Building up steam
Labour Against the Witchhunt secretary Stan Keable reports on the debates and decisions
Whatever their intentions The Independent and The Times gave the January 6 Labour Against the Witchhunt meeting some considerable publicity.1 The actual meeting itself can have left no-one in doubt that the campaign does not and will not tolerate anti-Semitic views within its ranks, not least as presented by the small ‘Trotskyist’ organisation Socialist Fight.
This essential prerequisite for an effective campaign against false allegations of anti-Semitism by Labour’s right wing was endorsed when the meeting voted overwhelmingly in favour of the steering committee motion:
LAW condemns anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. Those groups or individuals, such as Socialist Fight, who promote a form of anti-Semitism - for example, the view that imperialist support for Israel has any connection to the ‘overrepresentation’ of Jews in the ruling class; or that Jews are ‘an oppressor people’; or that Jewish campaigns in support of the Palestinians such as Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods or Jewish Voice for Labour are racist because they operate on the basis of a supposedly ‘Jewish moral superiority’ - are not welcome in LAW.
The motion also excluded “Those, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel …”2
Our “Calling all witches” appeal brought together around 60 comrades and not only from London. The meeting went on to make plans to develop the campaign, including setting up individual membership at an annual fee of £10 (£5 unwaged), and now Labour Party branches and CLPs, together with trade union branches, can affiliate for £25 (national bodies £100). LAW will picket the Labour national executive committee meeting on Tuesday January 23, demanding that the NEC reins in rogue general secretary Iain McNicol and his compliance unit of paid witchhunters - ostensibly acting on the instructions of the NEC - and we will picket the forthcoming disciplinary hearings of Marc Wadsworth (January 24, London), Tony Greenstein (January 26, Brighton) and Jackie Walker (date to be announced). Moshé Machover, reinstated in October after a party-wide outcry, to McNicol’s embarrassment, has agreed to be honorary president of LAW.
The campaign calls for Labour to implement the Chakrabarti report and stop the ‘automatic’ expulsion of socialists, without due process, using the bureaucrat’s dream, rule 2.1.4.B. LAW also opposes the weaponisation of the so-called International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism (crucially its ‘examples’, many of which conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism). These ‘examples’ have been used to suspend party members, removing their membership rights indefinitely. LAW has sent a submission to the Corbyn democracy review, which was agreed by the meeting, and can be used as a model for branches and CLPs.3 Moshé will be speaking alongside Ken Loach, Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth at Conway Hall on January 29 - LAW’s first public meeting, to be followed next day by our Birmingham public meeting.
Keeping things in perspective, a number of speakers for the SC motion emphasised that, although SF’s views irrevocably lead to the conclusion that Jews are “a problem”, SF leading lights Ian Donovan and Gerry Downing are not “personally anti-Semitic”. Pete Firmin, supporting the SC motion, nevertheless insisted that, while that was certainly the case for Gerry, “his politics are” anti-Semitic. Among those opposing the exclusion of SF, Steve Forrest said Gerry’s formulations are “clumsy, but not anti-Semitic,” while Graham Durham thought SF were “bonkers, but not racist”. Simon Hines, Islington North, opposed the SC motion because it excludes comrades on the basis of their views - which, of course, is true, but necessary. Simon is suspended on fake allegations of anti-Semitism, for saying such things as “Israel supports IS” and “Ruth Smeeth MP was not in tears” when she walked out of the Chakrabarti launch meeting.
Combating Ian Donovan’s defence of Gilad Atzmon, Roland Rance said that “Zionism is deeply anti-Semitic. It is a racist movement. Atzmon came to the conclusion that Zionism is right - that Jews outside Israel do live a dog’s life.” Moshé Machover challenged SF’s view that Jewish solidarity with Palestinians promoted “Jewish moral superiority”. Jewish solidarity groups, he said, are “not a form of identity politics. They are fighting for Palestinian rights, not for their own rights.” Jackie Walker spoke out against the view that this debate over the nature of LAW, including the exclusion of anti-Semitism from our campaign, was a diversion. “This debate is not a distraction”, she said. “It is at the core of what we are doing.” Absolutely right.
Despite the scare stories being spread, there was never any likelihood of physical conflict at the meeting. After a 90-minute debate, SF supporters respected the vote. The SC motion was carried by approximately 34 to 16, while Gerry Downing’s own motion (“This meeting rejects the motion to expel Socialist Fight from LAW and rejects the accusations of anti-Semitism against them”) was lost by a similar margin. SF then withdrew from the meeting, while a number of comrades who criticised SF’s political views but voted against its exclusion stayed in the meeting - and remain in LAW. The meeting then proceeded to plan the development of the campaign.
Both the newspapers mentioned above had reproduced the malicious and irresponsible lie spread by rightwing blogger Guido Fawkes,4 under the rubric of “Loony left” and “Split amongst loony Labour anti-Semites” (evidently, for Guido, critics of Israel and the settler-colonial project of Zionism are necessarily anti-Semitic), to the effect that a punch-up was in the offing at the venue. Guido reproduced a tweet by one Dave Rich, which read: “Reject Bogus Left Anti-Semitism is having its own meeting on Saturday in the same pub as Labour Against the Witchhunt. Same day, same time, same place, same subject - but on opposing sides.”
“You couldn’t make it up,” wrote Guido. But he did! ‘Reject Bogus Left Anti-Semitism’ was not a rival organisation: merely a Facebook ‘event’ set up by Gerry Downing to mobilise SF supporters to the LAW meeting.
These fake news predictions, plus a couple of emails warning of potential trouble, were enough to persuade the landlord of the Calthorpe Arms, where the meeting had been scheduled to take place, to cancel LAW’s booking - an unfortunate precedent for a traditional left meeting place which has seen many debates, but never leftwing violence. LAW quickly booked an alternative nearby meeting room, but comrades from both sides of the argument assembled - peacefully, together - in the bar of the Calthorpe Arms, before walking round the corner to a larger room in the nearby pub.
During the meeting, Tony Greenstein mocked SF’s “theory that the Jewish question is still relevant today: ie, that Jews fulfil a distinctive social or economic or political role under capitalism”; and he drew attention to Gerry Downing’s recent interview with, and Ian Donovan’s defence of, the “notorious anti-Semite”, Gilad Atzmon.5 Gerry Downing said that in November SF had been “autocratically excluded by the three people”, Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (ie, the LAW steering committee, in its November 22 statement) and that, at the December 2 LAW meeting, “We won the vote”. In fact none of the three motions debated on that day had been carried.
Strangely, stretching the imagination beyond breaking point, Gerry claimed that we were “in a bloc with Iain McNicol”, signalling to him that “If we give you SF’s head on a plate, perhaps you will treat us better”. In fact, as the SC motion states, LAW stands for “the lifting of all suspensions and expulsions … connected with the rightwing witchhunt of Corbyn supporters”. We do not want Labour’s rightwing, pro-imperialist warmongers and austerity promoters, or their paid officials led by general secretary Iain McNicol, deciding “automatically”, without due process, who is and who is not a Labour Party member.
The meeting ended with a call to support the Change.org petition to the NEC for suspended LP member Dave Watson of Walthamstow, raised a collection of £146, and agreed our next organising meeting: 1pm-4pm, Saturday March 3 at the Union Tavern. Book your rail tickets early this time l
1. The Independent January 2, The Times January 6.
5. See Tony Greenstein’s extensive report of the meeting, the debate, and the arguments on his blog: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2018/01/decisive-victory-as-labour-against.html.