My encounter with the thought police
Tony Greenstein is still in one piece following his grilling by a Labour Party witch-hunt apparatchik
Marlene Ellis is the latest person to fall foul of New Labour’s thought police. Her offence? Putting her name to an ‘Open letter to Jeremy Corbyn’ calling for the lifting of Ken Livingstone’s suspension.1 If this was not bad enough, the letter had a section entitled ‘Context setting’, analysing the issues behind the question of Nazi-Zionist collaboration, for which Livingstone had got suspended.
The section itself is muddled and fails, for example, to understand the purpose or mechanics of Ha’avara, the transfer agreement between the Zionist Organisation in Germany and the Nazi state. Nevertheless, any discussion of the issue is so embarrassing to the Zionists that those who even mention the agreement are subject to immediate suspension.
So when Marlene Ellis put her name to a statement defending “the right for him [Ken Livingstone] to state these facts already affirmed by Jews”, her suspension was inevitable. Free speech is a luxury that the right and the Zionists cannot afford in today’s Labour Party. If it was a question of free speech for racists, then the Tory press would have queued up to denounce the enemies of freedom. However, as the culprits are black and anti-racist, the support of the press goes to Iain McNicol, Labour’s witch-finder general.
However, my own case is rather more advanced and on May 30 I finally met my very own Torquemada in the form of Harry Gregson, the Labour apparatchik responsible for the south-east. It was Gregson who interrogated Jackie Walker, the black-Jewish vice-chair of Momentum and Jackie was reinstated last week to howls of protest from the rightwing Progress and Jewish Labour Movement factions. This is a considerable victory for the anti-witch-hunt forces. Although those opposed to the witch-hunt have been slow to get off the ground, we are now, finally, getting our act together. Free Speech on Israel2 was formed about six weeks ago. It consists mainly though not exclusively, of Jewish members of the Labour Party. Those who are suspended have now started establishing contact with each other and we are planning a meeting on June 28 in central London.3
My own interrogation was tape recorded.4 I was accompanied by Christine Shawcroft of the NEC as my silent witness and the sheer absurdity of this witch-hunt was on full display. I was suspended on March 18 on the basis of comments I was alleged to have made, the details of which I was denied. I only learnt about those comments on April 2, when The Daily Telegraph and The Times published information that Labour’s compliance unit had leaked to them. Given that the details of Jackie Walker’s suspension were leaked to the Jewish Chronicle, it is clear that someone at the compliance unit is deliberately passing information to the press, whilst, at the same time, denying those suspended any details about the case against them.
Apart from an allegation that many years ago I had described the IRA bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984 as “obviously legitimate” - which, from the perspective of the IRA, it clearly was - the rest of the case against me concentrated on my alleged ‘anti-Semitism’. The irony of suspending a Jewish anti-fascist on such grounds was clearly lost on Gregson.
If someone is accused of racism and there is clear evidence of racist beliefs, attitudes or actions, then clearly there is a good reason for disciplinary action, including expulsion. But when what is involved is an opinion or discussion on a particular aspect of history, be it Jewish involvement with slavery or Nazi collaboration with the Zionist movement, then this is a classic example of the outlawing of ideas. What is happening today is in the spirit of the Inquisition - and Labour’s very own inquisitors are defining the limits of acceptable debate.
What was particularly absurd was that my interrogator did not have a clue about the things that he was questioning me about. He believed that Zionism as a movement was as pure as Caesar’s wife was alleged to have been. Hence my statement that Israel was waiting until the holocaust survivors died in order that they could avoid having to pay them benefits struck him as beyond the pale. So when I produced an article from Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper (February 6 2013) entitled “Israel is waiting for its holocaust survivors to die”, he was baffled.
Gregson, who seems to have had instructions to dig up anything he could about me to justify the initial suspension, produced a series of tweets, where, for example, I had referred to Zionists as “Zio” and called for the deselection of the local Progress MP for Hove, Peter Kyle. Gregson was unable to answer why such a call should be the subject of an investigation.
There were many other such surreal moments, and it became clear to me that this witch-hunt is not about ‘wrong’ ideas or misconceptions: it is about reversing the result of last summer’s leadership election. The means that are being employed are to destabilise the Labour Party with allegations of anti-Semitism. It is no accident that anti-Semitism has been chosen as the main weapon of the Labour right. Jews in Britain are not economically or politically discriminated against and a largely prosperous, upper-middle class group. As William Rubinstein has observed, “the Jews may become the first ethnic group in history without a working class of any size.”5 Jews do not experience state racism - they are white politically. Opposition to ‘anti-Semitism’ has become the false flag, the bogus anti-racism, of the right. This is a form of anti-racism that poses no threat - quite the contrary - to the operation of capitalism.
And ‘anti-Semitism’ has been redefined, so it no longer means only antagonism to Jews as Jews, but opposition to the ‘Jewish’ state. That is why the Zionists have invested so much time and effort into defending the discredited European Union Monitoring Committee ‘working definition on anti-Semitism’, which defined anti-Semitism as including precisely such opposition to the existence of the Israeli state. But this unsustainable definition was removed by the EUMC’s successor body, the European Fundamental Rights Agency, from its website.6
Racism is not a set of prejudices or attitudes so much as a system of power relations and exploitation, in which members of a particular group experience economic, political and social discrimination, often accompanied by violence, racial profiling and a hostile media. Jews suffer from none of this. Anti-Semitism in Britain is not so much a form of racism as a marginal prejudice.
The major cause of what remains of anti-Semitism in Britain today is Israel, the ‘Jewish’ state. Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis recently argued: “One can no more separate [Zionism] from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.”7 In other words, Zionism and Judaism, Zionists and Jews, are synonymous. Is it any wonder then that a minority mistakenly target Jews in revenge for Israel’s barbarous behaviour against the Palestinians?
It is ironic therefore that the right in the Labour Party has now disqualified Rhea Wolfson, the only Jewish candidate, from standing in Labour’s national executive committee elections at the urging of Jim Murphy, the Blairite ex-leader of Scottish Labour. Rhea Wolfson is that rarest of creatures - a Zionist supporter of Corbyn and Momentum, but her constituency, Glasgow Eastwood, refused to nominate her for the NEC. Murphy alleged that Wolfson was allied to the “anti-Semitic” Momentum. Ironically her candidature was supported by the JLM, which has turned false allegations of anti-Semitism into an art form.
Personally I had opposed the left support for Wolfson because in my view she is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Her Jewishness, which meant so much to Jon Lansman, Momentum’s chairperson, is irrelevant. An open Zionist is a dangerous ally.
Talking of Jon Lansman, he continues to play a treacherous role. In the course of the witch-hunt he has given sustenance to the idea that anti-Semitism is a problem in the Labour Party. He has held secret negotiations with JLM and Labour Friends of Israel and has disowned the term ‘Zionism’ in deference to his Zionist friends.8 Notwithstanding his obeisance, those Zionist friends sought the suspension of Momentum’s deputy chair, Jackie Walker, on the grounds of ‘anti-Semitism’ for daring to mention Jews and slavery in the same breath.
Lansman has de facto come out as a Zionist. In a truly atrocious article for Left Futures he cited the imperialist record of the British Labour Party: its 1944 conference supported the transfer of Palestinians from Palestine (the resolution was drafted by Hugh Dalton, an ardent supporter of the Zionist maximalist aims of establishing a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan river and the Sinai peninsula). According to Lansman this justified the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians in 1947-48.9 To Lansman the population transfers in the aftermath of World War II and the holocaust justified the Nakba. Lansman’s removal as chair of Momentum is one of the key prerequisites to winning the fight against the witch-hunt - a fight which is going to be crucial to defeating the right inside the Labour Party.
On a somewhat brighter note, Brighton and Hove Momentum held a large meeting last week at which Jackie Walker, who had just been reinstated, and Ian Saville of the Jewish Socialists Group spoke. It is a testament to the right’s fear that their campaign might unravel that the event was leafleted by people from the far-right Sussex Friends of Israel and a lone Progress supporter. However, it was an excellent meeting and not one person from the floor suggested that there was an ‘anti-Semitism’ problem in the Labour Party. Despite the media barrage and the cowardice of Lansman and Owen Jones on the question, most people understand only too well what the motivation of the right is.10
3. If anyone is interested in attending, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. The transcript can be accessed at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HyyaL5n7l_ReK4Aou7wf5TzC0CNa_CxttSSPhdN6ZTg/edit.
5. WD Rubinstein The left, the right and the Jews London 1982, p51.
6. See www.timesofisrael.com/eu-drops-its-working-definition-of-anti-semitism.
7. See www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/03/ken-livingstone-and-the-hard-left-are-spreading-the-insidious-vi.
10. For once the Jewish Chronicle report was quite fair! (www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/158884/jacqueline-walker-claims-her-suspension-labour-was-part-a-conspiracy).