Stuart Littlewood – Redress Online Jan 20, 2020
Wasting no time, the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) last week published Ten Pledges they wanted Labour leadership hopefuls to sign up to if the party’s relationship with the Jewish community was to be healed.
The BoD claim anti-Semitism in the party became a matter of great anxiety for the UK’s Jews during Corbyn’s four years in office and it will take at least 10 years to repair the damage. Their president, Marie van der Zyl, says: “We expect that those seeking to move the party forward will openly and unequivocally endorse these Ten Pledges in full, making it clear that if elected as leader, or deputy leader, they will commit themselves to ensuring the adoption of all these points.
“Tackling anti-Semitism must be a central priority of Labour’s next leader,” she insists. “We will certainly be holding to account whoever ultimately wins the contest.”
But is there really an anti-Semitism crisis other than the one caused by the Jewish State itself and mischievously drummed up within Labour? As former Israeli Director of Military Intelligence Yehoshafat Harkabi wrote:
It would be a tragic irony if the Jewish state, which was intended to solve the problem of anti-Semitism, was to become a factor in the rise of anti-Semitism. Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also Jews throughout the world.
It has been suggested before that so-called anti-Semitism is a matter best resolved by the Jewish “family” itself.
The BoD claim that all the leadership contenders – Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry – have signed the Ten Pledges, and three of the five deputy-leader candidates have done so. What are these crisis-busting Ten Pledges they’ve committed the Party to?
(1) Resolve outstanding cases – all outstanding and future cases should be brought to a swift conclusion under a fixed timescale.
(2) Make the Party’s disciplinary process independent – an independent provider should be used to process all complaints, to eradicate any risk of partisanship and factionalism.
- Of course.
(3) Ensure transparency – key affected parties to complaints, including Jewish representative bodies, should be given the right to regular, detailed case updates, on the understanding of confidentiality.
- Except that complainers, including the BoD, have a poor record of keeping even their wildest allegations confidential.
(4) Prevent re-admittance of prominent offenders – it should be made clear that prominent offenders who have left or been expelled from the party, such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, will never be readmitted to membership.
- It is not clear from the evidence that Livingstone or Jackie Walker committed an offence. They were hounded out and not, I think, by any independent arbitrator.
(5) Communicate with resolve – bland, generic statements should give way to condemnation of specific harmful behaviours – and, where appropriate, condemnation of specific individuals.
- This should apply also to false accusers and to the BoD itself if failing to condemn the “harmful behaviours” of their brethren in the Israeli regime towards our sisters and brothers in Palestine.
(6) Provide no platform for bigotry – any MPs, peers, councillors, members or CLPs [Constituency Labour Parties – local parties] who support, campaign or provide a platform for people who have been suspended or expelled in the wake of anti-Semitic incidents should themselves be suspended from membership.
- Unacceptable. Many have been suspended for no good reason. And suspension does not mean guilt.
(7) Adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism without qualification – the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, with all its examples and clauses, and without any caveats, will be fully adopted by the party and used as the basis for considering anti-Semitism disciplinary cases.
- How many times must you be told that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism is a minefield? Top legal opinion (for example, Hugh Tomlinson QC, Sir Stephen Sedley and Geoffrey Robertson QC) warn that it is “most unsatisfactory”, has no legal force, and using it to punish could be unlawful. Furthermore, it cuts across the right of free expression enshrined in UK domestic law and underpinned by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which bestows on everyone “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. This applies not only to information or ideas that are regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that “offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population.” Labour Party members should know all this. The prohibitive IHRA definition is not something a sane organisation would incorporate into its Code of Conduct.
(8) Deliver an anti-racism education programme that has the buy-in of the Jewish community – the Jewish Labour Movement [JLM] should be re-engaged by the party to lead on training about anti-Semitism.
- The BoD and JLM would do better teaching anti-racism to the Israeli regime and its supporters. Besides, MPs and councillors don’t ‘belong’ to the Labour Party or any other party; they belong to the public who elected them as their representative. No outside body should expect to influence their freedom of thought, expression or action (see the Seven Principles of Public Life).
(9) Engagement with the Jewish community to be made via its main representative groups – Labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals.
