“Jeremy Corbyn’s senior ally wants to restrict free speech on Israel” – interesting article on Mondoweiss:
A media statement from eminent Jewish figures says clarity about what antisemitism is, and what it is not, is essential to effectively combatting age-old prejudices against Jews. Their statement draws on work towards a definition of antisemitism intended to benefit government, political parties, public bodies and NGOs by avoiding the dangers inherent in conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel.
June 19, 2018 – A statement from 27 senior Jewish academic and cultural figures says clarity about what antisemitism is, and what it is not, is essential to effectively combatting age-old prejudices against Jews.
The signatories include eminent barrister Sir Geoffrey Bindman, film makers Mike Leigh and Peter Kosminsky, writers Gillian Slovo, Michael Rosen and Susie Orbach, four Fellows of the Royal Society and more than a dozen other leading academics.
They say: “Holocaust denial, the blood libel, conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide – all are expressions of antisemitism… Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice.”
The statement comes at a time when there is controversy about attempts to prevent criticism of Israel by promoting the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) “Working Definition of Antisemitism“. This was adopted by the UK government in December 2016 along with a set of guidance notes focused on Israel, and widely promoted as a tool for opposing hostility towards Jews.
However, the IHRA definition has been condemned for undermining the freedom to criticise Israel for its displacement of Palestinians and its denial of their rights. A legal opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC described the document as “unclear and confusing” and having “no legal status or effect.”
Retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley has called it “a protean definition of antisemitism which is open to manipulation and capture”. It has been cited in many cases where public authorities, including universities, have refused to host speakers, cancelled room bookings and called off academic conferences.
Concerns about freedom of speech prompted Liberty, the leading civil liberties organisation in the UK, to pass a resolution condemning the IHRA definition at its Annual General Meeting on May 19. It warned public bodies not to adopt it, because its conflation between antisemitism and criticism of Israel blurred “the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism,” risked “undermining the defences against it” and threatened freedom of expression.
Jewish activists are consulting with leading experts in the field to produce a new definition of antisemitism, designed to avoid these problematic issues for the benefit of government, political parties, NGOs and other public bodies. This work has contributed to the statement published in the Guardian on June 15 (see full text and signatories below).
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The statement
There are disturbing signs round the world that age-old prejudices against Jews are reviving once more. We need to be clear in recognising them, and resolute in dealing with them. A precondition for fighting antisemitism effectively is clarity about what it is, and what it is not.
Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice or hostility against us because we are Jews. It is a form of racism. It may be manifested in violence, denial of rights, discriminatory acts, prejudice-based behaviour, verbal or written statements, negative stereotypes or scapegoating.
Holocaust denial, the blood libel, conspiracy theories about supposed Jewish power or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide – all are expressions of antisemitism.
Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples of this can include:
Criticism of Israel, of its displacement of Palestinians and of its denial of their rights, is not antisemitic
Criticising laws and policies of the State of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic.
Calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic.
We call upon all public bodies and other organisations to apply these principles in addressing antisemitism within their own organisations and when challenging it within wider society.
2. The signatories
Sir Geoffrey Bindman
Professor D.B.A. Epstein, FRS
Professor Stephan Feuchtwang
Professor Harvey Goldstein
Dr Brian Klug
Professor Malcolm Levitt FRS
Professor Moshe Machover
Miriam Margolyes MBE
Professor Laurence Pearl FRS
Professor Jacqueline Rose FBA
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Michael Rosen
Professor Douglas Ross FRS
Professor Andrew Samuels
Professor Donald Sassoon
Professor Lynne Segal
Professor Avi Shlaim
Professor Annabelle Sreberny
Professor John S. Yudkin
Professor Nira Yuval-Davis
This AGM reiterates:
its abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum; and Liberty’s support for effective measures to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism;
the legal Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC which states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’, adopted by the UK government in December 2016, is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect”; and that the overriding legal duty of public authorities is to preserve freedom of expression; that the guidance that is attached to the definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, that the definition is being interpreted as saying that to describe Israel as a state practising apartheid, or to call for Boycott or Sanctions to be applied in defence of Palestinian rights, is an inherently antisemitic act that should be prohibited; that the definition is being cited in attempts to deter, obstruct or prevent events that are critical of Israel, or support the legitimate rights of Palestinians;
that by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it; and that the definition’s conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians is a threat to freedom of expression. It regrets that some local authorities have already adopted it, calls on those that have done so to apply it with extreme caution, and calls on other public bodies not to adopt the definition
More videos from Jackie Walker, Mike Cushman etc to come. Click here for a report of the excellent meeting, which launched LAW’s national speaking tour.
