Witchhunt one of the key issues at Labour Party conference 2019

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While the majority of CLP delegates reject fast-track expulsions and the anti-left smear campaign, the right has the backing of the capitalist media. That, together with a conciliating leadership, gives them the upper hand, writes Peter Manson (this article first appeared in the Weekly Worker of September 26).

In the words of deputy leader Tom Watson, there is “a battle for the future of the Labour Party” going on. However, it is not about “factionalism”, as Watson claims, but the very nature of the party itself.

It goes without saying that as a key part of this battle the right has weaponised anti-Semitism – mainly by ludicrously equating anti-Zionism with “hostility to or prejudice against Jews”, but also by making numerous allegations of anti-Semitism that are just totally false. Take what happened at the Labour conference on September 22.

A suspended Labour member, Pete Gregson, had erected a banner, which featured a cartoon by Carlos Latuff. This portrayed Binyamin Netanyahu piloting a plane marked ‘The Lobby’, firing a “Defamation” missile and shouting “Anti-Semite!” at Jeremy Corbyn as he was speaking about “Palestinian rights”. Various pro-Zionists not only physically attacked the banner, but actually cut it in half – three times (after being quickly repaired), before the perpetrators were eventually apprehended. Even though two days earlier the police had said they could not see anything improper about it, eventually two officers removed the banner. Incredibly, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted soon after: “I’m disgusted that this banner was displayed near our … conference centre. We asked the police to remove it and I’m glad they did. This kind of anti-Semitic poison has no place whatsoever in our society.” Presumably Corbyn had been advised that it was bad PR.

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In solidarity with Asa Winstanley, the latest victim of the witchhunt

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Labour Against the Witchhunt condems the suspension of Asa Winstanley, a journalist and associate editor of Electronic Intifada. Asa learnt this from a story in the Jewish Chronicle, which stated that he had been suspended for calling the Jewish Labour Movement a “proxy for the Israeli Embassy”.

The disciplinary measures against Asa Winstanley are a full frontal attack on freedom of speech. Asa has written a number of well-researched articles showing how the ‘anti-Semitism campaign’ in the Labour Party has been manufactured by pro-Zionist groups (for example, How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisisand Jewish Labour Movement was refounded to fight Corbyn).

The last two weeks have seen a worrying acceleration of the witch-hunt against pro-Corbyn members. It seems that general secretary Jennie Formby has reinstated automatic suspensions over the most minor accusations:

  • Councillor Stuart Porthouse, former mayor of Sunderland, was suspended for sharing an interview with George Galloway on Sky News.
  • Sean McCallum, mayoral candidate in Mansfield, has been suspended on the basis of two tweets questioning the origins of a meme that Naz Shah MP had posted.
  • Jo Bird, a Jewish councillor in the Wirral was suspended for telling jokes.
  • And Chris Williamson MP has been suspended for daring to question the party’s tactics over the campaign to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

None of the above are under investigation for anything remotely anti-Semitic.It has become an offence merely to question the very assertion that there is widespread anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. What we are now seeing is Orwellian. As Asa Winstanley said at a recent meeting: “They’re trying to defeat the man by demoralising, splitting and defeating the left movement supporting him.”

This campaign is, at the heart of it, a campaign to delegitimise any criticism of Israel and its racist policies towards non-Jews. As an outspoken supporter of the rights of the Palestinians, Jeremy Corbyn is an unreliable ally when it comes to the strategically important alliance of Britain with the USA and Israel. They will do anything to get rid of him as leader of the Labour Party. This campaign to paint his supporters as anti-Semites is an integral part of it.

We are outraged that once again, the compliance unit has leaked details of Labour’s disciplinary processes to the Jewish Chronicle and the press before the person themselves has been notified. This is in clear violation of the General Data Protection Regulations and is illegal. The compliance unit should be shut down. It is not fit for purpose.

Solidarity message from Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada

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Dear comrades,

I send my solidarity and greetings to the fringe meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt, and I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to join your panel on Sunday.

While some on the left may continue to delude themselves that the solution to the manufactured ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’ fabrication is to concede to the demands of the right and the Israel lobby by selling out on important principles, LAW is correct to insist that only a strong fight back by the party leadership — still sorely lacking — can put this dishonest and damaging strategy down for good.
Be under no illusions — it is only a matter of time before this dishonest media narrative returns to daily  headlines, as it has this entire summer.
Despite the new left-wing general-secretary Labour has, the party bureaucracy is still disciplining members on entirely fallacious pretexts. One comrade in Brighton showed me a letter she received this very month from from Labour’s Head of Complaints Sophie Goodyear warning her that several “provocative” tweets she’d allegedly written in 2016 had “caused offence” and that such “abuse” would “not be tolerated” in Labour.
What was her “offence”? One of the three tweets cited was simply the comrade posting the headline and link to my April 2016 article, “How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis” without comment. Another tweet was a *condemnation* of antisemitism! The tweet criticised Chuka Umunna for conflating Zionism with all Jews.
The comrade has thankfully not been suspended — so perhaps that is a small sign of progress thanks to the work of grassroots groups against the witch hunt, such as LAW.
But it seems that at least some in Labour HQ are treating critical journalism like The Electronic Intifada as banned publications. Clearly much work remains to be done.
Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada