Target for a witch-hunt

Moshé Machover, recently reinstated into the Labour Party following his summary expulsion, addressed a meeting organised by the CPGB and Labour Party Marxists on November 12

Moshé Machover: under attack by AWL social-imperialists

There are two aspects to this whole affair which I would like to address. One is the weaponisation of anti-Semitism, which was not in the end the official pretext for expelling me. It was just a gratuitous smear. It is a reason, or a pretext, for expelling other people, so I need to address it. Especially as they haven’t apologised for this: in fact they restated it.

The second issue is the rule which they used to expel me - in other people’s cases it has been used without the smear of anti-Semitism, completely on its own. That is, you must not “support” other undefined political organisations. This is also something that needs to be addressed, because to say that it is abominable is an understatement. It is something completely unsupportable. How it actually got into the rulebook of any party that calls itself halfway democratic is just beyond me.

So first of all, there is this accusation of anti-Semitism. This is actually a confluence of three things. Two of them international and one of them local, connected specifically to the Labour Party; and is only marginally to do with Israel and Palestine, which is just an excuse. Let me explain. The first factor behind it is an international campaign, which is orchestrated from Israel. It started a few years ago, before anyone dreamed of Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader of Labour, least of all himself.

Propaganda war

The occasion for this is the feeling in Israel that it is losing the propaganda war because of the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. What do I mean by ‘success’? It has had very little success in terms of actually hurting the Israeli economy through sanctions against businesses in Israel, which is ostensibly what it is directed at. But it is very successful in the way you would expect - in terms of public opinion - and in fact I would never have expected it to pose a serious economic problem for Israel’s economy, which is thriving (that is not to say that the people are thriving, by the way). Israel is a very unequal society, it has changed a lot - it used to be one of the most egalitarian capitalist countries. But the economy is thriving and it has a surplus in its balance of payments.

But the BDS campaign has had enormous success in terms of mobilising public opinion. In a student body, or in a trade union, someone suggests, ‘Let us join the BDS campaign’ and a debate is started - people argue for or against. In the best scenario a resolution is accepted to join the BDS campaign. But even if that does not occur the issue has been raised for discussion. And this is what the Israeli propaganda machine is most afraid of - that the whole business of the occupation that has lasted 50 years and the colonisation of the West Bank, if it is even mentioned, is very detrimental for the image of Israel.

So we have seen a change and it is ongoing. What is most painful from the Israeli official point of view is that this actually applies not only to public opinion in general, but also to Jewish opinion. It is an age phenomenon. That is to say, amongst people over 50 there is very little change, but amongst Jews under 30 there is a noticeable shift, even in the United States. By the way, recently this has gone even further because there is actually a rift between Israeli propaganda and a big chunk of Jewish opinion in the United States. That situation is something absolutely new, and has been created by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

So they decided to use the ultimate weapon: that is to say, accusations of anti-Semitism against anyone who speaks against the Zionist project of colonisation and the Israeli settler state. They appointed a special minister to do this - his name is Gilad Erdan. He is one of the most repellent people in the Israeli cabinet, which is saying something. Gilad Erdan has got three main responsibilities. One is internal security, so he is in charge of the Israeli police. But the other two are international: one is ‘information’, which means propaganda; the other is strategic affairs, referring to the strategy of influencing world public opinion.

Erdan has two points of contact with something that happened in Britain. One is a couple of years ago, and the other one is very recent. Let me connect them. Some of you may have watched the Al Jazeera exposé of Israeli interference in British politics.1 Those of you who have not seen it should do so, because it is something incredibly interesting and important politically. It is better than a lot of thrillers you watch on the television, which are fiction, whereas this is actual fact.

One thing Al Jazeera got a bit wrong, by the way. They described the star of this affair, the agent trying to interfere in British politics, Shai Masot, as working for the Israeli embassy. That was untrue - he was not actually a diplomat, although he was based at the Israeli embassy. But, as an Israeli agent, he was not reporting to the ambassador - that nice man, Mark Regev, whom you may have seen justifying the slaughter in Gaza. In fact, he got into conflict with Regev because of this clash of spheres of influence. He was treading on Regev’s toes, because he was not reporting to him, but to Gilad Erdan’s ministry.

