Labour Against the Witchhunt calls on the GMB union to restore Peter Gregson’s full membership rights.
Peter is clearly not anti-Semitic: he does not harbour hostility, prejudice, hatred or ill-intent towards Jewish people as Jews. He is a campaigner for Palestinian rights, against the racist ideology of Zionism and the apartheid system and practices of Israel.
We reject the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance’s unnecessarily complex, imprecise and self-contradictory definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by both the Labour Party and the GMB and which conflates anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
The investigation into Peter arose because he organised a petition– using the clumsy and obscure IHRA wording – that “the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
Clearly, the Israeli state is inherently racist. Under its July 2018 Nation-State Law, Israel is defined as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” and Palestinian citizens are explicitly declared not to have any national rights. In the West Bank and Gaza – territories occupied since 1967 – while Jewish settlers enjoy full democratic rights as Israeli citizens, Palestinians live under military rule with no democratic rights, because they are not Jewish.
Although Peter’s petition is a good idea, challenging the IHRA definition, we cannot support it. Firstly, we disagree with some of its wording – eg, before it adopted the full IHRA definition on September 4, the Labour Party did not allow “full freedom of speech on Israel”. On the contrary, the witch-hunt was in full flow long before that. Secondly, some of the formulations in Peter’s supporting documents internalise the racism of Zionist ideology, failing to distinguish clearly between the Zionist movement and the Jewish population, and attributing a non-existent collective political identity to “the Jews”, eg, “the Jews have so much leverage here [in the UK]”.
We also disagree with Peter’s original formulation, “Israel exaggerates the Holocaust for political ends”. After discussions with LAW members he clarified that he did not mean to deny the scale and the horror of the mass slaughter of Jewish people, but that he tried to echo the view of Norman Finkelstein, who in his seminal work ‘The Holocaust Industry’ outlined how the Zionist lobby and the Israeli government have weaponised the Holocaust for their own political ends.
We believe frank debate and discussion is much better to counter wrong ideas or, as in this case, clumsy formulations. Except in the most extreme circumstances, disciplinary sanctions should not be applied until due process has been concluded. Where low level sectionalist, nationalistic, xenophobic or racist ideas, including anti-Semitic ideas, are found in the workers’ movement, they are best countered by open discussion, patient education, inculcation of elementary class consciousness and by encouraging participation in joint struggles. The slogan ‘zero tolerance’ is ill-conceived and counterproductive.
The witch-hunt against Corbyn and the Labour left is part of the huge, unprecedented campaign over recent years to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism – hatched, crafted and skilfully promoted by the US right, the Israeli government and the UK establishment, designed to delegitimise criticism of Israel and to prepare public opinion for another imperialist war in the Middle East, after the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq.