Zionism cannot be appeased
Jon Lansman’s coup was an act of desperation. No credibility should be given to his imposed constitution, argues Tony Greenstein
The recent Al Jazeera series of programmes, The lobby,1 proved one thing above all: Israeli state organisations are up to their necks in the campaign to destabilise the Labour Party. Before his hurried exit from Britain, Shai Masot, senior political officer at the Israeli embassy, although not an accredited diplomat, had immersed himself in domestic politics. In addition to trying to take down the deputy foreign secretary, Alan Duncan, via a ‘scandal’, he had also been introducing ‘Robin’ - Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter - as the new chairperson of Young Labour Friends of Israel.
The foreign and commonwealth office has kept remarkably quiet about Masot’s status in Britain and on what basis he was a resident. Coupled with the eagerness of the government not to conduct an inquiry into the activities of Masot and the Israeli embassy, one can only assume that Masot’s activities were carried out under the knowing gaze and approval of British intelligence and the foreign office. Craig Murray, the former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has convincingly demonstrated that Masot’s entire status and position in this country suggests a high degree of complicity by the British state in Israel’s political operations in this country.2
In the second of four programmes in the series we saw how a false allegation of anti-Semitism was manufactured from start to finish by LFI and its chairperson, Joan Ryan MP. Ryan, who is not Jewish and whose only claim to fame is having claimed a record amount of expenses two years running, passed herself off as an expert in what she called ‘anti-Semitic tropes’. Any suggestion that LFI was powerful or rich was itself ‘anti-Semitic’, because accusations of being rich and powerful are stereotypes that have been levelled against Jews. Leaving aside the fact that LFI is not a person, the fact is that it is a rich organisation endowed with powerful people. It is powerful enough to intimidate Jeremy Corbyn into speaking at its fringe meetings at Labour Party conference for the past two years, when previously he would not have been seen dead in their company.
Because the evidence that the LFI is an extension of the Israeli state is indisputable, I have organised an open letter, signed to date by 111 members of the Labour Party, calling on Corbyn to break his links with LFI.3 The Zionist lobby in this country has been in the forefront of the campaign to oust Corbyn as leader. It is difficult to understand the logic that causes Corbyn and advisors such as Seamus Milne and Jon Lansman to believe that speaking at LFI fringe meetings is of any possible benefit. Corbyn has nothing whatsoever to gain from associating with this bunch of racists and New Labour supporters.
Zionist leaders in LFI have nothing but contempt for Corbyn and all that he represents. Rebecca Simon, vice-chair of LFI, has said of him: “No-one wants to vote for a leader they think is rubbish. And he is rubbish - never mind about the Israel stuff: he is just not a credible opposition.”4 Al Jazeera captured the reaction of Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement after Corbyn had spoken at the LFI meeting: “I can kind of live with that for the time being. It will get us through another year.” It is as if Corbyn is on probation and these agents of the Israeli state are his probation officer. As John F Kennedy once remarked, those who try to ride a tiger usually end up inside its belly.
It is for this reason that I have organised a petition asking people to support the demand that Corbyn break his links with LFI and that the Labour Party does likewise.5
LFI operates in tandem with the Jewish Labour Movement, which is an affiliated socialist society of the Labour Party. Poale Zion, which changed its name to the JLM in 2004, was the forerunner of the Israeli Labor Party (Mapai). It has been affiliated to the British Labour Party since 1920. This is testimony to Labour’s long, inglorious record of support for British imperialism. From 1917 onwards, when the Labour Party issued a document called the War Aims Memorandum, it has been complicit in the crimes of the British empire. The establishment of a Zionist settler-colonial state in Palestine, whose purpose was to guard the strategic route to India, was supported both by Conservative and Liberal imperialists, such as Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, as well as Ramsay MacDonald.
Throughout 2016 Jackie Walker, the black-Jewish vice-chair of Momentum, came under sustained attack from the Zionist movement as a whole and the Jewish Labour Movement and LFI in particular. Despite her long record of anti-racist work, she was in the Zionists’ eyes a target because she openly declared that she was an anti-Zionist.
