Free Speech on Israel is a predominantly Jewish Group most of whose members are members of the Labour Party. It was formed in 2016— following a series of false allegations of antisemitism made against individuals and groups campaigning for Palestinian rights—under the slogan ‘It is not Antisemitic to Oppose Zionism’.
FSOI has always recognised the existence of antisemitism both within the Labour Party and in wider society but have always argued that its prevalence inside the Labour Party has been much exaggerated: to both distract attention from Israel’s repeated breaches of international law and to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Party. Continue reading “FSOI Response to Consultation on the NEC Code”
Daniel Finn writes how, for weeks, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been the target of a defamatory campaign meant to undermine it. He describes the agents of these attacks and their unsavoury connections
Reprinted from Jacobin by permissionThe dominant narrative in the British media about Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and antisemitism is false and defamatory. Labour does not have a leadership that tolerates or encourages prejudice against Jews. It is not a safe haven for bigots. There is no evidence that antisemitic views are more prevalent in Labour than in other parties, or in British society as a whole.Anyone making those elementary points is likely to face an indignant response. Hasn’t Corbyn himself admitted that Labour has a problem? How can you deny the evidence staring you in the face? Continue reading “Corbyn Under Fire”
2. The withdrawal of all outstanding NCC witch-hunt cases
3. The immediate implementation of the Chakrabarti report recommendations on Labour’s disciplinary procedures in respect of natural justice and due process
Labour activist and co-founder of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign Tony Greenstein will shortly undergo a Labour Party disciplinary hearing over accusations of alleged antisemitic comments made online. Greenstein was suspended from Labour back in 2016 when the remarks first came to light. Greenstein has maintained the content was legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and not derogatory statements about Jews.
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. Continue reading “FSOI expresses grave disquiet about the handling of complaint against Tony Greenstein”
The claims revolve primarily around the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is there a constructive way forward?
A number of comment pieces appeared in the media, in the wake of the Labour Party’s conference of September 2017 – alleging that antisemitic incidents had occurred during the event; and that it represented the continuation of a wider problem within the party. It is not the first time that this has happened.
Jewish Voice for Labour must be greatly encouraged by the reception it received at Labour Party Conference.
As a brand new organisation with very limited resources and no paid staff, they did not anticipate the scale of its impact. Its launch meeting attracted over 300 people when JVL had been doubtful about filling a room that seats 180. As well as attracting many conference delegates, leaders of two trade unions, Unite and ASLEF, attended and pledged their support. In addition to stimulating speeches, brimming with, fact and ideas from leading Israeli academic Professor Avi Shlaim, retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley and respected Jewish socialist activist David Rosenberg, the audience heard from leading film maker Ken Loach who spoke from the floor.
The message from all the speakers was clear, consistent and enthusiastically welcomed by the audience. There are Jewish voices that the Labour party is wilfully ignoring. The party needs to listen attentively to the whole of its Jewish membership and not just those individuals and groups who defend Israel’s crimes against humanity; its occupation of Palestinian land; and its increasingly Apartheid-like regime. The message of the meeting was clear: that antisemitism is as unwelcome in the Labour Party, as it should be everywhere; but that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic. Rather, JVL continues the long tradition of Jewish defence of the oppressed and recognition of the humanity of all. As descendants of victims of oppression over centuries all Jews should join with JVL in denouncing injustice.
The impact of JVL was not only at the fringe of conference. Leading JVL members Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Leah Levane roused conference to its feet with their calls for justice and peace in Palestine and for just procedures inside the Labour Party. Their reception paved the way for Jeremy Corbyn to pledge the Party to support Palestinian rights.
Why the rule change is inadequate and dangerous
JVL applauds the Labour Party’s renewed concern with combatting discrimination within the Party and in wider society. They recognise this has been central to Jeremy Corbyn’s entire political career. While the agreed measure on this topic avoids some of the worst features of other proposals circulated, JVL is concerned that the rule change adopted may not be effective in advancing that cause and fears its misuse. It can be seen that JVL’s anxieties are around four issues.
Firstly, the rule change does not spell out how to embody the recommendations of last year’s Chakrabarti report including that there should be no trawling of ancient social media postings in the hope of targeting specific individuals; and that all processes of investigation and discipline must be transparent and follow natural justice norms. Previous experience has been of selective vision; perverse textual interpretations; opaque procedures; and media vilification preceding hearings. The Party must determine to end such abusive ways of working.
Secondly the procedures for drawing up the code of conduct have not been specified. JVL expects that the NEC will consult with all groups that may experience discrimination and with all currents of opinion within these groups. A draft of the code must be circulated to all local parties. It is a lesson from all anti-discrimination initiatives that unless there is wide involvement from the start there is no ownership of the final process and failed implementation. There are particular issues with regard to the antisemitism aspect of the code. Over the last 18 months, criticism of Israel has, too often, been taken as evidence of antisemitism in Party disciplinary cases. The code must not include proposals that would brand anti-Zionism as antisemitism. We have seen too many examples where fear of being labelled antisemitic has silenced voices that, while critical of Israel, are in no way antisemitic. The code of conduct must not be used as a way to smuggle in a draconian reading of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism.
Thirdly, it is alarming that the rule includes the notion that beliefs can be the subject of discipline. Objectionable beliefs may well give rise to statements and actions that are unacceptable. It is such statements and actions that are the appropriate object of sanction. Trying to punish belief is what Orwell derided as thought crime.
Fourthly, the new rule does not lead to a distinction that Chakrabarti clearly alluded to. Some unacceptable statements arise from ignorance and confusion and need to be addressed through education to lead the perpetrator to understand the negative consequences of their actions. Other statements and actions arise from malice and are the proper domain of disciplinary action. Neither type of hurtful action is acceptable but the way to deal with them, and to build a stronger, more inclusive party, vary.
JVL must look forward to building on its progress in Brighton and its boost in membership. It has committed itself to playing its role in strengthening the Labour Party and securing the Labour Government pledged to achieving the domestic and international justice that we desperately need.
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.
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.
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.
Film maker Jon Pullman interviewed Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Mike Cushman to produce this video on the FSOI journey to playing a vital role in defending the space for action in support of Palestinian Rights.
Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party
We can’t add more names as the letter has been submitted to Corbyn, but do indicate your support in a comment
We are writing to you as members of the Labour Party. We are a predominantly Jewish group and are writing to ask you to review your behaviour on the question of Israel/Palestine. We understand that amongst reasons given by the Labour Party for claiming that Jackie Walker, the ex-Deputy Chair of Momentum, is antisemitic, the following are included:
Regularly posting on Israel
Describing Israel as a racist state
A pattern of behaviour that causes offence to some members
Claiming that there is an antisemitism witch-hunt
Claiming that there is Israeli involvement in British politics
Saying the Right of the party is using this witch-hunt for political purposes
Saying adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism is an attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel and to silence pro-Palestinian voices
We have published a number of critiques of the Home Affairs Select Committee report on antisemitism. This is a summary of the main points made.
David Plank, former Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Social Services Committee & former Local Authority Chief Executive slates the report for:
blatant political bias
bad statistical analysis and bad investigatory practice
pillorying leading personalities then them denying them the right of reply
exploitation of a discredited definition of antisemitism
distortion of the McPherson principle on investigation of racism
deliberate and hostile focus on the Labour party and its leader
summary dismissal of the Labour Party’s own report on antisemitism & exclusion of its Chair
the committee had no terms of reference – so they were free to follow their bias
Systemic weaknesses of the report
Composition of the Committee
5 Conservatives, 3 Labour, 1 SNP, Chair. All, including the Chair, openly hostile to Corbyn, his supporters and policies. Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s questioning of Corbyn was abusive and disrespectful. Umunna was a leader of the no confidence vote against Mr Corbyn and promoted Owen Smith against him for the leadership.
The Committee ignored the submissions from Jewish groups and other organisations which contradicted the views of the Jewish establishment.
