Open Letter to Keir Starmer on the Dismissal of Rebecca Long-Bailey

This letter was sent to Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer on 27 June 2020. No response was received.

If you wish to support the letter, please send your name and CLP to starmerletter@gmail.com

Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey

Dear Keir,

As members of the Labour Party, we have been shocked by your abrupt and authoritarian decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet.

The reason given for this action is specious indeed. It is not and cannot be Rebecca’s retweeting of Maxine Peake’s interview. The allegedly antisemitic section of that interview is one sentence only, stating that: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.” This allegation is rebutted right away in the same interview, with the interviewer commenting between brackets: “A spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, stating that ‘there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway’.”

Even if plainly wrong, Maxine Peake’s statement would not constitute an instance of antisemitic “conspiracy theory” unless the meaning of these words is completely devalued. The statement refers to the well-known and indisputable fact that the Israeli state has been providing training to US police forces, as shown by this comment published by the US branch of Amnesty International.

The sad truth is that your decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey was not a reaction to her retweeting of that interview, but a further instance of bowing to the pressure of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This is unacceptable and gives this institution unwarranted power over the internal affairs of our party. After the Ten Pledges that the Board of Deputies got candidates to the latest leadership contest in the Labour Party to sign, including Rebecca Long-Bailey herself, here it is interfering again in internal party affairs, not contenting itself with blaming Rebecca but questioning her “suitability” to the role of Shadow Education Secretary as if the board were part of the Labour Party leading bodies.

This is utterly unjust and unacceptable. The Board of Deputies cannot be both judge and jury in matters related to the Israeli state of which it has always been an unconditional backer. Accepting its judgement on issues related to Israel and acting within the party upon this judgement severely compromises the Labour Party’s stance on Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people. It amounts to granting the Board of Deputies a censorship prerogative over all pronouncements criticising the ultra-right government of Israel made by members of the party and, by way of this prerogative, a direct say on the party’s internal life and its outside representation and action.

We believe that it is highly important to repair this serious misstep by immediately reinstating Rebecca Long-Bailey in her position in the shadow cabinet.

Signatories:   

