determination. The report fails to take account of the fundamental right to freedom of speech. This right cannot be arbitrarily interfered with. Thus the HACSC is legally duty bound to provide a suitable and necessary principle that would differentiate the term of abuse, of say, “Trot”, as directed toward left wing members of the labour party with that of ‘Zio’ for the political backing of Israeli policy.

The Select Committee report highlights the angry tweets received by John Mann MP and seems to imply the obviousness of their antisemitic guilt. At least half of those many texts have no discernible racist element by lack of generality. No effort is made to show how any of the tweets are in fact antisemitic in terms of the proposed definition. Merely presenting them in their hostility is hoped to bring your nodding acquiescence along, under an already prejudiced definition. The reader is not reminded of the context of these written messages in which Mr Mann himself appeared to be on the verge of physically assaulting Ken Livingstone in the most insane political moment I can think of in recent times.

The Chair of the HACSC report, the conservative’s Mr Loughton MP, attempts to mock Baroness Chakrabarti’s report for describing some antisemitic complaints as “unhappy incidents” and yet his report cites Mr Mann as a victim of vilification “after his attempts to challenge Ken Livingstone’s comments”. Comments which have not been found to be antisemitic at the time of writing and not likely to in this author’s opinion. On the contrary it would seem a likely justice if Mr Livingstone was to prosecute Mr Mann for his gross inappropriate actions and false accusations. The Baroness was quite right to defend her own report’s impartiality in not delving into ongoing investigations and taking sides. Words Mr Loughton ought to let sink in. The report is an abuse of process and should bring professional sanction because of its clear lack of impartiality. This would go some way to safeguarding future parliamentary Select Committee reports.

John Mann ambushes Ken Livngstone
John Mann ambushing Ken Livingstone

To make my point concrete I adduce the first of the example tweets cited in the report regarding the John Mann incident:
“@johnmannmp why don’t you admit you’re a Zionist wh*re then ??”
Angry, hostile and offensive? Certainly. Racist? Absolutely not, and by extension not antisemitic. I don’t admire or even like the person who sent this message, I don’t know him or her, it might be a small piece of evidence that he or she might be a despicable person. But equally it might not be such evidence. When you try to arbitrarily restrict human freedoms, many will take those liberties even more, as a ‘screw you’ if you like, in essence echoing the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said:

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”

It seems a convenience for this MP and to other vested interests to show the political language of so many in such a tainted ‘working’ definition.

Note:
Racist and Religious Crime – CPS Guidance

Justin Hesford

Crying wolf?

Republished from Open Democracy

A cavalier use of evidence in the UK’s latest Home Affairs Select Committee report is feeding a moral panic about antisemitism, rather than dealing with an increasingly racist, intolerant society.

Jeremy Corbyn Speaks On Labours Anti Semitism Inquiry Findings

The latest report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (HAC) Antisemitism in the UK Tenth Report of Session 2016–17 , was released to great fanfare on Sunday 16 October. Its accompanying embargoed press release, headed “All Parties – And Media Giants – Must Address ‘Pernicious’ Antisemitic Hate”, led with the following note: “[T]he failure of the Labour Party consistently and effectively to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic.”

Against a background of rising criticism of the Israeli state and its actions, attempts have been made in recent decades to redefine our understanding of antisemitism to include much of this criticism under the rubric of what is labelled “left antisemitism”. Genuine antisemitism and criticism of Israel which “oversteps the bounds” are rolled up into one and the same thing. In recent months the British Labour party has become the focus of attention as the exemplar, par excellence, of this “left antisemitism”.

In this respect the publication of the Chakrabarti report at the end of June was an important moment not just for the Labour party. It was a model of careful language, civility and empathy. Chakrabarti didn’t accuse anyone of bad faith, and strove to engage with the real pain that has been caused to people involved on all sides in this issue so far. It seemed to herald the possibility of moving beyond the fractious and divisive use of antisemitism as a political football which has so dogged debate in recent years. That is why I am dismayed to see the direction and trend of the latest Home Affairs Committee report (hereinafter called “the Report” and its author referred to as “the Committee”; all references to “paras” are to paragraphs in the report).

I want to comment particularly on the following areas of the Report:

a) its obsessive focusing on Labour

b) its shameful rubbishing of Chakrabarti

c) its confusions over “Zionism”

d) its attempt to (re)define antisemitism (including a misrepresentation of a definition it says it is endorsing)

e) its insistence that antisemitism is special, not like other racisms.

Demonising the Labour party

“It should be emphasised that the majority of antisemitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, committed by individuals associated with (or motivated by) far-right wing parties and political activity. Although there is little reliable or representative data on contemporary sources of antisemitism, CST [Community Security Trust] figures suggest that around three-quarters of all politically-motivated antisemitic incidents come from far-right sources.” (para 7)

Since obsessive focusing on Israel is taken by many as an indication of antisemitism, what do we make of the Committee’s obsessive focusing on the UK Labour Party, on Shami Chakrabarti, and on the world of student politics?

We might expect that three-quarters of the report would focus on the “antisemitic incidents com[ing] from far-right sources”. But that paragraph is about the only attention paid to the right in its 66 pages. Only 6 paragraphs (paras 121-126) look at antisemitism in relation to any political parties, other than Labour.

Further, there is no reference to the rampaging resurgence of all forms of racism in British political life, an openly racist Tory campaign for the London mayoralty, a Prime Minister referring to refugees in Europe as “a swarm” and accusing Labour of encouraging “a bunch of migrants” at Calais to come to Britain, and of course the post-Brexit referendum surge of hate crimes. Why is there no reference to this context?

Instead the report aims to “differentiate explicitly between racism and antisemitism (Report, para 114)” arguing that they are two different kinds of animal. Why?

As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, in a mastery of understatement: “The report’s political framing and disproportionate emphasis on Labour risks undermining the positive and welcome recommendations made in it.”

One area that does receive attention, the scale of verbal abuse on social media, Twitter in particular, is clearly disturbing, and the Report does well to draw attention to it. But again, the antisemitism which is found there cannot be an isolated concern. Other forms of racism, Islamophobia in particular, and a generalised culture of anti-immigrant hate speech, sexual harassment and bullying is passed over as of no particular consequence. Rather, the Committee simply seems to have assumed that a) abuse in this sphere all comes from the left and b) that it is somehow licensed by what it claims to be Corbyn’s light-hearted attitude to antisemitism.

Nowhere is this clearer than with regard to Ruth Smeeth MP who is said to have experienced “more than 25,000 incidents of abuse, including being called a “yid c**t” and a “CIA/Mossad informant”, and who has said that she has “never seen antisemitism in Labour on this scale”. What percentage of the 25,000 were antisemitic we are not told, though Ms Smeeth’s own statement on television is reported: “It’s vile, it’s disgusting and it’s done in the name of the Leader of the Labour party, which makes it even worse” (Report, para 104). But was it done in Corbyn’s name? What’s the evidence for that assertion? How many of these tweeters were left-wing Labour? Did the Committee bother to ask? There is no evidence it did so. It seems to have operated on the generalised, taken-for-granted assumption that as antisemitism is rampant in the Labour party that’s where it must have come from. And it simply ignores the fact that Corbyn “contacted Ruth Smeeth to express his outrage at the abuse and threats directed against her” (or that the Sun chose to headline this action as “Jeremy Corbyn grovels to race-hate row MP Ruth Smeeth”!).

How can this explain what happened to Rhea Wolfson, a Jewish member of the party who stood for the NEC only to be (temporarily) blackballed on the grounds that she was supported by Momentum, allegedly “an antisemitic organisation”. Tweets sent to her in early October included: “1 way ticket to Auschwitz for you” and “Dirty kike she ready for the ovens” (Rhea Wolfson press release, 16 Oct 2016). It beggars belief that these tweets were sent to her by left-wing Labour supporters.

This does not appear to be a mere a lack of curiosity in the Report. On the contrary. Its authors seem positively to want to lend support to the idea of Labour’s “institutional antisemitism”, mentioned in the very first paragraph of its press release. The ‘Macpherson definition’ of a racist incident is cited in para 13 – as though the Metropolitan police’s unwillingness to recognise racism in the past is equivalent to Labour’s relationship to antisemitism today. You wouldn’t guess from the Report that every allegation of antisemitism in the Labour party has resulted in the suspension of the Labour party member concerned within a matter of days and that its leader has repeatedly and unreservedly condemned antisemitism. Given this absence, which was compounded by the way the Report was presented to the media, it is no surprise that all outlets duly led with its attack on Labour and focused on Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged “lack of leadership” and “weakness” in dealing with the assumed scourge of antisemitism in his movement.

Corbyn’s immediate response was a cautious, even gracious, welcome (“I welcome some recommendations in the report, such as strengthening anti-hate crime systems, demanding Twitter take stronger action against antisemitic trolling and allow users to block keywords, and support for Jewish communal security”), together with a clear recognition of what he politely calls “important opportunities lost” in the report.

Corbyn also pointed out that: “Under my leadership, Labour has taken greater action against anti-Semitism than any other party, and will implement the measures recommended by the Chakrabarti report to ensure Labour is a welcoming environment for members of all our communities.”

Critique of Chakrabarti

The Home Affairs Committee seems to have been almost equally obsessed by a desire to discredit the Chakrabarti Report and some effort is made to discredit Shami Chakrabarti personally in circumstances in which she has no right of reply.

She is, for example, shamelessly taken to task for having joined the Labour party and also for subsequently having accepted a peerage (which she should long ago have had for her public service if peerages mean anything at all). The Community Security Trust (CST) is quoted as saying it was “a shameless kick in the teeth for all who put hope in her now wholly compromised inquiry into Labour antisemitism” (para 108). “Wholly compromised” is strong condemnation indeed – but nothing in the Report suggests or even hints at how or in what way anything in her inquiry was compromised. The CST were not asked what had changed to undermine their guarded welcome for the Report at the time it appeared, which including saying, “Many of our recommendations are echoed in the final report’s language concerning Zionism, the term ‘Zio’ and Holocaust analogies”; and also made the point that “The final verdict on the Chakrabarti Report will depend upon its implementation.”

