For the right to free speech
Labour Against the Witchhunt has produced this submission to Labour’s Forde inquiry into the leaked report on the handling of alleged ‘anti-Semitism’
The report, The work of the Labour Party’s governance and legal unit in relation to anti-Semitism, 2014-2019, gives us irrefutable proof of the plotting and outright sabotage committed against Jeremy Corbyn, and against the hundreds of thousands who joined the party following his election in 2015, to fight for socialist and democratic change.
It is extremely unfortunate that the report was only produced in the last days of Corbyn’s leadership. Drawing upon primary evidence, it shows serious wrongdoing by senior party officials. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the left to radically transform the Labour Party and effect progressive change was ruined by the right in the party. At the same time, supporters of Corbyn were vilified and slandered, their voices silenced and their votes nullified. Unfortunately, it appears that this was sometimes done with the knowledge - and occasionally even with the active participation - of the Corbyn leadership, as in the case of the expulsions of Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson.
Politically, the report maps out an attack on Corbyn and his advisors, who had gained partial control of the national executive committee in April 2018, when Jennie Formby was appointed general secretary by a faction of their political predecessors appointed prior to Corbyn becoming leader. Our submission makes the case against the mistakes committed by both factions within the party machine.
It is our view that, given its ‘terms of reference’,1 this inquiry will in all likelihood lead to a whitewash of the current leadership and its supporters on the right of the party, who are responsible for the vile misogyny and racism on display in the report. We also think it likely that the inquiry will attempt to blame Corbyn and his allies for the leak of the report, as well as the destructive internal party ‘culture’ that is evident in it. At most, we expect that a token couple of Labour Party employees may be thrown to the wolves in an attempt to ‘move on’.
The July 22 apology and payment of ‘damages’ by Keir Starmer - to some of those who have been exposed in the report as actively supporting the vicious campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and the left - gives us even less confidence that the result of the inquiry will be anything other than a politically motivated whitewash.
Further, we do not believe the inquiry panel can be described as politically neutral. It includes three Labour peers - the most conservative section of the Labour Party. One of them is Baroness Wilcox, who for example, ‘liked’ a tweet from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, quoting Iain McNicol’s relief that Corbyn was gone.2
The 851 pages of the report contain damning evidence of the racism, sexism and prejudice of the most senior officers of the Labour Party. We understand that the report is based on thousands of WhatsApp messages and emails. The real job of an inquiry which was determined to conduct a serious investigation into the report should be to:
- ascertain that the material in the report is a fair selection of the primary evidence;
- enquire as to who was aware of the activity of staff who were actively hoping that the Lib Dems and Tories would defeat Labour;
- establish how it was possible that officers of the Labour Party were able to carry out a war of attrition against the elected leader of the party;
- investigate the many injustices perpetrated by an unelected Labour bureaucracy against its own membership, and in particular the disciplining of members, Labour branches and Constituency Labour Parties for their political beliefs, in a concerted attempt to prevent as many Corbyn supporters as possible from voting in the 2015 and 2016 election campaigns;
- investigate the circumstances surrounding the false ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, which led to allegations of anti-Semitism being made against hundreds of members, many of whom were Jewish and/or black.
It is highly unusual for an inquiry of this sort, into what are effectively whistleblowing allegations, to be primarily concerned with the source of those allegations. The question as to who blew the whistle on McNicol, Sam Matthews and the other racists and chauvinists Labour employed is irrelevant. The hunting down of whistleblowing sources is normally taken by employment tribunals as evidence of victimisation.
The third remit of the inquiry - to look into the “structure, culture and practices” of the Labour Party - makes the assumption that the wrongdoing uncovered is a cultural or technical matter, and that the correct structures or “culture” (a meaningless term, when applied to the headquarters of a political party) could correct what is clearly a political problem. Our contention is that members of the inquiry share the same politics as the staff members in the report, and therefore the inquiry is likely to gloss over what has been unearthed, or to simply blame individuals, whilst leaving the structures of discrimination - and the unhealthy, undemocratic, bureaucratic power relationships of full-time officials with members - intact.
We are therefore submitting this evidence on our own ‘terms of reference’ in order to highlight:
- Labour HQ’s inability to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism;
- The political and hypocritical campaign of suspensions and expulsions without any natural justice or due process, which has led to members being suspended for years, sometimes without ever being told what they have been suspended for;
- The efforts to restrict free speech on Palestine;
- The political nature of the witch-hunt;
- The actors behind the witch-hunt;
- The futility of trying to appease the right.
There are a number of substantive articles that have already been written covering the wrongs uncovered by the report. They include the following:
- Tony Greenstein’s two-part analysis3;
- Craig Murray’s analysis, ‘That leaked Labour Party report’4;
- Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery have written an article entitled: ‘The leaked Labour Party report is shameful. It’s time for an investigation’5;
- Novara Media has produced the investigation, ‘It’s going to be a long night’6;
- Moshé Machover has written in the Weekly Worker: ‘Weaponising antisemitism’.7
Other commentary includes useful articles and statements from:
- Welsh Labour Grassroots8
- Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs9
- The Struggle10
- World Socialist Website11
- Socialist Appeal12
- Weekly Worker13
- In Defence of Marxism14
We also recommend the open letter to Jennie Formby by Kathy Coutanche, who is mentioned in the report and who eloquently and movingly complains about the impact that such false allegations and the lack of justice in the disciplinary process can make:
The report says nothing of the lack of any real investigation on the part of the Labour Party into the allegations made against me. It says nothing of the failure to communicate, the altered report and the shoddy treatment I have suffered at the hands of Labour Party staff or of the years of delay that I have been subject to. It says nothing of the emails ignored, of the complaints ignored or of the promises of action broken. It also says nothing of the support given me by my CLP and other members, including on the NEC, who know me and know that I am not an anti-Semite. To think that these members might also be targeted as anti-Semites for that support is abhorrent.That my name is in this report has the potential to impact on every area of my life. That it is in the public domain means anyone - employers, political organisations, clubs and groups - anyone can see, without context, that the Labour Party considers me to be anti-Semitic. This is not something that can be put back in the box.15
At the heart of the ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ in the Labour Party, which has spread into wider society, is the inability or unwillingness to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
- The Oxford English Dictionary defines antisemitism as: “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews”.
- The Merriam Webster dictionary as: “Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group”.
- Professor Brian Klug defines it as: “A form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.”
Zionism is an ideology that originated as a response to discrimination against Jews in the declining phases of European feudalism and the rise of imperialist nationalism in the final quarter of the 19th century. Rejecting assimilation into non-Jewish societies, Zionists began to agitate for the creation of a separate Jewish state. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) is generally regarded as the principal proponent of that idea. In June 1895 Herzl wrote in his diary as follows:
The private lands in the territories granted us we must gradually take out of the hands of the owners. The poorer among the population we try to transfer quietly outside our borders by providing them with work in the transit countries, but in our country we deny them all work. Those with property will join us. The transfer of land and the displacement of the poor must be done gently and carefully. Let the landowners believe they are exploiting us by getting overvalued prices. But no lands shall be sold back to their owners.16
Israel was built on land stolen from the Palestinians. During the 1948 Palestinian exodus - also known as the Nakba - more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their home. The colonisation of Palestinian land has been carried out by all Israeli governments since 1967 and it took place within the former borders - the so-called ‘green line’ - before 1967. It has been an ongoing policy of Zionist colonisation from the very beginning and is integral to it.
On July 19 2018, the Israeli government enacted a quasi-constitutional nationality bill or ‘Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People’, which has been widely condemned as institutionalising discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. As many have observed, this law merely codifies and formalises a racist reality that long predates it. Within its pre-1967 borders, Israel is an illiberal semi-democracy. It defines itself as “Jewish and democratic”, but, as its critics point out, it is ‘democratic for Jews, Jewish for others’. In the territories ruled by it since 1967, Israel is a military tyranny, applying one system of laws and regulations to Jewish settlers and an entirely separate one to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs.
Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, lists over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestinian territory.17 In addition to these laws, there are countless unofficial bureaucratic practices and regulations, by which Israeli racist discrimination operates in everyday life.
Zionism is, as should have become clear, the name chosen by the founders of that ideology themselves. Not all Zionists are Jews and not all Jews are Zionists. Merely using the words ‘Zionism’ or ‘Zionist’ is not an insult or anti-Semitic.
