Conference didn’t buy it

Delegates identify with the Palestinian cause and reject the smears, writes Kat Gugino

JLM given Del Singh award - but loses argument

It was very encouraging to see the overwhelming majority of delegates stand firmly against that relentless (and utterly cynical) ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. Fringe meetings organised by Free Speech on Israel and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) were packed out, as was Jackie Walker’s show The lynching. Comrade Wimborne-Idrissi (a member of the new formed JVL) made an impassioned pro-Palestinian speech from the podium and deservedly got a standing ovation when she concluded: “The Labour Party does not have a problem with Jews”.

She clearly spoke for the overwhelming majority in the hall. In another indicator of the mood of comrades attending the event, the front page of Labour Party Marxists - emblazoned with the headline “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism” - drew many “Quite right”-style comments. There was praise in particular for the article by Moshé Machover - which, as several national newspapers reported sympathetically, had been condemned as “anti-Semitic” by the pro-Zionist Labour right - from people who had found the time to actually read it. In fact a number took small bundles to distribute to their own contacts.

That said, LPM comrades were caught out on the final afternoon of conference, when two smiling young delegates asked for some extra copies - only to ostentatiously rip them up. They were presumably members of the Jewish Labour Movement - demonstrating that organisation’s unbending commitment to open debate and the democratic clash of ideas.

Other LPMers report (verbally) aggressive approaches from JLM types. One was particularly instructive. A young woman informed an LPM distributor that we were “despicable” - “Why would you ever quote the words of a Nazi?” she demanded. “Er, to verify what he said”, our comrade replied - not unreasonably. At this point our pro-Zionist friend dug herself a little deeper by stating: “But he’s the only person you do quote in the article.” “No, he’s not - have you actually read it?” responded the LPMer. “No! And I’m not going to!” she shouted in triumph and marched off.

However, we know that the vast bulk of the 3,000 copies distributed were closely read and made a real impact. For instance, in a long chat, Dennis Skinner complimented us by saying: “I really appreciate that you are disseminating Marxist politics in the party” - although the veteran MP thought we were slightly overstating the importance of the need to defeat the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. We disagree, Dennis - at least with your last point!

And it seemed to us that the overwhelming majority of delegates and visitors too are clearly seeing through the right’s thinly veiled attempt to beat Corbyn and his supporters with the ‘anti-Semitism’ stick, despite the increasingly desperate attempts by the capitalist press to paint the audience as anti-Semitic.

In fact, apart from a couple of JLMers, there was only one speaker at conference who was ambivalent on the question. In the session discussing the various rule changes submitted, Zack Murrell-Brown from Bristol North-West argued in favour of an abstention on the NEC’s compromise rule change on the issue. His claim that “there are ideas on the left that have an anti-Semitic logic” went down like a lead balloon. Well, of course he is sort of right, but he had a lot of people in the hall puzzled when he assured them that he is “on the left of the party”. They had naturally presumed him to be a supporter of the JLM. Towards the end though, he cleared up the confusion when he outed himself as “a proud supporter of Stop the Labour Purge” - which is, of course, a campaign set up by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty to oppose the expulsion and suspension of (particularly its own) members from the party. The AWL has been less vocal in its opposition to the suspension of Jackie Walker, on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism, of course. While it claims to be against that suspension, it voted in favour of her demotion from the post of Momentum vice-chair because of comments that had been falsely condemned as “anti-Semitic” by the right.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the pressure from pro-Palestinian campaigners led to a fascinating about-turn when it came to the national policy forum’s annual report. The NPF, of course, is a relic of the dark days of Blairism: it is a body Blair established to outsource the party’s policy-making. When it published its dire, 90-page annual report in August, Palestine campaigners quickly noticed a glaring omission: the call in the 2017 general election manifestofor an end to Israel’s blockade, illegal occupation and settlements. These basic democratic demands had been dropped from the NPF document, along with the pledge that “A Labour government will immediately recognise the state of Palestine”.

Had conference supported this document, it would presumably have overridden the pledges in the manifesto, as conference is - at least on paper - the sovereign decision-making body of the party, so the omission was no oversight. Campaigners went into overdrive: LPM joined others in calling on delegates to refer back this section of the document.

Page 14 of Sunday’s thick report from the conference arrangements committee included, without explanation, this small paragraph:

The following text, as agreed in the Labour Party manifesto 2017, is now included in the national policy forum annual report 2017. On page 56, column 2, line 43, add:

“There can be no military solution to this conflict and all sides must avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve. That means both an end to the blockade, occupation and settlements, and an end to rocket and terror attacks. Labour will continue to press for an immediate return to meaningful negotiations leading to a diplomatic resolution. A Labour government would immediately recognise the state of Palestine.”

It is obviously not the kind of programme we would write on the Middle East (it includes the attempt to equate the violence of the oppressor state with the struggle of the oppressed Palestinian people - note the reference to “rocket attacks”). But clearly this return to the formulation carried in the manifesto is down to pressure from below (and maybe even Corbyn himself) and represents a victory against those (like the Jewish Labour Movement) who want us to take the side of the Israeli state. The fact that the JLM has perversely been given the Del Singh award for ‘best practice’ by Iain McNicol serves as a reminder of how well connected this organisation is to the party bureaucracy.

However, conference has shown that the wider membership has no interest in appeasing the forces determined to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership - as the standing ovation for Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi’s comments dramatically illustrated. Very oddly, however, a leading light of the JLM, Mike Katz, tried to convince one of our comrades that Naomi’s speech had trotted out a well-worn trope about the ‘Jewish media’. Specifically, the comrade has said something about the JLM ‘running to the media’ about what it calls instances of ‘anti-Semitism’. Apparently comrade Wimborne-Idrissi’s implication was that the media is part of a Jewish conspiracy! At least that was Katz’s interpretation. Huh? Comrade Wimborne-Idrissi was actuallyimplying that the JLM might have a decent press officer.

Asked if he thought LPM should be expelled from the Labour Party, he was non-committal and a little incomprehensible. However, he did take the opportunity to dub Moshé Machover - the author of the offending article - as an “amoral historian”. He put forward a very convoluted explanation for this, which seems to boil down to the claim that the accuracy or otherwise of the Heydrich quote mentioned above is essentially irrelevant. These things should not be spoken of: such historical citations should no longer be read, let alone reproduced.

Was Katz saying that what comrade Machover had written had been historically inaccurate? Katz did not suggest that it was. His argument was simply that it cannot be said because of the emotional reaction it engenders in people who feel a close cultural or religious affinity with the victims!

Individually, Katz was very friendly and generally willing to engage with our arguments. However, the practical result of a ‘subjective’ approach that disregards things like historical facts and objectivity for the ‘perceptions’ that various groups or individuals have (or claim to have) of oppressive speech or prejudicial actions is not friendly or open.