In May 2016 Jackie was first suspended from the Labour Party because of quotes taken from a private Facebook exchange on slavery, in which she said that “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were [among] the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.” If she had been issuing this as a public statement she would have included the word ‘among’ in this sentence to make it clear that she was not attributing the slave trade to Jews alone.
However, the meaning of what she was saying was quite clear: viz, that because of her mixed African and Jewish parentage, one half of her ancestors were complicit in the enslavement of the other half. This, of course, has been twisted by the Zionists into alleging that Jackie believes that Jews were responsible for the slave trade.
The reaction from Jon Lansman of Momentum and his supporters such as Owen Jones was initially to defend Jackie against this obvious frame-up. After all, they knew Jackie as an anti-racist, not as an anti-Semite. Lansman himself penned an article ‘A frenzied witch-hunt is not the way to combat anti-Semitism or any form of racism’.6 But, of course, combating anti-Semitism was not the purpose of the Zionist attacks. It was anti-Zionism that was their target. Jackie was reinstated after an investigation hearing, but the Zionists refused to accept her acquittal and instead waged a campaign of vilification against her.
Led by Jeremy Newmark of the JLM, they waged an unremitting campaign to demonise Jackie. When she spoke early in September with John McDonnell at an LRC fringe meeting at the TUC conference in Brighton, Newmark went into overdrive. McDonnell, who had been invited to address a JLM rally against ‘anti-Semitism’ at the Labour conference later that month, was put under pressure to disown Jackie, which he refused to do. Newmark was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as stating that McDonnell “must explain his defence of Walker, which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance. This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.”7
It was clear to me then that the Zionists were mounting a campaign to have Jackie Walker resuspended. On September 17, over a week before Labour Party conference, I posted a blog article, ‘The Jewish Labour Movement and its political lynching of Jackie Walker’, in which I wrote:
Jackie was reinstated after an investigation, but the Zionists have refused to accept her acquittal and have waged a campaign of vilification against her ever since ... The Jewish Labour Movement ... has run a disgraceful, race-baiting campaign against Jackie.8
I wrote an open letter to McDonnell asking him not to speak on the platform of a racist organisation.
At the Labour Party conference, in defiance of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report, the Jewish Labour Movement set up a ‘training session’ on anti-Semitism. Jackie Walker attended and her remarks were secretly recorded (ironically another secret recording - by Al Jazeera - has produced furious protests by the Zionists about breach of privacy!). Comments Jackie made about the way Holocaust Memorial Day is used selectively to commemorate certain holocausts but not others, about the hyping up of fears of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish schools and about the lack of a definition of anti-Semitism were mangled together to produce new charges of anti-Semitism.9
This time, however, Lansman, Owen Jones et al, who no doubt had been subject to considerable pressure from Newmark and the Zionists, abandoned Jackie Walker. In an article in The Independent, Lansman was quoted as saying:
I spoke to Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement this morning. He’s very upset and I can understand that - I work closely with Jeremy. I’ve been meeting with Jewish organisations to talk ... I’ve been outspoken. I was very, very unhappy ... We have a democratic process. So we’d have to put it to the steering [committee].10
The Independent commented on the basis of these remarks and Lansman’s briefings: “It is now, however, widely expected Momentum will remove Ms Walker from her post on Monday following a meeting of the steering committee.” In early October by a vote of seven to four, Jackie Walker was indeed removed as vice-chair of Momentum. Quite disgracefully, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Jill Mountford and Mike Chessum (an ally) voted alongside Lansman (before, of course, he turned on them).
Both Lansman’s comment above and a conversation I had with him demonstrate that he believed that the false anti-Semitism campaign could be dealt with by private talks between himself and the Zionists. Lansman believed that the Zionists were sincere in their opposition to anti-Semitism rather than being solely motivated by Zionism. Lansman, who believes he is a clever political operator, thought that by throwing Jackie to the wolves he would take the wind out of the Zionists’ sails. He followed up this treachery by getting the ex-socialist and Socialist Alliance activist, Andy Newman, who runs the Socialist Unity blog,11 to pen an article on Lansman’s Left Futures site.12
Jackie and another black anti-racist activist, Marc Wadsworth, are due to have their investigation meetings this week. These will be a precursor to meetings of the national constitutional committee, which will no doubt expel them, since it has a rightwing majority. But this brings me to Momentum.