Anti-Zionism is the opposition to and criticism of the setting up and continued existence of the state of Israel as a purely Jewish entity that must be based on the systematic oppression and colonisation of the Arab population. For example, whereas the claim that ‘The Jews have fought to remove Jeremy Corbyn from day 1’ is anti-Semitic, ‘The Zionist lobby has fought to remove Jeremy Corbyn from day 1’ is an expression of anti-Zionism.
The waters have been muddied hugely by the so-called definition published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in May 2016, because in its 11 examples anti-Semitism is conflated with anti-Zionism.
The short IHRA definition reads:
Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.18
Clearly this is not a definition. It is open-ended and deliberately imprecise. American academic Kenneth Stern has repeatedly said that it was not devised in order to label individuals as anti-Semitic. In The Guardian (13.12.19) Stern wrote:
Fifteen years ago, as the American Jewish Committee’s anti-Semitism expert, I was the lead drafter of what was then called the “working definition of anti-Semitism”. It was created primarily so that European data collectors could know what to include and exclude. That way anti-Semitism could be monitored better over time and across borders.
It was never intended to be a campus hate speech code, but that’s what Donald Trump’s executive order accomplished this week. This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.19
Questions which are immediately raised by this definition include:
- What is a “certain perception” and in whose eyes?
- Is anti-Semitism merely a perception? What about discrimination?
- If anti-Semitism “may be expressed as hatred towards Jews”, what else might it be expressed as? Anti-Zionism?
- Why are “non-Jewish individuals” included in a definition of anti-Semitism?
- Why is special mention made of Jewish “community organisations”? Is this a pseudonym for Zionist organisations like the Board of Deputies of British Jews?
- Why do seven of the 11 examples accompanying the definition refer to the state of Israel and not Jews?
This ambiguity in the IHRA definition is not accidental: it is designed to allow any criticism of the actions of the state of Israel to be dismissed as ‘anti-Semitism’. The definition’s real purpose is to defend the Israeli state from its critics - not Jews from anti-Semitism. This becomes particularly clear in the 11 ‘examples’ that have been published with the definition. They are used - and designed - to delegitimise serious questioning of the Zionist colonisation project and the regime of the Israeli settler state.
LAW is not alone in its critique. The ‘definition’, with its appended examples, has been thoroughly debunked by highly qualified critics, including Jewish ones. For example:
Professor David Feldman (vice-chair of the Chakrabarti inquiry and director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism) has described the definition as “bewilderingly imprecise”.20
Sir Stephen Sedley, the Jewish former court of appeal judge, has written that the IHRA “fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite”.21
Hugh Tomlinson QC has warned that the IHRA definition has had a “chilling effect on public bodies”.22
Geoffrey Robertson QC has explained: “The definition does not cover the most insidious forms of hostility to Jewish people and the looseness of the definition is liable to chill legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and coverage of human rights abuses against Palestinians.”23
Tony Lerman, a prominent Jewish academic, has stated that it is “not fit for purpose”, and added: “But it also has the effect of making Jews more vulnerable to anti-Semitism, not less, and exacerbating the bitter arguments Jews have been having over the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism for the last 20 to 25 years.”24
The adoption of the IHRA definition and all 11 examples by Labour’s NEC in 2018 has not brought an end to the ongoing claims that the party is riddled with anti-Semites. As LAW warned, the opposite has occurred.
The Labour Party’s decision to adopt the misdefinition was an outright victory for the right inside and outside the party. While Jennie Formby halted the automatic and instant suspensions of Corbyn supporters, the adoption of the IHRA definition massively expanded the grounds being used for false allegations.
This pressure on the Labour Party to adopt the IHRA definition was part and parcel of the slow coup against Jeremy Corbyn. Some people, ostensibly on the left of the party (such as Jon Lansman and John McDonnell), were therefore seriously misguided when they publicly supported the NEC’s adoption of the definition.
Our website has published screenshots taken from the letters of suspension/expulsion received by a number of Labour Party members accused of antisemitism. There are many more such examples, where, as here, members have clearly voiced criticism of Zionism rather than expressed any hatred towards Jews.
Politics of witch-hunt
Rather than expose as a lie the absurd claim that the Labour Party is overrun by anti-Semites, we read in the leaked report that the Corbyn leadership often actively participated in pursuing leftwingers, even when the evidence against them was flawed. A few case examples will demonstrate the futility of trying to appease the right.