The other connection is something that happened quite recently in Britain. All of you have heard about Priti Patel and how she spent August ‘on holiday’ in Israel. One of her recreational activities was a meeting with some nasties - how this can be a on a holiday schedule is beyond me! This included meeting with Netanyahu (who is currently under investigation for five different allegations of corruption, by the way). But after she came back to Britain in September, who did she meet? None other than Gilad Erdan. He was here orchestrating something he is responsible for: that is to say, the worldwide campaign to denigrate people who speak against Israel.

Patel has other connections, by the way - she is also involved with the Modi regime in India. She is one of those really reactionary people in the Conservative leadership. This is one factor feeding into this worldwide campaign. It is not new or restricted to Britain. It started long before the changes in the Labour Party, but, of course, it now feeds into what is happening within Labour.

Anti-Semitism

The second factor is purely local and related to the Labour Party. People are besmirched as anti-Semites and this is done by people who care absolutely nothing about Israel and Palestine, the occupation, etc, but are simply enemies of Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the Labour Party. ‘Anti-Semitism’ is being used as a cudgel to beat the left. It is not that they are interested particularly in whether you are for the Palestinians - this is not what bothers them.

This is the second point and they join together. These two circles overlap, because, of course, the pro-Israel lobby inside the Labour Party - including the Jewish Labour Movement, so called, formerly known as Poale Zion - and as part of the scam exposed by Al Jazeera. They are also mostly part of the Labour right - they hate Jeremy Corbyn not just because he is a supporter of Palestinians, but also because he is on the left.

The third factor I was alerted to by something I read in the Weekly Worker - an article written by Mike Macnair. He pointed out that being nice to Israel and preventing any harsh criticism of it is part of the deal that comes with being part of the ‘international community’ - a hierarchical order led by the United States. Britain fancies that it has a special relationship with the USA, and that it has a fairly high rank in this hierarchy of states subservient to the United States (this is true to an extent, but not quite as much as the British elite likes to think). But Israel is certainly a state that has a very special relationship with the US, because it is a very important strategic asset for America - not just regionally, but also in various international spheres. I have written in the Weekly Worker about how the Israeli connection is used by the United States and its world hegemony in various ways. Israel is America’s rottweiler in the Middle East, and if the boss’s Rottweiler pisses on your shoes you are not supposed to kick it: you are supposed to bend down and stroke it and say it’s a good dog! The whole of the British establishment, including that part of it which still has quite an important position in the Labour Party, is committed, because of this connection to the United States, to avoid making substantial criticisms of Israel.

One of the weapons used to besmirch opponents of Israel as ‘anti-Semites’ is the so-called definition of anti-Semitism, which was originally adopted by the European Union (but then unadopted, because the EU realised it does not work), but was then taken up by a shadowy group calling itself the International Holocaust Remembrance Association. Of course, the holocaust is used as a means of emotional blackmail. The IHRA is primarily a pro-Israel pressure group based in the United States.

First of all, you might ask, why do we need a definition of anti-Semitism? Isn’t it enough to say that anti-Semitism is simply racism applied to Jews? Do we have a definition of racism in general, or a special definition of anti-black racism? I think the term ‘anti-Semitism’ is well understood, without anyone needing a special definition. We do not have a special definition of sexism or other nasty ideologies and practices. So the very fact that someone thought it necessary to adopt and promulgate a new definition of anti-Semitism is suspect - it makes you think that there is some devious purpose behind it. In fact it was actually adopted in order to be abused: subliminally they are saying that anti-Semitism is not what you always thought it was.

This consisted originally of two parts. The first part is a four-line actual definition, which says ‘Anti-Semitism is …’, etc. It is rather vague, inept and suspect, but is not in itself toxic. What is toxic are the 11 illustrations or examples which are appended to this definition, and which for the most part do not have to do with Jews as such, but with Israel. It is clear from these examples of ‘anti-Semitism’ that they are designed to block any real, damaging criticism of Israel.

As it happens, this definition was adopted in its totality - and including the examples, which is the most vile part - by the British government. It is not part of British law, of course: it is just something that the government supports. In other words, it has an advisory function. But this definition has also been adopted - without the illustrations, which are the worst part - by the Labour Party. Nevertheless, the illustrations have been used by Labour’s witch-hunters. I have seen one or two cases where the examples are used within the party to support accusations of anti-Semitism, even though Labour has not officially endorsed those examples.

