Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson: stop appeasing the right

Stand up with us, Jeremy

This open letter to Jeremy Corbyn protesting against the bogus ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign was originally signed by 104 Labour Party members

We attach an open letter to you signed by 145 members of the Party, Jews and non-Jews, all socialists, who are alarmed by the treatment of leftwing supporters of Palestine facing victimisation within the party. We began collecting signatures before the national constitutional committee’s decision to extend Ken Livingstone’s suspension, the subsequent attacks on him and the party, and your failure to defend him. We are aware that other party members are also enduring disciplinary procedures which lack natural justice. The most high-profile of these is Jackie Walker and it is her case that the letter primarily addresses.

Those who have signed the letter are standing up and saying we do not believe that the actions that Jackie has been accused of are, in any way, anti-Semitic. However, if the Labour Party is to employ an expansive definition of anti-Semitism that encompasses Jackie’s actions, then all 145 of us too are guilty.

We would invite you to meet the organisers of this letter, most of whom you know well from pickets and lobbies in defence of Palestinian rights, to discuss how to combine the party’s historic and principled opposition to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, with a reinvigorated and public defence of Palestinian rights.

Haim Bresheeth
Mike Cushman
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi

We are writing to you as members of the Labour Party. We are a predominantly Jewish group and are writing to ask you to review your behaviour on the question of Israel/Palestine. We understand that amongst reasons given by the Labour Party for claiming that Jackie Walker, the ex-deputy chair of Momentum, is anti-Semitic, the following are included:

1. Regularly posting on Israel.

2. Describing Israel as a racist state.

3. A pattern of behaviour that causes offence to some members.

4. Claiming that there is an anti-Semitism witch-hunt.

5. Claiming that there is Israeli involvement in British politics.

6. Saying the right of the party is using this witch-hunt for political purposes.

7. Saying adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is an attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel and to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

We would therefore like to let you know that we are too are ‘guilty’ of such charges, not because we are anti-Semitic, but because we believe these to be reasonable statements, accurately describing Israel’s policies and actions.

Examples of our activities include:

1. We have regularly posted on Israel and Palestine (and many other issues of political concern, including British and international politics) on various social media.

2. We have described Israel as a racist state (and indeed as an apartheid state) because it is one. Its legislation defines and differentiates between people on the basis of religion and/or ethnicity, including, as you must be aware: laws on ownership of land; who can become a citizen; and the outrageous category of ‘present absentees’, which make it impossible for Palestinians to return to their home, while enabling Israel to confiscate it. Palestinian citizens of Israel are third-class citizens, tolerated at best, and the four million Palestinians under occupation enjoy no rights at all. Such views as ours are commonly held by those leading Israeli journalists and intellectuals intent on adhering to international law and the legal force of UN resolutions. Indeed, a small representative selection from recent articles (in the last month alone) in Israeli publications should be enough to demonstrate this point. It is clear that any such views would immediately lead to an inquiry by the UK Labour Party, were they voiced by one of its members.

‘Supreme court rules against exposing Israel’s role in Bosnian genocide’: https://972mag.com/israels-involvement-in-bosnian-genocide-to-remain-under-wraps/123503.

‘Israel’s travel ban: how banning settlement boycotters is driving me into the arms of BDS’: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.775717.

‘Israel’s ugly new travel ban tells the world: stay away if you don’t agree with us’: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.775749.

‘Don’t mess with our occupation’: www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/1.775051.

‘In last monologue, Israeli comedy show host implores Israelis to wake up and smell the apartheid’: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.774663.

‘Israel loves wars’: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.774709.

‘Israel’s Gaza war failure was first and foremost a diplomatic one’: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.774507.

‘Israel’s organized hate crime against its Muslim minority’: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.776355.

‘Five ways Israel will make you hate Israel this week’: www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.775739.

‘The Israeli lawmaker who embraces apartheid’: www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.775612.

3. We regret that some people may find our statements offensive, but one cannot engage in politics without being offended from time to time. We find many of the statements and actions of Israel and its supporters deeply offensive to us as Jewish, and other socialist, members of the party and human rights activists. Despite our unease, we do nothing to try and silence such views. We believe in free speech.

4. The reason we have claimed there is an ‘anti-Semitism witch-hunt’ in the Labour Party is that we do not know how else one could describe the singling out of Palestine rights’ supporters and anti-Zionists in the Labour Party. We believe that the party has a far worse problem with Islamophobia and anti-black racism, but has shamefully not pursued such cases with any noticeable energy. We acknowledge there may be incidents of anti-Semitism in the party, as there are of all discriminatory behaviour, but they are infrequent and not systematic; and we have rarely, if ever, witnessed any. Any such incidents that are identified should result in appropriate, transparent and swift action. The cases of Walker, Greenstein, Livingstone and Wadsworth are clearly not amongst them.

5. We have claimed there is covert and overt Israeli involvement in British politics, as conclusively demonstrated in Al Jazeera’s ‘The lobby’ series of programmes, and by numerous other media/social media reports. To claim otherwise is to ignore the evidence or to cave in to this very lobby.

6. We have claimed that opponents of the leader of the party have used the campaign of anti-Semitism allegations to destabilise the leadership and have greatly damaged the party as a consequence. They have done this with impunity. We believe this to be true and clearly demonstrated.

7. The letter from Jo Johnson to Universities UK using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is one of the examples of the way this racist and demonising ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism is employed to censor necessary, and proper, political and moral debate. We have spoken to many students and staff who have felt intimidated, and prevented from expressing deeply held (and not in any way anti-Semitic) views on the brutal daily realities in Palestine/Israel.

These are members who are acting against Israel’s illegal actions, moved by the need to achieve a just peace in the region. We believe that the IHRA definition is directed not at anti-Semitism - which is currently showing its ugly face in Europe and, in particular, in Trump’s USA - but instead at the critics of Israeli crimes, many of them being socialist and Jewish members of the Labour Party.

For more details see the legal opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC: http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/ihra-opinion.

We have taken such positions because we are socialists and humanists. We believe in the rights of Palestinians to live free from the oppression, national and individual, that they currently experience. We also recollect similar sentiments expressed by yourself in the past.

We shall not give up on our right to free speech to criticise Israel or, for that matter, any other country which behaves illegally and immorally. We consider this to be our right and duty as progressive socialists. The current bogus ‘anti-Semitism’ attack by the Israel lobby is intended to deny us this right; will negate our human rights; and suppress free speech and free political debate.

If this stance is unacceptable to the current leadership of the Labour Party, we invite you to take action against us. If, as we believe, you share our views, please stand up with us and say so openly.

History will judge those who stifle debate and silence criticism.