NEC by-election March 2020
We read in the report:
in many cases party members at all levels request the suspension of another party member as a way of escalating or indeed resolving a dispute. There is a wrongly-held view that political opponents can be ‘taken out’ of a contest or stopped from attending meetings by making a complaint with the intention of achieving a suspension of that member (p533).
But clearly, this is exactly what has been taking place. Even as recently as during the March 2020 NEC by-election, half a dozen leftwing candidates (including the three front runners, Jo Bird, Mo Azam and Mehmood Mirza) were suspended in the middle of the contest - before any investigation was launched! Jo Bird, for example, had to be reinstated after a couple of weeks, when it transpired that the evidence against her was not worth the paper it was written on.
In March 2018, following on from a report produced by the disgraced rightwing Corbyn critic, David Collier, into the Facebook group, ‘Palestine Live’ (of which Corbyn was a member), Sam Matthews, then head of disputes, was able to single-handedly suspend Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour - the case was so weak that he had to be reinstated almost immediately. Of all the examples of extreme anti-Semitism in the report, the governance and legal unit (GLU) had picked on Glyn Secker, even though Collier’s report did not contain allegations of anti-Semitic comments by Secker, and in fact stated that “Glyn Secker has had minimal interaction on the site” (p428). It is worth pointing out that it was only because James Schneider, Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson, urged Sam Matthews to take action, that the section in Collier’s report exonerating Secker was examined at all.
Similarly in October 2017, the ‘disputes’ unit desperately looked for reasons to expel the prominent Israeli Jew, Moshé Machover. His expulsion letter reads:
Allegations that you may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules have been brought to the attention of national officers of the Labour Party. These allegations relate to an apparently anti-Semitic article published in your name, by the organisation known as Labour Party Marxists (LPM). The content of these articles [sic!] appears to meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by the Labour Party.
The article can be read on the LPM website25 and it clearly does not have a scintilla of anti-Semitism in it. The head of dispute’s nasty insinuation against Moshé Machover was not only an absurd lie, but a gratuitous one, as the pretext used for his expulsion was quite different: it was decided to auto-expel him over his alleged membership of the “Communist Party of Great Britain Marxism-Leninism” - an organisation with which he has had no connection whatsoever and he was able to quickly disprove this claim. As party officials “found themselves inundated with emails about the case, including from Jewish socialist groups”, plus a robust legal defence from comrade Machover, there was pressure to drop the case and rescind his expulsion. But the calumny of ‘anti-Semitism’ was never withdrawn, and Machover’s’ repeated demands for apology were ignored.
In the event, the flimsy pretext did not work in Machover’s case and, faced with a large wave of protests, the party bureaucrats were compelled to rescind the expulsion. Many other, less prominent members have found it much more difficult to challenge their auto-expulsions.
Jackie’s case (she was first suspended by Labour in 2016) was deliberately delayed by Iain McNicol and his staff. They were determined to get rid of Tony Greenstein and Marc Wadsworth first in order to build a campaign to justify Jackie’s eventual expulsion in 2019. However, the report also states that, “LOTO [Leader of the Opposition’s Office] wanted Walker to be suspended and had briefed the media to that effect” (p366). We read that in April 2018 Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby met with the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Community and Security Trust (CST) and agreed to their demand that “the party should expedite Ken Livingstone’s and Jackie Walker’s cases”.
It is worth noting that the report makes various positive references to the CST and its head of policy, Dave Rich, whose views are routinely sought as “expert opinion”. But the CST is not a neutral body - it is a pro-Israel charity, which the Tory government started funding in 2015 and has given at least £65 million to since.26 And yet the report quotes questionable evidence by Rich, which implies that Jackie’s views are similar to those of Louis Farrakhan, but omits evidence given by the black Jewish professor, Lewis Gordon, a world-leading academic on Jewish/black relations, which contradicts every claim by Dave Rich and supports Jackie’s case.
Anne is a lifelong anti-racist and campaigner for Palestinian rights, who was expelled from the Labour Party last October, without a hearing, solely on the “self-evident” basis of a small number of postings on social media. It was a bizarre process and an appalling judgment. Nothing in what Anne Mitchell posted justified a charge of anti-Semitism, let alone expulsion.27
Brighton and Hove
On July 9 2016 Brighton and Hove District Labour Party held its AGM. Over 600 attended. The left won the vote for the executive elections by a two-to-one vote. The right, in the form of council leader Warren Morgan, immediately made a series of false allegations, concerning spitting and various irregularities. The district party was suspended, the old executive was reinstated and the CLP was split three ways.
