Despicable participants in an ongoing witch-hunt
The AWL social-imperialists have constituted themselves as allies of the Labour right, the mainstream media and the Israeli political establishment, writes Carla Roberts
The latest issue of Solidarity features an unpleasant, unsigned ‘Diary of a delegate’, who only seems to have managed to attend one session at Labour Party conference: namely the afternoon of Tuesday September 25, which saw the debate around the motions on Brexit and Palestine. The unnamed author writes:
Emily Thornberry’s speech was rambling, but she said; “There are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. These people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party.”
These people are not just on the fringes of our movement. I sat just behind the honourable member for Derby North - a man who is happy to peddle the idea that the whole anti-Semitism issue is really a matter of it being “weaponised” by the right to harm Jeremy Corbyn. Extreme holocaust denial may be on the fringes, but anti-Semitism in the form of wanting to see Israel destroyed, as shown by the chanting at Labour conference, is not.
In a disgusting attack, ‘Labour Party Marxists’ in their Red Pages bulletin took exception with Rhea Wolfson being allowed to chair the session on Palestine! She has pro-Palestinian views? Ah, she is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement and a Zionist! They raised no objections to anyone else chairing sessions.
That sort of dog-whistle anti-Semitism from LPM, coupled with the glowing reception two members of Neturei Karta got when leafleting, shows that some Labour members have a long way to go on managing to make solidarity with Palestinians without falling into the trap of anti-Semitic actions and views.1
This is pretty low even by the standards of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Of course, everybody knows that it has a thing about ‘anti-Semitism’. Their leaders and writers see it everywhere - and have been doing so long before it became quite so fashionable with the Daily Mail and the right wing in the Parliamentary Labour Party. It is, after all, the AWL’s ‘unique selling point’, with which it tries to distinguish its otherwise pretty unexceptional Trotskyist economism from that of the rest of the left. Or “fake left”, as AWL guru Sean Matgamna insists on calling all other leftwing organisations in its irregularly published Solidarity.
Back in 2003 Matgamna declared that, forthwith, AWL members shall proudly call themselves “Zionists”. And, boy, have they made their master proud. In 2016, the AWL’s representatives on the then steering committee of Momentum voted enthusiastically with Jon Lansman to kick Jackie Walker off the organisation’s leading body when she was first falsely accused of anti-Semitism - perhaps giving the owner of the organisation’s database the last bit of courage he needed before going on to abolish all democratic structures in Momentum in his coup of January 10 2017.
This episode could stand symbolically for the whole misguided approach to the witch-hunt. Some people just cannot see the wood for the trees (or maybe they just ignore it). Even when AWL member Pete Radcliffe was expelled from the Labour Party two days after a hilariously misinformed Owen Smith (remember him?) accused the AWL on Question time of “flooding the Labour Party” and “bringing anti-Semitic views”,2 the penny did not seem to drop.
While there are a few isolated cases of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (just as there must be, statistically speaking, of Islamophobia, homophobia, paedophilia and even bestiality), the witch-hunt clearly has nothing to do with opposing anti-Semitism. The aim of the charade is to get rid of a certain Jeremy Corbyn.
By accepting the false narrative that Labour is awash with anti-Semitism, the AWL has provided leftwing cover for the witch-hunt - even while its own members became collateral damage. You could not make it up.
According to Sean Matgamna, a Zionist nowadays is anyone who believes “in the right of Israel to exist and defends its existence”.3
Of course, historically, Zionism was a “definitely reactionary ideology”4 (Lenin), according to which Jews and gentiles could never live together peacefully and Jews therefore needed a separate Jewish state. The creation of Israel and subsequent expansion has been characterised by horrendous crimes against the indigenous Arab population, including, crucially the nakba - the forced expulsion of around 800,000 Palestinians. What began as a colonial ideology of the oppressed has metamorphosed into a full-blown ideology of colonial oppression. Modern-day Zionism, as the state ideology of Israel, not only retrospectively justifies the foundation of Israel, but seeks to perpetuate and extend the privileged position of Jews in that state. Witness the recent passing of the Nation-State of the Jewish People law, which constitutionally enshrines the long-established discrimination against Israel’s non-Jewish citizens.
So, yes, we should oppose in the strongest terms the fact that Rhea Wolfson, who proudly self-defines as a Zionist, chaired a session debating the oppression of Palestinians! Wolfson - until recently an editor of the AWL’s magazine The Clarion - is a member of the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, which supports and aligns itself with the Israeli Labor Party: the same party that orchestrated the nakba and presided over the conquest of the Golan Heights and the West Bank in 1967.
It is no surprise then that Wolfson chaired the session in a highly biased way. For example, she rudely interrupted Hilary Wise from Ealing and Acton Central CLP, who spoke passionately about the anti-Semitism smear campaign: “I have never seen anything like the current campaign of slurs and accusations made against Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the party. I am afraid it is an orchestrated campaign and if you want to know how it works I urge you to watch ‘The lobby’ on Al Jazeera.”
At that point Wolfson warned her: “I would ask you to be very careful. You are straying into territory here.” What “territory” exactly? Telling the truth about the smear campaign?
Comrade Wise went on to warn quite rightly that “this campaign will only get worse and the list of people being denounced as anti-Semitic will get longer, often simply for being proponents of Palestinian rights”. Here, Wolfson interrupted her again: “I urge you to be careful” - and then went straight on to tell her abruptly: “Take your seat - your time is up now.”