Click here to download all messages of support in a PDF file: from Alexei Sayle, Ken Loach and Chris Williamson MP
I stand with Marc Wadsworth.
The Labour Party has – on the flimsiest of pretexts – expelled him from the Labour Party.
Marc is a veteran activist and anti-racist campaigner. He contributed to the Party through the Black Sections, co-founded the Anti-Racist Alliance, fought against the National Front and the BNP, was a leading supporter of the Stephen Lawrence Campaign: the list of his achievements in the field of fighting for racial equality and justice goes on and on.
And this is the man the Labour Party dares to say has “brought the party into disrepute”! The Party should walk over broken glass to beg people of Marc’s calibre to work with them – they are very few and Marc is one of the best. There is a battle going on to destroy and reverse the unexpected and amazing gains the left has made in the last three years. Marc is a casualty in that battle and I am joining the fight to see him re-instated to the front line.
I never believed we would see the prospect of a socialist Labour Party taking power in this country and the right, with their allies in the Israel Lobby, is doing everything it can to stop that. Marc has been victimised by them and that can’t be allowed to stand. Everyone on the Left – whether in or out of the Labour Party – needs to back Marc in this struggle.
Thank God I’m not in the Labour Party so I can say that all the Ruth Smeeths and Wes Streetings who are trying to destroy the prospect of a Socialist Labour Party taking power in Britain can fucking fuck off: I’m backing Marc Wadsworth!
Alexei will be speaking alongside Marc Wadsworth at the London launch of our national #Justice4Marc speaking tour – come along!
Grassroots Labour activist group Africans For JC Values (AFJCV) notes with concern the ruling of the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) regarding Marc Wadsworth.
We condemn all forms of discrimination – discrimination against Africans (Afriphobia), discrimination against Asians, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, etc.
The mainstream media seems to have been deliberately tarring Wadsworth’s name by associating it with anti-Semitism. They have continued to make the link in the headlines reporting Wadsworth’s expulsion, when in actual fact there was no evidence of anti-Semitism against Wadsworth, a veteran anti-racism activist.
At the launch of the Chakrabarti Report, Marc Wadsworth raised the lack of ethnic representation at the event. Ruth Smeeth MP, heckled him, whilst he had been given the microphone to ask his question.
It is worrying that instead of concluding that based on the evidence, there was no anti-Semitisim on the part of Wadsworth, the NCC decided to find him guilty of breaching the catch-all “prejudicial” Rule 2.1.8 of the Labour Party’s 2016 Rule Book in order to expel him from the Party. The perception is that the decision was taken to expel Wadsworth, regardless of the evidence.
Interestingly, Africans For JC Values brought the conduct of John Mann MP to the attention of the Party, when he was shown on TV shamefully hurling abuse at Ken Livingstone. His conduct brought the Party to disrepute, but to date no action has been taken. Very disappointing, as one expects MPs to be held to a higher standard of account.
We believe the decision to expel Wadsworth is unfair. The only recourse for him to clear his name and fight the expulsion is through the courts, and we are confident that when he and his legal team decide to take up this option, his supporters and those who believe in fairness and justice will provide the necessary support.
If you force me to choose – and tragically, the mischievious confection of an “anti-semitism crisis” in the Labour party does require me to choose, because it turns racism into a competition between worthier “victims” – Marc Wadsworth, a black activist and the founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance, is a much bigger victim of racism than Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth.
The proof is in the 50 Labour MPs who marched with her to an internal party hearing that they expect will expel Wadsworth. The MPs wanted to give the impression of serving as a bodyguard; in fact, they looked more like a lynch mob.
Wadsworth’s “crime” is his accusation at a meeting to unveil the Chakrabarti report nearly two years ago that Smeeth had been leaking stories to the rightwing press to harm Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
We can argue the facts about whether Wadsworth’s claim is true: whether Smeeth did indeed connive with the anti-Corbyn press. But even if he is wrong, that would not make his allegations anti-semitic.
