JVL triumph at Labour Conference

Mike Cushman

Jewish Voice for Labour must be greatly encouraged by the reception it received at Labour Party Conference.

JVL Triumph

As a brand new organisation with very limited resources and no paid staff, they did not anticipate the scale of its impact. Its launch meeting attracted over 300 people when JVL had been doubtful about filling a room that seats 180. As well as attracting many conference delegates, leaders of two trade unions, Unite and ASLEF, attended and pledged their support. In addition to stimulating speeches, brimming with, fact and ideas from leading Israeli academic Professor Avi Shlaim, retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and respected Jewish socialist activist David Rosenberg, the audience heard from leading film maker Ken Loach who spoke from the floor.

The hall at teh JVL launch was full to overflowing
It was difficult to fit everyone who wanted come to the JVL launch into the hall

The message from all the speakers was clear, consistent and enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. There are Jewish voices that the Labour party is wilfully ignoring. The party needs to listen attentively to the whole of its Jewish membership and not just those individuals and groups who defend Israel’s crimes against humanity; its occupation of Palestinian land; and its increasingly Apartheid-like regime. The message of the meeting was clear: that antisemitism is as unwelcome in the Labour Party, as it should be everywhere; but that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic. Rather, JVL continues the long tradition of Jewish defence of the oppressed and recognition of the humanity of all. As descendants of victims of oppression over centuries all Jews should join with JVL in denouncing injustice.

The impact of JVL was not only at the fringe of conference. Leading JVL members Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Leah Levane roused conference to its feet with their calls for justice and peace in Palestine and for just procedures inside the Labour Party. Their reception paved the way for Jeremy Corbyn to pledge the Party to support Palestinian rights.

Why the rule change is inadequate and dangerous

JVL applauds the Labour Party’s renewed concern with combatting discrimination within the Party and in wider society. They recognise this has been central to Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political career. While the agreed measure on this topic avoids some of the worst features of other proposals circulated, JVL is concerned that the rule change adopted may not be effective in advancing that cause and fears its misuse. It can be seen that JVL’s anxieties are around four issues.

Firstly, the rule change does not spell out how to embody the recommendations of last year’s Chakrabarti report including that there should be no trawling of ancient social media postings in the hope of targeting specific individuals; and that all processes of investigation and discipline must be transparent and follow natural justice norms. Previous experience has been of selective vision; perverse textual interpretations; opaque procedures; and media vilification preceding hearings. The Party must determine to end such abusive ways of working.

Secondly the procedures for drawing up the code of conduct have not been specified. JVL expects that the NEC will consult with all groups that may experience discrimination and with all currents of opinion within these groups. A draft of the code must be circulated to all local parties. It is a lesson from all anti-discrimination initiatives that unless there is wide involvement from the start there is no ownership of the final process and failed implementation. There are particular issues with regard to the antisemitism aspect of the code. Over the last 18 months, criticism of Israel has, too often, been taken as evidence of antisemitism in Party disciplinary cases. The code must not include proposals that would brand anti-Zionism as antisemitism. We have seen too many examples where fear of being labelled antisemitic has silenced voices that, while critical of Israel, are in no way antisemitic. The code of conduct must not be used as a way to smuggle in a draconian reading of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism.

Thirdly, it is alarming that the rule includes the notion that beliefs can be the subject of discipline. Objectionable beliefs may well give rise to statements and actions that are unacceptable. It is such statements and actions that are the appropriate object of sanction. Trying to punish belief is what Orwell derided as thought crime.

Fourthly, the new rule does not lead to a distinction that Chakrabarti clearly alluded to. Some unacceptable statements arise from ignorance and confusion and need to be addressed through education to lead the perpetrator to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Other statements and actions arise from malice and are the proper domain of disciplinary action. Neither type of hurtful action is acceptable but the way to deal with them, and to build a stronger, more inclusive party, vary.

JVL must look forward to building on its progress in Brighton and its boost in membership. It has committed itself to playing its role in strengthening the Labour Party and securing the Labour Government pledged to achieving the domestic and international justice that we desperately need.

Tell your council not to adopt the IHRA (mis)definition

JVL logo

This is a copy of a letter sent by Jewish Voice for Labour to a council considering adopting the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism. We hope it may be of use to you if your local council is thinking of proceeding down this misguided path.

