Palestinians: an oppressed and colonised people

Enemy of working class

The JLM, like Zionism itself, has no place in the labour movement, argues Tony Greenstein

In 1920 Poale Zion, the ‘Workers of Zion’, became an affiliated society of the Labour Party. In 2004, realising how toxic its name had become, PZ rebranded itself as the ‘Jewish Labour Movement’. But, as Jesus observed, one should beware of false prophets in sheep’s clothing who are in reality “ravening wolves”.

Even its name, like everything else about the JLM, is a lie. The organisation is Zionist, not Jewish. That is why many non-Jewish supporters of Progress1 have joined, whereas Jewish anti-racists and anti-Zionists would not touch it with a barge pole.

There was a Jewish Labour Movement once, but today’s JLM is a mockery of that movement. The history of the Jewish Labour Movement began with the massive Jewish immigration from Russia from the 1880s to 1914, fleeing not only the pogroms, but the poverty and discrimination, which confined them to the Pale of Settlement. The British labour movement reacted with hostility, at first using arguments which are not unfamiliar today. The TUC passed resolutions in 1892, 1894 and 1895 calling for immigration controls and anti-alien legislation.2

It was because of this that Jewish workers formed their own trade unions. The Jewish Workers’ Tailors Trading Society, formed in Leeds in 1876, was said to be the world’s first Jewish trade union.3 By 1896 there were 13 Jewish unions, rising to 32 by 1902.4 Examples were the Hebrew Cabinet Makers Society, Manchester Jewish Tailors Union, the London Jewish Bakers Union5 and the Leeds Amalgamated Jewish Tailors, Machinists and Pressers Trade Union.


Jewish workers faced the anti-alienist prejudices of non-Jewish workers. The arguments used then have a familiar ring. It was said that the Jewish workers were lowering British workers’ wages. The answer of the Jewish working class, despite the best efforts of the rabbis, the Jewish bourgeoisie and the Zionists, was to become the most militant section of the British working class. It was this which won over non-Jewish trade unions. In 1903 Manchester Trades Council became the first labour movement body to oppose the 1905 Aliens Bill. In 1889 and again in 1912 the Jewish Tailors Unions spearheaded massive strikes. In 1912 the action was totally successful and provided an example to non-Jewish trade unionists. The East End dockers also went on strike that year and the bonds formed between Jewish and non-Jewish workers - in which Jewish workers took into their homes non-Jewish children, whom their parents could not afford to feed - created bonds which lasted until the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when 100,000 workers, including thousands of Irish Catholic dockers, came onto the streets to defeat Oswald Moseley.

In December 1900 William Stanley Shaw set up the British Brothers’ League, which campaigned against Jewish immigration. It quickly gained the support of people such as William Evans Gordon, MP for Stepney. This was the beginning of a popular racist organisation which in turn would give birth to fascist organisations in the East End of London, culminating in Moseley’s British Union of Fascists.

This was a movement which was controlled by the elites. Its leaders were wholly sympathetic to Zionism. Shaw gushed:

I am a firm believer in the Zionist movement, which the British Brothers League will do much incidentally to foster. The return of the Jews to Palestine is one of the most striking signs of the times ... All students of prophecy are watching the manifold signs of the times with almost breathless interest …6

Christian Zionism and anti-Semitism went hand in hand, as they do today.

In his autobiography, Chaim Weizmann, leader of the Zionist Organisation and Israel’s first president, understood and sympathised with Gordon and the anti-Semites:

I think our people were rather hard on him. The Aliens Bill in England and the movement which grew around it were natural phenomenon which might have been foreseen ... Sir William Evans-Gordon had no particular anti-Jewish prejudices ... he was sincerely ready to encourage any settlement of Jews almost anywhere in the British empire, but he failed to see why the ghettos of London or Leeds should be made into a branch of the ghettos of Warsaw and Pinsk ... Sir William Evans-Gordon gave me some insight into the psychology of the settled citizen ...7

In 1900 and again in 1906, the fledgling English Zionist Federation had issued a circular supporting all the anti-Semitic East End Tory candidates who campaign in favour of alien immigration controls.8 The candidate for Whitechapel, David Hope-Kydd, described the Jewish immigrants as “the scum of the unhealthiest continental nations”, but nonetheless coupled his desire for an aliens’ immigration bill with heart-rending support for the infant Zionist movement.9 None of this stopped the Zionists supporting Kydd and his fellow anti-alienists, but in 1906 the Jewish populace voted heavily and overwhelmingly against the Tories and two Jewish Zionists who supported the Aliens Act.

