Principled voices few and far between
Despite Corbyn’s imminent departure, the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign remorselessly grinds on, writes Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists.
Some people - including, admittedly, this writer - at times got a little carried away when considering the link between the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign and Jeremy Corbyn. Many thought the smears would stop the moment Corbyn was gone. But this campaign goes much deeper - and continues to expand, despite Corbyn’s imminent departure.
What we have witnessed in the last five years was in fact a “happy coincidence”, as Moshé Machover has put it in the past, between the meeting of two campaigns: firstly, to discredit opposition to the US-Israeli plans for the Middle East and beyond; and, secondly, to take out a peacenik hippy, who might have become prime minister of the US’s most reliable ally in Europe.
Since the 2003 Iraq war - and the reluctance of some countries to get behind the US and Israel - there has been a concerted, international effort to shore up support for their plans for the Middle East and beyond. A hugely important part of that plan was to stop any criticism of Israel’s ongoing expansion and its brutal oppression of the Palestinian people.
The first targets of the campaign were Germany and, to a lesser degree, France. Germany was effectively demilitarised following World War II, but in the 1990s its government hesitantly tried to flex its military muscles by engaging in ‘humanitarian’ interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Both proved to be disasters and hugely unpopular. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the German government (a coalition of social democrats and Greens) was therefore forced into loudly opposing US plans. As it was one of the main US allies in Europe, this posed a massive problem - not militarily, we should add: the German army was and remains unfit for battle. Politically and PR-wise, however, this refusal was a blow to the otherwise hegemonic US-Israel axis of angels.
Around that time, a very curious organisation raised its head. Although the ‘Antideutsche’ (Anti-Germans) never had more than a few hundred supporters, they were very well financed and organised - and very influential, particularly in shifting perceptions about Israel. The basic message of the Antideutsche was: Germans should be ashamed for not actively and militarily defending a people upon which it inflicted the holocaust.
They looked and acted like leftwingers, joined anti-war demonstrations and - slowly, but surely - won over much of the left and wider society. Their biggest organisational scalp to date has been the Die Linke party, whose leadership became openly pro-Israel. Their biggest political success has been the decision of the German parliament in 2019 to declare that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is ‘anti-Semitic’. This has had huge implications for supporters of the campaign attempting to organise meetings, book venues, etc. BDS has not been made illegal - yet. But surely it is only a matter of time.
In Britain, the campaign was not fought as fiercely, simply because it was not necessary. The government under Tony Blair eagerly supported the US drive to war. But then a certain Jeremy Corbyn was accidently elected to lead Labour, which quickly grew into the biggest political party in Europe. Efforts to discredit and get rid of him proved unsuccessful - we saw him labelled a Czech spy, a Russian sympathiser, a supporter of terrorists, etc. Nothing stuck - until the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ smear campaign was employed. And Corbyn folded.
To be accused of racism, no matter how nonsensical and flimsy the evidence, was too much for this lifelong anti-racist. He tried to appease his accusers. But, by appointing Shami Chakrabarti in early 2016 to conduct an enquiry into the charge of ‘institutional anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party, he made the biggest political mistake of his life: he had opened the door to the witch-hunters, who gladly rushed in. For the next four years, Corbyn and his allies tried everything to placate his accusers - but he refused to do the obvious: call a lie a lie.
This campaign has been hugely successful. Corbyn is gone, but it continues - and has expanded way beyond Labour. It is, after all, about much more than getting rid of him.
One of the most powerful tools has been the so-called ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is very much part of the above campaign to change perceptions about Israel and the US drive to war. The very short ‘definition’ itself is imprecise, but relatively harmless - it is, however, the 11 “examples” that have been tacked on which are the real problem: they repeatedly conflate criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Yes, the definition is - currently - not legally enforceable. But this could change quickly and the government certainly seems to be going that way.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has just announced that local authorities and universities “could face funding cuts if they choose not to adopt” the definition. It has already been adopted by 136 of the 343 councils in England and Jenrick has threatened to “shortly publish the list of those councils that have told my department that they will adopt the definition and those who have explicitly refused to do so. Organisations like these should not expect to receive public money if they cannot demonstrate that they are fighting anti-Semitism.”1
A day later, The Times published another story on the issue. Apparently - and this was news to us - 637 Westminster MPs have individually and personally signed up to the IHRA definition when pressured to do so by the Anti-Semitism Policy Trust. The Times names and shames the “13 (out of 650) MPs who have failed to sign up”. The number includes the seven Sinn Féin MPs, who do not take their seats in Westminster, as well as Labour MPs Graham Stringer, Tahir Ali, Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris. Another Labour MP, Yasmin Qureshi, along with Tory Christopher Chope, quickly signed up when they were confronted by the Jewish Chronicle.2
So presumably even Richard Burgon, the new darling of the left who is standing for the Labour deputy leadership, has signed up. We do not know if the MPs were asked to endorse the definition only or the 11 examples as well, but it almost does not really matter. The Labour Party itself has, of course, already signed up to the IHRA, including all its examples - having succumbed to the pressure coming from the right in and outside the party.
We have already seen how anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism have been painted with the anti-Semitic brush. Which makes it all the more worrying when parts of the left are themselves going along with the campaign. And, no, we are not just talking about the social-imperialists of the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty. The Socialist Workers Party, via its front organisation, Stand up to Racism, now also seems to have followed suit. Most readers will be aware of the ongoing controversy over SUTR allowing pro-Zionists groups to join its annual march in Glasgow. For three years running, the Confederation of Friends of Israel has been invited to display its pro-Israeli banners, together with Israeli flags.
