Category Archives: witchhunts and expulsions

Rothschild and irrationality

Carla Roberts looks forward to the May 4 members meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt

Any event that Labour Against the Witchhunt is putting on these days is likely to be – correctly – described as timely. The witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn and his leftwing supporters has now become daily and normalised. In the run-up to the local and European Union elections rightwingers in and outside the Labour Party have been busy scrolling through the Facebook and Twitter accounts of Labour candidates in particular. Naturally, they have been hugely successful in discovering ‘problematic’, often historic, posts (that were not considered problematic at all a few short years back).Liverpool council candidate Sam Gorst, for example, is now under investigation for alleged “anti-Semitism”, because it appears he tweeted something “in defence of former London mayor Ken Livingstone”. His accounts have been deleted, so we cannot tell you more about it – but if that is all, then clearly the compliance unit is going berserk. Remember, Livingstone resigned from Labour after the national executive committee decided to readmit him after a one-year-suspension. The right wing cried ‘foul’ and the Corbyn leadership was in agony over what to do with Ken. He resigned to spare Corbyn any more blushes – to no avail, of course. Because Corbyn and his allies have continuously given in to the witch-hunters rather than standing up to them, Livingstone is now ‘known’ to be an anti-Semite (as is Corbyn himself, of course).

Corbyn has also – again – been put on the defensive after somebody found that in 2011 he wrote a forward to a new edition of John A Hobson’s hugely influential 1902 book Imperialism – a study. Corbyn praised it as “a great tome”, which is “brilliant, and very controversial at the time”. Hobson was a liberal anti-war journalist who later joined the Independent Labour Party and developed a theory of underconsumption to explain capitalism’s vicious repeating cycles of bust and boom. He was also (probably) the first person to explain that the development of imperialism was the direct result of capital’s need for constant expansion. His book had an influence on Lenin, Trotsky and many socialists to this day. In 2014, The Guardian described it as the “definitive book on imperialism”.

For the Daily Mail, however, this 400-page seminal work is nothing but a “century-old book, which argued that banks and newspapers were controlled by Jews”; and Daniel Finkelstein in The Times describes it as a “deeply anti-Semitic book”.

In fact, it is a single paragraph that riled up Finkelstein (who kicked off the whole business) and it does not come “a few pages in”, as he claims – but at the end of chapter 4, where he states that, “while the new imperialism has been bad business for the nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation” and goes on to describe those who “benefit from aggressive imperialism and militarism”.

He starts by listing the most obvious companies – those who produce weapons. Then there is “the shipping trade” and those from the ruling class who take up “the numerous official and semi-official posts in our colonies and protectorates”. Not to mention “the investor, who cannot find at home the profitable use he seeks for his capital, and insists that his government should help him to profitable and secure investments abroad”.

This is the context in which Hobson writes: “… still more dangerous is the special interest of the financier, the general dealer in investments”, who “use stocks and shares not so much as investments to yield them interest, but as material for speculation”. These “great businesses” were “controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience”. He asks: “Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European state, or a great state loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it?” (my emphasis)

Of course, 120 years ago, Hobson would have used the word “peculiar” in its original meaning of “distinctive” or “characteristic of a particular group” – not in its modern sense of “odd” or “eccentric”. But no doubt he did mean the ‘Jewish race’. The point is, however, he was writing at a time when anti-Semitism was prevalent and acceptable within the ruling class. As a Labour press officer is quoted as saying, “Similarly to other books of its era, Hobson’s work contains outdated and offensive references and observations.”

But do these phrases mean that the book as a whole has no value? It is quite likely that Corbyn did not even read the whole book, but, like many others, knew of its historical importance – and, of course, as Labour’s press officer said, “Jeremy completely rejects the anti-Semitic elements of his analysis.” But there is a real danger that the current hysteria sparked by the witch-hunt is robbing people of any sense of proportion, history and rationality. Will the likes of the Daily Mail and Finkelstein start demanding the suppression of the writings of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and John Buchan – all redolent with anti-Semitism?

Clearly, there is tons of work to do for a campaign like Labour Against the Witchhunt.

Controversies

The members’ report produced by LAW’s steering committee for the May 4 meeting in central London makes for impressive reading. Since January 1, the campaign has produced dozens of model motions, petitions and campaigns in defence of Labour members who have been investigated, suspended, expelled and/or falsely accused of anti-Semitism – among them Chris Williamson MP, Jackie Walker, Asa Winstanley, Liverpool councillor Jo Bird and Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, who the NEC refused to endorse as parliamentary candidate in South Thanet.

No doubt, most prominent and effective has been LAW’s campaign for the reinstatement of Chris Williamson, who is unfortunately the only MP who has dared to stand up to the witch-hunters (and the only one who has campaigned for the democratisation of the party). LAW has managed to debunk as “fake news” the so-called ‘ban’ on Labour Party branches and CLPs discussing and passing motions in solidarity with Chris and has produced detailed advice on the issue on its website. At least 27 CLPs, eight Momentum branches and “dozens of left Labour and trade union organisations” have since come out in public support with Chris and are listed on LAW’s website, alongside supportive statements that the group has collected from Ken Loach, Alexei Sayle, Lowkey, Mike Leigh and many others.

The campaign, which has “close to 400 members”, has also managed to extract a rare apology from the Mail on Sunday over its malicious reporting of the March 25 ‘Defend the left’ meeting, where it reported Livingstone as saying: “It is not anti-Semitic to hate the Jews of Israel” – even though he was merely quoting one of the ridiculously false charges made against him! After hundreds of people complained, the paper had to print an apology. Ken Livingstone has since become honorary president of LAW, alongside founding member Moshé Machover.

LAW has also campaigned against the Labour Party’s adoption of the ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, publishing a detailed position paper outlining its opposition and a number of model motions on the issue, while also highlighting a number of cases where the IHRA definition has been misused to discipline and expel union members and even sack people from work. So far, it has not been used in disciplinary cases in the Labour Party, but that is probably only a matter of time.

Slightly more controversial has been LAW’s petition fighting for the overdue implementation of the reformed trigger ballots, about which we previously reported. Not all LAW supporters seem happy with what they see as the campaign going beyond its original remit of fighting the witch-hunt.

We disagree. The Parliamentary Labour Party is stuffed with careerists, Blairites and witch-hunters, who are openly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn and have been busy sabotaging his leadership from day one. Given the chance, members in most localities would have chucked out rightwing MPs years ago. But now the NEC – in an attempt to stop more rightwingers from defecting to Change UK – is dragging its heels when it comes to implementing a timetable for trigger ballots (which is the only way a sitting MP can be deselected). Should there be another snap election without re-selections, the PLP’s political composition will probably remain unchanged. Almost 1,500 people have signed the petition, so there is clearly some appetite for this important issue.

Similarly, some LAW supporters have criticised the fact that the May 4 meeting will discuss a motion on ‘George Galloway and EU elections’. The motion objects to Galloway’s call for a vote for “Nigel Farage’s Brexit party”, because it is “a vote for rightwing chauvinism and an anti-migrant stance”. It also emphasises that LAW – of course, given the name and its campaigning priorities – calls for a vote for the Labour Party.

Judging by the number of those, including some LAW supporters, who have expressed sympathy for Galloway’s call, I think it will be useful to discuss the issue. There are plenty of illusions on the left that Corbyn can introduce ‘socialism’, once Britain has finally been able to free itself from the ‘shackles of the EU’. This is not just mistaken about the way global capitalism works, but also a serious misunderstanding of Corbyn’s rather reformist and tame politics.

The meeting will also discuss if Peter Gregson should be expelled from LAW. In the past, the campaign has published a number of statements in Gregson’s defence – for example, protesting against his expulsion from the GMB union – while also criticising his often slapdash use of language. In March, Gregson posted an update to one of his petitions, which he also sent to a number of LAW members and supporters, in which he urged people to read the article, ‘UK’s Labour anti-Semitism split’, by Ian Fantom (founder of the Keep Talking campaign).

As LAW’s Tony Greenstein then pointed out in a long email exchange with Gregson, in this article Fantom makes reference to “my colleague, Nick Kollerstrom”, who “had been targeted in a witch-hunt” for a positive review he wrote of a book about Auschwitz and the “gas chamber illusion”. Tony advised Gregson to take down the reference to Fantom’s article, arguing:

The title of Kollerstrom’s article – ‘The Auschwitz “gas chamber” illusion’ – speaks for itself. But anyone with any doubts needs simply read the first sentence: “This essay will argue that well-designed cyanide gas chambers were indeed present at Auschwitz, and did work efficiently, but that they were operated for purposes of hygiene and disinfection, in order to save lives and not take them.”