All the witnesses chosen were hostile to Corbyn (barring Ken Livingston, also under criticism)
They use a self-selecting survey of Jews on Labour Party antisemitism. By definition such surveys are unreliable and are rejected by any self-respecting statistician.
Investigatory incompetence and bad practice
They dismissed the Chakrabarti report on the basis of innuendo and refused its author’s request to give evidence.
They gave overweening weight to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and The Jewish Leadership Council but ignored the views six UK Jewish groups with opposite points of view.
Despite identifying the vast majority of antisemitic abuse as being on social media – much from a US neo-fascist group – and not from the Labour party, they then studiously ignored this and devoted all their energies to attacking the Labour Party as the receptacle of antisemitism.
The Community Security Trust, the source of the figures justified ignoring the online abuse because it would “throw their statistics out of kilter” – in other words it would produce a different result to the one they wanted!
They observe police recorded antisemitic crime is almost non-existent, and conclude that the police should investigate this under-reporting, thereby inventing offences that do not exist.
Antisemitic hate crimes were just 1% of 52,000 police recorded hate the crimes for 2016
They label the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as hard left (which demonstratively is not true) and as anti-the Israeli government, they then quote Jonathan Akush, President of the BoD, as saying their marches have fascist banners, so as to conclude it is the left which is antisemitic. They studiously ignored submissions by Jewish groups that Arkush took a minuscule display of 3-4 fascist banners (which were quickly removed) – to inflate the marches into being neo-fascist. They failed to note the presence of English Defence Leagues banners at many Zionist demonstrations.
Guilt by association
They go on to state that Corbyn attended these demonstrations to imply he is antisemitic. These are the tactics of McCarthyism; appalling practice for a Parliamentary Committee.
Attacks on individuals who had no right of reply
NUS President, Malia Bouattia, elected on a platform of Palestinian human rights;
Jackie Walker, a black Jew who stated her ancestors were slave trade merchants.
The definition was drafted by the American Jewish Committee but was never adopted by the EU
“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.”
Thus criticising Jewish property (e.g. the settlements?) becomes antisemitic.
Criticising non-Jewish supporters of Israel (e.g. US Christian Zionists or Russian emigres) becomes antisemitic. This serves to insulate Israel’s unalloyed supporters from criticism.
They worsened the definition by incorporating into it the EUMC examples:
‘Criticism of Israel can be no harsher than of any other democracy’ – a card sharper’s slight of hand: there is not one person one vote for all those governed by Israel in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli Palestinian minority do not have civil rights equal to those of the majority, but to question Israel’s democratic status would be ‘delegitimisation’ and thus antisemitic.
‘Criticism of Israel as a racist enterprise is antisemitic’. Quoting Ben Gurion,’The cleansing of Palestine (is) the prime objective”,founding Zionist Weizmann “Not one village not one tribe shall be left” or the 50 laws which discriminate against israeli Palestinians become antisemitic.
c.Israel is the core of Jewish identity, so to act against it (e.g. Boycotts) is antisemitic. This gives Israel impunity in its extensive violations of human rights. But Israel is not core to the identity of many 100,000s of Jews. Stereotyping them in this way is, ironically, antisemitic.
Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations. Note the word ‘citizen’ not ‘people’: this means such accusations of any Jewish group or even individuals could be antisemitic. And those groups that do put Israel first cannot be criticised for doing so because such criticism would be antisemitic. This is nonsensical.
Drawing comparisons between Nazis Germany and Israel is antisemitic.
But recently Ehud Barak, former Israeli President and Yair Golan, IDF Major General, have done just that. The Committee demands less freedom of speech in the UK than in Israel!
Holding all Jews responsible for Israeli policies is seen as stereotyping and antisemitic – but it is the Jewish establishment itself which makes this very conflation of Jewish & Israeli identity. The Committee endorses this hypocrisy.
Distortion of Macpherson
The Macpherson principle has three components: (i) victims of racial abuse should be believed, (ii) their allegations investigated and (iii) if found credible to be referred to the CPS for legal action. The EUMC definition ignores (ii) & (iii) and guilt can be proved on the allegation alone.