Gilbert Achcar, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Rosemary Addington, Kingston and Surbiton CLP
Avril Alexander, Oxford East CLP
Jo Alexander, Tottenham CLP
Jenny Almeida, Streatham CLP
Omar Al-Qattan, Kensington CLP
Ziad Al-Qattan, Kensington CLP
Gus Alvarez, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Veronica Alvarez, North Durham CLP
Nadia Amara, Chingford & Woodford Green CLP
Karen Ankers, Ynys Mon CLP
Steven Antoniou, Oxford CLP
Rita Appleby, Chelmsford CLP
Margaret Archer, South Shields CLP
Mandy Baker, Walthamstow CLP
Ray Barkley, Windsor CLP
Terry Barrow, Penistone and Stocksbridge CLP
Graham Bash, South Thanet CLP
Labina Basit, Uxbridge & South Ruislip CLP
Melanie L Baynes, Sheffield Central CLP
Ian Bell, Walthamstow CLP
Catherine Belsey, Cambridge CLP
Anne Benkins, Lower Wye Valley CLP
John Beresford, Leeds Central CLP
Phil Bevin, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Bhasker Bhadresha, Ilford North CLP
Laurence Biggie, Pontypridd CLP
Rica Bird, Wirral South CLP
Angie Birtill, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Katharine Bligh, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Nushi Bnazemi, Brent North CLP
Patrick Bonner, Brent North CLP
Kim Boome, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Tony Booth, Cambridge City CLP
Keith Bradbury, Cannock Chase CLP
Anne-Marie Brody, Wealden CLP
Tarin Brokenshire, Cambridge CLP
Jacqui Brown, Forest of Dean CLP
Susan Buckingham, Cambridge CLP
Erica Burman, Manchester Withington CLP
Suzanne Burns, Somerton & Frome CLP
Carole Buxton, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP
Johnnie Byrne, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Ben Byrne, North Durham CLP
Chantal Cameron, Suffolk Coastal CLP
Peter Cann, Oxford East CLP
David Cannon, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Seamus Carey, Tottenham CLP
Phil Cawston, Brighton Pavilion CLP
Rita Chamber, Dulwich & West Norwood CLP
John Chatham, Ynys Mon CLP
Sahail Chohan, Sheffield Heeley CLP
Nigel Clark, Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP
Ruth Clarke, Islington North CLP
Shaun Cohen, Leeds Central CLP
Ron Cohen, Finchley & Golders Green CLP
Sylvia Cohen, Finchley & Golders Green CLP
Andy Colwell, Labour International CLP
Dee Combes, Liverpool Riverside CLP
Jane Connor, Walthamstow CLP
Terry Conway, Islington North CLP
David Cottington, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Valerie Coultas, Streatham CLP
Lisa Crane, Tamworth CLP
Ian Crawford, Cambridge CLP
Sandra Crawford, Cambridge CLP
Dane Cross, Chingford and Woodford Green CLP
Gill Crozier, Bristol South CLP
Brendan Curran, Walthamstow CLP
Mike Cushman, Streatham CLP
Selma Dabbagh, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Rada Daniell, Leyton & Wanstead CLP
Clive Darling, Warwick & Leamington CLP
Izzat Darwazeh, Islington South CLP
Rachel Darwazeh, Ynys Mon CLP
Diane Datson, Bromley & Chislehurst CLP
John Davidson, Bristol West CLP
Mary Davies, Brighton Pavilion CLP
John Davies, South Norfolk CLP
Adrienne Davis, Worthing West CLP
Suzanne de Emmony, Streatham CLP
Terry Deans, Plymouth Moor View CLP
Simon Dewsbury, Birmingham Hall Green CLP
Helen Dickson, Liverpool Wavertree CLP
Esmé Dobson, Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Colin Doherty, Finchley & Golders Green CLP
Pippa Dowswell, Chingford & Woodford Green CLP
Michael Duffy, Bootle CLP
Bridget Dunne, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Kevin Ederle, Ynys Môn CLP
Mike Eggboro, South Warringron CLP
Elaine Ellen, Ynys Môn CLP
James Elsey, Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Barry Errington, Crewe & Nantwich CLP
Bronwen Evans, Tottenham CLP
Harriet Evans, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Andrew Feinstein, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Mark Findlay, Brighton Pavilion CLP
Arye Finkle, Chipping Barmet CLP
Lesley Finlayson, Walthamstow CLP
Pete Firmin, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Tom Fisher, Walthamstow CLP
Tony Foley, Warley CLP
Nicolas Franklin-Woolley, Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP
Tania Funston, North of Ireland CLP
Gloria George, Cities of London & Westminster CLP
Phil Gilbert, Gillingham & Rainham CLP
Mick Gilgunn, Islington North CLP
Ruth Gillett, Glasgow Kelvin CLP
Pascale Gillett, Somerton & Frome CLP
Helen Glazier, Sheffield Hallam CLP
Angela Gliddon, Ynys Mon CLP
Eluned Gold, Arfon CLP
Jonathan Golding, Cardiff North CLP
Darren Gomes, Croydon Central CLP
Martin Goodsell, Walthamstow CLP
Stephanie Grant, Tottenham CLP
Elizabeth Greener, North Durham CLP
Gary Griffiths, Woking CLP
Steve Hadden, Warrington South CLP
Geoff Haigh, Preston CLP
Betty Hales, Chingford & Woodford Green CLP
James Hall, South Cambs CLP
Ann Hallam, Hove & Portslade CLP
Kathleen Hamilton, Cambridge CLP
Jo Hammond, Ludlow CLP
Fran Hanlon, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Dave Hansell, Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP
Brian Hanson, Horsham CLP
Terry Harper, Cities of London & Westminster CLP
Alan Harrison, Walsall North CLP
Ruth Heilbronn, North Westminster CLP
Alex Heslop, Bethnal Green & Bow CLP
Ranil Hewavisenti, Hornsey & Wood Green CLP
Derrick Hibbett, Chingford & Woodford Green CLP
Dave Hill, Brighton Pavilion CLP
Simon Hinds, Islington North CLP
Paul Hine, Cities of London & Westminster CLP
Gary Holder, Banbury CLP
Dawn Holder, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Dominic Holland, Sheffield Central CLP
Doug Holton, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP
Richard Hopper, Cambridge CLP
Melanie Horridge, Southport CLP
Margaret Houston, Cities of London & Westminster CLP
Eamonn Hughes, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Amy Humphreys, Lewisham Deptford CLP
Dave Hunt, Ynys Môn CLP
John Hurlston, Northfield CLP
Riva Joffe, Holborn and St Pancras CLP
Reba Johnson, Tottenham CLP
Graham Jones, Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough CLP
Carolyn Jordin, Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough CLP
