UK: “People Have Been Weaponizing Accusations of Anti-Semitism for Political Ends”

(reprinted from Labour Internationalist, UK, issue no. 13 — December 2020; the original British spelling and grammar have been maintained)

The following article is based on views expressed to us and in the public domain, in response to the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the Labour Party and the later withdrawal of the Labour whip after his suspension was ended. This was done under a false implied accusation of “anti-Semitism” – in fact, condemning Corbyn for having supported the Palestinian people!

Corbyn’s political fall is very much of his own making. In the name of “Labour Party unity”, he refused to take the lead in the struggle to carry out the mandate given by the Brexit referendum, and has since accepted all the conditions imposed by the right-wing leadership.

But this does not prevent all those who defend freedom of political expression in the labour movement from fighting against this denial of democracy. It reinforces the need for an independent class policy in defence of the interests of the working class. If there is one lesson to draw from Corbyn’s experience, it is that the ruling class and its agents will show no gratitude to those who seek an accommodation with its needs.

Of course, this goes beyond Corbyn himself and even the problems of the Labour Party and its leadership. The issue is what forms the key focus of the OCRFI Manifesto: the struggle for even the most limited demands by working people can be fulfilled only by starting from a clear break with the ruling class, its governments and its reactionary institutions.

— The Labour Internationalist Editorial Team

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We would like to share some facts and thoughts about the withdrawal of the Labour Party (LP) whip from Jeremy Corbyn and the whole “Labour is anti-Semitic” row, and what this all means in a wider context.

When one speaks of anti-Semitism today, it evokes the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe and the Nazis. To attempt to malign Jeremy Corbyn by calling him an anti-Semite – whatever the political differences one may have with him – is at the same time intolerable and ridiculous.

We think that, in fact, the current situation has very little to do with the genuine struggle against anti-Semitism and everything to do with two separate projects which are running in parallel and sometimes overlap through both indirect and direct co-ordination.

Firstly, the real issue is not the struggle against supposed anti-Semitic trends inside the Labour Party, but the push by the Starmer leadership to silence, suspend or simply expel anyone who might oppose its collaboration with the capitalists and its Tory government in the so-called “national interest”, including the 300,000 people who joined the LP after 2015 in the hope of a new left-wing revival of the party around Jeremy Corbyn.

Secondly, this campaign is also part of a wider international campaign aimed at banning from the labour movement any expression of solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national rights, by equating that struggle with anti-Semitism. This is often referred to as the “new anti-Semitism” project in academic circles. It should be noted that many people of Jewish origin as well as entire sections of the Israeli left are also fighting in support of the rights of the Palestinians, despite ongoing attempts to write the Palestinian people out of history.

The “new anti-Semitism” project is closely linked to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. It is an inherently political project – some would argue that as the creation of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton with others, the IHRA was a vehicle for their international agendas regarding close links with the State of Israel, which necessarily spilled over into their domestic political agendas, since their imperialist perspective on Israel needed to predominate over the perspective of the anti-colonial and anti-racist left.

Today, the whole point of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is to try to redefine anti-Semitism in order to argue explicitly: “in the old days, anti-Semitism was targeted at Jewish people as Jews, but nowadays anti-Semitism is targeted at the Jewish nation, embodied in the State of Israel”. So, the IHRA definition is a clear attempt to restructure the whole debate on Israel-Palestine.

But it does not do so directly through the definition itself, but through the examples given by the IHRA which “may serve as illustrations”, and in particular: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” Applying this logic, you can say that the State of Israel is racist now, in its current laws (e.g. the Jewish Nation-State Law passed in July 2018), but you cannot say that the State of Israel itself is a racist endeavour.

At a stroke, this argument tries to erase from any discussion the basic historic fact that the State of Israel was created in 1948 as an ethno-state based on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. It aims to shift the debate away from 1948 to 1967 onwards, limiting it to the question of the Occupied Territories – in effect, saying that racism only started in 1967. And this being the case, the Palestinian people’s Right of Return is automatically excluded, just as Israel has consistently fought to exclude it from the so-called “peace process”.