Dear councillor

As Jewish members of the Labour Party, and of the new Labour group, Jewish Voice for Labour, we are opposed to adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism due to be tabled before the council on Monday September 18.

We believe the IHRA document sows confusion in the fight against antisemitism and racism, which must be a key priority at this time of rising right-wing hate-mongering against ethnic and religious minorities. We also believe it poses a threat to freedom of expression, which it is a key duty of local authorities to protect.

We understand that councillors may feel obliged to endorse the motion out of a commendable desire to support and defend Jewish constituents, but in our opinion this would be misguided. The short definition of antisemitism contained in the proposed motion is, in our view, poorly worded and indefinite, but it is the rest of the document that seriously concerns us. The greater part of it is made up mainly of examples which do not relate to Jews at all, either individually or collectively. They relate to attitudes to the State of Israel.

We urge you to read the assessment by our friends in the Jewish Socialists’ Group, which can be found here. There is also a full assessment of the legal implications of the definition from Hugh Tomlinson QC here, as well as a scathing critique from (Jewish) former Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books here.

Antisemitism may sometimes be masked by a critical attitude to the State of Israel, that is true. The IHRA definition, though, seems designed not so much to catch speech or actions clearly motivated by hatred of Jews, as to defend the State of Israel against criticism of its violations of human rights, and to justify aspects of its foundation and constitution opposed by many Jews, both within and outside Israel. We know of many disturbing cases of the IHRA document being used to limit criticism of Israel and restrict campaigns in support of justice for Palestinians. The legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC makes clear that public bodies using it in this way, including against the boycott movement, would be open to legal challenge for breaching their duty under the Human Rights Act to defend freedom of expression.

Councillors should be aware that the Labour Party has only adopted the short definition of antisemitism, which was included in the Race and Faith Manifesto during the 2017 general election. We are pleased that the party has not adopted the list of examples which follow the definition in the IHRA document. Nor should your council.

We appeal to you not to allow yourselves to be bounced into an ill-considered decision which will do nothing to oppose real antisemitism, and is likely to have negative consequences for the perception of the Council by many anti-racists and supporters of the rights of Palestinians.

We look forward to the opportunity to engage in productive discussion with council members about these important issues.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
on behalf of
Jewish Voice for Labour

 

What is the Jewish Labour Movement?

In early 2016, an intense media offensive was launched claiming that the Labour Party was rife with antisemitism. Since then, after a wave of summary suspensions, costly investigations and many successful appeals, it is clear that the vast majority of the members disciplined were on the Left of the Party and were opponents of Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights who had no hostility to Jews as Jews.

Even after Corbyn’s transformatory 2017 general election campaign the offensive, led by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Labour Friends of Israel and other pro-Israel lobby groups has not abated. Some of the groups receive direct finance from Israel, as revealed in the Al Jazeera investigation The Lobby, televised in January 2017. It made clear the hostility of Labour’s pro-Israel Right to the left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights.

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Why JLM is a problem

Continue reading “What is the Jewish Labour Movement?”

Free Speech on Israel welcomes launch of Jewish Voice for Labour

Jewish Voice for LabourJewish Voice for Labour logo (JVL) is a new group that aims to reinvigorate the Jewish socialist tradition inside the Labour Party.

FSOI has, from its establishment in 2016, been active in combatting the Labour Party’s acquiescence in the Zionist campaign to demonise criticism of Israel. The Party bureaucracy and many leading figures on the right of the Party have uncritically adopted the views of the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) that Israel, even under its extreme right-wing leadership, is a natural bedfellow of Labour. Opposition to Netanyahu’s regime is assumed to be antisemitic unless shown otherwise – and that judgement is to be made by sceptical, if not actively hostile, adjudicator.

The JLM has many members who are neither Jewish nor party members. JVL, on the contrary, limits full membership to Labour Party members who identify as Jewish; non-Jewish party members can enrol as associate members; and people who support its aims from outside the party are welcome to register as Friends of JVL. Continue reading “Free Speech on Israel welcomes launch of Jewish Voice for Labour”

How Not to Fight Antisemitism

On Monday 24 June Haringey Council gave a masterclass in how not to fight antisemitism. And indeed how to give local democracy a bad name.

On 15 June the agenda for the Council’s meeting was published. One item was the proposal of a motion, by the Council Leader on behalf of the Labour Group, for Haringey to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘definition’ of antisemitism. (Those blissfully unaware of what is wrong with this sorry document can catch up here.)

Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner
Professor Haim Bresheeth addresses the protest outside the Council Meeting, in front of the FSOI banner

A slow-motion car crash in action

Continue reading “How Not to Fight Antisemitism”

Labour’s Right, defending Israel on the pretext of fighting antisemitism

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

Most Labour Party members, even including many MPs previously hostile to Jeremy Corbyn, have responded to the party’s revival during the general election campaign by setting aside divisive talk and looking forward to a more unified future. Not all however.

For Jeremy Newmark, chair of the pro-Israel Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), writing in the Jewish News, “the immediate agenda” is to re-investigate and expel Ken Livingstone, pursue outstanding cases such as Jackie Walker’s, “revisit” those Chakrabarti and Royall report recommendations “that fell short of expectations,” get the NEC to table the JLM’s rule change proposals at Labour Party conference and, “redouble our efforts to massively expand our training and education program at all levels across the party.”

The JLM’s rule change proposals, like their partisan training sessions, are based on the same principles as the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition” which attempts to redefine the term “antisemitism” in order to include criticism of the State of Israel. The impact of this goes way beyond the Labour Party. John Mann MP, one of a number of ardent, right-wing non-Jewish Zionists in the Labour Party, has proposed an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling for its adoption by all public bodies in the UK.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking
Jeremy Corbyn – under attack form the Jewish Labour Movement

It is significant that the Jewish Chronicle reacted angrily to Jeremy Corbyn’s race and faith manifesto issued during the election, complaining that “the manifesto only uses the section of the definition which makes reference to hatred of Jews. The rest of the definition – which refers to Israel – has been cut.” In other words, for the JC, the part of the IHRA document that seeks to define antisemitism as what it really is, is unacceptable unless widened to include examples which talk not about Jews but about the state of Israel.

The IHRA document is the subject of a legal opinion by an eminent human rights lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson QC, showing it to be a threat to freedom of speech and not – as its supporters claim – a necessary tool in the fight against antisemitism. Sir Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former appeal court judge, argues strongly in a recent article in the London Review of Books against the way it widens the definition of antisemitism from its essential meaning.

Proponents of the IHRA document claim that it poses no threat to free speech because it permits criticism of the current government of Israel and allows opposition to settlement building in the Palestinian West Bank. It is perfectly acceptable, they say, to subject Israel to criticism similar to that which is made of other states.

They fail to take into account the many ways in which Israel is entirely different from other states. The IHRA document explicitly rules out, as potentially antisemitic, types of criticism that Palestinians and their supporters are entitled to make in order to highlight their specific history of dispossession and racist discrimination. The document is already being used in the UK to censor campaigns which call for an end to injustices Palestinians have faced since Zionist colonisation and settlement of their land began a century ago.

The recent European Parliament debate on this subject starkly demonstrated the point. Social Democrats argued that the IHRA document was nothing more than a harmless contribution to opposing racism against Jews. But they found themselves in the same camp as far-right Islamophobes who saw it as a weapon to be used in Israel’s defence and against its critics, particularly Muslims.

This is not the way to unite our diverse and fractured society. Nor is it conducive to unity within the Labour Party.

Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel

American Christian Zionist evangelist John Hagee’s organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), was quick to applaud We Believe in Israel’s call to all general election candidates asking them to support Israel and oppose antisemitism. In the event, the call attracted little support from among the 3000 plus candidates.

There are many problems with this initiative which seeks to anathematise defence of Palestinian rights. Many are obvious but the support it has gained from CUFI and not renounced by the pledge organisers is the most egregious. Hagee has a well documented history as an antisemite. His willingness to condemn all Jews to eternal damnation has not prevented Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders warmly welcoming him; nor, it seems, extreme enough for Luke Akehurst to want to distance himself from them. Luke Akehurst, the prime mover behind We Believe in Israel, is not a lone wolf: he is well connected to the Zionist establishment and was appointed by BICOM, which is close to the Israeli Embassy, to lead this project.

CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008
CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008

Free Speech on Israel has written to Labour candidates who were misled into signing the pledge asking them to reconsider their endorsement. You can see a list of all signatories to the pledge on the CUFI website We encourage you to write to any of your local candidates who signed Continue reading “Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel”

Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel

American Christian Zionist evangelist John Hagee’s organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), was quick to applaud We Believe in Israel’s call to all general election candidates asking them to support Israel and oppose antisemitism. In the event, the call attracted little support from among the 3000 plus candidates.