Theodor Herzl, president of the World Zionist Organisation, came to speak to the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in 1903 in support of restrictions on Jewish immigration and met with the then colonial minister, Joseph Chamberlain. Jewish voters overwhelmingly opposed the Tory candidates and in the East End in 1906 they were overwhelmingly defeated. In Manchester Arthur James Balfour, whom Chaim Weizmann and the Zionists supported, nonetheless lost his constituency. The majority of Jews, however, voted Liberal and, as Geoffrey Alderman notes, this was “a telling verdict upon Zionist influence at the time”.10

Labour Zionism and Poale Zion arose as a means by which the Zionists could gain a footing in the Jewish labour movement. In this they were remarkably unsuccessful. William Fishman describes the committee which was set up to organise a demonstration against the pogroms which had been organised by the tsarist regime in Kishinev. The representatives of Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation made it a condition of participation that the Zionists should not be invited.

Rudolph Rocker of the Jewish anarchists opposed this “presumptuous demand”. He did so not because of any sympathy for the Zionists - quite the contrary:

The Zionists had no following of any consequence at that time in the Jewish working class movement. Besides, the Zionist press had accused the revolutionary movement in Russia of being in a way to blame for the pogromist activity of the Russian government. For this reason no invitation had been sent to the Zionists and they for their part had made no attempt to be represented at the conference ... It would have been absurd to adopt a resolution excluding an organisation which was not seeking to be represented.11

Likewise in the account of Joe Jacobs of the Communist Party concerning the fight of workers and the unemployed in the East End for unionisation and against fascism the Zionists do not make so much as an appearance.12 When Jewish workers fought for decent conditions and against fascism, the Zionists were aligned with the Jewish bourgeoisie.


Today’s JLM is unique in that it is the only representative of another party inside the British Labour Party. The reasons for this lie in the fact that historically the Labour Party was not an anti-imperialist party - quite the contrary. In 1920 colonialism was seen as a means by which ‘backward’ peoples could be civilised. Whereas the Conservatives were quite open about the fact that they intended to delay any advance towards self-government as long as possible - Churchill fought a rearguard action all his life against Indian independence, resigning from the Conservative shadow cabinet on the issue - Labour’s Fabian traditions saw the colonies as a form of trusteeship, in which we exercised power on behalf of the indigenous population.

Just as much of the left had identified with the Afrikaner settlers during the Boer War, so too many British social democrats saw in Zionism a progressive political tradition. They accepted the assertion by the Zionists that the opposition to Zionist colonisation came from the reactionary feudal Arab leaders, who were misleading their own peoples.

The Zionists spoke the language of the Fabian imperialists - people like the Webbs. Zionism was seen as a progressive, western movement. Their kibbutzim were portrayed as socialist enterprises. No-one thought to mention that Arabs were excluded from them. The true reasons why the Palestinian Arabs objected to Zionism were ignored.

After the 1929 riots in Palestine Ramsay MacDonald’s government commissioned the Hope-Simpson enquiry into the causes of the outbreaks. Its report is worth reading today. It was extremely clear on why Palestine’s Arabs objected to Zionist colonisation and it had nothing to do with feudal religious bigotry or anti-Semitism, as the Zionists asserted. In the section, ‘The effect of the Zionist colonisation policy on the Arab’, the report concluded:

... the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that land has been extra-territorialised. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land.13

Historically the Labour Zionist movement, which established and ran the Zionist project from 1904 until 1977, was fiercely antagonistic to any cooperation with the Arabs. It was equally opposed to socialism, which it saw, quite rightly, as involving the joint struggle of Jewish and Arab workers. The Zionists set their face against such cooperation.

Speaking of the “evil of mixed labour”, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, described the employment of Arabs as “class hatred of intelligent Jewish labour”.14 Ben-Gurion opposed the unity of Jewish and Arab workers, reassuring Zionism’s backers that “Nothing is further from the mind of Jewish labour than to engineer disputes, with all the material and political loss in their train.”15 Socialism was merely “a tool for the advancement of national objectives”.16

It was Ben-Gurion who coined the slogan, ‘From class to nation’ - the class role of the Jewish worker was redefined as one of hostility to the ‘feudal’ Arabs. Labour Zionism consciously undermined and ignored Palestinian trade unionists. Instead they chose to strengthen the most reactionary elements, such as the mufti of Jerusalem, who could then be presented as an example of the Arab enemy.