What this wider project depends on is the legitimacy of those who claim to speak on behalf of “the Jewish community”, as if a person’s religion overrules any other consideration, such as social class, financial status, political beliefs, specific affiliations, etc. The fact is that just in the UK, there are dozens of Jewish organisations covering a wide political spectrum (including explicitly political organisations such as Jewish Labour Movement, Jewish Voice for Labour, Yachad, Jewdas, etc.), with all this implies regarding views on Zionism and the repression of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. But that multiplicity of views is ignored when a pro-Israel and/or anti-left project is underway.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, co-founder of Jewish Voice for Labour and the recently-suspended Vice-Chair of Chingford and Woodford Green CLP (more on this later), has highlighted (for example, in her clip dated 25 November 2020 for Double Down News on YouTube) the problem that the Jewish community tends to be treated as one monolithic bloc (“a typical trope of all forms of racism”), and the fact that if you criticise the State of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, you are branded “a self-hating Jew” or “the wrong kind of Jew”, and no-platformed and ignored by the media. She said: “The media have totally sidelined and ignored left-wing Jews. Not only left-wing Jews, but eminent Jewish scholars who have written extensively on the subject of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and demonstrated that the [IHRA] definition that is being pushed to define what is anti-Semitic is untrustworthy, faulty and actually dangerous, because it conflates being Jewish with being a supporter of Israel, being Jewish with being a Zionist.”

This is where the two projects referred to above overlap, with a detrimental effect on the real struggle against anti-Semitism. In Wimborne-Idrissi’s opinion, “people have been weaponizing accusations of anti-Semitism for political ends. The fact that this is going on seriously undermines and endangers our chances of dealing with genuine anti-Semitism.

Moshe Machover – a respected mathematician and philosopher, also a socialist activist noted for his writings against Zionism – was suspended from the Labour Party on 30 November 2020. The LP is now investigating whether his online and offline conduct represents “conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party”. In his public response to his suspension (see he-machover-suspended-again-he-has-issued-a-public-response/), Machover said: “I joined the Labour Party in 2016, when it opened its doors to socialists – who are, by definition, anti-imperialists. I regret I am now among the numerous victims of a purge driven by right-wing heresy hunters, bureaucratic enemies of free speech. But at least I can use this occasion to promote the views I have been advocating for many years; in particular, socialist opposition to the Zionist project of colonisation and the Jewish-supremacist regime of the Israeli settler state.”

Accusations of anti-Semitism were being used as a weapon before Kier Starmer assumed the leadership of the LP, as just another way of attacking political opponents. But what is new under Starmer is that he and his clique are using accusations of anti-Semitism and other things in a conscious offensive against anyone – including Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jeremy Corbyn and others – whom they consider to be an obstacle to their policy, which at this point is focused on their willingness to support the Tory government in the so-called “national interest”.

The result is that, beyond the specific LP members who are being targeted and victimised, the party itself is being ripped apart (50,000 members have resigned under Starmer’s leadership) as a party of the British working class. If this offensive is successful, and therefore gives the Starmer leadership a free hand to pursue its policy of collaborating with the Tories, it will ensure that the working people whom the party claims to represent will suffer the direct consequences of that policy. Every month, thousands of people are dying from COVID-19 for lack of sufficient testing resources and tens of thousands of people are losing their jobs and incomes, and meanwhile the clique that is leading the Labour Party is focused on suspending party members and launching disciplinary proceedings.

For example, in July the pro-Starmer right succeeded in removing Labour control of Brighton and Hove City Council and handing it to the Greens after losing three councillors in an “anti-Semitic” witch-hunt. As a result, the Labour-led campaign to prevent a local primary school being designated an academy is now in question, as well as the funding priorities for local services.

Following an internal delegate meeting of Chingford and Woodford Green CLP, held via Zoom on 30 November, the speeches by CLP Chair Gary Lefley and Vice-Chair Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi were leaked to the Jewish Chronicle. The newspaper published an inaccurate report on 1 December, and both officers were suspended shortly afterwards.