There are many problems with this initiative which seeks to anathematise defence of Palestinian rights. Many are obvious but the support it has gained from CUFI and not renounced by the pledge organisers is the most egregious. Hagee has a well documented history as an antisemite. His willingness to condemn all Jews to eternal damnation has not prevented Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders warmly welcoming him; nor, it seems, extreme enough for Luke Akehurst to want to distance himself from them. Luke Akehurst, the prime mover behind We Believe in Israel, is not a lone wolf: he is well connected to the Zionist establishment and was appointed by BICOM, which is close to the Israeli Embassy, to lead this project.

CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008
CUFI leader John Hagee speaks to Israel supporters at a rally at the Jerusalem convention centre in 2008

Free Speech on Israel has written to Labour candidates who were misled into signing the pledge asking them to reconsider their endorsement. You can see a list of all signatories to the pledge on the CUFI website We encourage you to write to any of your local candidates who signed Continue reading “Antisemites endorse call to MPs to support Israel”

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Press Release from Free Speech on Israel and BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine)

for immediate release – 29th May 2017

UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism

Support for Palestinian professor denied entry to Israel

Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish-led organisation which defends the right to criticise Israel, and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, which campaigns for academic and cultural boycott of Israel, today welcomed the vote by the University and College Union (UCU) to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Motion 57, submitted by UCU branches at the University of Leeds, Goldsmiths, and the University of Brighton, along with two strengthening amendments from Queen’s University Belfast and London Retired Members Branch, was carried overwhelmingly in the closing minutes of UCU’s annual Congress in Brighton.  Only one delegate spoke against the motion.

UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism
UCU Congress delegates standing up to racism

UCU had previously, in 2011, rejected the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  The IHRA definition strongly resembles the EUMC version.  Today’s vote strengthens UCU’s existing policy. Continue reading “UCU Congress rejects “confusing” definition of antisemitism”

Don’t Go to the Doctor

Karma Nabulsi writes about Prevent

[Editor’s note. These are extracts from Don’t Go to the Doctor by Karma Nabulsi published in the London Review of Books and reprinted by permission. We are republishing it not just because of its intrinsic interest but because of the link between the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the Prevent programme. We are finding that allegations of IHRA antisemitism, no matter how wild and unfounded, are producing referrals to the Prevent programme; these referrals are being used as a pretext to raise concerns of threats to public order or campus security and justification for cancellation of the event. In this way spurious claims of antisemitism are effective in halting discussion of Israel without any scrutiny of the validity of the allegations. A link is being made between unacceptable and deplorable acts of violence and free expression of of areas of legitimate public concern. The war on ‘terror’ segues into a war on free speech. Mike Cushman]

Karma Nabulsi on the British government’s Prevent programme.
A colleague of mine at Oxford was asked to see an undergraduate who was falling behind in her work. The student – a Muslim – explained that she had been suffering from depression and was being treated for it by her GP. My colleague believed the student’s explanation placed her under an obligation to ask the student whether she was being radicalised.

….

A librarian was asked for a reference by another university: ‘Are you completely satisfied,’ they wanted to know, ‘that the applicant is not involved in “extremism” (being vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs)?’

Out of the blue, a college head refused the usual joint arrangements with a university centre for a lecture by a very distinguished European academic, whose work is on the politics of Islam. Special Branch had informed the college that a great deal of extra security would be required.

….

A student society set up decades ago to represent a well-established immigrant community in the UK wanted to hold welcome drinks for new undergraduates at the beginning of the academic year. The university told them to hand over the guest list 48 hours before the event. They explained that they had no way of knowing who would turn up, as the event was to welcome new members, but offered to check university IDs at the door, take names, or have a senior member in attendance – no, they couldn’t hold the event, it was against the new rules. One of the organisers was sent an explanatory email: ‘The event was impossible without a guest list because of our legal duty to abide by Prevent. All colleges across the university must screen guest lists before they offer an event, for security purposes … our hands are simply tied on this one.’

The British government’s Prevent programme, aimed at keeping people from being ‘drawn into terrorism’, was developed in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, as part of the overarching counter-terrorism strategy known as Contest. Continue reading “Don’t Go to the Doctor”