The Committee’s report goes on to claim that the Chakrabarti inquiry was “ultimately compromised by its failure to deliver a comprehensive set of recommendations, to provide a definition of antisemitism, or to suggest effective ways of dealing with antisemitism (para 118).

I’ll come to the separate issue of a definition of antisemitism below, including in the Chakrabarti Report. But Chakrabarti did, of course, provide a comprehensive set of recommendations and suggested ways of dealing with antisemitism. They need to be implemented and only then can their effectiveness at dealing with antisemitism over time by judged. How can it be anything other than partisan bias for the Committee to dismiss them at this stage?

In particular, Chakrabarti was very explicit about the need for clear and transparent disciplinary procedures in the Labour party in order to deal with allegations – this in a context where there was widespread feeling that allegations of antisemitism were being used as weapons in a campaign to get Corbyn. A significant part of her report –as yet unimplemented – relates to issues of due process and natural justice. None of this is given more than a hint of recognition by the Home Affairs Committee (para 114).

Yet this really does matter. A number of accusations of antisemitism, of varying degrees of severity, have been made against members of the Labour party who have been suspended as a consequence – without due process, without knowing sometimes what they are accused of, who by or why. The Report fails to take note of the strong evidence produced that at least some of the accusations of Labour party antisemitism were malicious and their timing, beyond a shadow of doubt, politically motivated. All these accusations against Labour party members are assumed by the Report and the media to be clearly established instances of the extreme antisemitism that Labour is riddled by. But some we know to have been false and some exaggerated.

In the end, this selectivity of narrative and treatment does a disservice to any genuine fight-back against antisemitism. Here it is particularly concerning that the report was signed off by two members of the Labour party (who, by the way, have a clear anti-Corbyn agenda) without appearing to express any concern about the need to investigate and clear up the accusations of antisemitism in their own party as a matter of urgency. But that can only be done when proper procedures are in place – as Chakrabarti’s maligned report insisted. As Tony Klug pointed out writing in the Jewish Chronicle on 5 May in The problem is real but exaggerated: “While antisemitism is monstrous – and, like all forms of racism, should be vigorously dealt with – false accusations of antisemitism are monstrous too.”

On a different note, it is undoubtedly true that while a few of the reported instances of antisemitism in and around the Labour party relate to classic antisemitism, most would appear to be connected with Israel and/or the ongoing war over Gaza. This is something the Committee seems to have failed to look into at all – though its obsession with a definition of antisemitism (see below) suggests that it is happy to allow these key distinctions to be elided.

Here the need to be able to have an open, wide-ranging and honest discussion about Israel and Palestine is clearly crucial. And here the Committee’s intervention is not at all helpful, asserting without evidence of widespread “unwitting” antisemitism on campus “and within left-leaning student political organisations in particular” (Report, para 93). I won’t comment on this alleged campus antisemitism section except to draw attention to the Open Letter to Home Affairs Select Committee sent within hours of publication of the report, signed by over 300 students, which claimed: “[W]e believe this report’s selective and partisan approach attempts to delegitimise NUS, and discredit Malia Bouattia as its president [by suggesting she does not take the issue of campus antisemitism seriously]. An attack on NUS is an attack on the student and union movements. This is completely unacceptable and we cannot allow these claims against us to go unchallenged.”

Compare Chakrabarti’s lucid contribution in her report with that of the Home Affairs Committee: “This is not to shut down debate about what has been one of the most intractable and far-reaching geopolitical problems of the post-war world, but actively to facilitate it. Labour members should be free and positively encouraged to criticise injustice and abuse wherever they find it, including in the Middle East. But surely it is better to use the modern universal language of human rights, be it of dispossession, discrimination, segregation, occupation or persecution and to leave Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust out of it? This has been the common sense advice which I have received from many Labour members of different ethnicity and opinion including many in Jewish communities and respected institutions, who further point to particular Labour MPs with a long interest in the cause of the Palestinian people with whom they have discussed and debated difficult issues and differences, in an atmosphere of civility and a discourse of mutual respect.” (Chakrabarti p. 12)

Opposing Zionism

Curiously, the Committee report echoes much of Chakrabarti in relation to discourse, but while Chakrabarti is forward-looking and educational (see quote above), the Committee’s approach is punitive.

Chakrabarti’s condemnation of the use of certain language inveighed, rightly, against any “bitter incivility of discourse”, including her insistence that there was no place for the use of the word “Zio” ever, nor for “Zionist” as a term of abuse (recommendations accepted by the Labour party’s NEC in September). These are snidely dismissed by the Report (para 102) as “little more than statements of the obvious”. And yet lo, in para 32 of the Report we have this: “The word ‘Zionist’ (or worse, ‘Zio’) as a term of abuse, however, has no place in a civilised society… [Their use] should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic.” It is hard to tell the Committee’s and Chakrabarti’s formulations apart, as the words are transmogrified into no longer being “little more than statements of the obvious”.

The Committee seems clear that “’Zionism’ as a concept remains a valid topic for academic and political debate, both within and outside Israel” (para 32). But not really. Rabbi Mirvis’s opinion is given that “Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith”. Mick Davis of the Jewish Leadership Council is quoted as saying that criticising Zionism is the same as antisemitism for “if you attack Zionism, you attack the very fundamentals of how the Jews believe in themselves” (paras 26 & 27).

The report is insistent that in a recent survey, 59% of Jews saw themselves as Zionist. Assuming this is the case, it still does not make Zionism a protected characteristic of Jewish identity. What if opinion among these people changed? Would their becoming anti- or non-Zionist now become a heretical position which the Jewish community could use to exclude members from it as no longer adhering to “the very fundamentals of how the Jews believe in themselves”? What indeed to make of the current 41% of the Jewish population who don’t identify as Zionist? Are they not real Jews as far as the Chief Rabbi or Mick Davis are concerned? The Report just leaves these contradictory strands hanging – giving the overwhelming impression that these are too complicated for ordinary mortals. Better leave them as no-go areas.

Surely it is self-evident that Jews see themselves in multiple and contradictory ways? So any attempt to let Jews self-define what is or is not antisemitic soon runs into an impossible impasse – which Jews are accorded the franchise to define where other Jews may tread (especially when some sections of that community find almost any criticism of Israel likely to cause offence)?

At every stage, the Committee buys into the view that criticism of Israel is a dangerous place to go. “It is clear, “says the Report that where criticism of the Israeli Government is concerned, context is vital.” And how does the Report contextualize it? “Israel is an ally of the UK Government and is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, in which the actions of the Government are openly debated and critiqued by its citizens.” (Conclusions, para 2). Does it follow that any criticism by outsiders is likely to be offensive? Whatever happened to treatment of minorities as a benchmark of a healthy democracy?

Indeed the Report cautions not simply against using Zionism as a term of abuse (as did Chakrabarti) but against using the term at all. Criticise “the Israeli government” not Zionists”, it says (para 32). And sometimes, indeed, this might be good advice. After all, the right to give offence does not translate into a duty to do so. But sometimes the use of terms like Zionism is coolly analytical and can’t just be done away with.

Palestinians – some 750,000 of them – were dispossessed by a movement calling itself Zionist. How can they, and by extension those who support Palestinian rights today, explain this history by criticising “the Israeli government”? How can they be expected simply to regard Zionism as the timeless essence of a Jewish right to self-determination, above and beyond critique? Can anything be done in the name of Zionism without those who oppose it being allowed to name it?

Leaving aside the debate of what Zionism might or might not have been historically, ask what it has become. Only one strand of Zionism has any political purchase today, and it is not a pleasant one. Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank continues unabated. Green-line Israel’s discrimination against its increasingly second-class Palestinian citizens, and their physical displacement in the Negev, rolls on. What Israel now needs is to be judged by what it is doing. It is Israel’s actions that delegitimise it, not any antisemitism of the left. And these actions, carried out by and on behalf of the Israeli government, are called – by that government – actions on behalf of Zionism.

Of course the word “Zionist” can be a surrogate for “Jew” (just as the same danger, only a much more extreme variant, arises when Muslims are expected to distance themselves from acts of violent political Islam). Of course it can be used in an antisemitic manner. But it needs to shown to be the case, not simply assumed to be likely or, worse, read off from the very use of the term.

Of course holding all Jews responsible for what the government of Israel does is wrong – indeed antisemitic. But who makes the elision between Jews, Israel and Zionism more enthusiastically than the representatives of the Jewish Community when they stand by Israel, right or wrong and claim to support it in the name of all Jews?

This is the minefield that discourse on Israel-Palestine now has to negotiate on a daily basis but unfortunately the Home Affairs Committee has very little to say on how this can take place productively. Yet surely this is essential, not just in the democratic socialist party Labour aspires to be, but in our wider society where the parameters of debate can no longer be defined by a narrow elite. Again, Chakrabarti seems to have got this right: “We can facilitate free speech, whilst acknowledging the evidence that we have received that there have been some instances of undoubtedly antisemitic and otherwise racist language and discourse in the past and at the same time encouraging a civility of discourse which is respectful of each other’s diversity and sensitivities.” (Chakrabarti p.7)

This is simply good advice both to avoid giving unnecessary offence and to move forward. Incivility of discourse is to be deplored in its own right and because it is a counter-productive way of doing debate (and democracy), allowing discussion of the important issues to be sidetracked – and thus avoided. In this case it can feed a moral panic about antisemitism, rather than dealing with the real instances of antisemitism (in our increasingly racist and intolerant society), in a politically effective, open and productive way.

Redefining antisemitism

As already mentioned, one of the severe criticisms that the Report has now made of Chakrabarti is that she failed to define antisemitism (e.g. para 118). Leaving aside the fact that for most of the twentieth century what constituted antisemitism was not in doubt, the politicisation of the debate in recent decades has not helped and Chakrabarti might well have felt this minefield was better avoided.