Cat Buckingham was appointed to ‘investigate’ the allegations. Ann Black, NEC chair of the disputes committee, accepted as fact the false allegations of the right. The head of the compliance unit, John Stolliday, demonstrated the ‘fairness’ and ‘neutrality’ that the compliance unit has become famous for. Stolliday recommended:
Overturn AGM, deal with individuals. Shows what we’re up against - a bunch of SWP and Trots marching straight from a rally to invade a CLP meeting and stuff handfuls of ballot papers in boxes even when they’re not members of the party (p113).
Buckingham, who pretended to investigate what had happened, said: “I say act now and worry about [rules and legal issues] later, so long as we don’t do something that’ll end up fucking everything else up”.
As part of this campaign against the left in Brighton, Greg Hadfield - who was elected secretary of Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party (but with the votes being subsequently annulled by NEC) - was suspended in October 2016 and reinstated in February 2019. Greg has written eloquently about his ordeal and the campaign against the Brighton Labour Party.28 Exactly the same process took place with respect to Wallasey Labour Party (p114).
The inquiry should be investigating the capricious and arbitrary judgements, as well as political corruption evident in these cases. What is not needed is an investigation into ‘culture’ and other metaphysical phenomena. What has clearly happened during the last five years is that the Labour Party bureaucracy, both nationally and locally, saw it as its job to defend the defeated right wing of the party and to help in the process of ousting Jeremy Corbyn.
The examples also show just how futile it was of Corbyn and his allies to try and appease the right by going along with some of these injustices, when they should have taken them on in a decisive manner.
There were some reforms under Jennie Formby, but there remain huge, ongoing problems with the way the party handles disciplinary cases. For example, the GLU uses a list of “investigatory search terms” to “vet” members, which includes words like ‘Atzmon’, and “a list of 57 [later 68] Labour MPs and their Twitter handles”. In other words, as is pointed out at page 17 of the report, staff “initiate cases themselves by proactively investigating social media comments by party members” to create a body of evidence where no basis for a case exists. Even more bizarrely, the name ‘Greenstein’ (after Tony Greenstein) was used as a ‘search term’.
The report shows that, whilst false allegations of anti-Semitism were made against anti-Zionists such as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, actual anti-Semites and holocaust deniers such as Christopher Crookes were ignored.
In August 2016 Crookes’ social media activity was reported by a fellow member of Labour International and this was followed up in September. The complaints were forwarded to Sam Matthews, who did precisely nothing.
In February 2018, after repeated inaction by Matthews, 280 members of LI signed a petition demanding action and it was not until March 26 that Matthews finally initiated a case. Between August 2016 and February 2018 the Crookes case was raised directly with Matthews 12 times, with Stolliday four times and with other GLU staff four times, as well as twice with McNicol (pp546-47). Crookes was eventually expelled in August 2019 - 18 months after the first complaints were made.
The same inactivity took place with respect to Fleur Dunbar (p208).29
The case of John McTernan is also instructive. Tony Blair’s former director of political operations from 2005 to 2007 had taken to writing articles praising the Tories and attacking Labour and the trade unions. He was repeatedly reported to Labour HQ for abusive language on Twitter and elsewhere. He had described Labour MPs who nominated Corbyn as “morons”; tweeting twice that Corbyn was a “traitor”; described “Corbynistas” as racist; called Corbyn a “Putin-hugging, terrorist-loving, Trident-hater”; and wrote in The Daily Telegraph that all of Corbyn’s supporters were “online trolls” (p368). But nothing happened and McTernan received the staff decision: “No action - removed at referral”.
Ronnie Draper, however, leader of the Bakers’ Union and a Corbyn supporter, was suspended in July 2016 for referring to Blairite “traitors”. Similarly, Omar Baggili, a member of McTernan’s CLP, in response to an article by McTernan in The Daily Telegraph urging the Conservative government to “crush the rail unions once and for all”, tweeted: “Seriously, John, why haven’t you got yourself a Tory membership card? They’re anti-unions and pro-privatisation like you.” For writing this Baggili was suspended for “abuse” (pp140-41).
These examples of rank hypocrisy and highly selective judgements by the compliance unit are by no means isolated examples. Another identified in the report is Andy Bingham, who suggested that Corbyn was a traitor and Diane Abbott should be “locked in a box” (pp538-45). However, no action was taken against him, even after he subsequently posted that he had voted Conservative, urged others to vote Conservative and became the administrator of a Conservative Party Facebook Group.
Meanwhile leftwingers were being thrown out of the party for having advocated a Green vote years before they joined Labour, or for calling MPs who supported the Iraq war “warmongers”.
Since fair-minded and politically articulate party members, including many Jewish ones, could plainly see that the allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ against their party were hugely inflated in scale, and often relied on very questionable evidence, the instigators of the campaign against the Labour left were faced with the danger of being refuted by credible witnesses, so a new device for silencing the truth had to be invented: namely, the heresy of ‘denialism’.
According to ‘denialism’, any party member who attests that Labour does not have a ‘big problem’ with anti-Semitism, in the sense that it may even be ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’, or questions whether a specific allegation has any basis in reality, are themselves guilty of this heresy - which is almost as bad as being anti-Semitic, it seems. Such protestors are to be hounded from the party.
The authors of the report (and their political friends) do not appear to have a problem with the inflated scale of the accusations, their often dodgy nature or the excommunication of ‘denialist’ heretics. They seem quite happy with the treatment of Chris Williamson and other less well-known victims, which took place under the post-April 2018 party regime, not under the previous one. In fact the main complaint of the report against the loathsome baddies of the earlier regime is that they did not act expeditiously enough on allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’, because they wanted to create the impression that the party’s procedures of dealing with it were ineffective, for which Corbyn would bear the blame - as indeed happened.
An example was made of Chris Williamson, a leftwing MP who dared to point out that Labour should not apologise for something for which it was not guilty. Moreover, a party member who defends, or shares a platform with, someone accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ or of the denialist heresy is likewise as bad as an anti-Semite.
It appears that Jennie Formby was the one driving Chris Williamson’s expulsion from the party. The report approvingly quotes her long charge sheet against him - even though it clearly states that he has, in fact, not done anything wrong:
Several of these [complaints], if taken as an isolated incident, may have resulted in no action. However, taken together, they add up to a pattern of behaviour that is not only reckless: it has brought the party into disrepute. I would also add that I personally spoke with Chris only two weeks ago and asked him to stop aligning himself with Labour Against the Witchhunt and speaking about anti-Semitism in the way that he is, because as an MP he does not have the privilege of behaving in the same way as an ordinary lay member does (p826).
The full ‘evidence’ against Williamson - or, rather, the lack thereof - has been analysed by The Canary.30
The Wavertree Four
The suspension of four officers from Liverpool Wavertree CLP, including the chair and secretary, on charges of conduct “prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the party” is an example of the way false accusations are used to stifle legitimate political debate in the Labour Party. The four party members - Nina Houghton, Kevin Bean, Helen Dickson and Hazuan Hashim - dared to raise political criticisms of their local MP, Paula Barker, who had written an article in the Jewish Telegraph. Barker wrote, among other things: “Luciana [Berger] leaving the Labour Party was a shock to many and I find it deeply regrettable that she felt she could no longer stay.”
Luciana Berger was one of the most vocal opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, and she used her position as an MP to publicly undermine and sabotage him at every opportunity. Other opponents of the Corbyn leadership, such as the then deputy leader, Tom Watson, joined in the smears, declaring that she had been “forced out by racist thugs” in her CLP. In the end Berger jumped ship and joined the Liberal Democrats, which really could not come as a “shock” to anybody who had followed her political trajectory.
Paula Barker’s article seemed to support that false narrative. The four party officers felt so concerned that they wrote a private letter to Paula, but to no avail. Without any CLP meetings or decision-making taking place, where they could have presented a motion, the four decided to publish their views in the weekly internal CLP bulletin of May 26, which had in fact been functioning as a medium of debate in the absence of CLP meetings during the Covid-19 lockdown, featuring all sorts of local and national events of interest to the CLP. The four wrote:
Paula’s words will most certainly be taken to imply that we, as a CLP, were responsible [for Berger’s departure]. This accusation has been repeated by our political opponents, such as the anti-Corbyn Labour right and the Liberal Democrats on numerous occasions, culminating in Tom Watson’s calumny, under the protective cloak of parliamentary privilege. In the furore that followed, individual officers and members, such as our then chair, were subjected to further abuse and false allegations in the media, all of which were designed to obscure the political differences between Ms Berger and the CLP.
Clearly, nothing in their letter is even vaguely anti-Semitic. The four committed the ‘crime’ of questioning whether the local CLP (and the party as a whole) is really overrun by anti-Semites - it seems that that was enough to substantiate a charge that they themselves were anti-Semitic. In other words, questioning or denying the allegation automatically confers guilt - a characteristic of the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. Of course, members ought to have the right not merely to criticise their MP, but in a truly democratic party it is their duty to do so.
Numerous victims of the witch-hunt suffered additional hardship when their private details were revealed to the national press. For a long period under Iain McNicol’s rule, it was a standard practice of the compliance unit to leak details of suspensions. We would expect the panel to investigate this.
An illustrative example of this deliberate policy is the case of Tony Greenstein, who was suspended on March 18 2016. He was not informed as to the reasons for his suspension. All the letter notifying him of his suspension said was:
Allegations that you may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules have been brought to the attention of national officers of the party. These allegations relate to comments you are alleged to have made, which will be investigated under 2.1.8. of the party’s rules.31
The first that Tony learnt of the substance of the allegations made against him was when they appeared in the print and internet editions of The Daily Telegraph and The Times of April 2 2016. When Tony wrote to Iain McNicol concerning this leak, McNicol’s response (April 5) was to express disappointment that:
you have taken the opportunity to make an unwarranted attack on a hardworking and diligent member of the compliance unit [John Stolliday, who] … will respond to your outstanding correspondence upon his return. Like you I regret that information was given to the media. However, I entirely refute the allegation that the compliance unit leaked any details of your suspension to The Daily Telegraph or to anyone else.32
Although John Stolliday never responded to Tony Greenstein’s correspondence, it was clear that McNicol’s denial that the compliance unit had leaked news of Tony’s suspension was untrue.
Spreading the witch-hunt
The hysteria around the false premise that the Labour movement is overrun by anti-Semites has led to the witch-hunt spreading into wider society. One example will suffice.
Stan Keable is national secretary of Labour Against the Witchhunt. On April 21 2018, Stan was dismissed from his job with Hammersmith and Fulham Council after 17 years of unblemished service as a housing officer, for having “brought the council into disrepute”, by saying that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazi regime - a well documented, if shameful, historical fact.
He said this on March 26, in a conversation in Parliament Square - nothing to do with work - while participating in the Jewish Voice for Labour demonstration in support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, called in opposition to the rightwing ‘Enough is Enough’ demonstration. The BBC’s David Grossman tweeted a 105-second video clip of the conversation, retweeted by Tory MP Greg Hands to Hammersmith and Fulham council Labour leader Stephen Cowan, which was then used to sack Stan.
Unison withdrew support because Stan had rejected the ‘advice’ of its regional organiser to plead guilty (!), thereby renouncing the right to demonstrate and to freedom of speech.
This dismissal is a good example of the McCarthyite witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party extending into the area of employment, and there are numerous other examples of this happening to party members.
Stan Keable subsequently won the employment tribunal case he brought against Hammersmith and Fulham council: the tribunal judge ruled that it was “an unfair dismissal, both procedurally and substantively” and made a reinstatement order. However, the council has appealed the decision, and the employment appeals tribunal hearing is expected “some time next year”. Whatever the outcome, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’.
Who organised it?
Lastly, we want to look at who organised and ran the campaign to weaponise the very small number of real anti-Semitic incidents in the Labour Party and for what purpose. Moshé Machover has vividly described the three contingents who by a “happy coincidence” found themselves pursuing the same goal.33 They are:
Contingent A: A group of Israeli officials and operatives, as well as Israel advocacy groups in Britain. Members of this contingent are ideologically motivated: they care about Israel and the Zionist colonisation project. For the Israeli politicians and operatives, it is part of their job description. For the British advocates of Israel, support for the Zionist project and its state is a matter of mission.
Some organisations - such as We Believe in Israel, Labour Friends of Israel and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre - have advocacy for Israel as their raison d’être. Others - such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement - have commitment to Israel as a formal or informal part of their constitution. In either case, part of their creed, held with various degrees of conviction, is that rejection of Zionism, antagonism to the Israeli regime and support for Palestinian individual and national rights, are a ‘new form of anti-Semitism’. The contribution of this contingent to the campaign was to provide its very theme: ‘anti-Semitism’.
The Israeli part of Contingent A was in fact set up before Corbyn’s election as Labour leader (September 12 2015), and it was first focused on the USA, not Britain. By the spring of 2015 Israel had suffered some well-deserved loss of support in world public opinion and erosion of its image. This included the US and, most painfully, American Jews, especially those under 30.
So on May 25 2015 Gilad Erdan was appointed minister of strategic affairs and Hasbara (propaganda). At the time of writing, he still holds this post, as well as being minister of internal security. While the latter post is concerned with policing the Israeli public, especially Palestinian citizens, the ministry of strategic affairs and propaganda was designed to operate outside Israel’s borders - originally mainly in the US. But soon, following Corbyn’s election, the operations shifted heavily to Britain. A special target was the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign in support of Palestinian rights, which was gaining ground in Britain (and worldwide).
As Peter Beaumont reported in The Guardian, Erdan’s ministry was asked in 2015 to “guide, coordinate and integrate the activities of all the ministers and the government and of civil entities in Israel and abroad on the subject of the struggle against attempts to delegitimise Israel and the boycott movement”.34
Most controversially, Erdan has been put in charge of large-scale efforts to target foreign individuals and organisations, reportedly including staff recruited from the Mossad foreign intelligence agency, the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency and the military intelligence directorate.
A favoured tactic of Erdan’s operations is accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’. In this activity, Erdan’s operatives in foreign countries are aided by local advocacy groups. An exposé of how such an undercover operative, Shai Masot, worked in Britain, and his subversive attempts - aided by Israel advocacy groups - to meddle in the Labour Party, was provided in January 2017 by Al Jazeera in a fascinating four-part TV series, The lobby.35
Contingent B: This consists of sections of the British establishment concerned with foreign policy. Members of this contingency do not have an ideological commitment to Zionism or emotional attachment to Israel (unless they happen to belong to Contingent A as well), but they are genuinely worried that a left-leaning Labour Party may disrupt a basic precept of British foreign policy: toeing the US line. Accordingly, Israel must be supported - not because it is lovely, but because it is a favoured ally and junior partner of the imperialist hegemony. A Labour Party in which the majority of members are anti-imperialist and supporters of Palestinian rights is regarded as dangerous - so much more so if it is led by someone with a similar record.
The indispensable contribution of this contingent to the campaign has been the mobilisation of the mainstream media and other facilities of the state to spread anti-Corbyn propaganda and suppress any opposition to it in the wider British public.
Contingent C: This is made up by Labour’s rightwing MPs and party officers. Their vital contribution to the campaign has been to undermine Corbyn’s leadership from within the party and conduct a witch-hunt against its leftwing members.
The report is concerned solely with the party officers belonging to this contingent. It ignores all the rest. It is therefore not much more than a piece of scandalous gossip that simply confirms what has been widely suspected about those scoundrels, but contributes little to the understanding of the defeat, or self-defeat, of Corbynism.
The inquiry into the report should in our view include the following conclusions:
- The Labour Party must publish the report officially, as well as the original data, WhatsApp messages and emails.
- Labour should issue an official apology to Jeremy Corbyn and the left and condemn the campaign to undermine and sabotage them.
- All disciplinary cases processed during the last five years have to be overturned, pending unbiased re-examination.
- The party’s disciplinary system must be urgently and radically overhauled. Disciplinary procedures should be carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and be time-limited: charges not resolved within three months should be automatically dropped. An accused member should be given all the evidence submitted against them, including the identity of the complainant(s), and be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. Those aspects of the Chakrabarti report must finally be implemented.
- The Labour Party must overturn its commitment to the IHRA’s misdefinition of anti-Semitism, which is highly disputed and has been criticised by numerous academics as an attack on free speech, and for falsely conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
- All those mentioned in the document who took part in the campaign of sabotage and who are still in their post must be immediately investigated for gross misconduct.
- All those involved who have jumped ship and now enjoy well-paid positions in different companies must be named and shamed. They include: Iain McNicol, formerly general secretary, now a member of the House of Lords; Sam Matthews, formerly head of disputes; and John Stolliday, formerly director of the governance and legal unit.
Quoted in M Machover Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution London 2012, p87.↩︎