Gary Lefley said in his speech (which was transcribed and posted on the Jewish Voice for Labour website): “The government’s mismanagement of the virus has been catastrophic from day one (…). Add to this the serial corruption at the heart of government, with inflated contracts being awarded to friends, family and corporate class associates. Share values going through the roof while workers are furloughed, and while unemployment rockets and public workers’ wages are frozen. The overall picture is that of the most incompetent, unashamedly class-driven and corrupt UK government of my lifetime. (…) So why, after eight months of unrelenting government health-care ineptitude, of gross economic mismanagement and corruption, with, I repeat, the worst death toll of the 51 states of Europe, why did this catalogue of catastrophe not merit censure from the Labour Leadership? (…) Why was Keir Starmer still colluding with the government? If you think the word “collusion” is a touch strong, here are Sir Keir’s own words, spoken in interview with Andrew Marr as late as 20 September. Starmer said: (…) “I’ve reiterated the government message because I think that is the right thing to do in the national interest.” But whose ‘national’ interest? That of Rees-Mogg and his corporate buddies – or the rest of us? (…)

With the health service, the economy and millions of working people on their knees, Keir Starmer decided this was the moment to suspend the former leader of the Party, and expel him from the Parliamentary Labour Party. (…) And it is Starmer, not Corbyn, who has plunged the party into internecine warfare, when we should be exposing and combatting this vile class-driven, corrupt government, something we should have been doing for 11 months. (…)

Personally, I have no confidence in Keir Starmer to unite this Party – his leadership election pledge – in fact, he is ripping it to pieces. I do not have confidence in him to expose and defeat the Tories.”

In her speech, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi referred to the current wave of suspensions from LP membership simply for debating motions on Corbyn, after LP General Secretary David Evans had instructed members and MPs that they are banned from discussing Corbyn’s suspension from the party:

I’m absolutely horrified that one of the people suspended recently is chair of a CLP in Nottingham, Louise Regan, who is a former President of the National Union of Teachers [section of the NEU], a very well-known and respected trade union leader, still active in the union (…) of which I’m a member and several others of us are members. (…)

We’ve got a General Secretary who is making up the rules as he goes along (…). If there are people in this room who want the 300,000 people who joined because of hope delivered by Jeremy Corbyn and the movement around him, if you want all those people to leave, carry on as you are doing. If you actually believe what Keir said about being the man to unite the party, and the man who was going to stick to 10 pledges based on the previous leadership’s manifesto, then, you know, let’s hold him to that, shall we? There are motions of no confidence going in around the country to our leadership, and there is good reason for that.

The gagging edict issued by David Evans has caused an outcry across the LP. In the last two weeks, CLP Chairs and Secretaries from around the country have signed an open letter addressed to Evans, protesting at the ban on discussion of topics such as the withdrawal of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn. As of 14 December, the letter had been signed by 272 CLP Chairs and Secretaries from 187 CLPs (roughly one-third of the UK total). In the open letter, the LP officers said that David Evans’s “restrictions on items of party business that can be discussed in meetings, accompanied by threats and suspensions,” go against the fundamental human right to freedom of expression “that was long fought for and has been traditionally upheld by the Labour Party, including in our party meetings. The right to freedom of expression is not only about the right to speak but it is also about the right to listen to others and for different views to be heard. Party members should have the right to express their views, including on whether the whip should or should not be restored to Jeremy Corbyn.

So, in conclusion, let us repeat what should now be clear to everyone who has read up to this point: the experiences of LP members like Moshe Machover, Gary Lefley and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi stand as proof that the whole “Labour is anti-Semitic” row has very little to do with the genuine struggle against anti-Semitism. At the international level, it expresses the Starmer leadership’s complete alignment with the policy of imperialism, and at the national level it is an expression of the leadership’s “national unity” approach which implies the destruction of the Labour Party as a party of the working class.

 Labour Internationalist — December 16, 2020

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