Resist at Labour Party conference 2021

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Labour Against the Witchhunt and a number of other organisations have got together to jointly discuss how we can intervene at this year’s Labour Party conference. Like a number of groups, we had our venues cancelled in the run up to the 2018 and 2019 conferences, when pro-Israel supporters wrongly claimed that we were supporting antisemites. In 2019, members of the Labour Left Alliance in Brighton swiftly booked The Rialto Theatre to stage a number of evening events. Register here to be kept informed about the event in September 2021.

This year, we have jointly booked the theatre for a full 3-day festival, where we can freely discuss and, importantly, organise. This exciting initiative called ‘Resist! at Labour Party conference’ will be launched on Friday May 28 at 5pm – register here. Speakers include Kerry-Anne Mendoza, Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein.

Model motion to LP conference: Abandon IHRA and adopt the Jerusalem Declaration

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This motion has been drafted as a model motion to go to Labour Party conference 2021, but it can be tweaked for other purposes. Please note that this has to go through your branch first, then your CLP and needs to be submitted to the NEC by September 13 in order to be heard at Labour Party conference. Remember that a CLP can either submit a rule change (which needs to be submitted by June 11) or a ‘contemporary’ motion like this one.

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Statement & model motion: Solidarity with Howard Beckett!

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Joint statement by Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network, Rotherham Labour Left and Sheffield Labour Left. To add your organisation’s name, please email info@labouragainstthewitchhunt.org

Solidarity with Howard Beckett!
Nominate him in the UNITE general secretary elections!

Of course Howard Beckett was not being racist when he sarcastically wrote that Priti Patel should be deported instead of the hundreds of people who are being sent back every year into war zones, poverty and abject misery. He was tweeting during the ongoing attempts in Glasgow to deport two Indian men on “immigration offenses”, who were later released after hundreds of protestors blocked the van (fantastic video here). 

He wrote: “Priti Patel should be deported, not refugees. She can go along with anyone else who supports institutional racism. She is disgusting.”

It is clear that Beckett was in fact criticising the racism of Priti Patel, who we should remember, had to resign once before because of her attempts to schmooze various Israeli dignitaries. He later clarified that, of course, “No one should be deported”. It clearly takes a lot of bad will to purposefully misinterpret his sarcastic tweet as supporting deportations or being racist.

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We will not be silenced! March 31: National day of action to defend academic freedom, free speech and the right to protest! Defend David Miller!

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Download the leaflet in PDF format here

The right to free speech and the right to protest are coming under increasingly brutal attack. Professor David Miller’s job at Bristol University is at stake, because he dared to speak out on Zionism. This is an important test case – should he be sacked, this will result in even more attacks on academic freedom.

The government is already threatening to defund universities who do not adopt the IHRA mis-definition of antisemitism, which even its author Kenneth Stern has described as having been abused to “chill free speech”.

The proposed policing bill would make it illegal to cause “serious annoyance” – with punishment of up to 10 years in jail. Worse than that, the law is to be applied even if “somebody is put at risk” of so-called “serious harm” (like ‘annoying’ somebody) – ie, if no action has taken place. The bill would make it an offence if just one person complains about feeling “serious distress…annoyance…[or even] inconvenience”.

Wednesday March 31
2pm: Lobby outside Wills Memorial Building, Bristol University, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1QE
3.15pm: Rally on College Green

New poem by Kevin Higgins

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2152 after Sophie Hannah 

It’s 2152 and Cumbria’s declared independence 
after a campaign during which they blew 
bits of Princess Eugenie all over 
Lake Windermere. There’s a free market 
in carcasses throttled by the latest mutant.
On Newsnight Kirsty Wark mutters from her crypt:
we may have run out of ambulances,
but at least we dodged the bullet that was Corbyn.  

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Labour Campaign for Free Speech

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Contributors to the conference on Saturday February 13 included Norman Finkelstein, former Labour MP Chris Williamson (founder Resistance Movement), Graham Bash from Jewish Voice for Labour, anti-apartheid veteran Ronnie Kasrils, suspended CLP chair Esther Giles, Sami Ramadani (Stop the War Coalition), Jamie Stern-Weiner (expert on IHRA) and David Miller (University of Bristol).