Jenny Kassman, Islington North CLP
David Kellaway, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP
Gerard Shimokawa Kelly, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Juliet Kent, Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP
Monash Kessler, Battersea CLP
Tareq Khamis, Luton North CLP
Thea Khamis, North Durham CLP
Chris Khamis, Labour International CLP
Hanna Khamis, Leamington & Warwick CLP
Steve Kind, Leeds West CLP
Tom King, Walthamstow CLP
Peter King, Cannock Chase CLP
Sarah King, Labour International CLP
Richard Kuper, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Jane Lambe, Leeds West CLP
Charli Langford, Bethnal Green & Bow CLP
Patrick Langridge, Hove & Portslade CLP
Alan Larman, CLP
Stasha Lauria, Reading East CLP
David Lawrence, Brecon & Radnorshire CLP
Haroun Lazim, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Ann Lazim, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Zubaida Lazim, Westminster North CLP
Anne-Marie Le Gall, Ynys Môn CLP
Christine Leadbeater, Bolton South East CLP
Alex Lee, Eastbourne CLP
Joanna Lee, Leyton & Wanstead CLP
Ana Lekaj, Walthamstow CLP
Leah Levane, Hastings & Rye CLP
Dave Lewis, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Catriona Lischka, Vauxhall CLP
Elizabeth Lock, Oxford East CLP
Ann Logan, Stockton North CLP
Rhodri Lowis, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Peta Lunberg, Kingston and Surbiton CLP
Vera Lustig, Esher & Walton CLP
Anne Lyons, Oxford East CLP
Dorothy Macedo, Worthing West CLP
Bill MacKeith, Oxford West & Abingdon CLP
Duncan Macpherson, Twickenham CLP
Alan Maddison, Houghton & Sunderland South CLP
John Maher, Birkenhead CLP
Alpesh Maisuria, Stroud CLP
Jenny Manson, Finchley & Golders Green CLP
Stephen Marks, Oxford East CLP
Helen Marks, Liverpool Riverside CLP
Robin Marsden, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Rob Marsden, Tamworth CLP
Samantha Mason, Walthamstow CLP
Juliet McCaffery, Brighton Pavilion CLP
Pat McGuirk, Bootle CLP
Chris Meacock, Norwich South CLP
John Metson, Durham City CLP
Angie Mindel, Nottingham East CLP
Siobhan Cawson Mooney, Vauxhall CLP
Geoff Moore, Henley CLP
Miranda Moore, Walthamstow CLP
Philip Mountain, North Tyneside CLP
Robert Moutrey, Walthamstow CLP
Nicola Moxham, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
John Moxham, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Raleigh Muir, Colchester CLP
Anisa Mustafa, Sheffield CLP CLP
Bala Nair, Durham North CLP
Nushi Nazemi, Brent North CLP
Suzy Nelson, Lewes CLP
Diana Neslen, Ilford South CLP
Clive Niall, Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Ian Nicol, Horsham CLP
Fiona Norman, Welwyn Hatfield CLP
David Norris, Beaconsfield CLP
Seamus O’Connell, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Margaret Oliver, Rayleigh & Wickford CLP
Dennis O’Malley, Cambridge CLP
Ozlem Onaran, Kingston & Surbiton CLP
Gary Ostrolenk, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
William Owen, City of York CLP
Pam Page, Brighton Pavilion CLP
John Palmer, Greenwich & Woolwich CLP
Ian Parker, Manchester Withington CLP
Susan Pashkoff, Leyton and Wanstead CLP
Tony Peacham, Walthamstow CLP
Diane Pearson, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Liz Peretz, Oxford CLP
Clive Perrett, Chelmsford CLP
David Plank, Cambridge CLP
Stefan Povolotsky, Wantage CLP
Alan Power, Kingston CLP
Brian Precious, East Ham CLP
Claire Preston, Cambridge CLP
Kim Pugh, Cardiff CLP
Caroline Raine, Oxford East CLP
Anandi Ramamurthy, Gorton CLP
Gerry Ramsden, Richmond CLP
Roland Rance, Walthamstow CLP
Colin Read, Walthamstow CLP
Nicola Redwood, Walthamstow CLP
Peter Reed, Henley CLP
Francis Richens, North Cornwall CLP
James Ritchie, Feltham & Heston CLP
Marion Roberts, Camberwell & Peckham CLP
Lee Rock, Sheffield Hallam CLP
Charlotte Peters Rock, Tatton CLP
Polly Rodwell, Ipswich CLP
David Roger, Brighton Kemptown CLP
Barbara Rosenbaum, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Carolyn Roth, Brent Central CLP
Jennifer Runham, Cambridge CLP
Paul Russell, Shipley CLP
Geoff Ryan, Carmarthen East and Dynefwr CLP
Alfredo Saad-Filho, Dulwich & West Norwood CLP
Paul Scott, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Sheila Scoular, Ilford North CLP
Glyn Secker, Dulwich & West Norwood CLP
Shareefa Shah, Watford CLP
Sue Shaw, Henley CLP
Nigel Shaw, Norwich North CLP
Kumiko Shimizu, Holborn & St Pancras CLP
Joe Simpson, Sheffield Hallam CLP
Neil Singh, Staffordshire Moorlands CLP
Margaret Sketchley, Penistone & Stocksbridge CLP
Peter Smith, South Basildon & East Thurrock CLP
Dawn Smith, Labour International CLP
Nahid Soltanzadeh, North Ealing CLP
Dave Statham, Forest of Dean CLP
Brendan Stebbings, Bradford South CLP
Alan Stowell, Reading East CLP
Paul Stygal, Rochford & Southend East CLP
Inbar Tamari, Walthamstow CLP
Richard Tamplin, Oxford West & Abingdon CLP
Ebrahim Tavasoli, Ilford North CLP
Wendy Taylor, Ilford South CLP
Ann Thomas, Bristol West CLP
Wisty Thomas, Wimbledon CLP
Alan Thornett, Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Sue Thornley, Cannock Chase CLP
Jonathan Tibbo, Ilford South CLP
Stephen Tiller, Hackney South & Shoreditch CLP
Norman Traub, Southend West CLP
Janet Tully, Morecambe & Lunesdale CLP
Eveline van der Steen, Dwyfor Meironnydd CLP
Jackie Walker, Henley CLP
Bob Walker, Bexhill & Battle CLP
Philip Ward, Sheffield Central CLP
Judith Wardle, Witney CLP
Colin Watson, Peterborough CLP
Tim Watson, Wirral West CLP
Sam Karl Weinstein, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Roger Welch, Portsmouth CLP
Elizabeth Welch, Stafford CLP
Jennifer Whilby, Walthamstow CLP
Chris Wilkinson, Bristol West CLP
Neil Wilkinson, Derby North CLP
Clare Williams, Swansea West CLP
Geoff Williams, Chelmsford CLP
Evan Williams, Eddisbury CLP
Ian Williams, Labour International CLP
Eileen Williamson, North Durham CLP
Joe Williamson, North Durham CLP
Carole Williamson, North Durham CLP
Keith Willmott, East Devon CLP
Thomas Wilson, Hexham CLP
John Wilton, Sutton & Cheam CLP
Tess Wood, Weaver Vale CLP
Leslie Wray, Sheffield Heeley CLP

