Cowardice and opportunism
Lindsey German has refused to withdraw the implication that the Stop the War Coalition will not associate itself with those expelled from Labour. Tony Greenstein reports
During the Labour leadership campaign the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has support for Israel hardwired into its constitution, issued an updated version of the 10 Commandments.
Its fifth commandment is slightly different from what was handed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Instead of “Honour your father and mother”, there is ‘Thou shalt not have anything to do with those expelled from the Labour Party’. Or, to use the exact words, Labour must “Provide no platform for bigotry”. From the start, the Zionist-inspired fake anti-Semitism campaign has been a prime example of ‘doublethink’ - racists accusing anti-racists of racism.
This is the same Board of Deputies which has just refused to even take a position on - still less condemn – Binyamin Netanyahu’s declaration that Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank annexed to Israel will not be given Israeli citizenship. The fact that Keir Starmer takes his orders on fighting ‘anti-Semitism’ from a group that historically has always been opposed to Jews fighting genuine anti-Semitism speaks volumes about his ‘anti-racism’.
It is consistent with Starmer’s condemnation of the Bristol demonstration, which threw the statue of slaver Edward Colston into the Avon. No doubt he would have told Rosa Parks, when she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus, that she should have obeyed the law on segregation.
On April 29 at a ‘Don’t Leave, Organise’ meeting, where MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were speakers, Jackie Walker and myself spoke from the audience. The very next day the Jewish Chronicle headline was ‘Communal outrage over participation of Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy’. The BoD demanded that both black MPs should be suspended for not having the presence of mind to pick out those who had been expelled or suspended from the Labour Party.
Speaking at a meeting attended by two Jewish anti-Zionists is now considered ‘anti-Semitic’ in the Labour Party! This is a parallel universe, where the laws of logic don’t operate. But if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes received wisdom. And, given the numbers being expelled under the ‘fast-track’ procedures that Corbyn introduced, it is going to be very difficult to keep up with who one is allowed to speak with.
One would expect Sir Keir Starmer QC - a former director of public prosecutions, to propose legislation to enforce the Fifth Commandment. If he is looking for a legal precedent, there is apartheid South Africa’s 1992 Internal Security Act. Under the ISA a banned person was prohibited from attending meetings of any kind, speaking in public or publishing or distributing any written material. The media was prohibited from reporting the banned person’s words. This would be much fairer on MPs and Labour Party members, because it would obviate the need to know the history of all those in any audience they address.
On May 12 I was invited to speak at a Birmingham Stop the War Coalition meeting, where Salma Yaqoob was also invited to speak.
Almost immediately former Labour MP Ian Austin and the Zionist-run Campaign Against Anti-Semitism demanded that Salma be suspended from the Labour Party. She denied having agreed to speak, but, given her situation as a prominent target of the right, a tactical withdrawal was totally understandable.
But that did not stop the New Statesman’s Ailbhe Rea pontificating that “Starmer is facing his first test over anti-Semitism”. The irony is that the New Statesman was founded by a genuine anti-Semite, Sidney Webb, who once proclaimed that “French, German, Russian socialism is Jew-ridden. We, thank heaven, are free.” But at least the New Statesman, after complaints from Jackie Walker and myself, altered Rea’s execrable piece by accepting that neither of us were expelled for anti-Semitism. Even this mouthpiece for the Labour right accepted that lies should be corrected.
Would that the same were true of the ‘revolutionary’ Lindsey German, convenor of the STWC and one of the founders of Counterfire, which likes to present itself as the with-it, revolutionary and avante garde alternative to the staid Socialist Workers Party, from where it originated.
When the furore over Salma Yaqoob erupted, the STWC issued a statement in her defence.1 While no-one can complain about this, the statement was extremely defensive, emphasising that the STWC is “implacably opposed to anti-Semitism”, thus lending credence to the idea that the attacks on Salma was somehow about combating anti-Semitism. It also said that it was “deeply irresponsible of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism to be adding fuel to this fire”. The CAA is a far-right, Islamophobic charity, with close ties to the Israeli embassy. Calling it “irresponsible” for encouraging the abuse of Salma Yaqoob is like criticising Tommy Robinson for failing to condemn Islamophobia.