Not the Committee, which insisted on jumping straight in, continuing a more than decade-long debate about how and to what extent criticism of Israel must be incorporated into a definition of antisemitism.

There has been a consistent attempt since around 2005, to get what was a draft of a “working definition of antisemitism” published on the website of the European Union Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia – one never endorsed by that body or its successor the Fundamental Rights Agency – adopted as the definition of antisemitism. I dealt with the history of this disputed definition at length some years ago in openDemocracy, and refer readers to the argument developed there.

In summary, suffice it to say here this document produced a “working definition”:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.(emphasis in the original)

For clarification, this was illustrated with eleven examples of what “could, taking into account the overall context” be antisemitic. About half of the examples cited were concerned not simply with Jews but with how Israel was referred to.

The trouble is that the definition is so vague as to be useless as the practical operational tool that was being sought at the time by the EUMC. The eleven examples provided of what “could, taking into account the overall context” be antisemitic, don’t resolve the problem. If they could be antisemitic, equally they might not be… No EU member state adopted the document and the Fundamental Rights Agency quietly laid it to rest, removing it from its website.

The All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism which in 2006 had pressed for the government to adopt the definition had, by 2015 decided otherwise (Report, Feb 2015, paras 9-11). It looked as though this highly controversial definition was recognised as simply unhelpful in the wider discussion of combatting antisemitism.

But the draft EUMC “working definition” took on a life of its own – as an ideological weapon to beat those who criticise Israel “too harshly”. Although it included the qualifier “could, taking into account the overall context” be antisemitic, there is in it nonetheless an underlying presumption that criticism of Israel is likely to be antisemitic unless proved otherwise.

Now the Home Affairs Committee has resurrected this draft working definition (in the form adopted almost verbatim by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and referred to as the IHRA definition). It notes the objections but simply says “We broadly accept the IHRA definition, (para 24. and recommend (Conclusion, para 4) that it “should be formally adopted by the UK Government, law enforcement agencies and all political parties” with two caveats – see below).

But the Committee distorts the document in a crucial way. It claims (para 17) that the list of illustrative examples are antisemitic. It simply drops the all-important qualification, that they might, “taking into account the overall context”, be antisemitic.

Was this done deliberately? One hesitates to suggest it as it would then be utterly dishonest. Or was it simply incompetence? If so it is of a high order. In any event it is astonishing that no-one on the Committee, or commentators to date, have remarked on it.

In deference to representations made by “the Friends of Palestine” (para 21, a vague identification not clarified further in the Report) the Committee proposes to add two caveats to its (misrepresented) account of the IHRA definition, and says:

[T]o ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate any debate, the definition should include the following statements:

  • It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
  • It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. 
(para 24)

Unfortunately, this doesn’t really help. To take the second statement, for example, in what sense can it ever be antisemitic “to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies”? What kind of caveat is this? The first caveat is in principle more helpful, a clear recognition that there is a problem with the strictures of the EUMC working definition. But it is contradicted by the Committee’s obvious eagerness to define a broad range of statements as antisemitic when it comes to Israel (para 17 again), giving encouragement to those who think like it, to find antisemitic intent. The presumption throughout, that criticism of Israel is dangerous ground to enter, is if anything strengthened – as, I submit, those who favour the EUMC-now-IHRA definition have always intended. If nothing else, it chills the atmosphere for the serious debate about Israel and Palestine that is so urgently needed. Although it can’t be quantified, anecdotal evidence from a number of Labour party branches suggest that many members now find this whole issue too difficult to discuss. Similarly on a number of university campuses there is pressure not to raise issues around Israel-Palestine on the grounds that these make some students feel “uncomfortable”.

It is clear, however, that the debate about Israel-Palestine won’t go away. If the Home Office Committee had recognised this and tried more carefully to elaborate ways in which it could be developed constructively, it might have contributed to defusing less constructive reactions – particularly on campus – when the realities of Israeli politics are raised. While the occupation continues, while Palestinians within Israel are subject to increasingly discriminatory laws, attempts to understand the reality by employing concepts like “apartheid”, “settler-colonialism” or simply “Israeli racism” are bound to flourish. So too will non-violent campaigns to oppose oppression on the ground by exerting pressure on the Israeli government – and on the British to act more decisively – by means of grass-roots boycott and divestment campaigns and calls for sanctions. Diverting attention back into a recycled version of a tired, politicised definition of antisemitism will not help. By rolling up so much of what is intended as political criticism into what is purportedly antisemitic it is far more likely to debase the currency.

The outlines of a genuinely workable definition of antisemitism is easily to be found, and indeed Chakrabarti should perhaps have ventured here. Professor David Feldman (later co-vice-chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry) provides a good foundation in his Sub-Report for the Parliamentary Committee against Antisemitism for its investigation into Antisemitism in Public Debate during and after Operation Protective Edge (Jul-Aug 2014). He writes:

Specifically, I propose two distinct but complementary definitions of antisemitism. One definition focuses on discourse, the other focuses on discrimination.

1. When we consider discourse we focus on the ways in which Jews are represented. Here we can say, following the philosopher Brian Klug, that antisemitism is ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Accordingly, antisemitism is to be found in representations of Jews as stereotyped and malign figures. One such stereotype is the notion that Jews constitute a cohesive community, dedicated to the pursuit of its own selfish ends. It will be important to ask whether this or other malign stereotypes figured in public debate on Operation Protective Edge.

2. In addition to antisemitism which arises within the process of representation there is also 
antisemitism which stems from social and institutional practices. Discriminatory practices which disadvantage Jews are antisemitic. Taking a historical view, we can say that British society and the British state became less antisemitic in past centuries as Jews were allowed to live in the country, to pray together, to work, to vote and to associate with others in clubs and societies to the same degrees as their Christian fellow-subjects. Discrimination against Jews need not be accompanied by discursive antisemitism, even though in many cases it has been. If we apply this definition of antisemitism to public debate on Jews and Israel last summer and autumn we will need to ask whether any aspect of this debate threatened to discriminate against Jews.

It is a practical definition and operational in its approach. It can easily be reformulated to be independent of and to go beyond its roots around Operation Protective Edge. For reasons still not clear, the Home Affairs Committee sidestepped engaging with it in favour of a reversion to a definition in which criticism of Israel returns as a central feature in talking about antisemitism.

Antisemitism is special

Chakrabarti was very clear that antisemitism had to be investigated in the wider context of racism in general:

[My] clear view is that there is not, and cannot be, any hierarchy of racism. This must stand regardless of perceptions, realities or stereotypes about which racial groups may, or may not, be more established or more or less discriminated against at any given moment. (p.4)

Of course antisemitism has its own specificities but for the Committee’s Report to suggest that the distinct nature of post-Second World War antisemitism (which it claims is unappreciated by Jeremy Corbyn) is that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitic abuse often paints the victim as a malign and controlling force rather than as an inferior object of derision, making it perfectly possible for an ‘anti-racist campaigner’ to express antisemitic views”. (para 113). What about the accusations of hoarding wealth and goods, deployed against Ugandan Asians in the sixties, that drove so many of them to seek asylum in Britain? What about the Hutu view of Rwandan Tutsis as an exploitative and controlling minority? And as for this being a distinctly post-Second World War trope the Protocols of the Elder of Zion and Nazi antisemitism clearly saw Jews as “a malign and controlling force”.

The Committee goes further: “The Chakrabarti report… is clearly lacking in many areas; particularly in its failure to differentiate explicitly between racism and antisemitism” (para 114).

I have to admit to being one of those who cannot see how (or why) to differentiate explicitly between racism and antisemitism; nor how to oppose one without opposing the other. Or to put it differently, I understand antisemitism as a specific form of racism directed towards Jewish people. Like all racisms it has its own specificities and these need to be clearly taken into account in any strategy to combat this particular form of racism. But equally, as David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group put it in the JSG response to this Report: “There is no separate solution for the problems that Jews face in Britain today. A society that regards Jews positively and treats them properly will be a society that treats all minorities properly.”

It is hard to see what the Committee believes follows from its rigid separation of antisemitism from racism, but coupled with its insistence on trying to define out of court certain criticisms of Israel, this is bound to be counter-productive.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has, for good or ill, become one of the moral touchstones of our age. The British government and indeed the Labour party may well support a two-state solution. But is it credible any longer to maintain that the status quo is provisional and that the Palestinians will soon be exercising their national, political and civil rights in their own state? Not in any future that Israel is currently offering. So the question increasingly posed on campuses, in the Jewish community and elsewhere – in short, wherever this is debated – is whether or not to be complicit in the indefinite denial of fundamental human rights to millions of people? This is a denial of rights being carried out by Israel, with occasional criticism but no effective action to stop it by western democracies. As Tony Klug and Sam Bahour suggested a few years ago, western democracies should stop letting Israel off the hook: “The laws of occupation either apply or do not apply. If it is an occupation, it is beyond time for Israel’s custodianship – supposedly provisional – to be brought to an end. If it is not an occupation, there is no justification for denying equal rights to everyone who is subject to Israeli rule, whether Israeli or Palestinian.”

To repeat the Committee’s words: “Israel is an ally of the UK Government and is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, in which the actions of the Government are openly debated and critiqued by its citizens.” (Conclusions, para 2). It is precisely Israel’s claim to be a defender of liberal democratic values while carrying out its policies of oppression, expansion, suppression of the Palestinians that causes so much offence. Other countries may indeed be far worse oppressors, but which other country at the same time tries to elicit our complicity by claiming to act in defence of our liberal-democratic values? Of course those who take these values seriously are likely to be very critical of Israel. Trying to police the borders of this criticism in the name of fighting antisemitism smacks of a cynical political motivation. It is a poor substitute for dealing with any of the issues, whether it is defending Palestinian human rights or tackling antisemitism at its roots in Britain.