The witch hunt against Chris Williamson and WitchHunt

Mike Cushman looks at how the witch hunt against Chris Williamson is linked to WitchHunt. The film shows how slurs against principled supporters of Palestinian rights become solidified into ‘common sense’

Chris Williamson is an outspoken socialist and supporter of the Corbyn project, so it is no great surprise to find him the subject of a witch hunt. A campaign that has now led to threats of violence to prevent him speaking. Continue reading “The witch hunt against Chris Williamson and WitchHunt”

Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism

Jonathan Cook details how Macron’s conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is not an aberration but part of a systematic campaign. He shows how the successive enlargements of what is alleged to constitute antisemitism are a response to the growing success of the movement to enforce BDS and support Palestinian Rights

This article was first published in Mondoweiss andis republished by permission of the author

How far the international community’s approach towards Israel has reversed trajectory over the past half century can be gauged simply by studying the fate of one word: Zionism.

In 1975 much of the world broke ranks with the United States and Europe at the United Nations general assembly to declare that Zionism, Israel’s founding ideology, “is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

Macron with Netanyahu in December 2017
Macron telling Netanyahu that ‘Israel is a friendly country’

Western publics were generally shocked. Zionism, they had been told, was a necessary liberation movement for the Jewish people after centuries of oppression and pogroms. Its creation, Israel, was simply the righting of terrible wrongs that had culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust.

But Zionism looked very different to those countries around the globe that had been exposed to centuries of European colonialism and the more recent advent of US imperialism.

The long history of crimes against Jews that led to Israel’s establishment took place mostly in Europe. And yet it was Europe and the US that had sponsored and aided the arrival of Jews in another people’s homeland, far from their own shores.

To the global south, the great purges of native Palestinians carried out by European Jews in 1948 and 1967 looked all too reminiscent of white Europeans cleansing indigenous peoples in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

A colonial anachronism

By 1975, the time of the UN vote, it was clear that Israel had no intention either of handing back to the Palestinians the occupied territories it had seized eight years earlier. Rather, Israel was entrenching the occupation by illegally transferring its own civilian population into the Palestinian territories.

Across much of the globe, these Jewish settlers looked like an anachronism, a reminder of the white “pioneers” heading westwards across the supposedly empty lands of the US; the white farmers who seized vast tracts of South Africa and Rhodesia as their personal homesteads; and the white newcomers who herded the remnants of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples into reservations or turned them into a sideshow at its tourist sites.

The UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution lasted 16 years – until the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the US as the world’s sole superpower. After a lot of diplomatic arm-twisting by Washington, including promises that Israel would engage in a peace process with the Palestinians, Resolution 3379 was finally scrapped in 1991.

Decades later, the pendulum has swung decisively the other way.

