Mike Cushman: How talking about Zionism can lose you your job

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Mike Cushman reports how Stan Keable (LAW secretary) has been sacked by Hammersmith and Fulham Council for a private conversation when he attended the Jewish Voice for Labour Parliament Square rally on 26 March. This article first appeared on Free Speech on Israel. 

Stan engaged in a discussion with a Zionist during the Parliament Square rally, a conversation that happened to be recorded by the BBC and broadcast. During the one on one discussion Stan talked about the historically undisputed collaboration between the Nazis and the German Zionist leadership. At no time did Stan make any, even remotely, antisemitic.

Hammersmith and Fulham Tory MP Greg Hands circulated the video of the conversation, publicised on Twitter and then referred it to the New Labour Leader of the Council. That letter, which was the first public association of Greg with the Council was made public. This linking of Greg with the Council was the sole basis of the charge of ‘bringing the council into disrepute’. Hands publicised Stan’s link with the Council and then this publicising was, itself, used as the basis for dismissal. An offence that only existed because the complainant had caused it to exist.

Actions taken independent of our employment can, correctly, be used for discipline if they clearly reveal attitudes than are fundamentally discriminatory and indicate someone’s inability to carry out their duties fairly. At no point was this alleged in Stan’s case. Indeed, it was never alleged that Stan had been antisemitic, only that he might have caused offence. Offence,if any, had been caused by Hand’s action and the Council’s response to it.

The five pages of findings by the disciplinary panel never address the fundamental rights of free speech and free association guaranteed under UK and European Law addressed not that Zionism has never been established as a protected characteristic under equalities legislation. The findings are a mish-mash of unconnected assertions grounded in neither logic nor law providing an unsound basis for a decision that, it is reasonable to infer, had been reached before the hearing.

Even if the case against Stan had been substantiated, and it was not, it is difficult to see how anything beyond a warning could have been appropriate. This is clearly an unfair dismissal and is illegal under both employment and human rights law. Stan will be using all availbale routes ot get this decision overturned

Other employers behave with more discretion in similar situations. A donor to LSE complained Howard Davies, the Director, that I had spoken in favour of BDS at a UCU conference and brought LSE into disrepute. Davies, no great friend of mine, responded promptly and honourably to the donor that it was not his duty to police the political opinions of LSE staff; it is sad that a Labour Council has less grasp of free speech.

That supporters of Palestinian rights are being expelled from the Labour Party is terrible; that someone should lose their livelihood for an unwelcome historical analysis is far, far worse.