Tony goes on to explain why this is not a question merely of ‘freedom of speech’: “It is incredibly damaging for LAW or anyone else to have the slightest contact with you if you maintain these links and I would ask for an immediate assurance that you will cut these links.”

To cut a long email exchange short, Gregson refused Tony’s request and as a result Tony deleted him from the ‘Unofficial LAW Facebook group’, where he is the main administrator. Gregson then stupidly published the whole exchange on his website (including bad-tempered comments by LAW members who wanted to be deleted from the exchange), where it was picked up by the Jewish Chronicle, which gleefully reported the whole disagreement.

As the steering committee’s motion proposing Gregson’s expulsion points out, “We do not believe that Peter Gregson should be expelled from either the GMB union or the Labour Party. These are broad organisations of the working class that contain many different viewpoints.” But LAW, however, is a campaign with a rather narrower political focus and therefore needs to “confront any hint or trace of genuine anti-Semitism in our ranks. We do not wish to be associated and tainted with holocaust denial”.

Left

In its lead motion, LAW quite rightly calls out the Corbyn leadership’s “short-sighted and futile attempt to appease the right”, which “can only undermine the Corbyn leadership and often plays into the false ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ narrative”. Momentum is described as “unfit for purpose”.

Therefore, LAW will support efforts to

build an alternative Labour left that organises democratically and transparently; both supports Corbyn against attacks by the right, and is independent and able to criticise the leadership when necessary; and is consistently anti-racist and internationalist – a stance which by definition includes anti-Zionism and supporting the Palestinians.

The steering committee proposes a campaign for the “disaffiliation of the Jewish Labour Movement from the Labour Party and for Labour CLPs and trade union branches to affiliate to LAW and Jewish Voice for Labour”. I understand that there will be at least one amendment opposing the first part of the sentence.

We welcome the fact that LAW proposes to campaign for “the scrapping of all bans and proscriptions” within Labour, because “if the mass of socialists in Britain joined the party, it would put us in a much stronger position in the ongoing civil war within the party”.

We are looking forward to what is shaping up to be an interesting meeting, though it could well get rather heated at various times. But that is not a problem. Meetings within the labour movement should feature open discussion around controversial issues. Instead of burying our disagreements thanks to compromise formulations, we need to debate them out honestly.

Jackie Walker: next victim of the witch-hunt

Jackie Walker was expelled by a supposedly ‘leftwing’ panel, notes Carla Roberts

After a suspension that has lasted over two and a half years, Jackie Walker has finally been expelled from the Labour Party by its disciplinary body, the national constitutional committee (which richly deserves its alternative description of ‘national kangaroo court’). Although the panel took two days to come to its conclusion, the result was as predictable as it was unjust.

The leadership of the Labour Party should hang its head in shame over Jackie’s treatment. By not clearing her (and not clearing her much, much sooner), it has allowed her to be dragged through the mud and be insulted as an anti-Semite and racist on a daily basis. By standing idly by while rightwing rags like the Jewish Chronicleand the Daily Mailhave heaped lie after lie onto Jackie, it has also prevented her from receiving any kind of fair hearing (tellingly, the Jewish Chroniclewas informed of the NCC verdict before her solicitors). It was impossible for anybody not to become prejudiced in such a drawn-out and publicly fought campaign.

Just three days before the beginning of her hearing, Margaret Hodge MP clearly outlined what was at stake. In an inflammatory Daily Mail article, referring to comrade Walker as “John McDonnell’s ‘anti-Semitic’ ally”, Hodge is quoted as saying: “It’s extraordinary that it has taken so long to bring her to an expulsion hearing. Tough action must be taken, but one expulsion will not solve a far deeper cultural problem that has infected the party.”

So not only must Jackie be expelled: more will have to follow. Many more. That is the real tragedy at the heart of this whole farce, of course. Whatever Jeremy Corbyn and his allies do to appease the right, it will never be enough. They have to deliver the next scalp, and then the next. We will undoubtedly see similar demands over Chris Williamson MP.

This campaign will not and can never end … at least not until Corbyn is finally replaced. As a self-declared socialist and, crucially, an outspoken supporter of the rights of the Palestinians, he is and remains an unreliable ally from capitalism’s point of view. Painting him and his supporters as anti-Semitic has been the key weapon in this struggle. And it has been incredibly successful – because Corbyn has allowed it to be. It really beggars belief that he stillwill not say a public word on the injustice heaped on some of his key supporters like Chris and Jackie.

Jackie Walker never had a chance of a fair hearing. Not just because of the massive pressure from the right to get rid of this woman, who has dared to call the witch-hunt … a witch-hunt. That was, incredibly, part of her charge sheet, as was her legal challenge against the party for breaching the data protection act by leaking her personal information to the press. As she outlines in her well-written and clear public statement, highlighting some of the injustices she has experienced: “I am being charged for defending my rights.”

The key charges centred on her now infamous comments at a training session organised by the Jewish Labour Movement at the Labour Party conference in 2016 (where she was secretly filmed, with the footage passed to the press). She details the allegations in her statement – they are so obviously weak and pathetic that it is unsurprising that the investigating officers felt the need to include all sorts of other, equally pathetic, auxiliary charges.

Her case clearly outlines some of the serious shortcomings when it comes to the procedures in the party’s disciplinary process. For example, the investigating officers added a number of charges to her case a mere three working days before the hearing, making it pretty much impossible for her to counter them effectively. Her request that she should have a chance to respond to those allegations first before they were included in the charge sheet was met with the comment: “Natural justice does not require that she also has the opportunity to respond at an investigatory stage.”

I am not a lawyer, but I would have thought that for a hearing to be properly informed the panel would need to be aware of the accused person’s initial response to last-minute charges. Giving them a fighting chance to defend themselves effectively is pretty much at the heart of the concept of ‘natural justice’.

We do also have to wonder about the party’s motives for including in the evidence pack, statements and complaints provided by people who do not just criticise Jackie – but do so clearly on a basis of racist prejudice. The investigating officers managed to redact the names of the complainants – but they left statements in the charge sheet that include intros like “[JW is] a white middle class woman with dreadlocks” and “Walker – who claims to be part-Jewish”. Even the written statement provided by the party’s only witness, Mike Katz – leading member of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement – contains the sentence: “JW uses her self-identification as a black woman and a Jew as cover to put her beyond criticism …” (my emphasis).

That is an incredibly dumb statement by the usually so eloquent Katz – not just because Jackie clearly isa black woman, who also has Jewish heritage (her mum was a black Jamaican Sephardi Jew and her dad a Russian Ashkenazi Jewish). But he also charges her with exactly what the Zionist lobby has been trying to achieve all along: to label any criticism of their views or tactics as inherently anti-Semitic and therefore illegitimate.

Definition?

Talking of which, it is also interesting that the NCC clearly had trouble proving that Jackie had indeed ever said or written anything anti-Semitic. The party could not apply the disputed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, because the charges relate to an incident in 2016 – ie, before the national executive committee adopted it.

But, had they applied this – or anyother definition of any kind – they would have failed in their attempts to successfully convict her. Clearly, she is not guilty of “hostility or prejudice against Jews” (Oxford English Dictionary) or “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group” (Merriam Webster Dictionary) and she also does not fit the bill when it comes to Brian Klug’s definition: “hostility to Jews as Jews”.

So instead it was explained that the test to be applied in Jackie’s case “does not require the NCC to engage in a debate as to the proper definition of anti-Semitism”, but rather whether an “ordinary person hearing or reading the comments might reasonably perceive them to be anti-Semitic.” (my emphasis)

In reality, of course, this is a Zionist’s wet dream of a definition. Not surprisingly, it is also pretty close to the definition that the JLM has been fighting for – and which the NEC and Labour Party conference 2018 actually rejected.

The JLM’s efforts here are based on a misapplication of the recommendations of the MacPherson report (produced after the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993). MacPherson recommended that, when a victim or someone else perceives an attack or hate incident as racially motivated, then the police must record it as such: ie, as possibly racially motivated. Pro-Zionist organisations in and outside the Labour Party have been working hard to change this into something quite different. The JLM, for example, tried to force through a rule change at the 2018 Labour conference, which wanted a “hate incident” to be “defined as something where the victim oranyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity or sexual orientation” (our emphasis).

The compromise formulation eventually adopted by the NEC (and subsequently by conference) enshrines the need for some kind of – you know – evidence: “… any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on disability, race … ”

Again, the party would have a hard time proving Jackie’s guilt with this definition. And in the end they decided to throw her out on charges of “misconduct” instead, and thereby also discovered a certain “pattern of behaviour” – ie, she just would not shut up! This does not bode well for Chris Williamson MP, who is also charged with a “pattern of behaviour”.

The final straw for Jackie came with the panel’s refusal to allow her to read out a “brief opening address”. The panel had to adjourn the meeting to discuss with its four lawyers and their assistants what to do about such an incredible outlandish demand. Despite announcing that this would be an “informal meeting” and that Jackie should call the NCC’s Russell Cartwright by his “first name”, it was not quite informal enough to allow her the chance to make a brief statement.

Leftwing?

And that despite the fact that the panel looked – from the outset – like a leftwing one. Russell Cartwright is treasurer of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (we hear that some of his CLPD comrades are far from happy that he took on this role). Anna Dyer, who is actually the interim chair of the NCC, is described by the Jewish Chronicleas a “Unite union activist”. We must confess we know little about her or her politics, apart from the fact that she was elected to the NCC in 2017, thanks to a place on the so-called “left slate” put out by the Grassroots Centre Left Alliance.

The GCLA is dominated by the CLPD and Momentum, and exists only to put forward ‘centre-left’ candidates in Labour internal elections. (‘Centre-left’ is a very stretchy term, of course. For years, the GCLA slate for the NEC featured Ann Black, who played a leading role in robbing thousands of members of a vote in the leadership elections, following the first coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn.)

Momentum owner Jon Lansman and CLPD leader Pete Willsman have recently fallen out rather spectacularly, when Lansman dumped his comrade of 40 years over ridiculous allegations of playing down anti-Semitism (what else?). Lansman has, of course, now become a fully fledged witch-hunter; Willsman is, despite those allegations against him, very mealy-mouthed when it comes to the witch-hunt. The CLPD might have put out a brief statement in support of Chris Williamson MP, but it also sent out – uncritically and without comment – the old piece of advice by general secretary Jennie Formby that has mistakenly been interpreted as a ban on Labour Party branches and Constituency Labour Parties moving motions in support of Chris. Labour Against the Witchhunt has exposed this as fake news – but still Pete Willsman is refusing to correct his mistake, despite being urged to do so by LAW. In other words, many – if not most – of the candidates on the various ‘left slates’ have been, at the very least, questionably leftwing.

It is therefore not a huge surprise that the Jewish Chronicle describes Anna Dyer as, in fact, a rightwinger and “having a reputation for being independent”. The paper writes that the third panellist – Alan Tate from the Communication Workers Union, who “is reported to be ‘undecided’ on the allegations” – is “likely to be the casting vote on Ms Walker’s conduct”.

So the Jewish Chronicleplaced Dyer on the right, Cartwright on the left and Tate in the centre. It is a sad testament to the politics of the GCLA that it supported somebody that even the JC thinks can be relied upon to expel Jackie Walker on baseless charges.

We are also less than impressed with the conduct of Russell Cartwright. He was on the NCC panel that back in 2017 found Ken Livingstone guilty of three charges of “bringing the party into disrepute” and decided to extend his suspension for another year. This was no doubt supposed to be some clever plan to sneak Livingstone back into the party 12 months later and to avoid his expulsion (which Rose Burley, the rightwinger on Livingstone’s NCC panel had demanded). But, of course, by then the campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism had grown so massively that Livingstone had no chance. Rightwingers were furious over the impending readmission and Livingstone resigned in the face of a massive media shit-storm. Clearly, by conceding that Livingstone was guilty, the NCC panel had helped to seal his fate.

Maybe the ‘leftwingers’ on Jackie Walker’s panel would have tried something similarly ‘clever’. We will never know. Testing this out and thereby exposing the CLGA’s deeply flawed methods of supporting ‘centre-left’ candidates might have been one of the few advantages of Jackie sitting through her two-day disciplinary hearing. Some might arguethat, by walking out, she let the panel and the party off the hook.

But no doubt the outcome would have been the same in any case. By exposing the total lack of natural justice at the heart of her case with a fantastic, spirited party of well over 100 people outside her hearing, she has certainly gone out with a very loud bang. We doubt this will be the last we hear of Jackie Walker … l

After Jackie walked out of her kangaroo court hearing

 

[1]. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6841057/Shadow-chancellor-John-McDonnells-anti-Semitic-ally-expelled-MPs-warn.html.

 

[2]. www.labouragainstthewitchhunt.org/campaigns/press-release-by-jackie-walker-denied-right-to-speak-in-her-own-defence.

 

[3]. Ibid.

 

[4]. http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/humpty-dumpty-and-anti-semitism.

 

[5]. https://labourlist.org/2017/09/left-slate-wins-huge-victory-in-race-for-key-labour-committee.

 

[6]. www.labouragainstthewitchhunt.org/campaigns/there-is-no-ban-on-moving-motions-in-support-of-chris-williamson-mp.

 

[7]. www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/long-suspended-labour-activist-jackie-walker-will-not-face-any-antisemitism-charges-1.482124.

 

Corbyn should speak up

Labour HQ has decided upon yet more suspensions. Carla Roberts reports on the appalling consequences of appeasement

Tom Watson’s inaugural meeting of rightwingers in parliament this week certainly looked quite impressive in terms of numbers – there are reports of up to 140 people present, including between 60 to 80 current Labour Party MPs, among them “at least 13 members of the shadow front bench”. But dig a little deeper and the thing looks decidedly uninspiring.

Despite its name, ‘Future Britain’, this outfit is looking firmly back towards the past: “I feel that the voice of the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions hasn’t been strong enough in recent times,” said Watson. Darren Johnson, MP for Bristol North West, expanded: “This is the coming together of the TBs and GBs.” So we presume Tony Blair is supposed to be the social democrat and Gordon Brown the democratic socialist? Have we got that right? It does not matter, really. “Even some of Watsons’ supporters remain unsure what his ultimate intentions are,” writes The Guardian, not known as a friend of Corbyn’s.

Apparently, the group wants to “concentrate on policy development”, move alternative papers to those of the national policy forum and other such exciting things. The New Statesman believes that Tom Watson is “in effect trying to provide a support network and safe space for Labour MPs contemplating life outside the party”.

They can call it what they want, but we know that it is part of the ongoing slow coup against Corbyn. They know they cannot challenge Corbyn in a leadership contest, because they are bound to lose. The membership is still firmly on his side. So Future Britain is very much part of the campaign to kill Corbyn’s leadership through 1,000 cuts, as is the formation of Chuka Umunna’s The Independent Group. In and of themselves, they would not amount to much.

But they have to be seen within the exceptionally successful and very much ongoing campaign to paint Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites. This was the only muck that ever really stuck – because Corbyn and his allies allowed it to stick. They bent over backwards to try and prove to the right that they would take the allegations seriously and ‘sort it out’ – when clearly it was only ever a miniscule problem, reflecting the low-level prejudice and racism that exists in wider society.

But, by suspending one person after another on false and trumped-up charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ (or expelling them for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’) and by adopting the much-disputed definition of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the party could only ever achieve the opposite: ie, it is demonstrating that Labour has indeed a ‘huge problem’. The fact that 12 members have been expelled over anti-Semitism does not prove that the party is dealing with that problem – but that it has let off the other 661!

Now the Jewish Labour Movement, which has sadly voted to remain a part of the Labour Party for now, has succeeded in getting the government quango, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to open an investigation into the Labour Party over anti-Semitism. And at the same time – as if to show how important such an investigation is – the compliance unit seems to have lost all sense of proportion.

Not only have automatic suspensions for the most minor of accusations been reinstated – in clear contravention to what Shami Chakrabarti recommended following her inquiry. We have also seen members being suspended for even questioning the claim that there is a big anti-Semitism problem in the party.