US and European elites have moved on from their once-defensive posture that Zionism is not racism. Now, they are on the attack. Their presumption is that anti-Zionism – the position of much the international community 44 years ago – is synonymous with racism.

Or more specifically, it is increasingly being accepted that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin.

Apartheid-style system

That trend was consolidated last week when Emmanuel Macron, the centrist French president, went further than simply reiterating his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. This time he threatened to outlaw anti-Zionism.

Macron’s confusion of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is patently nonsensical.

Antisemitism refers to the hatred of Jews. It is bigotry, plain and simple.

Anti-Zionism, on the other hand, is opposition to the political ideology of Zionism, a movement that has insisted in all its political guises on prioritising the rights of Jews to a homeland over those, the Palestinians, who were already living there.

Anti-Zionism is not racism against Jews; it is opposition to racism by Zionist Jews.

Of course, an anti-Zionist may also be antisemitic, but it is more likely that an anti-Zionist holds his or her position for entirely rational and ethical reasons.

That was made only clearer last summer when the Israeli parliament passed a basic law defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people (PDF). The law asserts that all Jews, even those with no connection to Israel, enjoy a right to self-determination there that all Palestinians are deprived of, including the fifth of Israel’s population who are Palestinian and formally citizens.

In other words, the law creates two statuses in Israel – and implicitly in the occupied territories too – based on an imposed ethno-religious classification system that entitles all Jews to superior rights over all Palestinians.

In constitutional terms, Israel is explicitly operating an apartheid-style legal and political system, one even more encompassing than South Africa’s. After all, the apartheid rulers of South Africa never claimed that theirs was the homeland of all white people.

Criminalizing BDS

Macron’s threat to outlaw anti-Zionism is the logical extension of existing moves across Europe and the US to penalise those who support BDS, the growing international solidarity movement with Palestinians that calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Many members of the BDS movement, though not all, are anti-Zionists. A proportion are anti-Zionist Jews.

The movement not only leapfrogs western policy elites’ decades of complicity in Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians but highlights the extent of that complicity. That is one reason it is so reviled by those elites.

France has gone furthest so far in this direction, criminalizing BDS as a form of economic discrimination. It thereby conflates a state, Israel, with an ethnic group, Jews – precisely as antisemites do.

Such legislation makes as much sense as France outlawing a boycott of apartheid South Africa back in the 1980s on the grounds that it discriminated against whites.

Israel lobbyists in action

France, however, is simply at the head of the curve. In the US some 26 states have enacted laws to punish or sanction individuals and organisations that support a boycott. Similar legislation is pending in a further 13 states.

None seem concerned that they are violating Americans’ much-cherished First Amendment rights, and making an exception to the right to free speech in one case only – that of Israel.

This month the US Senate joined the fray by passing a bill to encourage states to inflict economic punishments on those who support a boycott of Israel.

These victories against the non-violent BDS movement are the result of vigorous and malevolent efforts behind the scenes by Israel lobbyists to confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

As Israel’s standing among western publics has plummeted with the advent of social media, endless videos of violence by the Israeli army and settlers caught on phone cameras, and Israel’s starvation of Gaza, Israel’s lobbyists have moved to make it ever harder to speak out.

Redefinition of antisemitism

Their coup was the recent widespread acceptance in the west of a redefinition of antisemitism that intentionally confuses it with anti-Zionism.

Israel’s fingerprints are all over the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is therefore hardly surprising that the lengthy and vague definition of antisemitism devised by the IHRA has been supplemented by 11 examples, seven of which refer to Israel.

One example, stating that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, suggests that the 72 UN member states that voted for 1975’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, as well as the 32 that abstained, were themselves espousing, or turning a blind eye to, antisemitism.

Western governments, local authorities, political parties and public bodies are now racing to adopt the IHRA definition.

The result has been a growing fear among western publics about what can be said any longer about Israel without eliciting accusations of antisemitism.

That is the goal. If people become afraid that others will think them antisemitic for criticising Israel, then they will keep quiet, giving Israel greater leeway to commit crimes against Palestinians.

‘Self-hating Jew’ trope

Were Macron and the IHRA right – that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are all but indistinguishable – then we would have to accept some very uncomfortable conclusions.

One would be that Palestinians should be uniformly damned as antisemites for demanding their own right to self-determination. Or put another way, it would be impossible for Palestinians to demand the same rights as Jews in their homeland without that being declared as racist. Welcome to Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Another conclusion would be that a significant proportion of Jews around the world, those who oppose Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, are also antisemites, infected with an irrational hatred of their fellow Jews. This is the “self-hating Jew” trope Israel has long relied on to discredit criticism from Jews.

On this view, those Jews who want Palestinians to enjoy the same rights as Jews claim for themselves in the Middle East are racist – and not only that, but racist against themselves.