After the coup
To date Momentum has not fought the anti-Semitism witch-hunt, because Lansman and his coterie have tried to reach an agreement with the Zionists. To Lansman, Zionism is a bona fide political current rather than a racist settler-colonial movement. In Left Futures he defended the Nakba, the Zionist ethnic cleansing of 1948.13 He also argued that the left should not be talking about Zionism at all.14 Lansman argued: “There is every justification for talking about the rights of Palestinians ... and for criticising the actions and policies of the Israeli government, but there is no defence for anti-Semitism.” Yes, that is true, but it is comparing chalk and cheese. Talk about anti-Semitism in the context of defending Palestinian rights is completely irrelevant, unless you believe that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are interchangeable.
We now face the situation whereby Lansman has abolished all the democratic structures of Momentum - in particular the national committee, the conference arrangements committee and the steering committee. In its place he has proposed a national coordinating group (NCG), whose power is unknown, other than that it is only intended to meet four times a year and on which the actual members of Momentum will elect 12 out of 28 places. Liberation strands will not be represented, but police commissioners and MPs will be!
Lansman has also imposed, by way of a six-four vote at the steering committee, a constitution that no-one had ever seen before it was emailed to members of the SC. Despite all the talk of ‘one member, one vote’, the constitution stipulates that 1,000 signatures are required just to make a proposal to the NCG and 2,000 votes to override a negative decision. Also included are Tory anti-trade union-style clauses whereby 30% of the membership must vote in favour of a proposal for it to become policy.
It should be clear to all except the dimmest members of the left that Lansman is fighting to ensure that Momentum will not be subject to any democratic control. Momentum’s sole purpose is to be a stage army, to be brought into action if Corbyn faces another threat to his leadership - a prospect that may not be long in coming.
Given this, the attitude of the AWL is little short of crazy. Despite the new rule that members of Momentum must be members of the Labour Party, thus meaning that those who are expelled from Labour will also be expelled from Momentum, the AWL, with its maximal talk of socialism and its timidity in practice, is crying that we must not engineer a ‘split’. Instead we should have a conference of Momentum groups, but, in the words of the motion which they supported at last Saturday’s national committee, such a conference “is not an alternative to national Momentum”. It is merely an attempt to keep local groups together.
What Lansman is proposing is that Momentum will not exist as a democratic socialist group, but a ‘command and control’ structure with a self-appointed leadership, which consults the members and calls them into action when required. This is utter defeatism. Those who talk loudly of socialism and revolution cower in the face of a bureaucrat who cannot even win the vote on the national committee. Although Lansman probably does not appreciate it, Momentum, which represents a movement in the Labour Party, cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Treat the members like pawns in a database and they will soon dissipate.
Up and down the country Momentum groups have rejected Lansman’s constitution. True, there are a few areas, such as Sheffield, where there are some Lansman supporters, but they are a tiny minority. Liverpool Momentum voted overwhelmingly to oppose Lansman’s coup and Brighton and Hove voted by 33-4 to oppose the coup on the unanimous recommendation of our steering committee.
There is no excuse to give the NCG any credibility and it is to be regretted that some anti-coup candidates have stood for this body.
It seems that revolutionary groups are sometimes afraid of their own rhetoric. Now is the time to build a genuine, mass-based socialist organisation in the Labour Party and I hope that Labour Party Marxists reverse their current position. Lansman’s defenestration of Momentum and his open contempt for its 150 local groups should be met by unremitting opposition. In his hands there will be a continuation of the policy of appeasing the right. It is no wonder that even that disgusting representative of Blairite politics, John McTernan, has praised Lansman’s behaviour. So too has Tom Watson. What further evidence is required that, far from submitting to Lansman’s coup, we should be opposing it unremittingly?
The black representatives on Momentum’s steering committee and many of the independent members have show a far greater understanding of what needs to be done than the AWL and LPM.
4. www.thejc.com/node/151786 Jewish Chronicle 30.12.1.
9. See ‘The lynching of Jackie Walker’: www.opendemocracy.net/tony-greenstein/lynching-of-jackie-walker.