The conference established a steering committee, voted for the campaign’s missing statement and a Charter for Free Speech. It has since launched a website, where you can find all videos from the conference – click here.

Letter in the Guardian: Antisemitism definition is undermining free speech

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  • Lawyers and retired judges argue that the IHRA working definition undermines freedom of expression, and Gavin Williamson is wrong to forcefully impose it on universities. Letter is online here.

The legally entrenched right to free expression is being undermined by an internally incoherent “non-legally binding working definition” of antisemitism. Its promotion by public bodies is leading to the curtailment of debate. Universities and others who reject the instruction of the secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson, to adopt it should be supported in so doing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of 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”. The right is embodied in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, section 6 of which expressly prohibits a public authority from acting in a way that is incompatible with that right. Specific protections for freedom of expression at universities were also enacted in the Education Act 1986.

Mr Williamson was legally and morally wrong last October to instruct English universities to adopt and implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. He has threatened to punish them with loss of income if they fail to comply. This would be an improper interference with their autonomy.

The definition is often described as “the international definition of antisemitism”, but it has no legislative or other authority in international or domestic law. Noted scholars of antisemitism, including Prof David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London (2 December), have criticised its shortcomings.The IHRA added to the definition illustrative examples of statements that could be antisemitic “taking into account the overall context”. The majority of these examples do not refer to Jews as such, but to Israel. They have been widely used to suppress or avoid criticism of the state of Israel.

The impact on public discourse both inside and outside universities has already been significant. Mr Williamson’s threat should be withdrawn.

Prof Bill Bowring Barrister, Birkbeck, University of London,
Lord Hendy QC,
Sir Anthony Hooper Retired lord justice of appeal,
Michael Mansfield QC,
Sir Stephen Sedley Retired lord justice of appeal,
Hugh Tomlinson QC,
Frances Webber Barrister,
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC Solicitor

Ronnie Kasrils: Against the witch-hunt!

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Ronnie Kasrils, is a former ANC freedom fighter, and was Intelligence Minister in South Africa. This article is based on Ronnie’s address to the launch rally for the ‘Campaign for Free Speech’, December 12, 2020. The video from the second session (with Ronnie) is here , the first session can be watched here

The assault on free speech within Britain’s Labour Party speaks like a ghost from my past. I was banned from public speaking in apartheid South Africa almost sixty years ago. My crime aged 23, was advocating votes for all. The apartheid government accused those like me of undermining the safety of whites. When all avenues of peaceful change were blocked, we had no option but to turn to armed struggle. We argued that there was no equivalence between the state violence of the oppressor and the resistance of the oppressed.  International solidarity helped bring about the demise of the apartheid system. We empathise with those in the Labour Party today, who are being victimised by a double agenda: for their socialism and defending Palestinian rights. It is astonishing and deplorable that a witch hunt is underway within those ranks – as elsewhere.

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David Evans communication, Tuesday December 1 2020

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FAO: Branch Secretaries & Chairs

Dear ***,

Following the publication of the EHRC report into antisemitism in the Labour Party on 29 October, I provided some guidance to CLPs on what were and were not appropriate topics of discussion for branches and CLPs. The situation has clearly moved on since then, so I wanted to provide you with some updated guidance.

It remains the case that motions which seek to repudiate the findings of the EHRC or question its competency to conduct the investigation remain not competent business for branches or CLPs. Motions relating to ongoing disciplinary cases are also not in order, in line with the instructions of my predecessor.

I am aware that other motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the PLP) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.

A number of CLPs have asked for further information on the basis on which myself and the NEC are able to rule on what can and cannot be discussed by local parties, and I am very happy to provide that explanation.

The Labour Party’s ‘Code of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism’ rightly states that “the Labour Party will ensure the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion.” The NEC has the power to uphold the rules and standing orders of the Labour Party and to take any action it deems necessary for such purposes. The Rule Book is also clear that such powers can be delegated to, amongst others, the General Secretary. For the avoidance of doubt my previous rulings on these matters have all been properly reported to the NEC, which is supportive of my approach.