- Labour should engage with the Jewish community though any representative organisation or individual it pleases.
(10) Show leadership and take responsibility – the leader must personally take on the responsibility of ending Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis.
- There’s no agreement that anything approaching a crisis exists within the party.
Leadership front-runner Starmer is a former human rights lawyer and ought to know better. Long-Bailey is another lawyer who should hang her head in shame. Thornberry is a former barrister specialising in human rights law – words fail. Jess Phillips, a member of Labour Friends of Israel, wrote Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on B.S., described as “the little book we all need to help us call time on the seemingly unstoppable tide of bullshit in our lives”. The irony of it seems lost on her. Lisa Nandy is a puzzle as she’s chair of Labour Friends of Palestine.
If this bunch won’t robustly uphold freedom of expression guaranteed by law and international convention, what have they let their hapless party in for? Those standing for deputy-leader also have little excuse. Angela Rayner was shadow education secretary, Ian Murray read Social Policy and Law, and Rosena Allin-Khan is a Muslim and former humanitarian aid doctor. They obediently signed the Ten Pledges. Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon declined.
… why would anyone – especially those competing to be Labour Party leader and one day prime minister – agree to dance to the tune of those who pimp and lobby on Israel’s behalf?
When, a year ago, the French Republic presented its Human Rights Award to B’Tselem (the Israeli human rights group) its Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, thanking the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, said of Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians:
The occupation… is organised, prolonged state violence which brings about dispossession, killings and oppression. All branches of the state are part of it: ministers and judges, officers and planners, parliamentarians and bureaucrats.
On another occasion B’Tselem said:
If the international community does not come to its senses and force Israel to abide by the rules that are binding to every state in the world, it will pull the rug out from under the global effort to protect human rights in the post-World War II era.
When a respected Israeli organisation speaks truth in such stark terms it cannot be ignored. And recent UN reports confirm that the Israelis abuse and torture child prisoners. So, why would anyone – especially those competing to be Labour Party leader and one day prime minister – agree to dance to the tune of those who pimp and lobby on Israel’s behalf?
Who will punish the false accusers?
The BoD nevertheless makes some valid points. The Labour Party takes a ridiculously long time to deal with allegations of anti-Semitism, many of which are false or vexatious and could be dismissed in five minutes. Let me tell you about two Scottish Labour politicians wrongly accused of anti-Semitic remarks and suspended. Let’s call them “A” and “B”. Both are regional councillors.
Constituency party officials declared “A” guilty immediately and issued a press statement to that effect without waiting for him to be heard, hugely prejudicing any investigation. This stupidity was compounded by his council leader publicly calling on him to resign as a councillor and saying his thinking belonged to the Dark Ages: “To smear an entire community both past and present, to say he has lost ‘all empathy’ for them is utterly deplorable,” he was quoted in the press.
What was “A”’s crime? He had tweeted: “For almost all my adult life I have had the utmost respect and empathy for the Jewish community and their historic suffering. No longer, due to what they and their Blairite plotters are doing to my party and the long suffering people of Britain…” Was nobody in the local party aware that the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies were then leading an obnoxious campaign to discredit Labour and Jeremy Corbyn?
“B”, a respected woman councillor, was accused of anti-Semitism by a former Labour MP who was already on record as wanting to impose limits on freedom of expression. A Tory MP immediately put the boot in, telling the media it was clear to the vast majority of people that “B” was no longer fit to hold office and suspension didn’t go far enough.
And what was “B”’s crime? She had voiced suspicion on social media that Israeli spies might be plotting to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader after three Jewish newspapers ganged up to publish a joint front page warning that a Corbyn-led government would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country”.
She added that if it was a Mossad-assisted campaign to prevent the election of a Labour government (which pledged to recognise Palestinian statehood) it amounted to an unwarranted interference in our democracy. For good measure, she said Israel was a racist state and, since the Palestinians are also Semites, an anti-Semitic one.
“B” was eventually interviewed by party investigators. They surely knew that in January 2017 a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy in London, Shai Masot, had plotted with stooges among British MPs and other activists to “take down” senior government figures, including Boris Johnson’s deputy at the Foreign Office, Sir Alan Duncan. And that Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s former chief spokesman and mastermind behind Israel’s propaganda programme of disinformation, had recently arrived in London as the new ambassador.