After two minutes and 45 seconds, that is. All other delegates got a minimum of three minutes, with Wolfson gently requesting that they finish when their time was up. The video of comrade Wise’s speech and Wolfson’s interruptions is available online.5
Choosing a Zionist to chair this most controversial session of the whole conference (which also included the debate on Brexit) was, of course, a highly political move by the party leadership, intended to show that it ‘takes anti-Semitism seriously’. A bit like if Barbara Castle had been asked to chair a session on the impact of Ted Heath’s anti-trade union laws. Or Jack Straw on the Iraq war.
It was another sign, if one was needed, that Corbyn is still not prepared to take on the right, but continues to try and appease members of the PLP, etc, in the vain hope of keeping them quiet. Fat chance. Wolfson was not a neutral chair - and was not supposed to be one. The AWL might pretend not to understand that, but it was pretty obvious to the rest of us.
But then, the AWL is more than friendly with the JLM - in 2016 it even organised a joint meeting with this Zionist outfit - along with, wait for it, the pro-Blairite Progress group. On the question of Israel-Palestine, there is nothing that indicates that the AWL might stem from a socialist tradition. Mike Cushman brilliantly describes this bizarre meeting as a “love-in” over a “common object of affection”: Israel. He writes:
But not the Israel we see every day abusing Palestinians and harassing dissident anti-Zionists. It was an Israel of their imagination, moving gracefully to a two-state solution, abandoning settlements and occupation on the way.6
What he says is well worth a read if you want a taste of the AWL’s ahistorical and emotional attitude to the question.
It is difficult to talk of ‘quality’ in this context, but the latest rant in Solidarity represents, perhaps, a qualitative difference. AWLers used to be rather careful, for example, not to label Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker as full-blown anti-Semites and desisted from calling for their expulsions from the Labour Party. When Matgamna fumed that Livingstone is a “functioning anti-Semite”, who “should be expelled from the Labour Party”,7 the Solidarity editorial committee quickly pointed out that “our editorial position is that we do not call for Livingstone to be expelled. We want to limit, not expand, the powers the current party regime has to ‘ban’ political views.”8 All clear then?
Now Labour Party Marxists is accused by the AWL not just of “dog-whistle anti-Semitism”, but also of “anti-Semitic actions and views”. We did not see Matgamna at conference, so we presume this is not one of his ‘special’ articles that have to be taken with a handful of salt, but the “editorial position”.
The article does not specify if the AWL thinks LPM members should be expelled from the Labour Party. But clearly this is the logic of what it is doing by naming and ‘shaming’ people in the middle of this vile witch-hunt directed against Corbyn and those who defend him from the right.
We have been assured that the AWL does not actively report people to the Labour Party’s compliance unit - but it might just as well. Its poisonous campaign has certainly helped to create and maintain today’s toxic and fearful atmosphere in the party and will no doubt have encouraged others to report cases of alleged anti-Semitism to the thought police. This has nothing to do with helping to ‘cleanse’ the workers’ movement, as some turncoats on the left seem to think.
Labour Against the Witchhunt was spot on to launch its open letter, ‘No, Jennie, we will not be informers’, in response to requests by general secretary Jennie Formby that members should report cases of alleged anti-Semitism to the Labour Party’s ‘complaints department’ (aka compliance unit).9 As LAW writes, “We have seen people being suspended for using the word ‘Zio’ or for expressing their outrage at the horrendous crimes committed by the state of Israel in a confused manner. The vast majority of these people are clearly not anti-Semitic. And yet, they have been publicly labelled as such” by the mainstream press and the right inside and outside the party, “often causing great distress to the member” in question.
We agree with LAW that “open and democratic debate, without fear of being reported, is the best way to educate people and fight prejudice and racism”. Reporting people to the thought police in the party, however, will only strengthen the hand of the witch-hunters and the right wing.
In its article, the AWL does not just attack us, but also the two members of Neturei Karta, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews who were calmly giving out their rather good leaflet, ‘Jews in support of Jeremy’, at the Labour conference; not to mention Chris Williamson MP, whom the AWL labels a “sickening individual” with a “despicable hatred of Jews”. Now, I am not an expert on legal questions, but that is not just pretty stupid and clearly untrue, but also sounds pretty libellous to me. Talking of which, it seems the AWL has now also taken to calling Jackie Walker an “anti-Semite”. Or, more precisely, to shout about it.
According to a statement posted on Facebook, AWL members told students at a fresher’s fair that they are “fighting anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” and that “we’ve got known anti-Semites living in this area. Jackie Walker, for example”.10 Jackie Walker has sought a retraction from the AWL and has emailed it twice, but has so far not even received an explanation. She says she is now considering reporting it to the police as a “hate crime”.
We do not advocate bringing the state into disputes inside the workers’ movement and we would urge comrade Walker not to get the police involved. Having said that, it is, however, questionable whether the AWL can still be considered a part of the left.
We should also consider the actual, real-life implications of the AWL’s comments and articles. Being expelled from the Labour Party is one thing. But comrade Walker has become something of a pin-up for the witch-hunters; her face is plastered all over the hate-filled outputs of GnasherJew, Guido Fawkes and other such unpleasant mediums. The bomb threat made during the screening of the documentary ‘The political lynching of Jackie Walker’ at the Labour conference was ‘only’ a hoax, but one can imagine the possibility of some deranged person being tempted to ‘do a Jo Cox’.
By supporting and perpetuating the witch-hunt against comrade Walker and Labour Party Marxists, the AWL has managed to stoop to a new low, even by its standards.
3. ‘AWL and Zionism’ Weekly Worker September 17 2003.
10. www.facebook.com/jacqueline.walker.3990 (October 5).