By Dave Clark, Chair of Somerton and Frome CLP
Labour, Anti-Semitism and Witch Hunts
On 19th May this year, Somerton and Frome Constituency Labour Party voted overwhelmingly to affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL).
The decision to invite a speaker from JVL and to move to affiliate was in direct response to the furore from earlier this year around the Labour Party and Anti-Semitism. To clarify why we felt this to be important I would like to begin by citing the JVL Statement of Principles:
“Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) is a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party.
Our political priorities are universal human rights and dignity; justice for all; freedom of expression; and democracy in the Labour Party.
Our mission is to contribute to making the Labour Party an open, democratic and inclusive party, encouraging all ethnic groups and cultures to join and participate freely. As such we aim to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism including antisemitism, broadening the party’s appeal to all sections of British society. We take inspiration from the long history of Jewish involvement in the socialist and trade-union movements and in antiracist and antifascist struggles, including the anti-apartheid and civil-rights movements.
We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere. We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.
At a time of profound divisions in Jewish communities, JVL offers a space to explore and debate the many questions (personal, social, cultural, political) that are important to us as progressive Labour Jews.
We will work where appropriate with existing groups involved with issues of common concern from an internationalist and anti-racist perspective.
28 July 2017”
Note the sentence, “We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews”.
Within this, I believe, lies the crux of the matter.
Before Jeremy Corbyn became leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition he spent many years advocating for the rights of Palestinians.
Whilst campaigning in 2015 to become Labour leader he reasserted his commitment to Palestinian human rights, including an end to the blockade of Gaza, and end to illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and for a peace settlement which centres on the borders which existed prior to the Six Day War in 1967.
This kind of stance brings him into direct conflict with the state of Israel and its representatives/ agents in the UK and around the world, and with some MP’s within the Labour Party who are also members of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel.
Amongst these, Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was successfully able to ensure that Marc Wadsworth (veteran anti-racist campaigner) was hounded out of the Labour Party via a dubious claim of anti- semitism which was later ‘reduced’ to ‘bringing the party into disrepute’.
From Jonathan Cook:
“She alleged in the British media that she had personally received some 25,000 abusive messages online, most of them via Twitter, in a few days in June 2016, during a spat over the Chakrabarti inquiry’s findings on anti-semitism and the Labour party.
There’s just one problem with her claim. There is no easy way to see how it could possibly be true – not by a very long shot indeed. A new study by the Community Security Trust identified only 15,000 anti-semitic tweets for the whole of the UK in a 12-month period that included June 2016. Either the study was grossly flawed, or Smeeth – how can I put this? – has an extremely poor grasp of maths.”
The spectacle of a ‘posse’ of Labour MPs marching with Smeeth to the hearing in order to witness Wadsworth’s expulsion was particularly distasteful.
Wadsworth is not alone in being suspended or expelled from the Labour Party on grounds of either anti-semitism or bringing the party into disrepute. The list is over long and includes Jackie Walker who came to Frome this year to perform “The Lynching” – part autobiography, but also centred around her suspension and expected expulsion from the party and subsequent trial by media.
Jackie is now a member of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which is campaigning for a fairer and more transparent ‘disciplinary’ procedure.
Many new members of the Labour Party have been appalled by the tales of expulsion on the slenderest and sometimes weirdest of pretexts. Knowing that Party staff may have been trawling your Facebook record to find evidence of of anti-semitism/disloyalty/use of the word ‘Blairite’ does not make the new member feel entirely welcome.
A statement from Labour Against the Witchhunt:
“The campaign of false allegations is not driven by a failure to define anti-Semitism but is a politically motivated attack by the Right and supporters of Zionism…. The expulsion of Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Cyril Chilson and others was the product of a deliberate smear campaign aimed at the Corbyn leadership.”
There is a common thread woven through many of the charges laid upon Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters – we are even to blame for Brexit! – it is the necessity to smear. The target audience is the electorate.
Of course, it is important to remain vigilant and to challenge all forms of racism when they occur within our party. And they will. Labour is 570,000 strong. It would be very unusual indeed if we found no racism at all. It is therefore incumbent upon all activists and role holders to remain self aware, in all our dealings with each other, our members and the public.
However, it is also vital for the interests of the British people and the Labour Party that the Corbyn project succeeds. So we must all recognise that many of the charges levelled at Corbyn’s Labour
are designed for a purpose, just as Theresa May’s criminally insane government is made to look better than it ought, by a corporate media controlled by the rich.
Unfortunately, there is much work to be done in challenging the right wing of our own Party which doesn’t seem very keen on respecting democracy – be it leadership election or referendum.
Keeping Corbyn out of Number 10 is very dear to the establishment and they will use whatever is at their disposal – usually in the form of scandal or scare story.
This moment in history is one in which the Left in Britain has re-discovered its voice and its power. We must not let this opportunity slip away! We need to be able to tell anyone asking, as any member of Gareth Southgate’s England team would say, that we gave everything. Our country is relying on us.