Corbyn must speak out

David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists reports on the launch of a promising new campaign

Stop looking the other way

Around 25 comrades attended the launch meeting of Labour Against the Witch-hunt (LAW), held in London on October 21. The undoubted stimulus behind it was the expulsion from the Labour Party earlier this month of Moshé Machover for “apparent anti-Semitism” - although within two days this pretext was seemingly withdrawn in favour of an unsubstantiated allegation of “membership” of, or “support” for, the CPGB and/or Labour Party Marxists.

This vindictive and totally unjustified act - undoubtedly orchestrated by Labour’s pro-Zionist right as part of its war against the Jeremy Corbyn leadership - has caused huge outrage throughout the party. Over a thousand people have signed the petition drawn up by the anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for Labour, and many dozens of Constituency Labour Parties and branches have demanded comrade Machover’s immediate reinstatement.

As readers will know, what provoked his targeting by the right was the republication in September of his article, ‘Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism’, in Labour Party Marxists, which was distributed to delegates and visitors attending the Labour conference in Brighton. This edition of LPM was widely welcomed, with many asking for extra copies to take back to their comrades and friends. A clear majority of delegates were in favour of Palestinian rights and against Israel’s continued policy of colonial expansionism. This was made very clear by the reaction within the hall whenever the question was raised by speakers.

Like Ken Livingstone - still suspended after 18 months for “bringing the party into disrepute” - comrade Machover had the gall to point to the 1930s cooperation between the German Nazis and leading Zionists. This undoubted historical fact is considered such an embarrassment by today’s Zionists that those who even mention it must be smeared as anti-Semitic - it does not matter that amongst those who do so are Jewish anti-racists and lifelong opponents of anti-Semitism like comrade Machover; or indeed Tony Greenstein, who has also been suspended from Labour since April 2016.

The difference between the Machover and Livingstone cases was that the latter made his remarks in an off-the-cuff radio interview and therefore included one or two minor inaccuracies. So, although the former London mayor is a much more high-profile case than comrade Machover, this had the effect of muddying the waters and reducing the widespread opposition to his suspension.

By contrast, comrade Machover’s clear and concise piece was recognised as a valuable contribution by delegates in Brighton. Undoubtedly those very delegates will have influenced the outcome of the local motions calling for his reinstatement - most being passed by overwhelming majorities.

Labour members have also been struck by the blatant unjustness of the expulsion procedure: comrade Machover has been given no opportunity to present his case or appeal against the decision. Such unjustness has also featured in other cases where anti-Zionists have been smeared as ‘anti-Semitic’ in this way, but this one has undoubtedly given fresh impetus to the whole campaign of opposition to the witch-hunt. Members are aware that it is this series of smears and the absence of any democratic process in such disciplinary cases that is bringing the party into disrepute, not the considered reflections of Moshé Machover.

That is why the launch of LAW is so much to be welcomed. Hopefully it will be able to gather momentum and provide a cutting-edge for the whole campaign to democratise Labour - which is very much at the centre of the battle to defeat the right in its attempts to keep it safe for pro-capitalist careerists.

At Saturday’s meeting a steering committee of four was elected, consisting of Pete Firmin, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Stan Keable. Of the four, only comrade Firmin - a long-time leading figure on the Labour left - is not a victim of the witch-hunt. Jackie Walker - who, like comrades Machover and Greenstein, is herself Jewish - was suspended a year ago, this time for a remark she made in a speech to the effect thatHolocaust Memorial Day should commemorate other genocides besides those perpetrated by the Nazis. In what way was this ‘anti-Semitic’ or worthy of disciplinary action?

The reason given for comrade Keable’s summary expulsion is his membership of LPM, of which he is secretary - even though his occupancy of that position has been public knowledge since 2011. As for comrade Greenstein, he too has been accused of anti-Semitism - ‘evidence’ of this included his use of the abbreviation ‘Zio’ for ‘Zionist’ on social media!

LAW will have three basic demands:

  •  End ‘auto-exclusion’ and reinstate all those thus excluded.
  •  Abolish the compliance unit. Disciplinary action must be taken only by elected bodies.
  •  Define anti-Semitism straightforwardly and clearly, along the lines suggested by Brian Klug.

Not just the definition, but the illustrations of anti-Semitism - in particular illustration number seven - put out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and in comrade Machover’s case cited for the first time, as far as I know, to back up disciplinary action) is clearly being used to conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. We are seriously told that it is anti-Semitic to “deny ... the Jewish people their right to self-determination: eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” By contrast, Klug’s definition is brief and to the point: “Anti-Semitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.” In my opinion, however, the definition which features on the website of Jewish Voice for Labour (www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk) is better still: “Hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews”.

The new committee will write a letter to Labour’s national executive committee, outlining its aims. It will draw up a leaflet to distribute and consider other means of generating support, such as the production of badges. LAW will lobby a forthcoming NEC meeting and consider picketing disciplinary hearings. It intends to hold a public meeting in London, as the campaign generates momentum, and organise a conference in the new year.

It is essential that Corbyn and John McDonnell begin to speak out against the witch-hunt, rather than maintain thatthey “do not comment on disciplinary cases”. They know full well what is really happening, but their concern that the pretence of ‘party unity behind the leader’ would be blown apart if they spoke out prevents them from doing so, it seems.

But, as we know, things can change in a very short time.