And if Macron’s efforts to criminalise anti-Zionism prove fruitful, it would mean that Palestinians and Jews could be punished – maybe even jailed – for demanding equality between Palestinians and Jews in Israel.

Preposterous as this reasoning sounds when laid out so bluntly, similar approaches to dealing with antisemitism are being readily accepted by actors across Europe and the US.

The extent of this insanity was evident in the decision of Germany’s Bank für Sozialwirtschaft, or Bank for Social Economy, to shut the account of a Jewish anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, over its support for a boycott of Israel. It was the first time a German bank had closed down a Jewish organization’s account since the Nazis were in power.

The bank took the action after complaints that Jewish Voice was antisemitic by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a group that masks its fervent support for Israel behind campaigning for Jewish rights.

Eliding the left and far-right

Macron’s antipathy to anti-Zionism – shared by many others seeking to confuse it with antisemitism – has an explicit cause as well as a more veiled one. Both are related to the political crisis he faces. After two years in power, he is the most unpopular president in the republic’s history.

According to Macron, the rise of anti-Zionism, or more broadly growing opposition to Israel, is swelling the ranks of those who want to harm Jews in France, whether through attacks, the scrawling of swastikas on Jewish graves or the polluting of public discourse, especially on social media.

Two groups that he and French Jewish lobby groups have identified as at the core of the problem are French Muslims, often recent immigrants who are seen as importing with them supposed racist Middle Eastern attitudes to Jews, and secular leftists who have taken the lead in supporting BDS.

Although a small number of French Muslims have adopted extremist positions, most feel hostility towards Israel because of its role in displacing and oppressing Palestinians. That sentiment dominates among BDS activists too.

But the implication of Macron and the lobby is that these two anti-Zionist groups are actually closely aligned with the antisemitic far-right and neo-Nazi groups, whatever their obvious respective differences in ideology and attitude towards violence.

The blurring by Macron of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is meant to sow doubt about what should be obvious distinctions between these three very different ideological constituencies.

Macron’s sleight of hand

Macron’s sleight of hand has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief.

Centrists’ love of authority

For those who assume that centrist leaders like Macron are acting not out of naked political self-interest but from a concern to eradicate prejudice and protect a vulnerable community, it is worth pausing to consider recent research on global political attitudes.

Last year the New York Times published a commentary by David Adler showing that, contrary to popular wisdom, centrists were on average significantly less invested in democracy than the far left and far right. They were least supportive of civil rights and “free and fair elections”.

These trends were particularly pronounced in the US, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand, but noticeable in many other western liberal democracies.

Additionally, in most western countries, including France, support for a strongman and for authoritarianism was much stronger among centrists than on the far-left. British and US centrists also outpolled the far-right in their love of authority figures.

Adler concluded: “Support for ‘free and fair’ elections drops at the center for every single country in the sample. The size of the centrist gap is striking. In the case of the United States, fewer than half of people in the political center view elections as essential. … Centrists …seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.”

Lobbyists’ stranglehold

It is therefore perhaps not surprising that centrist leaders like Macron are among the most ready to disengage from fair and open debate, smear opponents and readily blur the ideological distinctions between those to their left and their right.

And similarly, supporters of centrism are most likely to lap up unfounded accusations of antisemitism in the service of maintaining a status quo they perceive as benefiting them.

That process has been starkly on show in Britain and the US of late.

For decades the centrists in Washington have dominated politics on both sides of a supposed political divide. And one issue that has enjoyed especially strong bipartisan support in the US is backing for Israel.

The reason for a narrow Washington consensus on a whole range of issues, including Israel, has been the stranglehold on the US political process of corporate money and paid lobbyists.

Lobbies prefer to operate in the dark, wielding influence out of public view. In the case of Israel, however, the lobby has become ever more visible to outsiders and its defences of Israel ever harder to sustain as abuses of Palestinians are readily displayed on social media.

That, in turn, has spurred the growth of the BDS movement and a new, if still small, wave of insurgency politicians.

Ilhan Omar attacked

Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar showed how the established system seeks to tame wayward freshmen after she tweeted an obvious point that the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC – like other lobbyists – uses its money to enforce political orthodoxy in Washington in its chosen field. Or as she expressed it, “It’s all about the Benjamins” – slang for $100 bills, which feature an image of Benjamin Franklin.

She was quickly submerged in an avalanche of claims that her comment was evidence of antisemitism. They came from across the so-called political spectrum, from the grandees of her own Democratic party to President Trump. Weighed down with the criticism, she apologized.

Omar justified her decision, saying it was up to Jews to decide what is antisemitic. In an age of rampant identity politics, this sounds superficially plausible. But it actually makes no sense at all.

Even if a clear majority of Jews do in fact think criticism of Israel or its lobbyists is antisemitic – a highly questionable assumption –  they don’t enjoy some special or exclusive right to make that determination.