A final note on the style of the report

It’s impossible to read the report without being struck by its all-too-often snide and judgmental tone, its cavalier use of evidence, its cherry-picking of statements made by witnesses to it, its failure to challenge and test the assertions made, and indeed its failure to call or cite witnesses who might have been more challenging of some of the statements made by Rabbi Mirvis and Jonathan Arkush speaking on behalf of an allegedly united Jewish community. The feeling that this reader is left with is that this failure must be because the Report’s authors agree with the opinions expressed. But all too often, that’s all they are. Opinions. Not facts.

Richard Kuper

Double standards at the Sun

Accusing the Sun of double standards is more dog bites man than man bites dog. Their double standards are usually deplored by all those not in the pay of, or in thrall to, Rupert Murdoch. This time however they have been given a free pass by IPSO, The Independent (sic) Press Standards Organisation.

Fatima Manji in hijab

The day after the Nice bombings, The Sun published a Kelvin MacKenzie column attacking Fatima Manji for presenting on the Channel 4 News while wearing a hijab. MacKenzie effectively accused Manji of being a terrorist supporter for wearing her hijab; and, even if not a terrorist supporter, causing distress to faint-hearted viewers by her choice of headgear. MacKenzie, naturally, overlooks the large number of Muslims who were killed in the outrage and the comfort that Muslim viewers might have gained from seeing a presenter they could identify with when their co-religionists had been killed and their deaths overlooked. For MacKenzie and his ilk only the deaths of ‘real’ French people is to be mourned.

Imagine the reaction if anyone had accused a Jewish reporter of supporting any of the terror activities of the Israeli government simply on account of the wearing of a Yamulke. The imputation of political belief from religious identity is a mark of antisemitism; it is equally a mark of Islamophobia. Pointing to someone as being sympathetic to terrorism without clear evidence is, or should be, well beyond even the generous boundaries accorded to newspaper columnists in Britain; but not in IPSO’s book.

We must judge journalists on what they say and write not on their religious or ethnic identity.  On this metric it is Manji who comes out far ahead of MacKenzie.

Many had doubts when the newspaper industry set up IPSO after the Leveson inquiry and that it would be another in the long succession of industry toothless watchdogs. These doubts have been confirmed by this latest example of failure to distinguish free speech from abuse.

FSOI has long been concerned that the manufacture of concern about a relatively low level, although still deplorable, antisemitic comment has occluded a far greater level of Islamophobic abuse. Abuse not just on Twitter and on the streets but tolerated and enacted at the highest levels of British society. IPSO’s failure to recognise such unambiguous Islamophobic abuse sits alongside their toleration of the excoriation by much of the press of marginal, or even fantasised, antisemitic speech . An unbalanced view of the world also apparent in the reception of the Chakrabarti report and more recently in the Home Affairs Select Committee report.

Mike Cushman

Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’

By Tony Greenstein.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has just published a Report, Anti-Semitism in the UK.  The first and most immediate question is why, when other forms of racist attacks are at an all-time high, the Committee should spend its time examining the least widespread or violent form of racism?  By their own admission, anti-Semitic hate crimes, however defined, total just 1.4% of all such crimes, yet anti-Semitism has its own Parliamentary Report.

In its section ‘Key Facts’ the Committee informs us that there has been a rise of 11% in anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015.  Shocking you may think.  The rise is from 500 to 557.  But 24% of the total, 133 incidents in all, were on social media.  Of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents, fully 44 of the 57 were on social media.[1]  Obviously it is not very pleasant to receive anti-Semitic tweets such as those above (which were sent by Zionists!) but it is clearly different from acts of violence.

If one looks closer at the Community Security Trust’s Report quoted from then it turns out that there were just 41 violent incidents.  If one delves a little deeper it turns out that there was actually a 13 per cent fall in violent incidents for the first half of 2015 and none of these were classified by the CST as ‘Extreme Violence’, i.e. they involved potential grievous bodily harm or threat to life.  This is good not bad news.  Why would the Select Committee wish to exaggerate the incidence of anti-Semitism?

Most of the anti-Semitic incidents involved ‘verbal abuse’ and it is difficult to know how many of these were genuinely anti-Semitic and how many were of the kind ‘why do you bomb children in Gaza’.  G given that the Board of Deputies of British Jews does its best to associate Jews with Israel’s war crimes, is it any wonder that some people take them at their word?

Contrast this with anti-Muslim hate crimes.  According to a report from the Muslim Hate Monitoring Group Tell MAMA, British Muslims are experiencing an “explosion” in anti-Islamic.

The annual survey by Tell MAMA found a 326 per cent rise in incidents last year, while the Muslim Council of Britain group of mosques said it had compiled a dossier of 100 hate crimes over the weekend alone.

Unlike anti-Semitism, ‘many attacks are happening in the real world – at schools and colleges, in restaurants and on public transport. The number of offline incidents rose 326 per cent in 2015 from 146 to 437’  The effect has been that many Muslim women – especially those wearing Islamic clothing –were being prevented from conducting normal “day to day activities”.[2]

Yet the Committee, which was chaired by Keith Vaz, has shown no interest in anti-Muslim racism.  Why might that be?

Somewhat confusingly for a Report that is supposed to be about anti-Semitism, another of its Key Facts tells us that ‘Research published in 2015 by City University found that 90% of British Jewish people support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and 93% say that it forms some part of their identity as Jewish people, but only 59% consider themselves to be Zionists.’  [3]  In reality this Report is not about anti-Semitism but the use of anti-Semitism as a weapon against anti-Zionists.

This Report dips in and out of what it is quoting without any attempt to put anything in perspective.  It probably is true that 90% of British Jews support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, but how many of them appreciate that a Jewish settler colonial state is an inherently racist state?   What is interesting is that although the Report admits that only 59% of British Jews consider themselves Zionists, 31% don’t.   Even more interesting, the Report states that ‘in 2010, 72% of the respondents classified themselves as Zionists compared to 59% in the present study.’  As to why that is, the Report offers two different explanations:

  1. Jews believe that criticism of Israel is incompatible with being a Zionist and
  2. the frequent use of the term ‘Zionist’ in general discourse as a pejorative or even abusive label discourages some individuals from describing themselves as a Zionist.

If the latter is correct, then this is clearly a good thing as anti-Zionist criticism of the State of Israel is having some effect and is deterring Jewish people from identifying with a racist ideology.  However the Committee draws the opposite conclusion because it considers Zionism a good thing.  Therein lies the problem.

Amongst other ‘key facts’ was the report of a survey of Labour Party members who joined after the 2015 General Election, 55% of whom agreed that antisemitism is “not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel”.[4]  Clearly, despite the bombardment of the mass media about fake anti-Semitism, most party members are dismissive of this fable.  When Owen Smith debated Jeremy Corbyn in Cardiff and claimed that he hadn’t taken ‘anti-Semitism’ seriously, he was booed.  In reality very few Labour Party members sincerely believe in this hype.

A Report whose primary motivation is to attack Corbyn and the Labour Left

It is curious that a Report on anti-Semitism should start off with a section ‘Anti-Semitism in the Political Parties’ before homing in on just one party, Labour.  Labour is the target throughout this ill-conceived and politically tendentious Report.  It immediately begins with the suspension of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone and others (who it estimates range from 18-40) for’ anti-Semitism’.  Since no one has been tried or found guilty of ‘anti-Semitism’ one can only assume that the presumption of innocence has been abandoned by lawyer Chuku Ummuna and his Tory friends.  Livingstone expressed an opinion that Hitler supported Zionism.  He may be right or wrong, it may even give offence to those who find the truth unpalatable, but anti-Semitic it is not.  Naz Shah made a joke about how much nicer it would be if Israel was located within the borders of the USA as that would mean less death and destruction all round.  She borrowed a map that originated with the Jewish Virtual Library, hardly the greatest act of anti-Semitism the world has known!

After noting that the vast majority of anti-Semitic attacks come from the far-Right, the Report then speaks about ‘the fact that incidents of antisemitism—particularly online—have made their way into a major political party’ despite not having established any facts to support this.  It is this sleight of hand, asserting that which it is supposed to be proving, which runs throughout this Report.

The Report tried to come up with a definition of anti-Semitism but it did this in a very curious way by aiming to maintain ‘an appropriate balance between condemning antisemitism vehemently, in all its forms, and maintaining freedom of speech—particularly in relation to legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel.’  It is curious in two ways – firstly what has criticism of Israel got to do with a definition of anti-Semitism?  The underlying assumption is that criticism of the State of Israel is somehow anti-Semitic.  Because Israeli racism  is based on its self-definition as a Jewish state, i.e. a state where Jews have privileges, it is assumed that criticism of its racism is therefore anti-Semitic.  This is the ‘logic’ that the Report employes throughout.  Anti-Semitism is hatred of or discrimination against Jews as individuals or violence against them.  A state is not an individual or a victim of racism.  Secondly what is ‘legitimate’ criticism of Israel and in whose eyes? Continue reading “Manufacturing consent on ‘antisemitism’”

Partisan Report on Antisemitism discredits Home Affairs Select Committee

House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report:                    

  • Depends on evidence from almost exclusively pro-Israel, anti-Corbyn sources
  • Advocates re-defining antisemitism so as to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian voices, including making it a punishable offence to use the word Zionist “in an accusatory context”
  • Dismisses the Chakrabarti Report’s principled recommendations for fair and transparent disciplinary Labour Party procedures  in cases of alleged antisemitism and other forms of racism, proposing draconian, politically motivated measures instead

London, October 16 – The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee today issued a Report on Antisemitism in the UK that, while correctly identifying the far Right as the source of most hate crime, shows such bias in its sources and assessment of evidence that it calls into question the committee’s reputation and competence.

The Report, from a Tory dominated committee, takes up the weapons that have been used to try to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader by smearing those he has attracted to the Party with charges of antisemitism. The apparent collusion of Labour committee members reflects the dirty war being waged against Corbyn’s radical leadership by elements within the party.   

Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, from the Jewish-led campaign group Free Speech on Israel (FSOI), said the select committee had aligned itself with extreme pro-Israel advocates, by setting restrictive limits on what may and may not be said, threatening to close down free speech on Israel and Palestine.

“The dire record of antisemitism over the centuries and especially in the last one means that vigilance is essential,” said Prof Rosenhead. “But antisemitism is not, currently, the major racist threat in this country; nor is it a significant problem in the Labour Party. This report loses all sense of proportion. It risks actually weakening the defences against true antisemitism (‘hatred of Jews as Jews’) by trying to extend its meaning to include many legitimate criticisms of Israel.

“For those of us who argue, along with many other Jews and Israelis, that the Zionist project has inflicted intolerable injustice on the Palestinians, the adjective ‘Zionist’ inevitably has an ‘accusatory’ aspect.  But it is directed against the State of Israel and its founding ideology, not against Jews.”

NOTES

  1. House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry2/publications/
  2. Free Speech on Israel is a network of labour, green and trade union activists in the UK, mainly Jewish, who came together in April 2016 to counter attempts by pro-Israel right wingers to brand the campaign for justice for Palestinians as antisemitic. 
  3. Prof Jonathan Rosenhead explores the workings of the campaign to discover antisemitism in every corner of Corbyn’s Labour Party https://opendemocracy.net/jonathan-rosenhead/jackie-walker-suspense-mystery
  4. Free Speech on Israel submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry. https://www.scribd.com/doc/315237906/Free-Speech-on-Israel-Submission-to-Chakrabarti-Submission
  5. Asa Winstanley exposes the fabrication of many antisemitism allegations https://electronicintifada.net/content/how-israel-lobby-manufactured-uk-labour-partys-anti-semitism-crisis/16481

Jackie Walker: a suspense mystery

Reprinted from openDemocracy.

By Jonathan Rosenhead

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be suspended once may be regarded as a misfortune; twice looks like carelessness. But whose?

Like all great mysteries, the defenestration of Jackie Walker from the Vice-Chairship of Momentum, and her renewed suspension from the Labour Party, has quite a back story. Where to begin? In 1954 when she was born? On May 14, 1948, Israel’s birth date? On 12 September 2016, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party? In 1920 when the organisation Poale Zion affiliated to the UK Labour Party, or in 2004 when it was re-launched as the Jewish Labour Movement?  Or (as with most public accounts of the events causing Jackie Walker’s latest ‘offence’) at 11.30am on Monday September 26, ending one hour later when the training session on antisemitism at the Labour Party Annual Conference in Liverpool limped to a halt.

I think that we can do better than that.

Defining holocaust and antisemitism

I will start with that infamous training session and work back. It is by now well known that Ms Walker a) belittled Holocaust Memorial Day; b) said that the fuss about the danger of attacks on Jewish schools was being over-blown; and c) saw no need for definitions of antisemitism. Some facts will intrude on the elegant simplicity of this story.

On Holocaust Memorial Day she got her facts wrong, saying that it only commemorated the Nazi Holocaust, and ignored other genocides including that perpetrated on Africans by the slave trade. In fact International Holocaust Memorial Day does in principle mark all genocides from the Nazi holocaust onwards. In practice, however, the commemorations virtually ignore the slaughter of some 2 million Romani, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled and many others under Hitler’s regime, and for example, only pays  lip-service to Rwanda. It is the Jewish narrative that dominates.

But consider that arbitrary cut-off date. It handily excludes those undoubted but historically inconvenient earlier genocides. Evidently the United States might have felt sensitive about an annual focus on the deaths of so many millions of Native Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (even though historians dispute whether this was deliberate – or just stuff that happened). Britain had its significant role in the slave trade and the treatment of aborigines in Australia to keep out of the picture. And so on. The absence from Holocaust Memorial Day of the millions of slaves who died on the Atlantic crossing and then through the brutal conditions of slave labour is no accident, no act of God. And it is no sacrilege for Jackie Walker to point up this glaring omission.

It has been taken as read by most mainstream commentators that when Jackie Walker said (while asking a question of the training session tutor, Mike Katz, of the Jewish Labour Movement) that “I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with”, what she meant was that it wasn’t worth defining because it wasn’t that important. What actually happened before her intervention sheds a quite different light.

I was present at the training session, and have also had the advantage of consulting a transcript of the proceedings. This shows that a few minutes before Jackie Walker’s intervention a (Jewish) attendee at the session asked Katz “We don’t know what you’re working from. Do you think you can give us what your definition of AS is?”. Katz replied “The standard definition of antisemitism is actually the European Union Monitoring Centre….” at which point several other members objected that the EUMC definition had no status, was deeply flawed etc. This context clearly shows what definition Jackie Walker was objecting to.

How not to define antisemitism

The ‘EUMC working definition’ is a cause celebre. It is called a ‘working definition’ because it was never formally adopted by EUMC (which itself no longer exists). When it existed it was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. In 2004 it commissioned a definition from a working group, which was effectively taken over by the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, both bodies with a strong Zionist orientation.

It was in fact the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism and extremism, attorney Kenneth Stern, who was the main author of the EUMC definition. Stern is deeply concerned about what he calls “politically-based antisemitism, otherwise known in recent years as anti-Zionism, which treats Israel as the classic Jew. Whereas the Jew is disqualified by antisemitism from equal membership in the social compact, antisemites seek to disqualify Israel from equal membership in the community of nations.”  In other words, according to Stern, if you are opposed to the Zionist political project, or indeed advocate a boycott of Israel, then you are an antisemite. So, despite its name, the EUMC definition did not originate in the EU at all but from a pro-Israel lobby group in the USA.  With this understanding, the American spellings in the document become understandable.

But why take so much trouble over a definition of something so straight-forward as antisemitism? Brian Klug, an Oxford academic who specialises in the study of antisemitism manages it in 21 words: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. The EUMC working definition by contrast took 500 words, a whole page. That is because it lists a whole raft of types of statement that can be considered prima facie evidence of antisemitism, most of them about Israel. The purpose, which should have been transparent, was not to define antisemitism as commonly understood, but to extend its reach so as to embrace and proscribe a range of common criticisms of Israel, often called ‘the new antisemitism’, or even ‘antisemitic anti-zionism’.

The institutional history of this definition is chequered. It is called a ‘working definition’ because the EUMC itself never adopted it. When the EU closed down the EUMC in 2007 its functions were transferred to the Fundamental Rights Agency, which declined to endorse the definition and indeed removed it from its website.  The FRA is on record as stating that it is “not aware of any public authority in the EU that applies it”, and that it has “no plans for any further development” of it.

In 2006 the EUMC definition was taken up and promoted in a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism under its chair (then MP) Denis MacShane. But in 2015 under its new chair, John Mann MP, the group brought out a further report which did not repeat this call. Instead it commissioned a sub-report from Professor David Feldman (later Deputy Chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry) which came down in favour of – the Brian Klug definition. In 2011 my own union, UCU, after one failed attempt to use the EUMC definition internally, resolved at its annual conference to exclude it from any future role in disciplinary cases. In 2013 the BBC Trust agreed that the definition had no standing.

This was the ‘definition’ that Mike Katz and the Jewish Labour Movement refer to as the ‘standard’ definition – and which Jackie Walker said she could not work with.

The Jewish Labour Movement

The Jewish Labour Movement, mostly under its former name of Poale Zion, has been an affiliated organisation of the Labour Party since 1920. Its origins were as a movement of Jewish/Marxist/Zionist workers across Europe in the early days of the twentieth century. With Jewish immigration to Israel it became a major force there, and through a dizzying series of splits and re-mergers became the origin both of Mapai (Israel’s governing party for decades) and of its left rival Mapam.

In 1920 Poale Zion in the UK could be seen as an authentic representative of the then numerous Jewish working class. In the 1930’s its supporters included Labour NEC member (later party chair) Harold Laski. Postwar it retained influence – this was a period when almost all progressive people in the UK were moved by the trauma of the holocaust, excited by the socialist experiment of the kibbutz movement, and admiring of ‘plucky little Israel’ trouncing its many Arab neighbours. Prominent parliamentary backers included left icons like Ian Mikardo and Sidney Silverman. In 1946 Poale Zion had 2000 members.

How things have changed. Nearly 50 years of illegal occupation and settlement, population punishment by blockade, and the repeated deployment of a formidable state killing machine against civilians with nowhere to hide long ago ended the love-in. Large swathes of the left, and indeed of the centre ground of British politics, believe that the automatic support for Israel by the governments of the UK and other developed countries is both morally indefensible and in the longer term pragmatically disastrous.

How did all this affect Poale Zion? In effect it shrank, and despite a 2004 attempted rebrand as ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ became inactive and nearly invisible. It remained, as it still is, affiliated not only to our Labour Party but also to the Israeli Labour Party and the World Zionist Organisation. However as late as 2015 its website remained totally inactive, though it seems to have maintained an email list. In February 2016 its chair Louise Ellman MP (who during this year’s Labour Party conference in Liverpool asked for her own constituency Party in that city to be suspended on grounds of entryism) stepped down, to be replaced by Jeremy Newmark. It is from that point on that a new, brash and aggressive Jewish Labour Movement leapt into view. There is no publicly available information on where its evidently ample funding comes from.

Newmark is active in his local Labour Party, but was until the other day far more known for his former role from 2006 until 2013 as Chief Executive of the umbrella group the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC). Before that he was communications director for the then Chief Rabbi Lord Sachs.