Masot was almost certainly a Mossad tool. His hostile scheming was revealed not by Britain’s own security services and media, as one would have hoped, but by an AlJazeera undercover team. Our government dismissed the matter saying: “The UK has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.” But at a Labour Party conference fringe meeting Israel insider Miko Peled warned that
they are going to pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn… the reason anti-Semitism is used is because they [the Israelis] have no argument…
Given such a blatant attempt by an Israeli asset to undermine British democracy, with Regev in the background and (quite probably) Mossad pulling the strings, :B”’s suspicions were reasonable enough and she had a right to voice them.
As for Israel being a racistsState, its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and other brutal policies over 70 years make it obvious. And the discriminatory nation-state laws recently adopted by Israel put the question beyond doubt. Her point about anti-Semitism was also well made. DNA research (see, for example, the Johns Hopkins University study published by Oxford University Press) shows that while very few Jews are Semitic most indigenous Arabs in the Holy Land, especially Palestinians, are Semites. The term “anti-Semitism”, long used to describe hatred of Jews, is a misnomer that hides an inconvenient truth.
And it couldn’t have been difficult to establish that the opportunistic Tory MP calling her unfit to hold office was the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews, which is funded, supported and administered by the Board of Deputies. The case against “B” should have been dropped instantly and action taken against the troublemakers. Instead, weeks later, “B” was posting on her Facebook page that she was still suspended: “I can’t make any decisions about my personal, political or professional future whilst this hangs over me. I am constantly tired and anxious, and feel I am making mistakes. I have lost paid work because of what has happened.”
Her suspension was finally lifted but she was “advised” not to post about it or she’d risk losing professional work on which her livelihood depended. That’s how nasty the Labour Party disciplinary machine is. Surely, if the party lifts a suspension it should issue a public statement saying so. Must the wrongly accused, after being needlessly humiliated, be left to pick up the pieces and struggle to re-establish their good name? In total “B” had to wait 16 weeks under sentence. And all because of a trumped-up allegation that ought to have been immediately squashed.
As for “A”, he stopped answering emails and there has been nothing in the press. Was his suspension lifted? Was he similarly threatened if he said anything? I simply don’t know, although I phoned and wrote to the party leader and its general-secretary for an explanation. The latter eventually replied that “the Labour Party cannot, and does not, share personal details about individual party members” and placing a member in administrative suspension “allows a process of investigation to be carried out whilst protecting the reputation of the Labour Party”. Bollox. How did the media get news of these suspensions in the first place? And never mind the damage done to the cowardly party, what about the reputations of the two councillors and their months of anguish while working for their constituents? I wasn’t asking for case details. All I wanted was the answer to three simple questions:
- Had the suspensions been lifted?
- If so, had the party issued a public statement to that effect? And
- Had the false accusers been disciplined?
Silence, spineless, don’t-give-a-damn silence.
Are these two cases typical of the so-called anti-Semitism crisis? I have no way of knowing. But they show how the party is run by enough crackpots on the inside without inviting impertinent interference from the outside.
Jews’ Ten Pledges vs Palestinians’ Eleven Red Lines
Anyone signing up to the BoD’s Ten Pledges should consider at the same time subscribing to the “Eleven Red Lines” of anti-Palestinianism. Examples in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
(1) Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.
(2) Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
(3) Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.
(4) Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.
(5) Denial that Palestinians have lived for hundreds of years in land now occupied by Israelis and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.
(6) Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed nation-state law) are inherently racist.
(7) Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.
(8) Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.
(9) Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.
(10) Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.
(11) Accusing the Palestinians as a people, of encouraging the holocaust.
This working definition of anti-Palestinian racism, described as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”, holds up a mirror to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and was drafted by Jewish Voice For Labour, one of those fringe representative organisations the BoD insist Labour mustn’t engage with.
So, here’s a simple test for the BoD: if it demands the Labour Party signs up to its Ten Pledges will it itself embrace the Eleven Red Lines on anti-Palestinianism?