The IHRA definition has also been adopted by various local councils in Britain. I know of two in London: Camden and Brent, where I live. In both cases it was adopted lock, stock and barrel, including the examples - in Camden this was proposed by Labour (most councils in London are Labour-dominated) and whipped by the leader of the council. So even those councillors known to oppose this definition were under discipline to vote for it.

In Brent it was even more bizarre. The resolution to support this definition, along with the examples, was a Tory proposal. Before the vote came up in September, I wrote to some of the Labour councillors - not to those I knew to be supporters of JLM - alerting them to the absurdities and to the damaging nature of this definition, which was analysed by Hugh Tomlinson QC,2 who has stated that it is inimical to free speech. I pointed out the negative aspects, and I got two very positive responses. One was very detailed and agreed with my position and the other was from no less than the Labour leader of the council, Muhammed Butt, who said he would take it into account. But in the end he actually whipped his party to vote for the Tory resolution. However, one Labour councillor was not happy with this and proposed an amendment, which included in the definition the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. How this fits into a definition of anti-Semitism is, of course, bizarre, but it points to the illogicalities of it all. So opposing the right of Palestinian self-determination is now anti-Semitic! (Arguably the Palestinian Arabs are more Semitic than the Israeli Jews, but this is just a ‘by the way’.)

Self-determination

Of the 11 examples of ‘anti-Semitism I am going to quote three. Number 7 says that an example of anti-Semitism is “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination: eg, by saying that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

There are quite a few strange things about this example. First of all, how does the second part of the clause connect to the first? Suppose someone believes that the state of Israel, as it exists, is in fact a racist endeavour, how does this deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination? What is the connection? It is surely possible to think that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination, but that its actual implementation in the state of Israel is a racist endeavour.

What about the first part itself? I have written quite extensively about this in articles in the Weekly Worker, so I will not go into it in detail here. Stephen Sedley, a retired senior judge who happens to be Jewish, has pointed out that this actually makes several false assumptions.3 First of all, the right of self-determination - in the sense of giving a group of people the right to form their own state - applies to nations. Are the Jews worldwide a nation? This is a very doubtful proposition. This came up at the time of the Balfour declaration 100 years ago, and it was opposed by the leadership of Jewish organisations in Britain on the grounds that Jews do not constitute a nation: we are, they said, British by nationality and Jewish by religion. The whole thing is all the more doubtful because the only thing common to all Jewish communities around the world is religion or religious background.

Also, anybody can become Jewish by religious conversion. If a person wants to become Jewish, they can go to a rabbi and undertake a religious ritual. You can be a Scottish or American Jew, but you cannot be Muslim or Catholic Jew. You can, however, be an atheist Jew, just as you can be an atheist - or ‘lapsed’ - Catholic. A lot of people who regard themselves as Jews, and are regarded by others as Jews, are people whose parents or grandparents actually practised the Jewish religion. Outside Israel, which is a separate case, this peters out after, say, three generations. People who have only great grandparents who were practising Jews are not generally considered Jewish (just as there are many people who claim to be Muslim, but have a secular outlook). There was an exception to this. There was a time and place where you could be a Muslim or Catholic Jew, and that was in Nazi Germany, because the Nazis were very particular about saying Jewishness was not just a matter of religion, but of race.

This, in one sense, overlapped with Zionist ideology. The Zionists maintained that Jews were not merely following a religion, but were a nation, which in Germany was seen as conterminous with race. But it was a Zionist point of ideology that Jews are a nation and must therefore have the right to self-determination, but this is not an obvious leap. The word ‘race’ was once used by Zionists, but it has since become toxic - just like ‘colonisation’, which was also used to describe what they were doing in Palestine, but not any more: now other synonyms or euphemisms are preferred.

The second questionable thing about this claim of self-determination is that the right to enjoy it, as normally understood internationally, does not include the right to choose some distant place where it can be exercised. To claim that, according to your religion, a particular piece of land was promised to your ancestors by a deity, does not fit in with that right, as generally understood. Certainly the right to self-determination does not include the right to colonise a territory which has long been inhabited by other people - which is exactly what the Zionist project is about and what Israel is based on. So example number 7 is completely bogus in three different ways.

Another interesting example is number 10. It says, “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is anti-Semitic. Why, you might ask? You can say that maybe such a comparison is over the top, or perhaps it is too harsh on Israel to compare the two. This is a debatable point and it makes some sense, but why should it be anti-Semitic? By the way, such comparisons are regularly made in Israel itself - most often by scholars with expertise in the holocaust.

