More than just cowardice
Tony Greenstein explains why the case of Jackie Walker is so important
First I was targeted, then it was Ken Livingstone and now it is Jackie Walker. There is a pattern in what is happening, but it is worse than simply a Zionist vendetta. The taking out of figures on the left is more than just a case of the Israel lobby making Labour safe for Israel.
The right has used anti-Semitism for the same reason as the British used the Hindu custom of burning a widow on the pyre of her husband as an excuse for the colonisation of India. When the British mercilessly robbed and deindustrialised India, so as to remove competition from Manchester and the Lancashire cotton mills, they did it in the name of civilisation, not exploitation.
Similarly, ‘anti-Semitism’ is a handy pretext to attack the left under the cover of righteousness. After all, opposition to ‘anti-Semitism’ has become the safe and respectable anti-racism of the right. Not only conservatives, but fascists and holocaust deniers too, are opposed to anti-Semitism - at least as long as it is means defence of the Israeli state! However, it is widely perceived throughout the Labour Party, not just amongst Momentum members, that ‘anti-Semitism’ is an almost wholly media-created concoction. When Owen Smith raised the issue in a televised debate with Jeremy Corbyn, he was met with jeers.
The attitude of the chair of Momentum, Jon Lansman, in respect of the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been spearheading the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, is interesting. A close political colleague, who has requested anonymity, told me:
It is crucial to understand Lansman’s motivation - yes, he wants to save Jeremy, but there are important things going on for him personally - in particular how he sees himself as a Jew. Jon is on a mission - to bring the two sides together. He believes … that the JLM and Newmark are well intentioned and the link with Israel to what’s happening is too much of the making of people like you and me. If only, he thinks, he can get the JLM to share more platforms with Momentum (metaphorically at first), he can achieve what others have failed to do and still remain a defender of the Palestinian people. Jon thinks he is exceptionally perceptive - and clever.
The problem is that Lansman may indeed think he is perceptive and clever, but he is almost alone in this belief.
His tactics mirror those of Corbyn and his entourage. Now Corbyn has succeeded, despite the best efforts of Labour Party general secretary Iain McNicol, in increasing his majority, he feels in a generous mood in reaching out to his opponents in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The problem is that the political gulf between him and the Blairite right in the PLP is as large as ever. These differences may not always be spelt out, in particular over refugees and the economy, but they are irreconcilable, whatever we may think of Corbyn’s reformism. No matter how many blandishments Corbyn offers, the right is not going to accept him. Having failed with a direct challenge, they will continue their war of attrition.
Of course, the obvious thing to do would be for Corbyn to make it clear that any MP refusing to accept the legitimacy of his election and using the Tory press to continue the war would lose the whip. This would mean automatic deselection, but Corbyn refuses to go down this road. But, without effective action against the right, the polls will reflect Labour’s disarray and sooner or later the Tory lead will be used to fatally undermine Corbyn.
Last week Brighton and Hove Momentum voted by 56-6 to condemn Lansman and the Momentum steering committee for removing Jackie Walker as vice-chair. Camden Momentum voted by a similar majority. Up and down the country Momentum supporters have been making their views heard and Lansman is very aware that he has next to no support for his cowardly betrayal. If there were an election tomorrow between Jackie Walker and Jon Lansman for chair of Momentum, it would be no contest.
On October 5 the Morning Star carried an editorial that came out decisively against the removal of Jackie Walker. It described it as “an act of political cowardice and confusion”. The Star’s own Charley Allan, who is Jewish, has also been suspended as part of the attempt to deprive Corbyn of a majority.
Lansman reacted furiously to this attack with a letter in the October 8-9 edition. In what was, even for him, a particularly confused and arrogant statement, he wrote that the Star’s editorial represented an “unwarranted attack on Momentum, Britain’s largest grassroots organisation of the left, which underpinned the campaign that so recently won an increased mandate for Jeremy Corbyn”. Lansman has with his hubris fallen into the same mode of thinking that so many before him have embraced. He has mistaken himself for Momentum, thus ignoring the fact that his position represents a distinctly minority one within the organisation.