For example, part of the case against Jackie Walker (whose expulsion hearing takes place on March 26) is that she described the witch-hunt against her and others as … “a witch-hunt”. That charge was, of course, added after her suspension. So fighting back against your suspension becomes part of the charge sheet against you – that is clearly against all natural justice and reeks of Kafkaesque madness.

New victims

These are just some of the latest suspensions that we have become aware of:

– Councillor Stuart Porthouse, former mayor of Sunderland, was suspended for sharing an interview with George Galloway on Sky News, in which the former MP said the party was not-anti-Semitic.

– The suspension of Chris Williamson MP also clearly falls into this category: he is not charged with saying anything anti-Semitic, but questioning if the party’s tactics were wise.

– Councillor Jo Bird from the Wirral has been suspended for making a number of jokes, like changing ‘due process’ to ‘Jew process’ (she is Jewish herself).

– Sean McCallum, mayoral candidate in Mansfield, has been suspended on the basis of two 25-months-old tweets questioning the origins of a meme that Naz Shah MP had posted three years ago.

– Asa Winstanley, investigative journalist with the Electronic Intifada, has been suspended for calling out the Jewish Labour Movement on Twitter: “Israeli embassy proxy the JLM confirms it was responsible for the referencing of Labour to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for supposed ‘institutional anti-Semitism’. Shameless sabotage of the party.”

– Last but not least, we are also seeing a new attempt to ‘get’ eminent Middle Eastern expert Moshé Machover, who John Mann MP and the JLM first tried to have suspended back in 2017, after we reprinted his article, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, in our Labour Party conference issue of Labour Party Marxists. But the compliance unit did one better and expelled him under clause 2.1.4.B (‘Exclusions’) in the party’s rulebook. You see, because comrade Machover attended meetings organised by LPM and the CPGB, it was seen as ‘proven’ that he was a member of LPM, CPGB (or both) and therefore not eligible for membership of the Labour Party.

Comrade Machover, however, managed to get not only some very pointed lawyer’s letters to the compliance unit: his expulsion also led to an international outcry and the party was flooded with supportive statements and resolutions. Within 30 days, the party reinstated him as a full member. The original charge that his meticulously researched article was anti-Semitic was never looked into, “because you are not currently a member of the Labour Party”, as his expulsion letter stated.

This week though, the Jewish Chronicle is fronting another attempt to get him on those allegations. As part of the campaign to charge Jeremy Corbyn with ‘interfering’ with disciplinary cases, the JC reminds its readers of comrade Machover’s crime: “He quoted Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the final solution, to support the notion that the Nazis supported Zionists before the holocaust.” I mean, where do we get if we actually start quoting sources to make a point?

The JC has also dug up a number of newish quotes from comrade Machover, “who has continued to make controversial remarks”: for example, “Mr Machover also claimed Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs had driven an ‘immense public campaign’ in the UK against Labour’s new guidelines on anti-Semitism.”

That is, of course, common knowledge – as well as the fact that the pro-Zionist lobby put enormous pressure on the party to accept the disputed IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, including all 11 examples. The paper also quotes from a speech at Labour Against the Witchhunt’s conference, when he “compared incidents of anti-Semitism in the party to the hunt for paedophiles – suggesting eventually someone will be found”.

Of course, he did not “compare” the two. As opposed to the hack from the JC, I was actually there. Comrade Machover said: “… of course there are some anti-Semites in the party, just as no doubt there are some paedophiles, but it is definitely not the major problem it has been portrayed to be”.

None of these so-called accusations would hold up in any bourgeois court system. But unfortunately, we cannot be sure of what kind of madness has broken out in the compliance unit – we would not put it past them to suspend comrade Machover too. Having accusations printed in the Jewish Chronicle is usually the first step in the campaign to get somebody suspended – Asa Winstanley first learned of his own suspension from that rag. Comrade Machover, however, is not one to go down quietly. The compliance unit might well stretch itself too far with such a move – which could have all sorts of unintended consequences.

We hear that Jeremy Corbyn is getting increasingly unhappy about some of the recent suspensions – especially that of Chris Williamson MP. How much longer can he simply watch, as one of his supporters after another is handed over to the witch-finders in the compliance unit?

Yes, he is a prisoner of the rightwingers in the Parliamentary Labour Party and it is true that even his long-term ally, John McDonnell, now appears to have fully jumped on board the ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis bandwagon (which Momentum’s owner, Jon Lansman, has been sitting on for quite some time).

But Corbyn still has a voice – and he is, after all, the reason why hundreds of thousands of members have joined the party. If he spoke up – publicly – in support of Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson, Jo Bird, Moshé Machover and Asa Winstanley, he could make a massive difference to the outcome of the civil war in the Labour Party.

Reinstate Peter Gregson

The use of the IHRA ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism to expel a union activist marks a new low, writes David Shearer 

On March 6, a shameful precedent was set when it was confirmed that Peter Gregson, a GMB shop steward in Edinburgh, has been expelled from his union for his political opinions.

In September 2018 Gregson launched a petition for Labour members, which has been signed by almost 1,600 people, declaring Israel to be “a racist endeavour”. This was, of course, intended as a direct challenge to Labour’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which lists precisely this expression among its ‘examples’, along with six other forms of criticisms of the Israeli state. According to the IHRA, all seven such examples are ‘anti-Semitic’.

His appeal against expulsion was heard on March 5, and the following day he was informed by the GMB’s central executive council that it had been rejected. The CEC letter states: “whilst you have every right to your freedom of speech, … you continued to post online and send emails against the decisions and policies set out by the governing authorities of the union …” In other words, “your freedom of speech” doesn’t apply when we tell you to shut up.

Gregson comments: “I have been expelled for breaching the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, for I failed to ‘cease and desist’ in promoting ‘anti-Semitic views and material’, when I was told to by the GMB Scotland secretary … and am therefore in breach of the rulebook.”

I will return to the details of the case below, but first it is necessary to outline the reasons why this decision is particularly outrageous. The aim of a union is to organise all workers in a particular sphere of employment, irrespective of their political views. Whereas a party is obviously defined by its politics, and clearly must have the right to decide which particular political opinions are compatible with its overall trajectory, that most certainly does not apply to unions.

The reason for this is obvious. While we must aim to win over the vast majority of union members to principled working class politics, the necessity for such political organisation will become clearer as a result of workers initially accepting their common class interests, as opposed to those of employers and the bourgeoisie in general. So unions must not vet members for their political opinions: it is to be accepted that these will vary enormously and – especially in the current climate, where forms of populist nationalism are on the rise – a minority of workers will have racist and even fascistic views.

However, these should only result in disciplinary action if it is clear that they have impacted directly on union organisation. If, for example, a member of a far-right grouping was elected as a local union official and began discriminating against black or other members, that person would have to be removed from their post (preferably through the actions of the local membership). But expulsion must only be implemented as a last resort – if, say, a member, whether as a result of their political views or not, attempts to sabotage agreed union actions and is clearly working against the interests of the overall membership.

It goes without saying that this is not such a case – to put it mildly – with Peter Gregson. The rightwing leadership of the GMB is in reality importing the Labour witch-hunt into the union – it adopted the IHRA ‘definition’ itself immediately following its adoption by Labour’s national executive on September 4, so that now, in the union as well as the party, anything but the mildest criticism of Israel is declared to be “anti-Semitic”.

In addition to spreading the message that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, Gregson was also found guilty of breaching another IHRA ‘example’: “Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the holocaust”. He admits that he has accused Israel (as opposed to Jews) of “exaggerating the holocaust” and quotes the former Israeli minister of education, Shulamit Aloni, who said in an interview: “Well, it’s a trick – we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticising Israel, then we bring up the holocaust …” But Gregson adds: “I most definitely do not accuse [Israel] of exaggerating the numbers – six million Jews died in the crime of the century.”

Just for good measure, Gregson – who is also “under investigation” by the Labour Party – was found “guilty of a direct attack on one of the GMB’s employees”. No, not a physical attack – he had “singled out” for criticism Rhea Wolfson as the person most likely to have initiated the disciplinary action against him. He stated (correctly) that Wolfson, a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, is “an avowed Zionist”. As a result he was accused of “targeting” her “because she is Jewish”.

It goes without saying that, while Gregson is not anti-Semitic, he can certainly be criticised for his eccentric politics – in the words of Jewish Voice for Labour, he is a “loose cannon”. For example, he admits that his initiative can be described as a “death-wish” petition, in that it is “sticking two fingers up to the NEC” by “brazenly breaking the IHRA rule”. He adds: “It is important now for more of us to come out and openly breach the IHRA, whilst never being anti-Semitic in the true sense of the word.”

Such brazen defiance is a matter of tactics, of course, but it must be said that in current circumstances it is not exactly a wise move. Firstly, the forces opposing the witch-hunt are extremely weak and are hardly in a good position to mount a successful challenge of this sort. Secondly, the “death-wish” petition does the right’s work for it by identifying hundreds of Labour members as easy targets.

Gregson also makes himself a target through his inappropriate choice of words. For instance, he has claimed that “Jews” in Britain have “leverage” because of what he describes as a general feeling of guilt over the holocaust. When this clumsy phrasing was criticised by JVL – surely it is the Zionists, not undifferentiated “Jews”, who would try to turn any such sentiment to their advantage? – he was not prepared to admit his error or change his wording. His response is: “… we suffer in the UK from holocaust guilt. Thus, all Jews have leverage, whether they want it or not, because all Jews were victims.”

However, we must not let this hold us back from defending him.He is a victim of a rightwing witch-hunt, aimed at defeating the left and regaining control of the party for the Blairites.

Jo Bird and Chris Williamson: Fake outrage, fake accusations

The civil war in the Labour Party is at a critical stage, writes Carla Roberts

What do these four jokes have in common?

1. Here are the rules of being Jewish, as I understand them. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Don’t eat pork. What was that last one? Don’t question it, God has spoken. Really, has he? Or is it just pigs trying to outsmart everybody?

2. I’ve often wondered that if I grew up in Poland when Hitler came to power and I was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women? I think I would – “Hey, Shlomo, did you see that one by Barracks Eight? I’ve had my eye on her for weeks. I’d like to go up and say something to her. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK?’ Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp.

3. People think that Ebenezer Scrooge is Jewish … well, he’s not. But all three Stooges are.

4. Jewish Voice For Labour is calling for disciplinary hearings to be paused until a due process has been established, based on principles of natural justice. What I call Jew process … Seriously, one of the things that does worry me is the privileging of racism against Jews, over and above – as more worthy of resources than other forms of racism. That’s bad for the many – as well as bad for the Jews.

No doubt you know the answer. They have all been told – or sung – by Jewish people: Jon Stewart, Larry David, Adam Sandler in his ever-evolving Chanukah song, and, last but not least, Wirral councillor Jo Bird, who has just been suspended for her remarks after the Jewish Chronicle ‘exposed’ her joke, made at a meeting in support of Marc Wadsworth 10 months ago.

We could quote plenty more Jews poking fun at Jews, of course, starting with Woody Allen’s films Hannah and her sisters (which is all about his Jewish character having a spiritual crisis, exploring other religions) and Annie Hall (in which he imagines being a Hasidic Jew and in a split screen takes the mick both out of dinner time at a secular and an Orthodox Jewish household). Or how about Sacha Baron Cohen dressing up as Borat from Kazakhstan, singing in front of a bar of clapping and cheering Americans: “Throw the Jew down the well, so my country can be free. You must grab him by his horns, then we can have a big party.”

In his book Jokes and their relation to the unconscious, Sigmund Freund famously considered Jewish humour unique, in that it is primarily derived from self-critical mocking of the in-group (Jews) rather than the ‘other’. Or, in other words, they are self-deprecating jokes. There are dozens of modern books analysing the best Jewish jokes. A couple of years back, the Jewish Chronicle printed “the greatest Jew joke” of all time, told by Jerry Seinfeld:

Two gentile businessmen meet on the street. One of them says, ‘How’s business?’
The other one says, ‘Great!’

Apparently, this joke “confounded his hosts and audience members alike”. But: “Here at the JC we think we know why it’s funny.”

Is it because Jerry Seinfeld is not a member of the Labour Party? Otherwise he would be a raving anti-Semite, taking the piss, as he does, out of Jews being good at business and arguing at length about it (and everything else).

Would the Chronicle still dare to print this today? Or an article with the headline, ‘Jew know why we love Annie Hall?’ Who knows? But they certainly felt the need to claim outrage over Jo Bird’s remarks – with, of course, the now obligatory comment by Rachel Riley of Countdown fame. The TV presenter is particularly enraged by Jo Bird’s efforts to humorously ‘update’ the famous poem by pastor Niemöller: “Absolutely aghast listening to JVL’s Jo Bird. Take a poem about the holocaust, remove the Jews, to replace them with persecution of anti-racists and anti-Zionists.”

The Jewish Chronicle echoes her ahistorical outrage by complaining:

In her version, the poem no longer features the famous “First they came for the Jews” line, which instead is replaced by Ms Bird with “Then they came for the anti-Zionists. They came for the socialists, but they couldn’t get us because we were having a party, the Labour Party,” she says, to loud applause and laughter.

This is actually quite ironic, because Niemöller’s original poem does not start with Jews. In fact, the version “authorised” by Niemöller (according to the Martin Niemöller Foundation) does not feature Jews at all. This is the verified version of the part of the speech that he first gave around 1946:

“Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.”

Communists, social democrats and trade unionists – nobody else. The Martin Niemöller Foundation, which has gone to great lengths to historically examine the quote, laments how “the quote is still frequently being used and modified rather carelessly, which explains its ongoing popularity”.

If Jo Bird’s modification of the poem proves that she is anti-Semitic, then surely the same applies not just to the Jewish Chronicle, but pretty much everybody on the planet who has ever used the quote.

As an aside, Niemöller is a funny one for Zionists to laud. When he was asked in the 1960s why his original poem had not listed Jews, the foundation explains how he described how “he couldn’t have listed the Jews: he was already interned in a concentration camp when the biggest persecution waves took place”. Niemöller was first interned in the Sachsenhausen camp in 1937. He was later moved to Dachau and only released at the end of the war in 1945. True, the Reichskristallnacht of November 9 1938 is often seen as the key moment in the persecution of Jews in Germany, when 30,000 Jews were interned, hundreds murdered and thousands of shops and houses smashed up, while the police watched on. But, of course, Jews were already suffering extreme oppression before 1938. But Niemöller openly stated that – compared to the prosecution of communists, social democrats and trade unionists – the prosecution of Jews simply did not feature on his radar.

This does reflect in part how history has been rewritten after World War II (along with the poem) to wrongly portray Jews as the main and often only target of the Nazis. But it also reflects Niemöller’s own rightwing politics. He was in fact an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi takeover in 1933 and remained one for years. He shared much of the common and widespread anti-Semitism at the time. In 1935 – the year Jews had their citizenship rights taken away by the Nürnberger Gesetzehe gave a rather shocking sermon on the occasion of Israelsonntag:

“We speak of the eternal Jew and see the picture of a restless wanderer, who has no homeland and cannot find peace; and we see the picture of a highly talented people that produces idea after idea designed to delight the world; but whatever it starts turns into poison and what it reaps is always contempt and hate, as the deceived world recognises the fraud and takes its revenge ‘in its own way’. ‘In its own way’, because we know very well that there is no licence that empowers us to help along God’s curse with our own hatred … ‘Love thy enemy’ does not allow for any exceptions.”

He was certainly no friend of Jews – and you can just imagine what kind of criticism the Niemöller of 1935 would face today. But the fact that he is still held in such esteem by Zionists underlines the fantastic success of their efforts to rewrite history.

Chris Williamson

Jo Bird’s suspension follows hot on the heels of Chris Williamson’s. Both suspensions are so utterly ridiculous and without any rational foundation that you do wonder if Iain McNicol has not sneaked back into the general secretary’s office. Certainly it seems that the ‘honeymoon period’, when it comes to the long overdue reform of the disciplinary process, is at an end. For example, as demanded by the Chakrabarti report, automatic suspensions had stopped. Instead, members retained their membership rights while the investigation into their case was ongoing. Do Williamson and Bird really pose such a threat to other members that they have to be prevented from attending Labour meetings? Of course not.

Their suspensions are unfortunately yet more evidence of how incredibly successful the right has been in its campaign against the left in the party. We hear from a number of sources that Jeremy Corbyn did indeed try to stop Chris Williamson’s suspension, but that he and general secretary Jennie Formby came under immense pressure – and sadly, not just from the right, but also his (former?) allies, John McDonnell and Momentum owner Jon Lansman, both of whom have been publicly leading the campaign to continuously appease the right over the anti-Semitism smear campaign. A day after Williamson was suspended, Momentum circulated a scabby ‘Anti-Semitism open letter’, which was clearly drafted in response to Williamson’s remarks – made, ironically, at a meeting of Momentum’s Sheffield branch. He was suspended for having said:

The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I have got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that, because in my opinion … we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic … We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any other party.