It was while in charge of the JLC that he gave evidence at a 2013 Employment Tribunal case alleging anti-Semitic behaviour by the University and College Union (my own union, by the way), brought by one of its members. In dismissing the case in its entirety (“We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”) the judgement remarked that “we have rejected as untrue” the evidence of Mr Newmark concerning an incident at the 2008 UCU Congress. And that’s not all – one “preposterous claim” by Newmark was described as a “painfully ill-judged example of playing to the gallery”. And yet more – Newmark’s statement (in the context of the academic boycott controversy in 2007) that the union was “no longer a fit arena for free speech”, was a comment “which we found not only extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

Clearly Newmark is a man with a mission. It seems to be the identification and rooting out of antisemitism. And his arrival on the national Labour Party scene has coincided with the uproar about left antisemitism.

The surge in antisemitism

What surge in antisemitism? We do know that antisemitic incidents reported in the UK in the first 6 months of this year, as recorded by the Community Security Trust, rose by 15% above those for the previous year.  But percentage changes like these tell only part of the story. The actual number of such incidents recorded for the first half of 2016 was 557. And that figure is still below that for 2014, which were boosted by the Israeli assault on Gaza, so no surge.

By comparison, the official figures for hate crimes of all types in the UK has averaged over 220,000 annually over the most recent 5-year period. Antisemitism is a foul attitude which has had dire effects over the centuries. Vigilance is needed. But right now in the UK it manifests itself as a pimple on the bum of the far too many other offences committed out of hatred or fear of the Other.

Is it possible that despite the low levels of antisemitic behaviour in the general population there is significant antisemitism within the left and specifically the Labour Party? Attempts have been made to show that such views are either historically endemic on the left, or brought on by the Corbyn ascendency. (That these explanations are mutually contradictory is glossed over.) Those who really want to see this argument in extenso could consider reading David Rich’s recent book, timed for publication just ahead of the Labour Party conference. But there is contrary evidence.

In response to a moral panic about Left antisemitism seemingly expanding without limit, the group Free Speech on Israel coalesced in April out of a loosely-knit band of Jewish Labour Party supporters. Some 15 of us got together at a couple of days’ notice for the inaugural gathering. We found that over our lifetimes we could muster only a handful of antisemitic experiences between us. And, crucially, although in aggregate we had around 1000 years of Labour Party membership, no single one of us had ever experienced an incident of antisemitism in the Party.

Some time in May the ex-Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was interviewed on Radio 4 about the antisemitism ‘crisis’ by now gripping the nation. Helpfully his interviewer invited him to share some of his own personal experiences of antisemitism. His response, from memory ran rather like this: “Well….actually I have never experienced antisemitism myself. Which is odd, because most people know that the Chief Rabbi is Jewish”.

The ex-Chief Rabbi and Free Speech on Israel are at one on this, if on little else.

The conundrum of evidence-free assertions

How then do we make sense of a ‘crisis’ for which evidence is so lacking? Well, one solution if you want a crisis and lack enough evidence is to invent some. Another is to redefine innocent behaviour as evidence of criminal intent.

The ‘crisis’ seems to have taken off big-time in February this year with the allegations (now known to be fabricated) of rampant antisemitism in the Oxford University Labour Club, leading to the establishment of an enquiry under Baroness Royall. Yet this ‘fact’ was factitious. The two students who made the claims have (respectively) resigned from the Labour Party and been kicked out of it! Both seem to have been supporters of another party. One of them formerly worked at BICOM, the well-funded PR operation that promotes Israel’s image.

As long ago as April a report in openDemocracy on accusations of antisemitism which led to early suspensions showed that nearly all of them related to remarks that people made, not about Jews, but about Israel and Zionism. Historical Facebook postings and Twitter feeds had been ransacked (by whom?) to find a careless nuance. A Labour member using the word ‘Zionist’ as a purely descriptive adjective in a tweet can be treated as a suspected antisemite for it. (I refer to the case of the Vice-Chair of my own constituency Labour Party, still suspended as I write.)

Curiously the mainstream media continue with their established narrative. Do their journalists investigate? Can they read?

Since the answer to at least one of these questions must be ‘yes’ we do need to look for another explanation of why, and indeed how, a crisis of antisemitism in the Labour Party which doesn’t actually exist has become a ‘fact’.

Making believe

If I were to say that there was a conspiracy to make this happen I would no doubt be accused of antisemitism (Jewishness is no defence) for an antisemitic trope and condemned to one of the circles of hell (the 6th probably), or at least suspension. So I won’t. But anyhow conspiracy was almost certainly unnecessary. There is a community of interest plus overlapping membership.

It is impossible to know from the outside exactly what and who have made this moral panic go with such a swing. Key individuals may well be Jeremy Newmark, well-placed in JLM, though only just in time, to fan these flames. The wily Mark Regev took up his post as Israeli ambassador in London at the start of April. In July Ella Rose left her job as public affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy to become Director of JLM. Who knows? Organisationally, judging by their public pronouncements there is an at least informal coalition of forces involving JLM, Progress (the Blairite pressure group), and Labour Friends of Israel which have all been promoting the idea that the left is permeated with antisemitism.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-19-14-59
Twitter/ 13 Oct 2016

What has made this alignment of forces a natural is that they have all wanted the same thing – the ejection of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour leadership. The Blairites (but let’s not forget the Brownites) understood that his consolidation in post threatened their whole vision of the Labour Party and its place in an orderly capitalist society with a human face. The Israelis had every reason to wish for a short tenure for the first major party leader in a developed country to have a record of supporting Palestinian rights. All the significant Jewish community organisations, now including JLM, sing from the same psalm book – the refrain is that an attachment to Israel is an integral part of Jewish identity in the twenty-first century.

So – if attacks on Israel’s Zionist project of securing the maximum territory with the minimum number of Palestinians can be construed as antisemitic, and this can somehow be blamed on Corbyn, everyone gains.

Making unbelieve

The whole operation has been breath-takingly successful for the last 8 months. And it is not over. JLM, for example, is pressing for a change in the Labour Party’s constitution that would make it (even) easier to exclude people on suspicion of harbouring antisemitic tendencies. It has influence at the highest levels in the Labour Party. The very training session run by JLM that led to Jackie Walker’s second suspension was set up by the Labour Party bureaucracy in direct contradiction of the Chakrabarti inquiry. Their report recommended against such targeted training, and in favour of broader anti-racist education. But, hey, who’s counting? Not the Labour Party apparatus.

Free Speech on Israel aims to expose this soufflé of a Ponzi scheme. It rests on the shifting sands of unreliable evidence, and on assertions that contradict our (Jewish and non-Jewish) everyday experience. Not least, the claims about a Jewish community united in its alignment behind Israel is yet more make believe. The best survey evidence we have is that 31% of UK Jews describe themselves as ‘No, not Zionist’; and many of the remainder are deeply concerned over Israel’s policies.

We should suspend our belief.

Acknowledgement: I have been helped in writing this article by research carried out by The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley, and by his advice.

Jackie Walker speaking at Labour Party Conference fringe event (VIDEO)

Jackie Walker was speaking at a public event titled “Jewish Socialists Against the Anti-Corbyn Witchhunt,” Sunday September 25, hosted by Free Speech on Israel.

Why I’m reading from a script.

You have a situation where the most innocuous video can be used to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of anti-semitism, where my local, once UKIP, now born again Tory MP can make public the names and faces of women suggesting that their protests outside a local arms factory making parts for Israeli drones that drop bombs on Gaza are anti-semites! Being offended is not the same as having experienced racism.

I’m asking what is the cost to us as a movement when Macpherson is taken out of context and used against freedom of speech, when, encouraged by disproportionate media attention, claims of racism are weaponised. Where Chakrabarti’s reccommendations seem to me so far to have been pretty much ignored?

My life:

Jamaican mother of Sephardic descent, Portuguese Jews.

Russian Askenazi father left Moscow in 1914 for the US.

Met in New York, he was a communist, like many Jews of his time. Committed to fight for the rights of oppressed groups. An Internationalist, he believed the struggle for desegregation and equality for all peoples was part of his struggle.

That proud tradition of Yiddish speaking, now mostly destroyed, of Left, universalist, Jewish intellectuals and activists, is the Jewish history I claim as mine and is what I am most proud of. And that is the history that is going to be celebrated very soon at Cable St. I’m not interested in the liberation of one section of humanity, I’m a socialist. I’m committed to the liberation of all humanity. This is what guides my politics – and it is crucial to who I am.

My parents were brought together by politics. My black mother was tortured and deported for un-American activities during the McCarthy period, the witch hunt where thought police, denunciations, media frenzy whipped up hatred to enable the Establishment to maintain their control on American society. A witch hunt that terrorized and gripped a nation, a witch hunt that saw many prominent Jews (and by the way I didn’t say all), as well as others, silenced, ostracized, removed from employment.

But to move from the general to the particular ….

My partner is Jewish and we have a number of Jewish friends and comrades. I have been a member of a number of Jewish organisations, eg  JFJFP for some time.  I have worked in and been a victim of racism all my life so you can understand my bewilderment when in May

I was suspended from the LP amidst false allegations of anti-Semitism. These allegations were lifted and addressed in parts of the Chakrabarti Report, though given continuing harassment of me you’d barely know it. I’m not responding to those allegations here but if you want to have a look at my response go to JFJFP.

We have been told Jews are terrified to go to Labour Party meetings. That women are terrified. That Momentum is anti-semitic (let’s forget that both the Chair and vice Chair and many leading figures are Jewish). I keep reading that the cause of all this terror is Jeremy Corbyn.

Interestingly I’ve also read articles claiming that racism only occurred in the Republican party when Obama was elected.

Irony is, we have never had a leader so involved in anti racism, not just in theory but in the practice of his life. It’s part of his political and personal DNA.

Interestingly, when I’ve responded to critics by pointing this out, apart from being next told ‘Corbyn’s a terrorist sympathiser’ and other nonsense, the response has then become ….. It’s not him, it’s his followers … it’s people like me….

First let me be clear, all racism is abhorrent. I’m not saying that Anti-semitism does not exist in the LP. The LP is after all a reflection of society. I am saying that claims of its significance are being exaggerated for political purposes and this has been done at huge cost to our movement, to communities and to many individual people, in and outside of the party.

