This letter was sent to Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party, on 25 November.
Dear Iain McNicol
Free Speech on Israel is a Jewish led group of mainly Labour Party members formed to contest restrictions on debate about Palestinian rights and Israeli Government actions and to contest antisemitic speech and actions as well as false allegations of antisemitism.
FSOI wishes to express its grave disquiet about the current operation of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and in particular in relation to the mishandling of the case against Tony Greenstein who has a long record of both challenging antisemitism and racism and campaigning for human rights. The dossier presented to Tony Greenstein contains many robust statements and vociferous criticism of Israel’s actins but nothing that can remotely be judged as being antisemitic or uttered with antisemitic intent.
Last year Shami Chakrabarti recommended the adoption of a transparent disciplinary procedure that would uphold standards of natural justice and adhere to a reasonable time-frame. She warned against the over-use of suspension of membership and condemned the practice of leaks to the media. She specified that those subject to a complaint should be informed of its substance, and (save in exceptional cases) of the identity of the complainant, at the earliest opportunity.
The investigation of Tony Greenstein has broken each of these strictures. Tony Greenstein has been suspended from Party membership for 20 months – a length of time that is, in itself, abusive. While this case is not covered by employment law it is of note that ACAS has ruled that long suspensions are abusive and we expect the Labour Party to abide no less high standards than its affiliated unions demand of employers.
Shortly after his suspension both The Telegraph and The Times published defamatory articles about him that could only have resulted from a leak from within the Labour Party organisation. Despite this, until three weeks ago the Party had not disclosed the nature and details of the complaint against him, leaving him hanging in limbo.
On 2 November, the Governance and Legal Unit finally provided details of the case against Tony in a 189 page dossier but neglected to disclose the identities of his complainants, which is a vital component of a fair hearing. Since that time the Unit has refused to allow Tony adequate time to answer the charges against him – despite the fact that he was hospitalised in connection with a serious long-term health problem when the charges were served, and the fact that he has caring obligations towards his son who is shortly to be released from detention under the Mental Health Act. It is contrary to the principles of fairness that are the bedrock of the party that it should refuse to make reasonable adjustments to its schedule in line with the provisions of the Equalities Act. Even had he been fully fit, the time for him to prepare a response to such a lengthy document was totally inadequate.
We also wish to raise the issue of representation. Party members with sufficient financial resources are entitled to instruct a lawyer to represent them. Those who cannot afford one are only allowed to have a ‘silent friend’. This clearly discriminates against less affluent party members. While Tony Greenstein is far from inarticulate, it is clear he would benefit from having an experienced lawyer to help him present his case; representation equal to that provided to those presenting the case against him. Others going through this process are less able to present their own case; the imposed policy is doubly harsh against those both less affluent and less articulate who are denied legal support or even the advocacy of a knowledgeable friend or colleague.
We expect the Labour Party to take all appropriate action in the event of complaints against its members. But in such cases it has an equal duty of care to complainee and complainant. The investigation of complaints must meet the high standards outlined in the Chakrabarti report. It is clear from Tony’s case, and from the publicity surrounding a number of other recent and ongoing cases, that this is just not happening.
We therefore make five requests:
1) the NCC immediately disclose the identities of the complainants in its disciplinary proceedings against Tony Greenstein;
2) the NCC allow three months for Tony Greenstein to answer the charges made against him and a hearing – if required – should be arranged for a suitable subsequent date;
3) the NEC expedite the implementation of all Shami Chakrabarti’s recommendations, investigate the current workings of the Party’s disciplinary machinery and hold to account all those responsible for the abusive treatment of Party members;
4) the Party allow complainees to be represented by a non-legally qualified friend if they so wish;
5) in all future cases Charge Sheets detail how any postings or utterance cited are deemed to be antisemitic or in any other way in contravention of Party rules.