How could anyone interpret this as downplaying the necessity to oppose anti-Semitism? However, the phrasing of the Momentum letter, although Williamson was not named, seemed to echo some of his vocabulary, with the meaning reversed:

We recognise that as a movement we have been too slow to acknowledge this problem, too tolerant of the existence of anti-Semitic views within our ranks, too defensive and too eager to downplay it. We sincerely apologise to the Jewish community, and our Jewish comrades in the party, for our collective failure on this issue to date.

This has Jon Lansman’s fingerprints all over it. It has been signed by about 1,000 people (though we have heard of complaints that people were signed up without their consent, while others featured numerous times). In any case, that figure has been dwarfed by the numbers who have signed open letters and petitions in support of Chris (for example here and here)- and those demanding the removal of Tom Watson as deputy leader of the Labour Party (which has close to 20,000 signatories). Even the petition demanding that “Momentum must ditch Jon Lansman” has almost 800 signatories.

Another Corbyn supporter to have come under fire in the last few days is Darren Williams, one of the few actual leftwingers on Labour’s national executive committee. As secretary of Welsh Labour Grassroots, he distributed the organisation’s statement defending Chris Williamson. Stephen Kinnock MP has demanded that Williams should be suspended, “because political interference in political disputes [!] is not allowed”. We presume Kinnock, who clearly is not the sharpest tool in the box, meant to say ‘disciplinary disputes’, but he would still be wrong.

He is apparently referring to the much-quoted “instruction” said to have been recently circulated by Labour HQ, in which “Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, has warned constituency parties, the NEC and other Labour Party bodies that disciplinary cases against individuals are confidential and should not be discussed”. Or so the BBC reports.

It appears, however, that an overly keen London regional organiser took it upon herself to copy a paragraph from an old email of Formby’s and send it out as “recent advice”. This was then picked up by Labour List and has since been distributed, uncritically and without any comment, by some other regional officers – and, sadly, by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (which is run by Pete Willsman, who was himself falsely accused of playing down anti-Semitism).

Labour Against the Witchhunt reports that it has been in touch with “at least a dozen” branch and CLP secretaries who did not receive any advice from Jennie Formby or their regional officers. Of course, should anybody phone Labour HQ, they would probably be told that this is indeed the current advice. But this is rather different from Jennie Formby sending out an email in response to the widespread anger over Chris Williamson’s suspension. And in any case, it it is still only ‘advice’.

Comrade Williamson is enormously popular in the party – his ‘Democracy Roadshow’ in favour of mandatory reselection and other democratic reforms has brought him into close contact with thousands of members up and down the country. Having undergone quite a dramatic political transformation from Blairite to Corbynista, he is now the only MP who still dares to speak out in defence of the many members who have been suspended and expelled on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism or ‘bringing the party into disrepute’.

As I have pointed out, thousands signed petitions and open letters within days of his suspension. We know of six CLPs that have issued public resolutions condemning the decision (and we know of a couple of others who decided not to publish their resolutions after the media shitstorm hit Hackney North CLP). In many more branches and CLPs, members have tried to put motions forward, but were prevented by their chair, who said they could not be “allowed”.

This is the actual quote from Jennie Formby, which was, we believe, sent out in relation to Marc Wadsworth’s suspension and subsequent expulsion from the Labour Party in April last year:

Please note that individual disciplinary cases that are being dealt with through the NEC disputes processes are confidential. Motions on individual cases are therefore not competent business for discussion at CLPs and will not be discussed by the NEC or any associated bodies.

Even if this had been new advice given out by Formby, we would still make the following points about it. Firstly, the suspensions of both comrades Williamson and Bird have been publicised by every British news outlet, with rightwing MPs falling over themselves to make their outrage heard. The cases have not been treated as “confidential” by those who have leaked the news and have thereby quite clearly become “competent business” for branches and CLPs to discuss.

Sure, the NEC might not discuss such resolutions. But it is pretty doubtful if that body, meeting every two months for a few compressed hours, spends much time discussing any branch and CLP resolution. On the other hand, every resolution and statement published that speaks out against the witch-hunt in the party adds an enormous amount to the political pressure on Labour HQ.

In any case, it is always up to the members of any Labour Party meeting to decide what should be discussed and which motions should be voted on. LAW has published useful information on how to move a motion or emergency motion and what to do if your chair refuses to table it. Comrades should not be intimidated by this attempt to silence them.

Lord Falconer

The formation of the Independent Group and Tom Watson’s efforts to put together a merry band of Blairite MPs have played a huge role in the suspensions of Chris Williamson and Jo Bird (as they did in the apparent decision to delay the publication of guidelines on trigger ballots – which is the only way local members can get rid of their rightwing, anti-Corbyn MPs).

The civil war in the Labour Party has reached a critical point and the case of Williamson in particular is of extreme importance. Whichever way the decision on his disciplinary case goes, it will have huge implications: should he be cleared, we can expect more rightwing MPs to walk, amid yet more accusations of “institutional anti-Semitism”. But, should he be expelled, that would do huge damage to the ‘Corbyn project’ and would no doubt lead to massive demoralisation among Labour members (the majority of whom joined to support the leftwing politics of Jeremy Corbyn). Expelling Williamson would be a dramatic symbol of the victory of the right over the left. It would also represent a massive defeat for Corbyn himself. The next attempted coup against Corbyn will happen before long – but how many people will still be left in the party to fight his corner or vote for him?

Unfortunately, the Labour leadership still does not seem to grasp this pretty basic reality, despite the fact that the civil war is currently being played out in branches up and down the country. What else shall we make of the attempt to appoint Lord Falconer to lead yet another inquiry on anti-Semitism? As an attempt to put a lid on the anti-Semitism ‘scandal’, it has backfired rather spectacularly – and deservedly so.

The mere fact that there will be another inquiry plays straight into the hands of the right, who have been saying all along that Corbyn and Formby are incapable of understanding even what anti-Semitism is and that their disciplinary process therefore cannot be relied upon.

It seems the main qualification for the job of leading the inquiry is that the candidate must be a rightwinger. Lord Falconer certainly seems to tick a few boxes there: he is an arch-Blairite, was a member of his former flatmate’s war cabinet and even provided the legal advice that was used to take Britain into war against Iraq. His legal advice was also used in moves to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers. In an interview with The Sunday Times (March 3 2019), Falconer went out of his way to show that he was the right man to see off the left:

The most frightening thing is the profound and almost universal sense within the Jewish community that the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn are anti-Semitic. They feel they are not safe … because the potential prime minister and the main opposition party are anti-Semitic.

Well, that certainly does not sound like he has much of an open mind on the matter. And what exactly is “the Jewish community” that apparently feels unsafe in the Labour Party? There is no such thing, of course. There are pro-Zionist Jews and anti-Zionist Jews – and that is just for starters.

Falconer also promised to reopen investigations into “stone-cold cases” of anti-Semitism, including allegations made by pro-Zionist MP Louise Ellman against leftwing members in Liverpool Riverside.

But nothing Corbyn and Formby can do now is considered good enough in the ever-growing campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. So we hear from the usual suspects like Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth that Falconer is unacceptable, because he is a member of the party. Only a really “independent person” could lead such an inquiry … We presume they mean somebody as ‘independent’ as those running the Jewish Board of Deputies, the organisation that organised the anti-Corbyn ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration outside parliament.

The current civil war can be resolved in only one of two ways: either the left or the right will win. Muddling on for the sake of some sort of ‘unity’ will not remain an option for much longer – even for Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Drama about Luciana Berger: Open the second front!

The public spat involving Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party, the media and sections off the Labour right might may seem to be just the latest skirmish in the slow coup that has been underway since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. All the usual elements and players in the drama are present: the allegations of anti-Semitism, the demand by the right for suspensions and expulsions, the lurid media stories about bullying and intimidation – and a rather weak response from the Corbyn leadership in the face of an open attack on the rank-and-file members who support him. So have the events of the last fortnight been any different from the countless other attacks launched by the right and their friends in the media over the last four years?

