The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) has been a leading actor in the campaign to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and all other critics of Israel as antisemites. As part of their campaign they are trying to amend the Labour Party’s rules to make it easier to suspend or expel advocates of Palestinian Rights and are submitting proposed rule changes to this year’s conference. If their proposals went through the words ‘except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism’ will be added to the end of the section on actions detrimental to the Labour Party. So a crucial sentence will read ‘The NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism’.
It is a principle of British law that it is actions that lead to sanctions, not thoughts. Thoughts are only of interest to tribunals when manifested in words or actions. Only totalitarian regimes seek to control our thoughts – a situation ridiculed as thought crime by George Orwell. As Wikipedia describes it “The term was popularized in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, wherein thought crime is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party.” Suppressing the crime was the province of the Thought Police.
We do not know where the NCC – the National Constitutional Committee, the body responsible for Labour Party discipline – will recruit their thoughtpol and how they will collect evidence on the nature of our thoughts. The thoughtpol will presumably be part of the Compliance Unit (now that’s an Orwellian term) which has been running the purges of ‘unsuitable’ voters during the Leadership election. Orwell was explicit in how Thought Crime was to be investigated. Will the Labour Party be building its own Room 101?
Elsewhere on this site we describe the JLM’s affiliations to the Israel Labour Party, responsible for commencing the settlement programme in the West Bank, and to the World Zionist Organisation, responsible for channelling funds to the illegal settlements. Despite their public affiliation to Zionist organisations the JLM wish to see use of the term Zionist as a potential disciplinary offence. It appears from their proposed rule change they wish to see anyone who believes them to be Zionist to be disciplined as well. We are not only in the realms feared by Orwell we are in Kafka’s territory as well.
The JLM’s record of supporting a regime that abuses human rights has long cast a large question mark on their place in the Labour family. This latest initiative, displaying a willingness to introduce human rights abuse into the Labour Party rule book, must call their ethical judgement further into question; it should also pose a problem for all those in the Party who, in the past, have looked to the JLM for advice. We must ensure their advice is ignored by all in the Party in the future.
The proposed rule changes also include a wilful misreading of Macpherson’s description of a racist incident and seeks to extend this misreading to all hate speech and incidents. The JLM proposes the addition of a section that states:
Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options
Macpherson’s description was relevant to a particular time and place and related to the failure of the Metropolitan Police to take seriously victims’ perceptions of incidents. The intention was to require the police to investigate incidents, taking seriously the perception, not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism and vice chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry was asked by the Parliamentary All-Party Committee on Antisemitism for guidance on interpreting the MacPherson principles
Macpherson wrote that ‘a racist incident’ is ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.’ If we look at the context in which this quotation appears, it is unambiguously clear that Macpherson intended to propose that such racist incidents require investigation. He did not mean to imply that such incidents are necessarily racist. However, Macpherson’s report has been misinterpreted and misapplied in precisely this way. Its authority has been thrown behind the view that such incidents should, by definition, be regarded as racist. In short, a definition of antisemitism which takes Jews’ feelings and perceptions as its starting point and which looks to the Macpherson report for authority is built on weak foundations.
Putting the rule changes together: if any Zionist thinks I am thinking an antisemitic thought, that is enough to get me expelled from the Labour Party.