The Labour Party is committed to implementing the EHRC report in full, and part of that is to accept our previous failure to deal with antisemitism and adopt a genuinely zero tolerance approach which will ensure all members, and in particular our Jewish members, feel safe and welcome within the Labour Party. Please rest assured that when I took up post as General Secretary, I had no desire at all to hamper discussion by our local parties, but until we can improve our culture such restrictions may be required to stay in place.

Best wishes,

David Evans

General Secretary

Moshé Machover: Open Letter on my suspension

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Dear Friends,

Attached herewith you will find a letter in PDF format, “Notice of administrative suspension from membership of the Labour Party”. Also attached is a covering letter from the LP Governance and Legal Unit.  The authors of both documents hide in the hood of anonymity.  

The covering letter says, “The Labour Party’s investigation process operates confidentially. That is vital to ensure fairness to you and the complainant, and to protect the rights of all concerned under the Data Protection Act 2018. We must therefore ask you to ensure that you keep all information and correspondence relating to this investigation private, and that you do not share it with third parties or the media (including social media).”  

I disobey the anonymous inquisitors’  instruction, because I believe that these matters are best discussed in public, in the open, not in the secrecy that they desire. I publish, and let them be damned. I am not going to dignify their letter with a direct response, but allow readers of this open letter to make their own judgment. 

I will only make here some brief remarks relating to the said attached documents.

1. The documents do not disclose any details of the complainant(s), and I waive my own right to anonymity. However, I have lightly redacted the Notice of Suspension in order to protect the privacy of a couple of individuals’ names and their identifying details. Most names that appear in this document are mentioned within texts that are in the public domain, and hence are already publicly known. However, there are two individuals named on p. 3 of this document that are not mentioned within such a text. They are individuals with whom the inquisitors apparently wish to insinuate that I am associated, and guilty by virtue of this association. One of them, whose name is redacted as xxxx, is known to me as a political adversary, against whose views I have publicly polemicised. The other, whose name is redacted as yyyy, is totally unknown to me; I had never heard of him before reading this document. I disclaim any association with either of them. 

2. The long list of 48 inquisitorial questions and insinuations that take up pp. 3–7 of the Notice of Suspension do not contain any specific explicit direct accusation. They are phrased so as to prompt me to incriminate myself, or try to defend myself against what I appear to be implicitly accused of. I refuse to play this game. I literally have no case to answer. 

3. This list is followed by ten items of so-called “evidence”. The first two items are intended to suggest an association with xxxx and yyyy. This suggestion is false. The remaining eight items are texts that I have published or co-signed, or quotations form what I said in public. I stand by these utterances. In fact I urge you to read them carefully and make up your mind whether any of them are false or otherwise illegitimate. You may disagree with some of the views I have expressed, but I claim that in pronouncing them I have made legitimate use of my freedom of speech, which includes the right to express controversial views. 

*          *          *
I Joined the Labour Party in 2016, when it opened its doors to socialists – who are, by definition, anti-imperialists. I regret I am now among the numerous victims of a purge driven by right-wing heresy hunters, bureaucratic enemies of free speech . But at least I can use this occasion to promote the views I have been advocating for many years; in particular, socialist opposition to the Zionist project of colonisation and the Jewish-supremacist regime of the Israeli settler state. For a start, I urge you to read my three articles referred to in Item 7 of the Notice of Suspension. Two of them are available online:
‘Messianic Zionism: The ass and the red heifer’ (Monthly Review, February 2020).
*  ‘Weaponising “anti-Semitism”’ (Weekly Worker 23 April 2020).
The third article, ‘An immoral dilemma: The trap of Zionist propaganda’ (Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. XLVII, No. 4, Summer 2018 ) is not freely downloadable, and I attach it herewith

If you wish to pursue these ideas further, you can find many of my articles archived in The Israeli Occupation Archive and the archive of the Weekly Worker.

I dare to hope that as a growing number of people are exposed to views challenging the lies of the mainstream media and Israeli hasbarah, resistance to oppression and support for the oppressed will gain force. 

In solidarity,
Moshé Machover

Starmer and Rayner’s all-out war against the left: How we must organise now

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No unity with the right! Time to organise for a real fight-back! Plan ahead and start organising shadow CLP structures!