In the last edition of this paper Carla Roberts explained very well the context for these latest attacks on the Labour left (‘Split – and split now!’, February 7). The growing political challenge to the Blairite rump that still controls the Parliamentary Labour Party; the increasing possibility of successful trigger ballots replacing rightwing MPs with Corbyn- supporting candidates; and the possibility of a snap election – all have concentrated the minds of the Labour right wonderfully, as they contemplate a somewhat uncertain future. Whilst some, undoubtedly, want to hold on to their seats for careerist or personal reasons, others are looking to the future and (for them) the appalling vista of a Corbyn government. They need to keep all the MPs they can to continue their work of sabotage and undermine any hint of radicalism, should Labour be successful at the polls. The capitalists need a reliable fifth column inside our movement and Tom Watson and company are just the ticket. So trigger ballots and the composition of the PLP are crucial issues for them, as well as their friends in the media and the boardrooms.

Another important factor is that the appointment of Jennie Formby has seen some relaxation in Labour’s internal regime. Under the previous general secretary there was a ‘Shoot first and ask questions later’ approach: unfounded allegations against individuals and CLPs were met with summary expulsions and suspensions. Anyone who stuck their neck above the parapet risked disciplinary action, resulting in a reluctance to criticise or engage in debate on contentious issues.

Many on the left counselled caution: ‘Don’t rock the boat; if you do speak out, our CLP will be shut down and members expelled’ was a frequent cry. ‘Keep your heads down and wait for better days, and trust in Jeremy,’ many left comrades advised. Well these are better days and it is now that we should fight back against the right and their rearguard action to hold onto power. For these reasons alone the controversy surrounding Liverpool Wavertree is not just another episode in our four-year civil war. For all sides in the battle the last few days represent a qualitative shift to a new phase.

The sequence and pattern of events in the Wavertree affair now seems clear. Two motions of no confidence in the arch-Blairite MP, Luciana Berger, were tabled by members of the CLP. Although signed by only four members of the party, they reflected widespread oppositiontoherpositiononanumber of important issues, ranging from her support for Israeli actions in Gaza to her uncritical support of the Tory government’s posturing over the

Salisbury poisonings.
However, the main thrust of opposition was twofold: one key issue was her refusal to categorically deny persistent media reports that she, along with a number of other Blairites, were preparing to leave Labour and set up a new putative centrist grouping. The second, equally significant issue for members of the CLP was her similar refusal to confirm that she would support a Corbyn- led Labour government. Usually reliable sources in Liverpool suggest that she was asked directly at a CLP meeting whether she would back such a government and, it is alleged, she evaded the question and refused to give a direct answer.

It may seem terribly old-fashioned to the Blairite sophisticates who write Guardianopinion pieces offering advice to our movement, but ordinary members in Wavertree seem to think that it goes without saying that a Labour MP should publicly proclaim their support for a Labour government and should not evade the question, whether it is put by Eddie Mair, Robert Peston or a party member at a CLP meeting.

Crisis

In terms of this drama, so far, so normal. The next act also had a familiar pattern to it. The motions of no confidence were circulated to members in advance of the all- members meeting by the CLP secretary. Given the importance of the issue and the possibility that Luciana Berger might not be able to attend the scheduled meeting because of parliamentary commitments, the CLP’s executive agreed that these motions would be taken at a special weekend meeting. It was at this point that the familiar chorus walked on to the stage and began their song
of woe. Following a leak of the CLP’s internal communications to the media, the local newspaper, The Liverpool Echo, ran a story about the motions.

This was followed by a solo performance on the stage of the House of Commons by that celebrated keeper of the Blairite true faith, Tom Watson. He deliberately and quite inaccurately linked the no-confidence motions to Lucian Berger’s public statements on anti- Semitism, suggesting that a virulent gang of racists in Wavertree CLP was trying to silence her. In a virtuoso performance delivered with all the sincere aplomb of a polished actor, he spoke of a “hateful, bullying culture”, which was not only “threatening towards Luciana personally”, but was “bringing our party into disrepute”. He later wrote to Jennie Formby to “take the necessary steps to suspend Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party” because of this “intolerable” behaviour. This trope of linking the political criticisms of Berger to anti-Semitism was repeated ad nauseam by media commentators and Labour’s right wing over the next few days. Liverpool Labour mayor Joe Anderson, shadow education spokesperson Angela Rayner and Guardiancolumnist Owen Jones all joined in, as did the usual suspects in the PLP. We were all invited to ‘stand with Luciana’ against the anti-Semites who were trying to bring her down. Once again the drama was following a predictable script.

But a new twist in the tale began to emerge. In response to the furore, John McDonnell made a clear defence of Wavertree CLP’s right to hold its MP to account and denied that anti-Semitism played any part in the tabling of the motions. He argued that it was Berger’s refusal to support a future Corbyn-led Labour government or rule out joining another party that had caused the crisis. Speaking to the BBC, he suggested that all she had to do was publicly deny that she was planning to leave the party and the issue could be swiftly put to bed.

Other left MPs, such as Ian Lavery, also showed support for the CLP. Most significantly, Jennie Formby responded to Watson’s demand for the suspension of Wavertree by rejecting his call, arguing that there were no grounds at all for doing so. This was a new and (for Watson and the right) a most unwelcome development. The other actors in the performance were not following the script at all! Big Tom’s stature was much reduced.
Just when it looked as if the action on stage was withdrawn, the movers explaining that they had been under sustained media pressure and harassment since their personal details had been leaked to the media. Again such bullying, undertaken by the media and instigated by the Labour right, was neither unusual nor unexpected. Neither were the attempts by the media to further muddy the waters and attempt to smear the CLP chair, who is Jewish, and other activists with claims of anti-Semitism.

According to sources in Liverpool – confirmed by some media reports – there was another, less expected perhaps, series of pressures on the movers of the no-confidence motions and the CLP. This appeared to come from figures close to the Corbyn- McDonnell leadership, who were urging that the motions be withdrawn. It was also suggested that, whilst leading figures on Labour’s left supported the right of CLPs to hold their MPs to account, now was not the time to move no-confidence motions, especially when such a high-profile opponent as Luciana Berger was in the firing line.

Fight back

So there the performance seems to have ended. The motions were withdrawn; the media continued digging around on Facebook, Twitter , etc for profiles of anyone in Wavertree whose name had been passed on to them by the Labour right; stories continued to appear, and Wavertree CLP was brought up at a PLP meeting by the Labour right as yet another example of the rampant anti-Semitism they see everywhere.

However, the curtain has not quite come down on this show yet. In fact it will run and run, because the underlying issues that it raises have not gone away. The Labour right and their friends in the media played their part, as expected, but some aspects of the left’s part in this drama need looking at critically. Whilst the support that the Corbyn leadership and the general secretary gave to Wavertree CLP was welcome (and a distinct improvement on previous statements in cases such as Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth), it still left plenty of room for improvement. Put simply, the Labour right launched a pre-emptive strike against Wavertree as a direct challenge to the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left.

We cannot wish this away by urging caution or restraining members who want to hold Blairite MPs to account. If we do not begin the fightback now, we will have to fight even harder if Labour wins an election and the inevitable sabotage of a Corbyn government begins. If Luciana Berger and her fellow Blairites do not do the job for us by joining a new centrist party, we have to help them on their way by using any new trigger ballot procedures to replace them with socialists committed to the historic goals of our movement.

There is a civil war going on in our party, initiated and vigorously perused by the Labour right – let us recognise that fact and take them on in a fight to the finish. Now is not the time to compromise: now is the time for the Corbyn leadership and the whole of the Labour left to take the fight to the enemy within. In the war against the Labour right, it is time to open the second front.

LAW conference: Standing up to the right

David Shearer reports on the threats, debates and decisions at Labour Against the Witchhunt’s first conference

The first national conference of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which took place in London on February 2, was a success, with around 50 comrades from around the country attending.

That, of course, is not a huge figure, but in view of the various attempts made to sabotage the event, it was excellent that so many were determined to come along, despite the snowy conditions. The conference was originally to have taken place in a church hall in west London, but, just two days before the agreed date, the booking was cancelled. The normal threats and accusations of anti-Semitism were made. According to the email received by LAW, the venue was “not really appropriate for such a conference, bearing in mind safeguarding and security issues”.