Clearly, this attempt to appease the Israeli lobby is not just limited to Scotland. SUTR organised a range of holocaust remembrance events and invited Glyn Secker, secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, to address a meeting in Tower Hamlets on January 27. When the pro-Israeli Board of Deputies and other Zionist organisations got wind of it, they immediately started to mount a campaign against the invitation of comrade Secker, as has become common practice whenever an anti-Zionist is speaking publicly.
They tweeted Tower Hamlets council, which folded quicker than a house of cards: “after careful consideration” they cancelled SUTR’s room booking.3 Disgracefully, SUTR then rescinded the invitation to comrade Secker, in the vain hope of getting the room back - and presumably keeping its reputation as ‘the good guys’ intact. But the council still declined to host the event. So SUTR booked a different hall and tried to get a number of alternative speakers along, including Jewish activist David Rosenberg - but he declined, criticising the SUTR decision to fold over Secker. Which is when SUTR had to cancel the whole event.
SUTR’s sheepish statement merely says:
Unfortunately the meeting has become a focus for wider political forces seeking to raise and debate other issues. This has led to many problems, including that of a venue. SUTR does not want the seriousness and importance of Holocaust Memorial Day to be overshadowed by disagreements about other issues. Therefore the meeting in Tower Hamlets has been cancelled.4
Jewish Voice for Labour is more outspoken: “SUTR’s justification [for cancelling Secker’s invitation] was that they didn’t want to be in conflict with the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This is a retreat before the forces that confuse anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and we unreservedly condemn this decision.”
SUTR is, of course, a very easy target for the Zionists. It encapsulates what the SWP believes is a ‘united front’ with all sorts of dignitaries and VIPs, who are to the SWP’s political right. But, because the organisation almost always subordinates itself politically to those forces, the organisations it promotes are much better described as popular fronts (not that they are usually very popular). Even former SWP leader Lindsey German (now part of the SWP split, Counterfire) commented on social media that “it shouldn’t have happened”.5
That sorry episode shows once more what’s wrong with the tactic of throwing somebody to the wolves in the hope of appeasing the right. The problem is that the ‘wolves’ just carry on, are emboldened, and - sooner or later - they come for you.
We are pleased that at least some organisations on the left seem to have started to learn that lesson. The nascent Labour Left Alliance has decided to ask all candidates standing in Labour’s forthcoming by-election for the national executive committee (for two CLP representatives and one BAME rep) a range of questions - see below. They could be sharper, in our view, but it would be difficult for out-and-out careerists and Momentum stooges to answer ‘yes’ to them. In that sense, they will probably help the left make an informed choice.
This is certainly in sharp contrast to the method employed by the currently imploding Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance. Since its foundation in 1995, the CLGA has operated as an underground club, to which only a few lucky reps of carefully screened groups are invited. This thoroughly undemocratic and unaccountable lash-up takes it upon itself to ‘recommend’ various candidates for Labour’s internal elections - consistently guided by its assumption that the left is virtually unelectable (an especially perverse template to work to in the aftermath of Corbyn’s victory and the membership surges he inspired).
For many years, the CLGA stuck to its mantra of giving support to centrist candidates and rejected any moves to either present a leftwing platform or support openly individual left candidates. It is this hopeless perspective that explains how Ann Black could remain on a ‘left ticket’ for so long, despite clearly being very much on the centre/right of the party.
This overall ‘tactic’ did not change with the rise of Momentum - Jon Lansman simply joined up to dictate to the rest of the groups which of his allies and hangers-on the rest of the groups should support. Most of the CLGA-selected candidates have been utterly useless in the fight against the right. The exception is Darren Williams of Welsh Labour Grassroots, who will at least occasionally speak up (when asked).
We do not know how they vote most of the time - for example, on the IHRA - but we do know that four of the eight CLGA members on the NEC representing Constituency Labour Parties voted in favour of fast-track expulsions in the run-up to the 2019 conference. They were Lansman himself (no surprise there) and his hangers-on, Huda Elmi, Navendu Mishra (now the MP for lucky Stockport) and Claudia Webbe (MP for Leicester East). The latter’s vote was the most worrying, as she was chair of the CLPD at the time - whose secretary, Pete Willsman remains suspended from the party (and the NEC) on utterly bogus charges!
We are therefore not shedding any tears over the news that the CLGA is now in its death throes. For the last three weeks, representatives from all the invited groups (which now also includes the Labour Representation Committee, Grassroots Black Left and Jewish Voice for Labour) have been haggling over their candidates, with Momentum refusing to come out and say who it supports. As we go to press, Lansman is still pretending to go through the applications he has received from Momentum members. This seems to be chiefly a delaying tactic though, designed to stop the rest of the left from putting forward any candidates (which has not worked: JVL is backing Jo Bird, while the CLPD is pushing for Mo Azam). We predict that Lansman will soon get the Momentum machine into gear and will back a couple of centrist ‘independent’ candidates who have been campaigning for a while. The period for nominations ends on February 14 and all candidates need the support of a minimum of five CLPs.
The CLGA has to be put out of its misery - and soon. It has long been unfit for the purpose. Any candidate who is not prepared to come out openly and strongly against the witch-hunt in the party does not deserve the support of the left. In that respect, the Labour Left Alliance’s questions go some way to change the dangerous, uncritical fan-boy attitude of the CLGA and most of its component parts:
Will you campaign for open selections (and scrapping the trigger ballot) for all Labour Party public office-holders - including Westminster MPs?
Will you campaign against the Labour Party adopting the Board of Deputies’ 10 pledges and for Labour to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign?
Will you campaign for conference to become the party’s sovereign body, especially when it comes to deciding policy? Will you therefore campaign for the scrapping of the national policy forum?
Will you press for party complaints and disciplinary procedures that are fit for purpose, that include both the full implementation of the Chakrabarti report, with its principles of fairness and natural justice, and an effective means of addressing complaints related to abuse of procedures and rules?
The Times January 27.↩︎