As early as 1906, Ben-Gurion had urged Poale Zion in Jaffa to oppose Savransky and others who wished to organise rather than exclude Arab labour.17 David HaCohen, managing director of the Histadrut (Zionist ‘trade union’) building company, Solel-Boneh, explained the dilemmas of a ‘socialist Zionist’:

I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there ... to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they had bought ... to buy dozens of dunums from an Arab is permitted, but to sell - God forbid - one Jewish dunum to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild, the incarnation of capitalism,as a socialist and to name him the ‘benefactor’ - to do all that was not easy.18

Racist campaign

The role of today’s JLM is no different from its predecessors - to justify the Zionist colonisation of Israel/Palestine. Jeremy Newmark, the JLM’s chair, has recently taken to claiming that the group opposes the Jerusalem Programme of the World Zionist Organisation, to which it is affiliated via the World Labour Zionist Movement. The Jerusalem Programme19 speaks of “the centrality of the state of Israel and Jerusalem, its capital, in the life of the [Jewish] nation”. This assertion - that the real homeland of Jews, including British Jews, is in Israel rather than the countries where they live - is itself anti-Semitic. It has long been an anti-Semitic rallying cry that Jews do not belong in the countries where they live.

Newmark has been among those in the JLM who have waged a nasty, racist campaign against the black-Jewish vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker. She has been subjected to an unprecedented series of vicious, vitriolic and racist tweets and abuse by the Jewish Labour Movement’s Zionist supporters. Her offence? Alleging that the Jews financed the slave trade. As crude as that. In fact she was taking part in a private conversation with friends about the fact that that black people too suffered a holocaust, known as the slave trade.

The campaign of incitement against Jackie has been a campaign unprecedented in its nastiness. Her offence was that, unlike Naz Shah, she has not shown ‘contrition’ - she has not accepted that she is guilty of the lies levelled against her. The whole affair is proof that, once a lie gains circulation, it is difficult to put it to bed. The liberal Israeli daily Ha’aretz penned a vicious, lying article entitled ‘Blame the Jews for the slave trade: Labour’s latest anti-Semitic slander’.20

The JLM campaign has based itself on the racist trope that, because Jackie is black, she cannot be Jewish. This is a common belief in Israel and amongst the orthodox. In Israel many people deny that the Falashas, Jews from Ethiopia, are really Jewish.21 When they first came to Israel in the 1990s, the chief rabbinate forced the men to undergo new circumcisions because they were not accepted as Jews. This never, of course, happened to white Jews from Russia, many of whom were Christians, because the Russians were the right racial stock.

Although the JLM dearly wishes to see me expelled from Labour, I have not been made into a hate figure in the same way, because I am white and therefore the JLM cannot challenge my Jewishness - as the child of an orthodox Jewish rabbi, I am kosher. This is despite the fact that I support Ken Livingstone’s remarks that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis during the holocaust.

I have also restated Jackie’s thesis that there was considerable Jewish involvement in financing the slave trade. That is a fact. Jews were not the only people - there were Quakers, Methodists and, of course, the Church of England, which ran its own plantation in Barbados, Codrington. But that there was Jewish involvement in the slave trade is indisputable. One of the world experts in the slave trade is Seymour Drescher, who says that at one time, Jews controlled 17% of the Dutch slave trade.22

On September 25, the JLM held a ‘Rally against anti-Semitism’, at which John McDonnell agreed to speak. Following criticism from Zionists that he had spoken on the same platform as Jackie, he was called upon by Newmark to explain himself. A number of us therefore wrote to McDonnell and drew up a petition calling on him to withdraw from the JLM’s racist rally. We are pleased that he did indeed pull out.

The Jewish Labour Movement’s only concern with ‘anti-Semitism’ is when Israel is on the agenda. Hence its proposed Labour Party rule change, which defines a racial incident in terms of the perception of the ‘victim’. This means that any Zionist, facing criticism of Israel, can shout ‘anti-Semitism’ and they must be believed. The JLM, which like all Zionist organisations, has never played a part in anti-racist or anti-fascist work in this country, has borrowed from the struggle of black people over the death of Stephen Lawrence to cynically distort and misuse the findings of the Macpherson enquiry.