Furthermore, the accusation itself is hardly far-fetched. The Blairite wing of the parliamentary party, of which Smeeth is very much a part, barely bothers any more to conceal its desire to oust Corbyn from the leadership.
In fact, the Blairites now seem determined to terminally wound not just Corbyn but their own party, as they did at the instigation of the Conservative government last week in a debate on anti-semitism. The opportunistic pummelling of Corbyn, jointly conducted by Labour and Conservative MPs, comes just days before local authority elections that were supposed to be Labour’s chance to seize the initiative from the government.
Smeeth and other Labour MPs have relied on personal anecdotes to argue that anti-semitism is far worse in Labour than any other party, and worse than in British society generally. That is the only possible meaning of the term “crisis”. But the actual statistics give the absolute lie to their claims.
Anti-semitism in Labour is so dire, so endemic, according to Smeeth and her allies, that the party must be eviscerated in public day after day, its energies sapped in the hunt to root out any traces of Jew hatred, and its political programme (and the chances of beating the Tories) set aside until the purges are complete.
But the Wadsworth case illustrates quite how sham the “anti-semitism crisis” is.
His attack on Smeeth was political, not racist. If she took offence, it should have been because she regarded his comments as a political insult, and an untrue one, not a racist insult.
But Smeeth preferred to mischaracterise the attack, not least because she would have been hard pressed to offer a political defence. Instead she weaponised anti-semitism to divert our attention from the real issue at the heart of the spat between herself and Wadsworth. She accused him of promoting “vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people”. Wadsworth pointed out that he did not even know Smeeth was Jewish until she brought the issue into play.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Smeeth believes, because she is Jewish, that any criticism of her is anti-semitic by definition. And she now has 50 MPs on her side, trying to bully Wadsworth out of the party – and by implication, not only him but anyone else who might try to unmask their McCarthyite tactics.
Smeeth, it should be remembered, is not a credible witness in the prosecution of Wadsworth. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy Smeeth’s parliamentary privilege, so I will have to be more circumspect in what I say than Smeeth makes a habit of being. But as I pointed out in an earlier post, at least one of her major claims cannot withstand the most cursory scrutiny, once it is fact-checked.
After her row with Wadsworth she claimed to have been inundated with anti-semitic abuse, some 25,000 messages, most of them on Twitter – though given her own inflated and egocentric ideas about what constitutes anti-semitism, she can hardly be viewed as a competent judge.
But you don’t need to rely on my scepticism. The Community Security Trust, a British Jewish lobby group ever-vigilant about anti-semitism, has discredited her claims too, even if in their case they did so inadvertently. Their study of anti-semitic activity on Twitter for a year-long period that included the few days in which Smeeth was supposedly overwhelmed with abuse found only 15,000 anti-semitic tweets – in a whole year, for the whole of the UK. Smeeth’s self-serving figures simply don’t add up.
But if Labour is now committed to witchhunts, as it seems to be, then it needs pointing out that there are more serious problems of racism in Labour than the current “anti-semitism crisis”?
How about Labour launching an investigation into its “anti-black racism crisis”? It should not be hard to identify. It is being led by the Blairite wing of the party, which has been using anti-semitism as a pretext to hound out of the party black anti-racism activists like Wadsworth and Jackie Walker who support Corbyn, also a lifelong anti-racism activist.
These targets are concerned about racism in all its guises, and about real victims in all their shades of colour. Not opportunists like Smeeth who have hijacked racism narrowly to serve their political cause.
Equally serious is Labour’s real anti-semitism crisis – the one no one talks about. That is being led by an unholy alliance of Labour’s Blairite MPs, rightwing Jewish establishment bodies like the Board of Deputies, and the corporate media to vilify individual Jews and Jewish organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas because they dare to be critical of Israel.
Again unmentioned, Jews are being hounded out of the party on the ridiculous pretext that they are anti-semites – just ask Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker (black and Jewish!), Glyn Secker, Cyril Chilson and others.
The disturbing implication is that these are not “proper” Jews, that their voices not only don’t count but their arguments are dangerous and must be shunned. And further, that those who “consort” with them, as Corbyn has done, are contaminated and guilty by association.
Ruth Smeeth is not a victim of the Labour party “anti-semitism crisis”, because that crisis does not exist. It is a political construct. There are doubtless examples of anti-semites and other racists who are members of the Labour party, as there are in all walks of life, but there is no crisis.
Real victims of racism suffer because they are isolated, vulnerable and easily vilified. The Labour party should stand with such people. Instead it is allowing privileged MPs and party bureaucrats to promote the demonisation, abuse and persecution of black activists like Marc Wadsworth and anti-Zionist Jews like Cyril Chilson. We are living through a truly shameful period in Labour’s history.
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“Corbyn-hating” MPs must end their shameless smears – or face the consequences
Here are two truths about the state of the Labour Party today. First, there are a small number of members expressing entirely unacceptable anti-Semitic views and attitudes, especially on social media. The second is that this issue has joined a line of others in being used by a group of backbench Labour MPs to attack and undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the progressive leadership of the party.
The first issue is in a way easier to deal with. People holding anti-Semitic views have no place in the party, and they should be dealt with under rule as rapidly as possible. With Labour Party headquarters now under new management, I believe that this will at long last be done – that the backlog of complaints will be speedily addressed and that the Chakrabarti report will finally be implemented in full.
We should also see the high-profile cases such as that of Ken Livingstone, whose remarks linking Hitler with Zionism caused so much understandable offence, resolved. And a new political education programme will help members understand and identify anti-Semitism whenever it rears its head in future.
There is no doubt the advantages of social media in combating the right-wing media also carry with it the darker side of cowardly individuals feeling able to use vile insults with impunity – the sooner they are routed out the better. Certainly, cleansing Labour of any trace of anti-Semitism is critical. No party committed to equality can play host to this virus. I have fought anti-Semitism and anti-Semites all my life, including physically on the streets on occasion, and I need no lectures from anyone else on the subject. I am not sure that some of the voluble backbench critics of Jeremy Corbyn can say as much: just as it is legitimate to raise and combat anti-Semitic views, it is also legitimate to contextualise the attacks of right-wing MPs without being accused of minimalising or denying anti-Semitism.
That leads on to the second issue we have to grapple with – the activity of a few dozen Labour MPs who appear to wake up each morning thinking only: “how can I undermine Jeremy Corbyn today?”
I do not doubt they are sincere in their opposition to anti-Semitism, but they need to understand that if you attack your party leader about everything, it devalues your criticisms concerning anything in particular.
If you look at the list of MPs who rebel on one issue after another you see the same names. There is, to say the least, a marked overlap between those who backed Theresa May in risking a new bloody intervention in the Middle East, and those who work overtime trying to present the Labour Party as a morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying.
How dare they try to toxify the Labour Party that has been the voice and hope of millions of ordinary working people for generations, including the nearly 13 million people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in 2017? His critics enjoyed dramatic increases in their own votes – and I have to advise them that this was down to Corbyn’s campaign and his radical manifesto, not their own personal charisma.
Of course, they have a right to express their own views, a right Jeremy Corbyn exercised in his backbench days; but you would have to go back a long way to find such a sustained smearing by MPs of their own leader and their own party as we are seeing now. MPs such as Chris Leslie, Neil Coyle (my own MP), John Woodcock, Wes Streeting, Ian Austin, and others, have become a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult.
Just recently Angela Smith MP moved seamlessly from not supporting Labour’s whip on the democratic issue of giving parliament a vote before government commits the country to war to rallying to the defence of the rip-off private water industry, attacking the manifesto commitment to renationalise on which she stood last June.
Their determination to divide the party into pro- and anti-Corbyn factions, despite the huge increase in Labour’s vote secured last year under Corbyn’s leadership, ultimately pollutes everything it touches. That includes the work against anti-Semitism, which is not helped by the frenzied hostility to the party leadership that is often displayed, when calm counsel would be the better option.
Take, for example, the utterly outrageous letter to Corbyn from the leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Avi Gabbay, severing relations with the Labour leader’s office. Gabbay denounced Jeremy Corbyn for “the hostility that you have shown to the Jewish community and the anti-Semitic statements and actions you have allowed”.