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner both spent the ‘International Day of Solidarity with Palestinians’ addressing a meeting of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, Starmer used the opportunity to state that Jeremy Corbyn’s factual statement that “the scale of the [antisemitism] problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents” was “just about as bad as you could get”. Clearly, he will do anything to keep Corbyn out of the PLP, if not the party. Angela Rayner helpfully suggested that, “If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of [Labour] members, we will do that.”

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Defend Corbyn, Reject EHRC

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(as agreed at our all-members’ meeting on November 21 2020)

LAW congratulates all those CLPs, branches and party members who refused to be silenced and raised a storm of protest over the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn.

Of course, the witch-hunt has never been just about one individual, no matter how prominent. Defence of Corbyn, as a victim of the witch-hunt, must include fighting to reverse the suspensions and expulsions of the hundreds of other victims of the witch-hunt over the last five years. Unless the witch-hunt is defeated, the Starmer leadership may well attempt to complete the Blairite project of deLabourising the Labour Party.

LAW rejects the findings and recommendations of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report, particularly the proposed ‘outsourcing’ of disciplinary processes. From the start, the aim of the EHRC was to attack the Corbyn leadership, delegitimize any criticism of Zionism and create a situation where the left is either tamed, domesticated, or driven out of the Labour Party. Behind the facade of balance and objectivity, the EHRC is, in fact, an arm of the state – a quango whose board is government-appointed and stuffed full of Tories and open reactionaries such as the ‘liberal Powellite’ David Goodhart. We oppose state interference in the internal affairs of the Labour Party and the wider labour movement.

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Why we need a campaign For Free Speech!

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The right to free speech, especially on the subject of Israel/Palestine, is coming under immense attack all over the world.

– Universities: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has just threatened to cut the funding of any university that refuses to adopt the ‘working definition of antisemitism’ published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “by the end of the year”. A recent survey by the Union of Jewish Students had shown that only 29 out of 133 universities had adopted the IHRA definition, and 80 said they had no current plans to do so. (link)

– Schools: In September, the British government instructed schools in England not to use resources from anti-capitalist organisations: “Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation.” (link)

– NGOs: The US government is threatening to label labelling a number of leading international humanitarian organisations as antisemitic after they documented Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians, including settlement building in the occupied territories. The groups include the UK-based Amnesty International and Oxfam as well as the US organisation Human Rights Watch. (link)

– BDS movement: In 2019, the German government voted to declare BDS ‘antisemitic’ (link). In the US, some states have passed anti-BDS measures, such as punishing companies that refuse to do business with illegal Israeli settlements (link). After it labelled the BDS movement as antisemitic in 2018, the city council of Vienna cancelled a lecture by Ronnie Kassrills, the Jewish South African anti-Apartheid campaigner, alongside several Palestine solidarity events by a combined vote of the Greens, Social Democrats and the neo-Nazi Freedom Party (link). When France’s highest court convicted twelve activists merely for handing out BDS leaflets, the European Court of Human Rights stepped in and overruled the verdict in June 2020, stating that this was a breach of freedom of expression, ordering the French government to pay damages to the activists (link). Still, Boris Johnson is considering introducing similar laws in Britain, which was indeed promised in the Tory’s election programme (link). A large number of local authorities have already adopted the IHRA definition. Tower Hamlets council banned a bike ride for Palestinian children meeting in a park; other councils have refused to let BDS or pro-Palestinian groups hire town buildings or stage protests.

Labour movement: The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 unleashed a vicious campaign against him and his supporters. Anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinian struggle was wrongly equated with antisemitism, leading to the smearing of hundreds of supporters of the Palestinian struggle as antisemites. The campaign culminated in the October 29 suspension of Corbyn himself, for stating that: “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents”. Like many others before him, he was punished simply for stating the plain truth.  

The fight for freedom of discussion and democratic decision-making in our movement is essential for the struggle for socialism. For this reason, we oppose demands for “zero tolerance”. This is the opposite of the culture of open debate we need. The best way to fight prejudice, misperceptions and misunderstandings is by education and free and frank debate.