RLB sacking: Stop the anti-left witch-hunt!

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LAW Statement June 26 2020

Labour Against the Witchhunt condemns the June 25 sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Her ‘crime’ was retweeing an interview in The Independent with the actor Maxine Peake. Repeating a widely circulated but inaccurate story, Maxine commented: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

However, Israeli training of US police, and the use of such inhuman techniques against Palestinians, have been well documented, for example by Amnesty International and Middle East Eye. Keir Starmer’s charge that any of this is an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” is ludicrous. It does underline the fact however that the witch-hunt has precious little to do with fighting antisemitism. It is all about getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn and now all of his remaining supporters and making sure the Labour Party remains a reliable ally from imperialism’s (and, crucially, Israel’s) point of view.

Rebecca Long-Bailey should have refuted the charge, and called out the Big Lie that criticising the Israeli state is anti-Jewish racism. Instead she retreated, tweeting that her praise of Peake was “not intended to be an endorsement of all parts of the article”. But appeasement only invites more attacks.

The agreed wording was not enough, and RLB was instructed to delete both her original tweet and her desperate “clarification”. Four hours after she expressed reluctance to do so “without the issuing of a press statement of clarification”, Starmer sacked her.

RLB’s cowardly capitulation is fully in line with her previous behavior. Her self-abasing endorsement of the Zionist, Tory-led, Board of Deputy’s ‘Ten Pledges’ did not protect her. Nor did calling herself a Zionist and refusing to protest again the witch-hunt or the appalling treatment suffered by the likes of Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein and former MP Chris Williamson.

Starmer’s ratcheting up of the anti-socialist witch-hunt in the Labour Party is unsurprising. It fulfills his promise to show ‘zero tolerance’ of any criticism of the racist ideology of Zionism.

LAW calls out the Big Lie – that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. LAW calls out the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance cynical misdefinition of anti-Semitism. Acceptance of the Big Lie is nowadays obligatory for career politicians. Loyalty to British imperialism requires loyalty to US imperialism and its attack dog in the Middle East, Israel. Common humanity means we must stand with the Palestinians, who face not only military occupation and lack of elementary democratic rights, but now the threat of another round of ethnic cleansing.

LAW welcomes Momentum’s petition, calling for RLB’s reinstatement. But why did Momentum not organise against the witch-hunt from the beginning? Why did it throw Jackie Walker, Momentum’s former vice chair, to the wolves? And why does it tolerate witch-hunters in its ranks, including at the very top? Momentum has become a career ladder for aspiring Labour politicians.

LAW welcomes the belated “solidarity” expressed for the latest victim of the witch-hunt by the likes of John McDonnell and John Trickett, and the June 26 statement by the Campaign Group of Socialist MPs. They are protesting against the unjust victimisation of Corbyn’s “continuity candidate”. It would have been much better to have fought the witch-hunt from the beginning. How about now extending your “solidarity” to the hundreds of Labour members wrongly vilified, smeared, suspended and expelled? Instead, the Corbyn leadership sought to appease right from day 1.

RLB’s sacking on charges of promoting an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” could possibily be the start of a bigger purge. The right will not be satisfied until what little remains of the parliamentary Labour left is purged. It is that or total surrender.

LAW calls upon Labour Party members to stay and fight. Do not resign in protest against Starmer or the cowardice and crass careerism of the parliamentary left.

We demand:

  • Constituency Labour Parties and branches must be allowed to meet and make decisions and pass motions and statements online;
  • Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) must repudiates the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism, along with its so called examples, which deliberately conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism;
  • Members of the Campaign Group of Socialist MPs should repudiate the BoD’s ‘Ten Pledges;
  • Unite, Unison, GMB, Aslef, FBU, RMT, PCS and other trade unions must stop funding MPs who refuse to oppose the anti-left witch-hunt.

Fighting the witch-hunt as key part of building the foundations for an independent, democratic Labour left

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Lead motion agreed at our members’ meeting on May 4 2019

The witch-hunt in the Labour Party is accelerating. There are many new allegations, suspensions and investigations. In the run up to the May local and European elections, the campaign of the right in and outside the Labour Party is designed to smear Jeremy Corbyn in particular, and the left in general.

Overwhelmingly, it is clear that a number of party members under attack (often election candidates) are not guilty of anti-Semitic comments. Words are often taken out of context, twisted and misrepresented to prove their ‘guilt’. In the few cases where there is real evidence of prejudiced views or support for questionable conspiracy theories, patient discussion is usually the best option, with suspension or expulsion the last resort. As socialists, we believe in the potential for change; that people, through experience, joint struggles and rational argument, can learn.

Instead, we are again seeing automatic suspensions. The Labour right is energetically promoting this approach, of course – it facilitates the purge of Corbyn supporters and awkward trouble-makers.

Meanwhile, those like Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman and Tom Watson insult, sabotage, make bogus accusations and work hand-in-glove with the capitalist media – without any repercussions.

That such behaviour goes unpunished is the product of the short-sighted and futile attempt to appease the right. This can only undermine the Corbyn leadership and often plays into the false ‘anti-Zionism equals antisemitism’ narrative. Now it is “common knowledge” that Jeremy Corbyn is “responsible for antisemitism inside and outside the Labour Party”, as Ruth Smeeth MP recently claimed.

Appeasement is designed to stop more right-wingers leaving and getting Corbyn into No10. LAW notes the delay to the roll-out of trigger ballots, which conference in 2018 voted for. The delay is particularly worrying in the context of a possible snap election or, worse, a national government. The vast majority of Labour MPs are clearly deeply hostile to Corbyn and his politics. Even if he was Prime Minister, the right inside and outside the Labour Party would not stop their campaign against him. They want him either removed, taken prisoner or tamed. Labour Party members must be allowed to hold all their representatives to account.

Momentum has proven unfit for purpose. While a number of local Momentum branches continue to do good work, the national leadership of the organisation has often been deafeningly silent or actually supported suspensions and expulsions – something that even the Jewish Labour Movement recognised when it praised Momentum in the lead motion at its recent AGM.

LAW supports a Labour left that:

  • organises democratically and transparently;
  • both supports Corbyn against attacks by the right, and is independent and able to criticise the leadership when necessary;
  • is consistently anti-racist and internationalist, a stance which by definition includes anti-Zionism and supporting the Palestinians.

In addition to our aims and priorities outlined above, we also resolve to campaign:

  • for Labour CLPs and trade union branches to affiliate to LAW and Jewish Voice for Labour
  • for the immediate implementation of the reformed trigger ballots;
  • for the scrapping of all bans and proscriptions: if the mass of socialists in Britain joined the party, it would put us in a much stronger position in the ongoing civil war within the party.

In addition to our ongoing public campaigning we therefore instruct the steering committee to:

  • produce more model motions, statements and public interventions on the subjects and issues above;
  • approach other local, regional and national organisations and individuals who are interested in building a democratic and transparent Labour left;
  • start planning for an intervention around those aims at Labour Party conference 2019 in Brighton.
  • produce basic information for members who have been suspended or are put under investigation, including details of potential pro bono legal advisers.

We will prioritise the following three campaigns:

  1. For the reinstatement of Chris Williamson MP.
  2. For the Labour Party Party and other organisations to reject the definition of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
  3. To make Zionism a legitimate topic of discussion.