I’m also saying that anti-semitism is no more ‘special’ than any other form of racism. All racisms have their own characteristics and histories. All genocides their own contexts. All holocaust denial, whether it is of the Jewish or African holocaust, is a blasphemy against humanity.

So what purpose do allegations of anti-Semitism have.

Why is it happening? Who is paying the ultimate cost?

It seems to me there is little, if any, hard evidence that the Labour party has a major problem with anti-Semitism though there is as Chakrabarti says an ‘Occasionally toxic atmosphere’.

The most fundamental aim of such allegations I suggest is to undermine Jeremy, silence his supporters, and ensure any chance of an alternative to the neo-liberal diet of cutting services and taxes that has been dished up to us as politics until Jeremy got the leadership never actually gets to the table.

Then there’s silencing any criticism, or any potential criticism, of the Israeli state, attacking and undermining anyone who supports Palestinian Rights, the BDS (boycott) movement, ensuring the flow of money and arms to Israel continues unabated and at whatever the cost.

This political use of accusations has not only weaponised anti-Semitism, it has became a weapon of political mass destruction and like all nuclear options has  entailed a high degree of collateral damage, not just to the Labour movement as a whole.

I’m drawing attention here to another, barely mentioned, outcome of this strategy.

What is extraordinary, amongst what can only described as a  tumult of accusations, is that at this point, when discussion of racism in the Labour party has the most media attention I’ve ever known, is that no person of colour, no group representing the interests of BAME people has been heard, has been allowed to insert their perspective on the debate, let alone be seen as significant to it. Black people yet again have been made invisible.

Chakrabarti of course made a number of powerful observations about the exclusion of BAME people from the party, but that voice was soon drowned out against the clamor by the press and others to eke out the story that some seem to prefer; that of anti-Semitism.

Blacks may vote disproportionately for Labour, 2:1 – what they don’t have is representation where it counts – in positions of power. This most pressing aspect of Chakrabarti’s report has not just been silenced, we are barely allowed to mention the position of BAME members in relation to Chakrabarti in case we are seen as denying a problem which, as far as I have experienced as a black Jewish woman with a Jewish partner and many Jewish comrades, exists on the margins of the party, and is certainly not reflected in who our representatives are, either within the internal structures of the party or in our representatives in parliament.

All this has been aided and abetted by the complicity of a media that at times seems rabidly –  anxiously anti-Corbyn. The Boris Johnson style racism of the Tory party that renders Johnson’s cheerful rendition of blacks with watermelon smiles as tolerable enough to see Johnson promoted to deal with the pickeninies (his description of blacks) overseas as Foreign Secretary barely causes a stir.

You really have to have a sense of humour, or a very thick skin, black or otherwise, to be involved in anti racism and politics at the moment.

And it’s no longer just the Labour right involved in the debate, it’s the right of the Tories (as in my own MP) and the far right joining together in a most unpalatable pact. Fascists in my own constituency in South Thanet, where Farage stood, turn up outside meetings, no longer goose- stepping and shouting ‘Hitler was right’, instead they feel empowered to shout ‘anti-semite’ at Labour and anti-racist activists, telling us how they now like the Jews while screaming abuse against what they call the ‘Muslamics’.

Now I’ve had to get used to harassment, and to some extent I have, but for the other victims of accusations of anti-Semitism,  publicizing their names and photos across the media and social media …. Has made the vulnerable to threats, to abuse, to threats of loss of employment and worse – it’s terrifying.

And by the way, anti-semitism is not, as my MP would have it recently, anything like a virus. It’s learned, not caught, and as such can be unlearned otherwise we would all have to give up, go and live in our separate ghettos …. Calling racism a virus is the language of separation.

Racism is about material reality. Racism is, and always has been, essentially about power.

In terms of political parties, including Labour, it is most importantly about exclusion from power, lack of representation, voices never heard.

As ever, people of colour, marginalized and oppressed for centuries, victims of genocide, holocaust, a stateless diasporic people in this and other Euro-American countries, have been effectively silenced and put into  their place – the political abyss.

So let’s understand the actions of the right, that their focus colludes with the enemies of our movement, colludes with the exclusion of people of colour from our party… and that they do this and are prepared to do this mercilessly, and with one aim in sight – to further their own political agendas.

Let’s talk about the problem about racism in the LP. Here’s my challenge to the right – if you want to talk about racism …..let’s do it, let’s have that discussion please, on a level playing field, together, all sections of the party, all minority groups, and let’s start it right now.

Jacqueline Walker

Israel lobby confects another Labour racism row

reproduced from Jonathan Cook’s blog

It is difficult to ignore the shared agenda of the Blairites and Israel’s uncritical supporters in the Labour party as they seek to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership at every turn. The confected anti-semitism “row” – claiming that the Labour party became a hotbed of anti-Jewish hatred the moment Corbyn took over – would look preposterous if it had not been continuously fuelled by a conniving UK media.

One of the early victims of this anti-semitism witch hunt was Jackie Walker, who has Jewish and African ancestry. She was tarred and feathered – and suspended from the party – for pointing out that the slave trade was an “African holocaust”. I wrote about that here. She and the other members purged from Labour were saved only because the Chakrabarti inquiry refuted the claims that the party actually had an anti-semitism problem.

Now after Corbyn’s re-election, it looks like it is starting up again – and Walker finds herself in the hot seat again too. One has to raise one’s eyes to the heavens to believe what the Guardian, among many others, is getting its knickers in a twist about this time. Here is Walker’s supposedly offensive comment at an “anti-semitism training event” dominated by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) at Labour’s annual conference:

In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?

Walker was appealing for Holocaust Day to be treated, in line with its original aim, as a universal event that includes holocausts like the one in Africa.

No matter. The Guardian claims she then compounded her crime by stating: “I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.”

One can understand why the Jewish Labour Movement and the many Labour MPs who include themselves as Friends of Israel are upset. They have worked hard both to redefine antisemitism so that it forbids almost all criticism of Israel, and to rebrand Holocaust Day so as to eclipse other groups, including Europe’s Romany population, who were also victims of this industrialised genocide.

A group of Jewish Labour activists issued a defence of Walker, noting: “The way Jackie has been treated demonstrates the unfitness of the JLM to deliver training on antisemitism.”

There can be little doubt that the JLM is trying to instrumentalise Jewish suffering to make it harder to criticise Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. It is probably not surprising that Israel loyalists want to corrupt the public discourse – and undermine concern about real racism towards Jews and the important, universal lessons of the Holocaust – by politicising these issues. But that is no excuse for either the Blairites or supposedly liberal media like the Guardian to jump on their bandwagon simply because it offers an quick path to damaging Corbyn.

Sadly, as Corbyn tries to reframe the discussion about Israel and the Palestinians to make sure Palestinians are viewed as human too, we can expect much more of this kind of nonsense.

Jonathan Cook

Defend Jackie Walker, Vice Chair of Momentum from the Racists of the ‘Jewish’ Labour Movement

Jackie Walker is pilloried for saying that the Holocaust is the property of all humanity

By Tony Greenstein

At Labour Party Conference just gone, in open defiance of the Chakrabarti Report, the Jewish Labour Movement held a ‘training session’ on Racism and anti-Semitism. The supporters and advocates of a Jewish state, which is a state where Jews have privileges over non-Jews, were given the role of educating delegates on the meaning of anti-Semitism. It is as if the General Medical Council had decided to hold a training course on medical ethics and appointed the late Harold Shipman as course director. It is and was utterly absurd.

At the LP conference the JLM had deliberately invited as ‘fraternal delegates’ a delegation from the Israeli Labour Party. You can gain some measure of the racism of the ILP from an article Herzog slammed for remark about ‘Arab lovers’ in the right-wing Jerusalem Post:

‘Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog has been trying to move his party to the center, but he appeared to have gone too far late Tuesday, when he told an audience in Ashkelon that his faction’s MKs needed to correct an impression that they are always “Arab lovers.”

“A false impression exists that we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the State of Israel,” he said at a toast for Labor activists ahead of the Passover holiday.’

What kind of Party is it whose leader talks about the need to avoid being seen as ‘Arab lovers’? Imagine that Jeremy Corbyn said that the Labour Party needed to avoid being seen as ‘Jew lovers’? I can remember when fighting the National Front and BNP being accused of being ‘nigger lovers’. Herzog, who not so long ago was trying to give Corbyn lessons on ‘anti-Semitism’ is the racist leader of a deeply racist party, yet the JLM invited a delegation from the ILP to Party conference.

At the ‘training seminar’ of the JLM, which was really a propaganda session, participants like Jackie Walker were covertly filmed in order that anyone questioning the racist agenda could then be reported to Iain McNicol and Tom Watson and then subject to disciplinary procedures. The entrapment of people who attended is a disgrace and the JLM should have no further part in any form of anti-racist training. Indeed the whole concept of ‘training’ for anti-racism is itself a reactionary concept. Racism is eliminated by joint work and shared experiences not by lectures from on high.

Last week I wrote two  blog posts – an Open Letter to John McDonnell – Don’t Condone the Race Baiters of the Jewish Labour Movement and The Jewish Labour Movement and its Political Lynching of Jackie Walker describing how Jackie Walker, Momentum’s Vice Chair, has come under sustained attack by the supporters of the Israeli state. What Zionists cannot bear most of all is that Jackie Walker is both Black and Jewish.  Numerous abusive tweets (we only hear about abusive tweets directed at MPs) by people who could not possibly know her have confidently declared that she is not Jewish. Why? Because it is an article of faith amongst most Zionists that Black people are not Jewish.