I collected some examples recently. An outstanding one comes in the form of a couple of articles by professor Daniel Blatman, who is a historian specialising in the holocaust and genocide (please note: the holocaust and genocide are seen as separate things in Israel) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Another example is the views of Dr Ofer Kassif, also based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which led to a complaint in the Jerusalem Post.

But why is comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis anti-Semitic? If you think about it, the only reason could be that saying such a thing about Israel implicates all Jews. In other words, all Jews collectively are somehow responsible for contemporary Israeli policy: the only way in which saying such a thing could be an insult to Jews collectively is if they were all responsible.

Thirdly, however, there is example 11, which states that “Holding all Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is anti-Semitic. This is actually a good example - it happens to be correct! Doing such a thing really is anti-Semitic. In fact number 10 is a self-incriminating definition - it implies that “all Jews” are “collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”! So thank you to the councillors of Camden and Brent for adopting an anti-Semitic definition of anti-Semitism. Using the IHRA definition to smear someone does not prove that the accused is actually anti-Semitic: it shows that the definition itself is absurd.

Support

Let me now turn to the Labour Party rule that was used to expel me and a lot of other people, sometimes irrespective of anti-Semitism. This is 2.I.4.B in the rulebook, which states:

A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares the intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible or remain a party member.

Some key phrases are absolutely vague and catch-all, putting the whole rule under a shadow of suspicion that it was designed to be abused. But there is one word which is all too clear: “automatically” - providing for auto-exclusion. In other words, no process is needed whatsoever. If a person is caught red-handed with a knife over a dead or dying body, that person is still entitled to a trial, according to natural justice. No matter how strong the evidence seems to be, an accused person must be entitled to dispute it.

But not according to this rule. It allows for an allegation to be made without even saying who has made it, without disclosing the evidence in detail. This should obviously not be enough to exclude someone. It gives the bureaucracy under Iain McNicol enormous power to get rid of anyone they want because of the vagueness of the rule. It does not define what is meant by “political organisation”. It could be Momentum. It could mean Refuge, the organisation that protects women from domestic violence and also fights against modern slavery and trafficking. This is a political organisation. For that matter, the Jewish Socialists Group could be declared outlawed - membership of the JSG could be used to justify automatic expulsion from the Labour Party.

The other word which is not defined is the word “support”. What does it mean? It can be compared to the deceptiveness of referenda, which generally give you a choice between two false alternatives - it is never just a question of yes or no. In the Brexit referendum ‘remain’ was a fairly clear option, but what was the alternative? Similarly with “support” - it is not a yes or no question. In my case, they alleged “support” for two organisations: the CPGB, because it publishes the Weekly Worker, in which some of my articles have appeared; and Labour Party Marxists, because it too published something of mine, which was basically a reprint of an article in the Weekly Worker.

I have clearly stated that I am not a member of these organisations. But do I “support” them? Well, tell me what “support” means. I support some of the positions of the CPGB. For example, I support one that is not shared by some left groups: that all trade unions should affiliate to Labour. Is this a sin? Is this a reason for being expelled from the Labour Party? I do not “support” some other CPGB positions, however. I have written letters to the Weekly Worker where I challenged them.

In my case the evidence consisted only of articles published in the Weekly Worker and speaking at events organised by the CPGB. I have indeed had quite a lot of articles published there. But Jeremy Corbyn has had published far more in the Morning Star and a lot of Labour figures have published articles, either occasionally or regularly, in various publications connected to political groups other than Labour.

Another case came to my attention concerning a person who was expelled on the same day as myself. Mike Paling was not accused of anti-Semitism, or of writing articles for the Weekly Worker - he has never done so. He was not accused of speaking at meetings of the CPGB, because again he has never done so. He was expelled because on Facebook he reposted some articles which originated in the Weekly Worker or Labour Party Marxists, together with a lot of other articles - some on the left and some on the right. I have seen the letter expelling him and this was the only ‘evidence’ given.

So this is what “support” means: if you post an article on Facebook, along with a lot of other stuff, then you can be expelled automatically from the Labour Party without any hearing. What kind of rule is this?

Notes

1. www.aljazeera.com/investigations/thelobby.

2. http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/TomlinsonGuidanceIHRA.pdf.

3. http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/sedley-ihra/#respond.