Macpherson does not say there that the victim of a racial incident should be automatically believed, yet the JLM would have those subject to allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ automatically condemned without any investigation. As Shami Chakrabarti said in her enquiry report,

The principle that an incident should be recorded as ‘racist’ when perceived that way by a victim may indeed have some useful application outside the policing context … However, the purpose of the approach is to ensure that investigators handle a complaint with particular sensitivity towards the victim. It is to suggest the seriousness with which a complaint must be handled, but in no way to determine its outcome. If I complain to the police that I have been the victim of a racist attack on the street, I should expect my complaint to be so recorded. However, investigation and due process must, of course, then follow and it is perfectly possible that an investigator, prosecutor or magistrate will subsequently find either that no attack took place at all, or that its motivation was something other than racism ... However, it will be for the investigation and any subsequent process to determine whether my complaint was ultimately well-founded.23

The JLM proposed:

Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options from the following options ...24

The JLM is essentially proposing that an accusation is as good as a conviction! Clearly it is mistaking Israel’s ‘justice’ on the West Bank for what remains of British justice.

The JLM amendment subtly tries to define anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. Its ‘supporting argument and rationale’ states:

This rule change would recognise that it is not acceptable to use ‘Zionism’ as a term of abuse or to substitute the word ‘Zionist’ for where the word ‘Jew’ has been commonly used by anti-Semites, such as alleging Jewish political, financial or media conspiracies and control.

Of course, this is rank hypocrisy, coming from those who defend the actions of a ‘Jewish’ state, which also happens to be Zionist. It is a good example of having your cake and eating it. On May 11 a short piece appeared on the JLM’s website complaining that a letter from about 100 anti-Zionist Jews, making a distinction between Zionism and anti-Zionism had been published. It complained: “... it appears that some of those signatories only identify as Jews for the purposes of taking such contrary positions”. In other words, anti-Zionist Jews are not real Jews. The particular piece was quickly taken down, but not before we captured it!

At one and the same time as complaining that if anyone misguidedly conflates being Jewish with being Zionist, the Zionists do their best to make such a comparison. Newmark and friends tried to prove in the Fraser v University College Union employment tribunal that Zionism was an inherent part of being Jewish (a ‘protected characteristic’). The judgment found, unsurprisingly, that Newmark had lied on oath:

Para 148: We regret to say that we have rejected as untrue the evidence of Ms Ashworth and Mr Newmark concerning the incident at the 2008 congress … Evidence given to us about booing, jeering and harassing of Jewish speakers at congress debates was also false, as truthful witnesses on the claimant’s side accepted.25

In reality, the JLM exists in order to defend the state of Israel, right or wrong. Despite its pretensions to radicalism, we are not surprised that its new director, Ellie Rose, has come straight from being in the employ of the Israeli embassy! Such is the radicalism of the Jewish Labour Movement.


1. In Brighton non-Jewish Progress supporters like council leader Warren Morgan and councillor Emma Daniels are members.

2. See WJ Fishman East End Jewish radicals1875-1914 Nottingham 2004, pp78, 86, 216 - though in 1895 the resolution met with much opposition.

3. The strikes of the 80s: https://theleedsbigbookend.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/the-strikes-of-the-80s.

4. WJ Fishman op cit p276.

5. See L Wayne Union bread: bagels, platzels and chollah - the story of the London Jewish Bakers Union Socialist History Society/Jewish Socialists Group.

6. Jewish Chronicle November 8 2001.

7. C Weizmann Trial and error New York 1949, pp90-92.

8. ‘Zionism and anti-Semitism’ Return No1, March 1989; and ‘Redefining anti-Semitism - the false anti-racism of the right’ Return December 1990.

9. G Alderman The Jewish community in British politics Oxford 1983, pp68-75.

10. G Alderman op cit p96; see also pp68, 75, 93.

11. WJ Fishman op cit pp250-51.

12. J Jacobs Out of the ghetto - communism and fascism in the East End 1913-1939 London 1991.

13. ‘Palestine - report on immigration, land settlement and development’ October 1930: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/hope.html.

14. D Ben-Gurion Rebirth and destiny London 1959, p74.

15. Ibid pp75, 77, 79.

16. Z Sternhell The founding myths of Israel: nationalism, socialism and the making of the Jewish state New York 1999, p177.

17. Offenburg cited in N Weinstock Zionism: a false messiah London 1979, p87.

18. N Weinstock op cit p63.

19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Program.

20. www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.722769.

21. ‘Israel detains and deports American Jews because they are black’: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/detains-american-because.

22. ‘How culpable were Dutch Jews in the slave trade?’: www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/how_culpable_were_dutch_jews_in_the_slave_trade.

23. www.labour.org.uk/page/-/party-documents/ChakrabartiInquiry.pdf.

24. See http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/labours-deputy-leader-endorses-mccarthyite-antisemitism-rule-change-proposal.

25. www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/fraser-uni-college-union.