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.

The Israel Lobby vs Democracy

Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process

Submission from Free Speech on Israel

This evidence, prepared by Jonathan Rosenhead, was submitted to the select committee enquiry which was halted owing to the announcement of the General Election. As it is not clear when or whether the enquiry will resume in the new Parliament we are publishing our evidence now. This evidence was submitted on 30 March 2017.

Who we are

  1. Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish-led group formed in April 2016 out of concerns that the surge in accusations of antisemitism in British public life, and especially within the Labour Party, in no way reflects the reality that we live in. This concern now extends both to the unbalanced media coverage of this issue, and to the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism, which we find to be deeply flawed. See in particular the recently released legal Opinion on this subject.
  2. Our submission to your Inquiry focusses entirely on point 7: how UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties. In particular we will address the extent to which the state of Israel has been exerting undue influence on the UK’s policy in respect of that country’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.  We start from the evidence revealed in the Al-Jazeera series of investigative reports The Lobby, transmitted in January 2017.

Background to our concern

  1. Recent events have demonstrated that some national governments have an appetite to intervene in the political processes of other countries. The ability to do so will depend on the resources they can muster – such as electronic capabilities, finances devoted to that purpose, and well-disposed individuals in the target country.
  2. We further take the view that the formation of foreign policy in the UK (as in other countries) is not conducted only within political parties but involves a wider swathe of think tanks, academic researchers, businesses with spanning interests, influential organisations and individuals, media commentators and so on. Our comments will address that broader matrix.

Continue reading “The Israel Lobby vs Democracy”

Don’t mention Apartheid

Richard Kuper
This article is reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of the author

The attempt to outlaw the use of the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel and its occupation has to be recognised as carrying dangers of effectively stifling debate on an issue of great importance

The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City
The checkpoint to exit Hebron Old City (photo Mike Cushman)

We are faced with an increasing onslaught on criticism of Israel with attempts being made to drawn the lines ever more narrowly.  There are accusations that any singling out of Israel is antisemitic: so, for example, calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions in Israel’s case but not in others is prima facie evidence of antisemitism, as is using the word apartheid to characterise any aspect of Israeli society.

What I would like to address here is the use of the concept of ‘apartheid’ to compare South African and Israeli society, and the dangerous suppression involved in outlawing its use. Critics say the analogy is plain wrong and therefore its use can only be malign: an attempt to delegitimate, demonise and apply double standards (to use Sharansky’s 3-D test of criticism of Israel – see the discussion Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?) about what it is that goes beyond what is acceptable. Ultimately, for many of these critics, the use of the term “apartheid” is antisemitic.
Continue reading “Don’t mention Apartheid”

Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone

Letter was published in the Guardian on 13 April

Dear Sir or Madam,

As Jewish and non-Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party, we reject the call from supporters of Zionism and the Labour Right for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone. [Jewish Labour members say Livingstone must go, April 6th]

Those who call for a new disciplinary hearing simply because they didn’t like the conclusions of the previous one, demonstrate their contempt for democracy and due process.

A year ago Livingstone, responding to a question from Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London, said: ‘Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.’

There is nothing whatsoever anti-Semitic about this.  Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University wrote in his book Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany (p. 79) that:

‘Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews’   Is telling the truth also anti-Semitic?

Support for Zionism can go hand in hand with anti-Semitism. What the campaign against Livingstone is really about is his long-standing support for the Palestinians and his opposition to Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.

Those who help to throw Livingstone overboard today are preparing the way for Jeremy Corbyn’s removal tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Greenstein  Brighton Kemptown CLP

Jackie Walker  South Thanet CLP

Miriam Margolyes OBE  Lambeth & Vauxhall CLP

Professor Richard Seaford Exeter CLP

Professor (emeritus) Moshé Machover  Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

Professor Bill Bowring  School of Law Birkbeck College

Professor (Emeritus) Jonathan Rosenhead  Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP

Professor Haim Bresheeth School of Oriental and African Studies

Dr Tanzil Chowdhury  School of Law University of Manchester

(Emeritus Professor) Wade Mansell Thanet North CLP

Professor Chris Knight  Streatham CLP

Malcolm Adlington  Derby’s Dales CLP Continue reading “Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone”

Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone

Jonathan Cook
Reposted from his blog by permission

John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston
John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston

The ongoing Ken Livingstone (“Get Corbyn!”) saga grows yet more preposterous. After outrage that the former London mayor had said Hitler was a Zionist (when he clearly hadn’t, as I pointed out at the time here and here), Labour suspended Livingstone amid accusations that he had made antisemitic, offensive and false historical claims.

Now as Livingstone fights to avoid expulsion before a closed hearing of the party’s national constitutional committee, it emerges that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, has written to Livingstone saying that the hearing is not interested in the historical accuracy of his statements or whether what he said was antisemitic. Rather, it is about whether his conduct has been “grossly detrimental” to the party.
Continue reading “Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone”

Jewish Women condemn Labour’s tolerance of JLM threats

Thirteen Jewish female members of the Labour Party have called for a review of a decision by general secretary Iain McNicol on a complaint brought against former Israeli Embassy employee Ella Rose, who now heads a pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the Labour Party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

They say Ella Rose’s abusive and threatening behaviour, caught on camera in a documentary film, The Lobby, is intimidating to them as campaigners for Palestinian rights and critics of the state of Israel.