It goes without saying that the anti- Semitism allegations are totally false. It is true that among those attending were comrades who had been falsely accused of anti-Semitism, in the witch-hunt driven by the Labour right and backed by the establishment, but no such allegations have been upheld against any of them. In fact Moshé Machover – an Israeli Jew who was summarily expelled from Labour in 2017 for writing an article noting the collaboration that occurred between German Zionists and the Nazis – was quickly reinstated following the outrage this called.

Another speaker was Tony Greenstein – another Jew accused of anti-Semitism because of his staunch anti-Zionism. But in his case too the allegations were quietly dropped – although he was eventually expelled from the Labour Party under the catch- all charge of “bringing the party into disrepute” – basically for being ‘rude’ online. Then there was Jackie Walker, whose case has not yet been heard (see below).

Fortunately LAW booked an alternative venue, but, in order to avoid further malicious threats, the location was not publicised. It comes to something when a democratic campaign has to keep details secret – comrades were asked to meet outside a nearby tube station. Unsurprisingly, however, people were followed. We had a little reception committee, including a well known member of the far-right Britain First. One his Zionist chums filmed herself screaming, “Why do you call Jews Nazis?”

Extremist

Opening the conference was LAW chair Jackie Walker, who has recently been named by the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society as an “extremist figure”, comparable to Tommy Robinson. She described this as a “hate campaign that puts my quality of life at risk”. In other cases, she said, people had lost their jobs, and at least one person had even attempted suicide.

Suspended from Labour since November 2016 merely for saying she knew of no definition of anti-Semitism she could work with, comrade Walker – another Jewish comrade (she pointed out that there were a disproportionate number of Jews who were victims of the witch-hunt) – has now learnt that the hearing is finally expected to take place on March 26-27. But she still does not know what exactly she is accused of and who her accusers are.

Despite the disgraceful nature of this campaign, comrade Walker noted, some on the left had been complicit – not least Momentum owner Jon Lansman. She predicted there would be a “miraculous change” if the right succeeded in removing Jeremy Corbyn – Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ problem would suddenly disappear.

Our first session discussed a motion entitled ‘The slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn’, which was introduced by comrade Machover and investigative journalist Asa Winstanley of The Electronic Intifada, who emphasised how false claims of anti-Semitism have been weaponised in order to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. As comrade Winstanley put it, “They’re trying to defeat the man by demoralising, splitting and defeating the left movement supporting him.”

Comrades Winstanley and Machover were both supposed to be introducing the steering committee motion, but, in my opinion, it was unnecessary to have two people doing that job. Comrade Winstanley in particular took up a lot of time going back to the beginning of the anti-Corbyn campaign, which began three years ago. He highlighted the role of the Israeli government and described Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement as “proxies for the Israeli embassy”. He quite rightly pointed out that such people should have no place within Labour.

Comrade Machover talked about Corbyn’s “big mistake” in not challenging the smear campaign. Yes, of course, there are some anti-Semites in the party, he said, just as no doubt there are some paedophiles, but it is definitely not the major problem it has been portrayed to be. Corbyn should have said right from the beginning, “This is clearly not about anti- Semitism”. Comrade Machover went on to point out that Israel and Zionists claim to speak on behalf of all Jews, but we need to combat that through political education, and not react against the Zionist lobby in a way that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

When the debate was opened up to the floor, one comrade pointed to the positive signs – at the Labour conference, Palestinian flags had been raised on numerous occasions in the hall – and the members knew what the truth was, he said. In the end McCarthyism was discredited in the United States and surely the same would happen with the parallel campaign here in Britain. In reply to this, comrade Walker agreed that support for the Palestinians within Labour was positive, but that did not mean that the mass of delegates were strongly opposed to the witch-hunt.

For his part John Bridge of Labour Party Marxists also warned against any complacency. Anti-Semitism had now been redefined to mean ‘criticism of Israel’ – Labour’s national executive has gone along with that by adopting the International Holocaust Alliance so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism – including all 11 of the “examples”, seven of which relate to criticism of Israel. Comrade Bridge concluded that what we are seeing could be “only the beginning”: we might even see legislation based on the IHRA, which would criminalise such criticism.

The motion was carried unanimously.

IHRA

In the afternoon session, comrade Greenstein introduced the steering committee motion on the IHRA, whose actual ‘definition’ is limited to stating that anti-Semitism “may be expressed as hatred toward Jews” (my emphasis – yes, that really is as far as the ‘definition’ goes). The real purpose, stated comrade Greenstein, was to “equate everything but the most benign criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism”.

Glyn Secker of Jewish Voice for Labour also spoke on the IHRA from the platform, even though he is not a LAW member. He pointed out that he had lost a whole generation of his family in the holocaust, yet he is still accused of anti-Semitism for his critique of Zionism – there is a deep conflict between Zionists and “revolutionary socialist Jews” like himself, he said. Yet, while there was an outcry against such “manufactured anti-Semitism”, asked comrade Secker, where was the mainstream campaign against the growth of the far right?

Another comrade, speaking from the floor, thought that “the train has left”, in that the IHRA had now been adopted by Labour. So it was best not to continue campaigning against the whole IHRA definition, but to demand the ditching of the examples and their replacement by the JVL’s own code of conduct. However, Tina Werkmann – a member of the LAW steering committee – stressed that the IHRA symbolised the political collapse of the Labour left – it had to be opposed “in its entirety”. Comrade Bridge agreed and added: “In the middle of a witch- hunt, silence is as good as complicity.” That is why we need to be critical of Jeremy Corbyn, he said.

Because the motion drafted by comrade Greenstein quoted a dictionary definition of anti-Semitism in contrast to the IHRA nonsense, conference – quite unnecessarily in my view – spent a long time discussing alternative definitions. Several last- minute amendments were drafted in relation to that. But, as one comrade asked, why does LAW need a definition at all? We are a campaign against the witch-hunt – that is why we are opposed to the IHRA, which equates anti-Zionism with anti- Semitism. But that does not mean we have to agree on the precise wording of a replacement definition.

When the vote was taken, however, all amendments to that effect were defeated – although some minor changes to the wording were accepted and the motion, as amended, was carried unanimously. Two motions from Pete Gregson were also passed overwhelmingly: the first called for support for targeted activists and the second was a model motion on opposition to the IHRA. Once again there were attempts to insert references to a particular alternative definition of anti-Semitism.

Because so much time had been taken by this – and by platform speeches – there was very little time left for what turned out to be the most controversial debate – over LAW’s draft constitution. While most of it was clearly approved by those present, there were two alternative and mutually contradictory amendments to the steering committee draft. After the sentence, “The national all- members meeting (including conference) is the highest decision- making body of LAW and it elects the steering committee”, comrade Werkmann proposed to add: “A simple majority at any all-members meeting can decide to appoint or recall a member of the steering committee.”

Comrade Greenstein’s alternative amendment on the steering committee sought to delete, “It elects its own officers and sub-committees” and replace this with a provision for the four main officer posts to be elected by “the annual general meeting”. Most controversially, he proposed adding: “Officers can be recalled by a two-thirds majority of the all-members meeting” (my emphasis).

Ironically, comrade Greenstein claimed that we had to guard against LAW being taken over by some sect, which might be able to mobilise its supporters to turn up at a poorly attended members’ meeting and vote off the committee a member who had been democratically elected at an AGM. That was why there must be a two-thirds majority to recall an officer or committee member, he contended. In reality, the opposite is the case. Rather obviously, such a requirement would make it more likely that the will of the majority of members was thwarted. For example, if we assume that the attendance at Saturday’s conference was exactly 50, it would only have needed 17 of those present (whether members of the same ‘sect’ or not) to veto a decision favoured by a substantial majority, if comrade Greenstein’s proposal had applied.

Fortunately, however, it was comrade Werkmann’s amendment that was carried (by a narrow majority), which meant that comrade Greenstein’s automatically fell. Clearly a good number of comrades have not grasped the benefits of genuine representative democracy and hopefully the article accompanying this one – William Sarsfield’s ‘Real workers’ democracy’ (which outlines the case, in particular, against the allocation of individual officer responsibilities by the entire membership, as opposed to the committee itself) – will help bring out those advantages.

All in all, as I pointed out at the start of this report, the conference marked a step forward for LAW – and struck a blow against those who have sought to cow the left in order to return the Labour Party into safe, Blairite hands.