Despite the fact that even Momentum’s steering committee accepted that Jackie Walker’s various comments have not been anti-Semitic, Lansman nonetheless argued that the editorial “failed to take seriously Jeremy Corbyn’s determination to rooting out the evil of anti-Semitism”. Since the purported pretext for removing Jackie was a “loss of confidence” in her, not anti-Semitism, it is difficult to grasp Lansman’s line of argument.
Lansman conceded: “It may be that some false allegations of anti-Semitism are made ... but there is anti-Semitism on the left and we must root it out.” Since it is accepted that Jackie is not anti-Semitic and since Lansman signed the Jewish letter to Labour’s national executive protesting that I am not anti-Semitic either, it is difficult to know whom he might be referring to. Indeed Lansman has accepted that Ken Livingstone too is not anti-Semitic, so it seems we have an ‘anti-Semitism’ without any anti-Semites!
Even more cryptically, Lansman tells us: “Unfortunately, the removal of Jackie Walker has revealed the anti-Semitism that persists on the left.” Apparently Lansman is now of the opinion that the opposition to his decision to remove someone who is Jewish must be anti-Semitic!
How do we explain this? Well, Lansman himself in the course of an interview with The Independent, reported that the chair of JLM, Jeremy Newmark, with whom he worked “very closely”, had been “very upset” by Jackie’s remarks.1 One can only assume that the slippery Newmark has missed his vocation on the stage, because “upset” is the last emotion he is likely to have experienced.
Long before her suspension, I was detailing the racist targeting of Jackie Walker by the JLM. On September 17, I wrote: “Jackie was reinstated after an investigation, but the Zionists have refused to accept her acquittal and have waged a campaign of vilification against her ever since.”2 When they invited John McDonnell to speak to their rally against ‘anti-Semitism’ at Labour Party conference, Newmark was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as saying that McDonnell “must explain his defence of Walker, which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance. This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.”3
The decision of the Momentum steering committee to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair is more than just a case of political cowardice, although it is that too. It is a consequence of Lansman’s strategy to neutralise the JLM by accepting its definition of anti-Semitism. Lansman imagines that the JLM’s claims about the ‘anti-Semitism’ of people like Jackie Walker has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine. He puts out of his mind the affiliation of the JLM to the World Zionist Organisation or that it is the British branch of the Israeli Labor Party. In Lansman’s fantasy world there is no correlation between accusations of anti-Semitism and Zionism, even though Corbyn himself was the first victim.
What the sacking of Jackie Walker has demonstrated is the gulf between ordinary Momentum members, who wish to take on the Labour right, and Lansman and co, who see the road ahead as involving the appeasement of the right.
In this situation members of the execrable Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are, on the one hand, victims of the purge. But, on the other hand, they lend a helping hand to the accusations of the right about ‘left anti-Semitism’. Even though the AWL was accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ by Owen Smith during the election campaign, it sees no connection between false accusations of anti-Semitism against itself and equally false accusations of anti-Semitism against others on the left. Truly it is amusing to observe the group’s gyrations and ideological contortions. Indeed in a recent debate with me in Brighton, Daniel Randall of the AWL, who has himself been expelled from Labour, was forced to admit that anti-Semitism had been “instrumentalised” in the Labour Party - without, of course, asking himself why this might be.
Lansman is, unfortunately, taking his cue from Jeremy Corbyn. Whereas Corbyn had appeared at virtually every Palestine Solidarity conference over the previous 10 years, condemning the oppressive nature of the Israeli state, since his election the word ‘Palestine’, let alone criticism of Israel, have not passed his lips.
As TheSpectator asked,
Has Jeremy Corbyn turned over a new leaf? This time last year at the Labour Friends of Israel reception, the Labour leader pointedly refused to say the word ‘Israel’. That stubbornness led to a heckler yelling at Corbyn: ‘Say the word Israel!’ It was clear he was determined not to make the same blunder a year on. In fact, at tonight’s reception, he went five times better - mentioning Israel repeatedly during his address. Corbyn also affirmed a ‘two-state solution’.4
Likewise Labour rightwinger Luke Akehurst observed that Corbyn “surprised everyone with a carefully worded and balanced speech on both Israel and anti-Semitism - in sharp contrast to the car crash last year where he would not even say the word ‘Israel’”.5
Palestine has become the sacrificial lamb, as Corbyn vainly hopes that if he feeds enough concessions to the Zionist lobby, they may tone down their criticism of him. Fat chance.