Israel victimises Palestinians, as has been endlessly documented. No one has the right to claim the moral high ground as a victim of racism when they are using that same high ground to obstruct scrutiny of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. To think otherwise would be to prioritise the defense of Jews from a possible racism over the vast evidence of concrete racism by Israel against Palestinians.

But more to the point, Omar’s apology assumes that those Jews with the loudest voices – that is, those with the biggest platforms and the most money – represent all Jews. It makes organised American Jewry, whose vigorous support for Israel has proved unshakeable even as Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu has driven the country to the far right, the arbiter of what all Jews think.

In fact, it does more. It makes the Israel lobby itself the one to determine whether there is an Israel lobby. It gives the lobby permission to shield itself entirely from view, allowing its influence to become even more entrenched and opaque.

Omar is far from alone. Other prominent critics of Israel, often black, have found themselves singled out for accusations of antisemitism over the criticism of Israel, including recently Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis.

Through a drip-drip of accusations that Omar is expressing “antisemitic tropes” when she speaks out, the aim is to make sure she starts to self-censor, becomes as “moderate” as her fellow politicians, and joins the bipartisan consensus on leaving Israel to get on with abusing Palestinians.

If she doesn’t, it is assumed, she will be finished politically, kicked out either by her own party bureaucracy or by voters.

Corbyn on the back foot

That process is much further advanced in Britain with a concerted and long-running campaign to stigmatise Jeremy Corbyn with claims of antisemitism since he became leader of the Labour party more than three years ago.

Corbyn is both a throwback to a socialist tradition in Britain that was killed by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s and a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. In fact, he is a major anomaly: a European politician in sight of power who prioritises the right of Palestinians to justice over Israel’s policy of oppressing Palestinians.

The Israel lobby has a great deal to fear from him in changing the political climate in Europe towards Israel.

In the UK, the ruling Conservative party has moved relentlessly to the right in recent decades, leaving the Labour party in parliament to occupy the centrist ground carved out for it during Tony Blair’s leadership in the 1990s.

Although enjoying huge support among Labour members that propelled him into the leadership, Corbyn is at war with most of his MPs. The centrists there have happily weaponised antisemitism to damage Corbyn and the hundreds of thousands of members behind him, just as Macron has against his own political opponents.

Corbyn’s own MPs have publicly accused him of indulging an “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, or even of being antisemitic himself.

They have done so even though all evidence suggests that there is very little antisemitism among Labour members – and less than in the ruling Conservative party.] Labour members, however, have felt liberated by Corbyn to be much more outspoken in criticizing Israel.

Appeasement fails

This month a group of eight Labour MPs split from the party to set up a new faction, the Independent Group, citing Labour’s supposed “antisemitism problem” as one of the main reasons. Highlighting their centrist agenda, three “moderate” Conservative MPs joined them, opposed to prime minister Theresa May’s hardline on exiting the European Union, known as Brexit. More MPs from both sides may follow.

In response, Corbyn’s deputy, Tom Watson, another centrist, backed the defectors and scorned his own party members, reiterating claims of an antisemitism crisis in the party and saying it was time to root it out.

Corbyn has repeatedly tried to appease the centrists, as well as pro-Israel lobby groups in the UK – both those inside his party like Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement, and those outside like the Board of Deputies, BICOM and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

Over apparent opposition from members, the Labour party has even accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, including the examples meant to shield Israel from criticism – all to no effect.

In fact, the more Corbyn has conceded to critics, the more his critics have trumpeted a supposed antisemitism problem in Labour.

Corbyn is slowly learning, as others are in the US and Europe, that this is not a good-faith disagreement and that there is no middle ground.

The smear industry doesn’t want safeguards on antisemitism, they want a return to a political culture in which their power was left unchallenged and unscrutinised.

For the Israel lobby, that means the revival of a political climate that existed before the discrediting of the Oslo process, in which criticism of Israel was publicly shunned and the Palestinians were treated chiefly as terrorists.

For the centrists, it requires the entrenchment of a managerial, neoliberal politics in which major corporations and the financial industries have the freedom to dictate economic and social policies and their failures are unquestioningly bailed out by the public through austerity programmes.

It is an unholy pact, and one in which Jews are being used to oil the wheels of a failed, impotent and increasingly authoritarian politics of the center.

How to be right – – – when you are wrong?

Jonathan Coulter writes about James O’Brien who runs a well-known chat show for LBC, and has just published:  ‘How to be right – – – in a world gone wrong’. 

Cover of James O'Brien bookHe takes a progressive position on a range of issues, from the position of Muslims to the fixed-odd gambling terminals, but is what I would call Progressive except on Palestine (PEP).  Moreover, he sometimes treats people deplorably, as I found in two clips where members of the public questioned views he had been propagating about antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Continue reading “How to be right – – – when you are wrong?”