If no one else will say it, I will: Gabbay is guilty of a cynical and outrageous smear. The idea that Corbyn has ever shown hostility towards the Jewish community, or allowed anti-Semitic actions, is a disgusting libel of which Gabbay should be ashamed. In my view, withdrawing those remarks is essential for any resumption of normal relations with the Israeli Labour Party.
Yet I have not heard a single one of the Labour leader’s critics on this issue, including my friends in the Jewish Labour Movement, acknowledge that Gabbay had gone too far. It would seem that hostility to the party leadership trumps all other considerations, even to the point of allowing a malicious attack which could poison Labour’s standing among Jewish men and women to go unchallenged. For anyone to blame Corbyn for some vile comment made by a so-called Corbyn supporter is an affront to natural justice.
Let me declare here my support for the Israeli state on the 1967 borders. But let me also say without hesitation that I oppose the most right-wing Israeli government in the same way I oppose all right-wing governments around the world. And I have much admiration for those Jewish socialists inside Israel who fight against their government and for peace and justice.
This all fits a pattern in which no attack on Jeremy Corbyn is considered too wild or outlandish to suffer even the mildest rebuke. I didn’t hear any criticism of outgoing general secretary, Iain McNicol, for not implementing the Chakrabarti Report – which was his responsibility. No, it was easier to blame Corbyn.
I didn’t hear any criticism over the EU referendum of Alan Johnson who was responsible for Labour’s Remain campaign. No, it was easier to blame Corbyn (even though Corbyn attended more Remain meetings than anyone).
I didn’t hear anyone question Margaret Hodge who, in the wake of the referendum, blamed Corbyn and moved a vote of no confidence against him when her own constituency, Barking, voted overwhelmingly to leave – one of only three London constituencies to do so – and whose actions were repudiated by 40 per cent of the British electorate at the first opportunity.
I am personally not in favour of mandatory reselection; I believe our present procedures for holding MPs to account are quite sufficient. However, I lost that argument overwhelmingly with the Unite executive council and at our policy conference in 2016 in the wake of the misjudged and cowardly coup against Corbyn by most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
I look with disgust at the behaviour of the Corbyn-hater MPs who join forces with the most reactionary elements of the media establishment and I understand why there is a growing demand for mandatory reselection.
I had hoped, after the great advances in last year’s general election under Jeremy’s leadership – advances that obviously stunned much of the PLP, even as they enjoyed their highest-ever votes in most cases – the issue could fade away. It seems I was wrong.
To watch as these so-called social democrats tried to demean and attack, in front of our enemy, a decent and honourable man who has fought racism and anti-Semitism all his life and who has breathed life and hope back into the hearts of millions, especially the young, made my stomach churn. To see Tory MPs cheer and applaud them was shameful.
Promiscuous critics must expect to be criticised, and those who wish to hold Corbyn to account can expect to be held to account themselves.
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.
At a meeting on Wednesday April 25th 2018 the Merseyside Pensioners Association unanimously passed this resolution.
This MPA reaffirms it’s belief that the continuing fiction of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is generated by a toxic mix of Tories, Blairites, right-wing self-styled representatives of the ‘Jewish community’ and is designed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the ideas he espouses.
We condemn the role of the media, particularly the BBC, for perniciously linking the Labour Party to anti-Semitic attacks by far-right thugs
Labours response should be to call out the lies for what they are: a toxic conspiracy to bring down Corbyn.
McCarthy and the Salem with-hunters were eventually exposed as charlatans. We call on the leadership to stand firm and the current onslaught will suffer the same fate.
The poet Kevin Higgins has been suspended from the party for writing this satirical poem about the Blairs.
We Are Delighted To Announce
for Tony Greenstein
The first execution of a man convicted
of using inappropriate language – far too many
exclamation marks and block capitals – to tell
what we realise is ninety nine per cent the truth,
has been successfully carried out.
And it was surprisingly clean.
Bloodless as an office team building session held
in an hotel specially built to mop up the overspill
from the booming funeral parlour next door.
The screeching was confined to
a few pseudonymous moderates
post-coitally whispering the hope
that this legally implemented death
not be the last of its kind.
We must be sure and include
our least favourite black woman, the Irish,
and, at a minimum, one more Hebrew
in the commonsense cleansing we envisage.