The swift, discrete and sympathetic handling of Rose’s case contrasts markedly with treatment meted out to many party members who have been unjustly charged with antisemitism, suspended from membership and subjected to months’ long investigations, often in the full glare of publicity, through processes with scant regard for principles of natural justice.
McNicol said that in Ella Rose’s case the matter was closed after she “expressed regret” for some of her actions.

Dear Mr McNicol,

Sent 20 February 2017

In response to your judgement in the case of Ella Rose, we cannot accept the contrast with other disciplinary cases where you have given considerable weight to testimony from complainants stating that they were upset or offended by an individual’s words or actions.

JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can 'take' Jackie Walker
JLM Director Ella Rose boasts how she can ‘take’ Jackie Walker

We wish to put on record that we, Labour Jewish women, have been not only offended and upset but also intimidated by the behaviour of Ella Rose. (You will see that this letter is signed by a larger group than the one that made the original complaint.)

We believe that the influence of Ella Rose, and others working with the Israeli Embassy (as exposed by Al Jazeera in The Lobby), should be fully investigated and this should start with a proper investigation of the incidents in which Ella Rose was involved.
Continue reading “Jewish Women condemn Labour’s tolerance of JLM threats”

FSOI Media Notice – Government must not Cover up Israeli Interference in UK Politics

GOVERNMENT MUST NOT COVER UP ISRAELI INTERFERENCE IN UK POLITICS

  • Israeli Embassy collusion with pro-Israeli lobbyists must be fully investigated
  • All antisemitism charges against Labour Party members must now be reviewed

London, 18 January – Film evidence that Labour and Conservative pro-Israel lobbyists worked with the Israeli Embassy to undermine political opponents has implications for democratic processes in the UK that must be fully investigated, campaigners say.

“There must be no cover-up of what appears to have been a concerted campaign to discredit supporters of Palestine, Conservative as well as Labour, and to use concocted allegations of antisemitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and his support base,” said Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, speaking for Free Speech on Israel (FSOI).

Theresa May has rejected a call from Corbyn for a government inquiry into the Embassy’s “improper interference in this country’s democratic process.” But a number of Jewish groups that work for  Palestinian human rights are supporting the Labour leader’s call and urging Labour to set up its own inquiry into the activities of politicians and lobbyists implicated by Al-Jazeera’s four-part documentary The Lobby.

The documentary showed an Israeli Embassy staffer discussing with a Conservative ministerial aide how to “take down” deputy foreign secretary Alan Duncan. It also revealed extensive collaboration between the embassy, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and Labour Party affiliate the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Both organisations have consistently alleged antisemitism against supporters of Palestinian rights who criticise Israel. Many of these have been suspended and subjected to disciplinary procedures that lack transparency and take no account of natural justice.

FSOI calls upon Labour’s National Executive Committee to institute a full review of all outstanding disciplinary proceedings and to investigate the activities of both JLM and LFI.

Notes for Editors

  1. Al Jazeera Investigative Unit’s series “The Lobby” was screened between Wednesday Jan 11 and Saturday Jan 15. It can be viewed online

2. Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to Prime Minister Theresa May called for an inquiry into “attempts to undermine the integrity of our democracy.”

Letter from Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May demanding a public inquiry
Letter from Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May demanding a public inquiry

3. Here is the full text of the statement from Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP), Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG):

We note with concern the very serious allegations of Israeli Embassy interference in the United Kingdom’s democratic processes revealed in the Al Jazeera series “The Lobby”. We support Jeremy Corbyn’s call on the Government to hold an enquiry into this attempt to subvert both the government itself and the Opposition. It is imperative that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee should summon those Israelis and British politicians and lobbyists shown to have been implicated.  We also call on the Labour party to conduct an immediate investigation into the involvement of its own members in the activities documented by Al-Jazeera.

4. Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) was founded as a predominantly Jewish campaign group in Spring 2016 to counter the manufactured moral panic over a supposed epidemic of antisemitism in the UK. Its earlier statement on the Al-Jazeera investigation can be read here.

5. Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, analyses the relevance of the Al-Jazeera revelations, examining how anti-Zionism is deliberately conflated with antisemitism to suppress legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies.

6. Examples of the witch hunt against a large number of pro-Corbyn, pro-Palestinian Labour Party activists exposed in the Al-Jazeera programmes include:

a) Black Jewish activist Jackie Walker, former vice-chair of Momentum, is currently fighting her second bout of suspension from the party. She intends to make a formal complaint against Jewish Labour Movement director Ella Rose, seen threatening and abusing Walker in the second episode of the film.

b) The films show Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP discussing at length with fellow lobbyists how to frame a complaint of antisemitism against a Labour Party member, a woman who was suspended as a result and later reinstated on appeal.

c) Separately, activists in a party branch in the Liverpool constituency of former LFI chair, Louise Ellman MP, are fighting baseless allegations of antisemitism which have been used as an excuse to investigate the entire branch.

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