Open Letter to Diane Abbott MP and Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP: We Must Stand Up to McCarthyism

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Dear Diane and Bell,

First we send solidarity to you. We are black and Jewish. Like you we are anti-racist and anti-fascist activists of long standing and have first-hand experience of the effect and purpose of attempts to publicly shame. We know this campaign of monitoring your words and deeds will not cease.

We were among the audience of over 600 at the ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’ meeting held last Wednesday at which both of you spoke from the panel. As people who had been mentioned, and smeared, by the leaked Labour report, we both made short contributions, as was our right and our responsibility as Left anti-racist activists who have been unfairly expelled.

As a result the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a small pressure group representing the most right-wing 30% of British Jewry, which has support for the Israeli state enshrined in its constitution, called on Keir Starmer to suspend you both.

The recently leaked Labour Party report makes clear, the Corbyn Project was in part destroyed by false and malicious accusations of anti-Semitism made against socialists in the Labour Party. If it were not for the Orwellian atmosphere surrounding the question of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party and the wholesale attack on freedom of speech, then the fact that the Board had objected to two Jews speaking at a meeting on grounds of anti-Semitism would have been held up to justifiable ridicule.

The Board’s current demands are a continuation of their campaign to politically castrate the Left. Their aim as ever is not to promote anti-racism but to prevent criticism of Israel and Zionism. It has nothing whatsoever to do with opposing anti-Semitism.

The response by the Labour leadership does have a precedent. In 1939 Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps were expelled from the Labour Party. Their crime? To support the Popular Front against fascism alongside the Communist Party and to have spoken on the same platform as communists. The Labour Party at that time opposed all anti-fascist activity for example, the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

Let us be blunt. Today’s ‘anti-Semitism’ is the new Communism, and protecting Zionism is the premise for the new McCarthyism. That is the context in which the Board’s actions should be judged.

There are many lessons from history for activists too. When Black communist Paul Robeson was summoned, in June 1956, by the House Committee on Un-American Activities he refused, despite enormous pressure and intimidation, to testify. His passport was confiscated, he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and his career all but destroyed. Nonetheless he stood firm on his principles. His struggles against injustice fed the movement which he saw himself as part of.

We understand the pressures that you are under but we also know that with the privileges of power and leadership comes responsibility to those you seek to represent. That is why we are disappointed that you did not feel able to withstand those who called upon you to dissociate yourself from those who were erroneously expelled for being anti-racists and Internationalists, opposing discrimination and injustice, in particular for us as Jews, the racism of the Israeli state. The way to oppose racists is, as we all know, never appeasement, whatever the short term benefits.

The lessons of history go on. The new Israeli government of Netanyahu, of which the Israeli Labor Party is a member, is committed to the annexation of large parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians who live in the West Bank, despite being ruled by the Israeli state, have no democratic rights. After all, to give the Palestinians a vote would imperil Israel’s Jewish demographic majority. This was the same argument used in South Africa to deny Black people a vote. The reason that veterans of the fight against Apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kassrils and Mandla Mandela condemn Israel as an apartheid state is because of its similarities with the regime that used operate in Pretoria.

We hope that in future you will feel able to speak truth to power. We hope the time will come when the swell of support from the grassroots, from oppressed minorities and from those who stand in solidarity with them will empower you to speak with the clarity, truth and passion we know is yours. We need your voice so we can raise ours to a pitch that cannot be ignored. This is the time to speak out because, as Rabbi Hillel said ‘if not now when?’

Kind regards and solidarity

Tony Greenstein

Jackie Walker