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.

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

John Mann: Labour’s own Donald Trump

What do you call someone who makes up their own facts and abuses their opponents? In the US you say they are acting like Donald Trump; in the Labour Party you say they are channelling their inner John Mann.

A letter from a Jewish 90 year old long-time Labour member to John Mann has been gaining attention. In his letter Dr Glatt draws attention to  Mann’s “narcissistic and attention-seeking” behaviour. He goes on to write:

However, your comments that all Labour members who supported her [Jackie Walker]“should be expelled from the Party,” which were reported in the media, absolutely appalled me. The implied ‘guilt by association’ is akin to the ‘fellow traveller’ accusations made during the McCarthyite era in the USA. Shame on you. There seems to be a desire, on your part, to conflate (i.e. run together as if they represent the same meaning), the words and concepts of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Was Mann’s response to issue an apology, quite the contrary. He alleged, without foundation, that Sam Glatt hadn’t written the letter but that Graham Martin has fraudulently issued his own letter and misappropriated Dr Glatt’s name. A serious charge.

John Mann's Facebook post
John Mann’s (since deleted) Facebook post

Unfortunately for Mr Mann Tony Greenstein did some detective work and made contact with Sam Glatt who readily confirmed that he wrote the letter with some minor editing assistance from Graham Martin.

Mann’s response so far has only been to delete his Facebook post but unfortunately, for him, not before a number of people had taken a screen-shot.

Mann’s behaviour to Dr Glatt reminds us of how he was denounced by an Employment Tribunal for giving evidence-free evidence when Ronnie Fraser tried to sue his own union, UCU, for spurious allegations of antisemitism.

Mann is a serial offender who leads a charmed life. He is not ridiculed in the Press or on the broadcast media; rather he treated with extraordinary respect and taken at his own estimate as a truth-telling expert. The UK media ignore unwelcome inconsistencies as readily as the most dedicated Trump supporter praises Donald’s respectful treatment of women.

Similarly the Labour Party compliance unit, which at Mann’s urging has chased wills-of-the-wisp across the landscape of Palestinian rights advocates, has sat on its hands and not started proceedings against Mann for bringing the Party into disrepute.

We await Mr Mann’s intersection with justice more in hope than anticipation.

Mike Cushman

UPDATE 22 October: Graham Martin asks Labour party to investigate John Mann for harassment