FSOI urges Angela Rayner: ‘Don’t let yourself be censored’

FSOI has just sent this letter to Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, in response to the Board of Deputies attempt to censor her for citing Norman Finkelstein.

Dear Angela Rayner

I am writing on behalf of Free Speech on Israel, a Jewish led and largely Jewish group concerned that antisemitic incidents are identified accurately and dealt with but that inaccurate accusations are not used to silence needed discussion of events concerning Israel and Palestine.

We read with concern that you had been put under extreme pressure by the Board of Deputies to apologise for citing Norman Finkelstein’s book ‘The Holocaust Industry’. Professor Finkelstein’s book is indeed controversial and there are few who would agree with every point of his argument but his central theme is clear and robust.

Continue reading “FSOI urges Angela Rayner: ‘Don’t let yourself be censored’”

Tower Hamlets Council must respect right to free speech

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign issued this press release about the lobby of and petition to Tower Hamlets Council on 21 November. The lobby, supported by FSOI,  and the petition called on the Council to both challenge antisemitism and respect the right to free speech and safeguard Palestinian solidarity.

Banners at the lobby outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall
Banners at the lobby outside Tower Hamlets Town Hall

On Wednesday 21st November, a group of  residents from Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign presented a petition to the full council meeting, requesting that the council ‘Safeguard Palestinian Solidarity’ and addressed the Council in support of the petition. This was in response to the recent adoption of the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, without any caveat that would enable Palestinians and their supporters to continue to speak out freely about harmful actions of the Israeli government. Continue reading “Tower Hamlets Council must respect right to free speech”

Lambeth Council misled on antisemitism definition; threatening free speech

  • Lambeth Council amends IHRA definition on antisemitism but do not tell anyone
  • Leader Lib Peck insists that definition must be adopted unamended
  • Peck denies that definition threatens free speech but strips out all free speech protection

On Wednesday 10 October Labour led Lambeth Council adopted the IHRA definition on antisemitism without debate. They ignored pleas from a deputation of local Jews who addressed the Council about their concerns that the definition would undermine free speech on Palestine and Israel. They requested the Council to adopt a free speech declaration alongside the definition. Continue reading “Lambeth Council misled on antisemitism definition; threatening free speech”

Police ban “antisemitic” banner outside Labour Conference

Police were so angry with campaigner Pete Gregson displaying his Latuff banner at Conference that they almost arrested him. However, they were not bothered about all the other banners on display.

banner banned by police with this image that Pete used
The image Pete used on his 2m x 2m banner that the police banned

First PC 1773 had a go. Mr Gregson, a Labour activist of some 30 years standing, had spent 3 days at home making the banner using his own A4 printer and sticky-backed plastic, no small feat. He’d travelled down from Edinburgh the night before just to promote his petition at tinyurl.com/israelihra and was up at one of the entrances to Liverpool Dock on Sunday at 8.30am, with his banner erected, handing out flyers as 3,000 delegates and visitors arrived . Continue reading “Police ban “antisemitic” banner outside Labour Conference”

What is – and what it is not – Antisemitic Misconduct:

This declaration has been prepared by Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel as a contribution to the Labour Party’s consultation on its Code of Conduct on Antisemitism. It also has a wider significance.

Antisemitic misconduct page one imageThere has been extended controversy over the adoption by the Labour Party of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism. It has been widely recognised that the wording of that definition is so loose that it requires extensive interpretation if it is to be even potentially helpful for disciplinary purposes.

Our submission is based on an understanding of the nature of antisemitism which we believe avoids the obscurities and ambiguities of the IHRA working definition:

Antisemitism is a form of racism. It consists in prejudice, hostility or hatred towards Jews as Jews. It may take the form of denial of rights; direct, indirect or institutional discrimination; prejudice-based behaviour; verbal or written statements; or violence. Such manifestations draw on stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share. Continue reading “What is – and what it is not – Antisemitic Misconduct:”

Labour, Antisemitism and the news

A new report from the Media Reform Coalition, based on research by Dr Justin Schlosberg from Birkbeck’s Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, has found significant inaccuracies or misleading coverage in news surrounding antisemitism in the Labour party. Two thirds of the TV news segments analysed contained reporting errors or substantive distortion.

In an in-depth case study of 260 articles and news segments from the UK’s largest news providers (including the BBC, Guardian, Sky News, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Huffington Post), the research found 29 examples of false statements or claims, six of them on BBC TV news programmes. A further 66 clear-cut instances of misleading or distorted coverage were identified, including omission of essential facts or right of reply, and contentious claims repeated by journalists without verification or qualification. Continue reading “Labour, Antisemitism and the news”