William Fishman, a Jewish historian, tells how the Zionists played no part in Jewish socialism and trade union struggles in the East End - Zionism was a petit bourgeois delusion
William Fishman, a Jewish historian, tells how the Zionists played no part in Jewish socialism and trade union struggles in the East End – Zionism was a petit bourgeois delusion

These racists are being led by Jeremy Newmark and Mike Katz of the inappropriately named Jewish Labour Movement (until 2004 it was known as Poalei Zion). I say inappropriate because when there was a Jewish labour movement in this country, it wanted nothing to do with the Zionist movement, which was rightly seen as a scab movement. The Zionists were, as the enclosed scan from William Fishman’s highly acclaimed East End Radicals shows, held in contempt by a very real Jewish labour movement which, at its peak, consisted of over 30 Jewish unions. A labour movement which helped destroy Sir Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists at the Battle of Cable Street, a struggle which the Zionists desperately opposed at the time along with their bourgeois cousins in the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In the early 20th century when there was a Jewish labour movement, Zionists were excluded as scabs
In the early 20th century when there was a Jewish labour movement, Zionists were excluded as scabs

The Zionists and the race baiters of the Jewish Labour Movement have never got over the fact that at her investigation Jackie was cleared of anti-Semitism. This was not surprising given that this indefatiguable fighter against racism and fascism in Thanet, helped lead the Kent anti-racist network in their fight against the National Front in Dover. You will never see Zionist groups at an anti-fascist mobilisation or doing work with asylum seekers or against state racism. Jackie made the ‘mistake’ of privately discussing, in a Facebook post with friends, the involvement of Jews in financing the slave trade. It is a historical fact that at certain times Jews did indeed play a major part in financing the slave trade. That does not mean and contrary to their allegations, Jackie has never said that it meant, that Jews therefore were the primary financiers of the slave trade.

It is because of these libellous attacks on Jackie that we asked John McDonnell to pull out of the JLM rally against ‘anti-Semitism’ last Sunday, which he did.

Zionist ‘anti-racism’ is purely an establishment affair. It is a right-wing form of ‘anti-racism’ which pillories the victims of racism and presents the racists in an anti-racist garb. It is an inversion of reality. Zionism manages to turn the victims of settler colonialism, the Palestinians, into the racists whereas the settlers are seen as the victims of those whose land they colonise. In the Zionist fantasy world, the Palestinians attack them, not because the colonists steal their land, water and resources – it is because they are Jewish!

What is most obscene is the Zionist use of the Holocaust to justify their settler colonial project. Zionism predated the holocaust, which began in 1941, by some 60 years. There was no connection between Palestine and the holocaust other than the fact that the Zionist movement sought to use the oppression and desperate situation of the Jews in Germany between 1933 and 1941 for their own advantage. What was despicable was that even during the Holocaust the Zionists preferred to look the other way. At no time during the years 1941 to 1945 was there a concerted Zionist campaign to save even a fragment of the Jews in Europe. The only interest of the Zionist movement was in emigration, selective emigration to Palestine.

It is a matter of historical record that the Zionist movement agreed a trade deal with Nazi Germany in August 1933, just when the Jewish boycott of Hitler was taking off world wide. It was agreed to by the Hitler regime precisely because it would destroy the Boycott of Nazi Germany. The Boycott had had a devastating effect on Germany’s economy. As Edwin  Black wrote in the ‘Transfer Agreement’

’For the entire first half of 1933 exports were down 51%. ‘That six month loss would have been greater except that the anti-Nazi boycott had not really commenced until late March.’ [p.223]

The Zionists preferred to break the Boycott because they wished to lay their hands on the wealth of German Jewry regardless of the fact that only the Boycott had restrained the hands of the Nazis. Between 1933 and 1939 60% of capital investment in Jewish Palestine was from Nazi Germany. The behaviour of the Zionists in Hungary and elsewhere has been well documented by more honest Zionists such as Ben Hecht inPerfidy. Suffice to say, the allegations of collaboration brought by the survivors of the Hungarian holocaust in Israel resulted in the Kasztner Trial in Israel between 1953 and 1958. The verdict confirming collaboration by the Zionist leaders in Hungary  caused the fall of the second Labour Zionist government led by Moshe Sharrett in 1955.

It is a matter of historical record that the Zionist movement was disinterested in the Holocaust whilst it happened. I post here 4 pages from ‘The Burning Ground’ the official biography of Ben-Gurion by Shabtai Teveth.ben-gurion-burning-groundben-gurion-burning-ground2

Jackie Walker raised the JLM’s hackles by questioning the uniqueness of the holocaust. To the Zionists it is a cardinal principle that the Holocaust is the property of the Jewish people alone.

Lucy Dawidowicz, a right-wing Zionist historian, in the Holocaust and the Historiansargued that subsuming Jewish losses under a universal or ecumenical classification is to effectively justify anti-Semitism. To Elie Wiesel it was a “betrayal of Jewish history”. [Norman Finkelstein, Holocaust Industry, p.45]  As Israeli journalist and historian Boaz Evron wrote, the real purpose of Zionist Holocaust awareness ‘is not at an understanding of the past, but a manipulation of the future’. 

For daring to raise the idea that mass genocide or holocausts might be the property of all humanity, that Africans, Cambodians, Jews and others have suffered at one time or another equivalent acts of genocide, Jackie Walker has been vilified. First into the fray was that well-known anti-racist newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. In a bizarre article Revealed: Jeremy Corbyn ally says Holocaust Memorial Day should not just be about genocide of Jews Jackie was attacked for being ‘insensitive and provocative’ i.e. debating the questions surrounding the holocaust and the lessons it imparts.  Particularly galling was her statement that it would be “wonderful” if Holocaust Memorial Day was not just about the genocide of Jews.

Although in theory HMD is open to all, in practice it centres around the holocaust of the Jews. Every other mass act of genocide is left on the periphery. On this Jackie is absolutely correct. In Israel school children are taken on trips to Auschwitz, not to learn about the lessons of racism but to reinforce their racism. Racism has become ‘a basic element in the everyday life of Israeli youth’ according to an article in Ha’aretz. Israeli Teenagers: Racist and Proud of It. This racism is as much part of the Labour Zionist tradition as that of Likud.

Again according to Ha’aretz, which is Israel’s sole liberal daily: ‘Nearly half of Israel’s high school students do not believe that Israeli-Arabs are entitled to the same rights as Jews in Israel’. The same poll revealed that more than half the students would deny Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. Poll: Half of Israeli High Schoolers Oppose Equal Rights for Arabs

This is the racism that the JLM should be focussing on. Instead they invite Israeli racists to the Labour Party conference.

The Independent reports Momentum vice chair Jackie Walker apologises over ‘appalling’ Holocaust comments quotes Jackie as saying that if she had caused offence she apologises. Jackie is and has been under an immense amount of pressure by those whose agenda is defending the United State’s guard dog in the Middle East. A state which has acted as the sponsor and supporter of every death squad regime in Central and South America. A regime which was the closest friend of Apartheid South Africa.  In reality Jackie has nothing to apologise for. The Zionists of course take offence when anyone questions their bogus assertions of ‘anti-Semitism’ precisely because they and we know that there is no anti-Semitism crisis in Labour. It is a great pity that Jeremy Corbyn has bowed to the prevailing wind. However it won’t do him any good because, as Kipling observed, paying Danegeld merely increases the appetite of the blackmailer and that is what Jeremy Newmark, Katz and the JLM are in the business of – blackmail.

The other ‘crime’ of Jackie Walker was to say that ‘I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with’ Possibly this is because the Zionist movement have been busy peddling for years the discredited European Union Monitoring Committee’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. It was a working definition which the Fundamental Rights Agency deleted from their website. This definition of ‘anti-Semitism’ tried to marry opposition to Israel and comparisons between Nazism and Zionism with anti-Semitism. The University College Union and the National Union of Students rejected it and even the Zionists finally admitted that the EU had ditched the agreement [Israel lobbyists finally concede that EU has ditched anti-Semitism “definition”]. The JLM however, led by Jeremy Newmark, who was openly accused by an employment tribunal of lying on oath, pretended at its ‘training session’ that the EUMC definition was the standard definition. That is a lie and he knows it.

According to the Independent ‘Senior members of Momentum are “fuming” at her remarks’. If this is true then they should take a long and hard look at their own behaviour. Cowardice rarely pays. Any sign of weakness from Momentum’s leadership will be capitalised on by the Zionists and the Tom Watsons of this world. Momentum needs to stand firm and reject the attacks on Jackie Walker. If Lansman backs down now, we will remove him from the leadership of Momentum when eventually a conference is called.

According to the Independent, The Holocaust Education Trust, founded by the paedophile Blairite Greville Janner, accused Jackie Walker of undermining and belittling “the distinct nature of the tragedy itself”. This is utter rubbish. Placing the Holocaust in an anti-racist context rather than exceptionalising and essentialising it, is exactly the opposite of undermining and belittling it.

Exceptionalising it by suggesting that it could only happen to the Jews when holocausts and mass genocide have been the lot of many people is to take the holocaust out of history. Essentialising it is to divorce the holocaust from the reasons it occurred, in other words it wasn’t fascism, the destruction of the German labour movement, the medieval myths fashioned into modern racism, it was something about the Jews themselves. The Zionist idea of understanding the Jewish Holocaust is not to understand it.

The HET stated that ‘The deliberate use of term Holocausts – plural – undermines and belittle the distinct nature of the tragedy itself, ignores that genocides are the result of diverse and unique factors, and also deprives the Jewish community of their collective memory.” This is nonsense. It is precisely by placing the Jewish holocaust in a relative and historical context that one can make sense of it. There are also other questions to ask such as why the holocaust has taken on this importance over 70 years after it occurred when it was barely mentioned in the first 20 years after it occurred. The answer seems obvious. As Israel moves further and further to the racist Right, as mobs chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’ become a regular feature of Israel’s political scene (it used to be ‘Death to the Jews’ in Europe) so the Holocaust is the shield to deflect criticism of Zionist racism. What is obscene is the use of the holocaust in order to justify today’s racism.

See also Jewish activists criticize Labour anti-Semitism training