David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists looks at the continuation of the anti-left witch-hunt
All those who thought that, with the departure of Jeremy Corbyn, the witch-hunt against the Labour left would be ended along with the weaponisation of ‘anti-Semitism’, came in for a big shock last week. On February 6 party HQ announced that two leftwing candidates in the forthcoming by-election for three members of the national executive committee have been suspended from membership and therefore barred from standing.
Jo Bird and Mohammed Azam were contesting the two vacancies for representatives of Constituency Labour Parties and, although the Labour leadership is refusing to say on what grounds they have been suspended, it is very likely that the charges will be related to accusations of anti-Semitism. According to the Jewish Chronicle, “Labour had tried to speed up disciplinary cases ahead of the publication of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into claims the party was institutionally anti-Semitic.”
Comrade Bird - ironically the only Jewish candidate standing in the NEC elections - was previously suspended in March 2019 over, incredibly, a joke she made when speaking in favour of the anti-Zionist and pro-Corbyn grouping, Jewish Voice for Labour. In June 2018 she called for “disciplinary hearings to be paused until a due process has been established based on principles of natural justice” - and then she added: “what I call ‘Jew process’.”
Just in case anyone actually thought that this remark carried some kind of anti-Semitic implication, she immediately made clear it was intended to be a light-hearted play on words, and added: “Seriously, one of the things that does worry me is the privileging of racism against Jews, over and above - as more worthy of resources - than other forms of racism.” For the likes of the Jewish Chronicle, this was an outrageous claim, especially since comrade Bird “denies Labour had an anti-Semitism problem and claims allegations about its presence in Jeremy Corbyn’s party were made ‘without evidence’”. Even worse, Bird had made an “attempt to rewrite the words of the poem, ‘First they came for ...’”, by “replacing the word ‘Jews’ with ‘anti-Zionists’”!
Comrade Bird was reinstated shortly afterwards, following her apology for “any offence caused by my play on words”, but now it is assumed that further examples of her ‘anti-Semitism’ have been dug up - she was suspended even though she had already won the nomination of over 80 CLPs. As for Mohammed Azam, things are even less clear, since there have been no allegations of anti-Semitism - or even ‘anti-Israelism’ - made against him up to now, as far as I am aware.
Although Azam - who had the support of 23 CLPs at the time of his suspension - was previously an NEC member for around a decade, there is little evidence of him saying anything controversial. His statement in support of his 2020 candidacy says vaguely, “I support greater internal party democracy”, and he declares: “My political grounding is in grassroots activism and I have a longstanding history of championing social justice and political causes with conviction.” Evidence of the dumbing down caused by the witch-hunting atmosphere. Lawyers call it the ‘chilling effect’. The statement of Jo Bird, who was “inspired to join the Labour Party by Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of socialism for the many”, is equally bland.
Nevertheless, as Jewish Voice for Labour points out, she was “the leading left candidate running for the NEC, so the timing of this suspension is deeply suspicious and has the hallmarks of a deliberate attempt to undermine members’ wishes and party democracy”. JVL continues:
If the suspension is for anti-Semitism, we can say we have known Jo for a long period and worked closely with her. We know she is a proud Jew and opposed to anti-Semitism, just as she is shown over the years to be an active opponent of all racism.
The phrase “proud Jew” has also been used by Bird herself, by the way.
For its part, the Labour Left Alliance is urging Labour members to keep nominating both comrades, in order “to demonstrate solidarity and determination to assert member’s democratic rights”. It adds: “The more nominations, the more pressure to allow a fully democratic election!”
Meanwhile, another campaigner against both the witch-hunt and the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ charade has quit the party in despair.
Asa Winstanley, who runs The Electronic Intifada blog, announced his decision, following indications that the party was about to expel him for repeatedly dismissing the idea of a ‘Labour anti-Semitism crisis’ and, apparently, for daring to refer to the “Israeli lobby in the UK”.
On February 7 comrade Winstanley, who had been suspended from the party since March 2019, wrote: “Almost a year after Labour’s faceless bureaucrats began investigating me, they sent me a letter this week threatening to expel me from the party.” Ludicrously Labour HQ demanded that he reply within five days to 45 pages of accusations - unless, of course, it decided he had a “clear and compelling reason” for an extension. The allegations all relate to what he has written - either on his blog or in Twitter postings.
He says: “I’ve concluded that going along with this sham any further would be to participate in a political show trial, whose outcome is a foregone conclusion.” Of course, he is right in a way. But the point is, that is exactly what the witch-hunters want: if you resign, they imply that it is an admission of guilt - although in reality, in every case involving a well-known figure on the left, accusations of anti-Semitism were quietly dropped and the target was expelled for the catch-all ‘bringing the party into disrepute’, or the like.
Comrade Winstanley writes:
The allegations amount to an attack on my reporting about Palestine, Zionism, the Israel lobby in the UK and the manufactured anti-Semitism van effort to smear me personally asvan anti-Semite in order to silence me and intimidate others into silence over Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.
This political inquisition also aims to stop people talking about and reporting on the role the Israel lobby plays in ensuring the ongoing silence and complicity of our political leaders in relation to Israel’s crimes.
In fact, “The Labour Party now claims it is potentially ‘anti-Semitic’ to even use the phrase ‘Israel lobby’ - as I do frequently, since it is my job to report on th Israel lobby.”
Comrade Winstanley states that he had already answered in detail most of the same “bogus allegations and political charges” after his suspension last year: “But the nameless officials have ignored my responses and sent many of the same questions again.”
One can well understand his frustration and despair at all this - how would you feel if you were treated like that? But, as I say, the best way to deal with such an assault on members’ rights is to continue to resist for as long as possible, while giving the whole sham the maximum publicity. At the same time, socialists and all principled democrats in the Labour Party must mobilise to defend the victims of the witch-hunt, continue to move motions in our branches and CLPs, and demand that Labour HQ withdraw the absurd charges. There have been examples of the success that this can achieve - most notably in the cases of Moshé Machover (and actually Jo Bird herself last year).
But it is essential that the Marxist left in particular steps up its campaigning: we need to win the idea that what is really required is a total transformation of the party, so that it becomes a home for every genuine working class partisan - one that is capable of resisting and finally defeating the concerted, ongoing attempt by the Labour right to return the party to its former position, which reached its zenith under Tony Blair, as Britain’s ‘responsible’ party of government.
Our main problem at the moment is that those on the vague or soft left are turning to the right. For mainstream Labourites, winning elections and securing the ‘next Labour government’ is the central question. What policies a Labour government pursues are secondary. After all, winning office brings all sorts of jobs, positions and benefits. In December the soft left’s darling lost and lost badly. Hence, predictably, we are seeing a stampede to the right by former Corbynistas.
Clearly the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ campaign is set to continue. Its purpose was always much more than getting rid of Corbyn and purging the left in the Labour Party. Israel must once again be generally regarded as a democratic haven, worth defending, a beacon of civilization - its role as imperialism’s number-one ally in the Middle East means that the growing disillusionment in and opposition to its oppressive and reactionary role, not least by progressive Jews, must be reversed.