The statement strenuously avoids using the term ‘Zionist’ to describe Israel. Instead it calls for “justice” for the Palestinians, which most Zionists could sign up to. It is a liberal phrase that avoids the politics of the Palestinians’ oppression. It goes on to say that STWC “refuse[s] to accept that criticism of the Israeli government and its policies can be construed as anti-Semitic”. So would most Zionists, at least in theory. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s misdefinition of anti-Semitism is quite clear about this. It states: “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic”.
It is only when people criticise the Jewish supremacist nature of the Israeli state itself or, in the words of the IHRA, claim that “the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour” that the accusation of anti-Semitism is levelled. This is just liberal flatulence, pure sound and fury. This is not accidental.
Stephen Sedley, a Jewish former court of appeal judge, is not a revolutionary socialist as John Rees and Lindsey German of the STWC and Counterfire claim to be. Yet Sedley in ‘Defining anti-Semitism’ was able to deconstruct the IHRA in a way that Counterfire seems unable to. He wrote: “Endeavours to conflate the two [anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism] by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic are not new ...”2 It is a sad day when so-called revolutionaries find themselves to the right of a former court of appeal judge.
This liberal verbiage in the STWC statement is not simply sloppy wording, but a deliberate attempt to accommodate to Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ smears and in particular the surrender of the Campaign Group of MPs to that operation. The final two sentences of the statement make this clear:
Local STWC groups act autonomously in deciding their platforms, but we note that Tony Greenstein has never been asked to address a national STWC meeting. STWC rejects both anti-Semitism and abusive language in political debate.
This is, as I told Lindsey German, pure scabbing. It is saying to Ian Austin and the CAA that unfortunately local STWC groups are autonomous and the national group can do nothing about them. However, the national STWC has never had and never would have Tony Greenstein on its platforms. Why else advertise the fact that I have “never been asked to address a national STWC meeting”?
The final sentence makes it even clearer. The statement had already said that the STWC is “implacably opposed to anti-Semitism”, so why repeat it? It clearly can only refer to me. It refers to “abusive language”. This was precisely the charge that was levelled against me at my expulsion hearing - and which, of course, I reject. For example, one of the key examples of ‘abuse’ was when I used the term, “crooked McNicol”, referring to Labour’s former general secretary, Iain McNicol. But, following Labour’s leaked report on anti-Semitism, “crooked” was precisely the adjective that Unite general secretary Len McCluskey used when referring to McNicol’s team.
As the CAA, in its attack on Salma Yaqoob correctly noted, the second charge against me included “calling the Jewish then-Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman a ‘supporter of child abuse’”. That is true. In January 2016 and again in February 2018, in debates in the House of Commons on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children - which includes blindfolding, beating and sexual abuse - Ellman defended the Israeli military on “security” grounds.
Counterfire’s repetition of this charge is truly shameful. And why has it done so? Because it seeks the patronage of Labour MPs and is willing to bow to their cowardly prejudices and the received establishment wisdom that Labour is overrun with anti-Semitism.
The behaviour of Counterfire, which controls the STWC, is not accidental. When Counterfire came out of the SWP, it was a rightwing split. When the SWP’s coalition with George Galloway in Respect collapsed in 2008, John Rees was blamed. He had led the break-up of the Socialist Alliance in order to form a cross-class party based on communalism. In Respect’s founding conference in 2004 he had argued:
We … voted against the things we believed in, because, while the people here are important, they are not as important as the millions out there. We are reaching to the people locked out of politics. We voted for what they want.3
This is just liberal opportunism, not Marxism. The things the SWP voted against in Respect included a woman’s right to choose in deference to Galloway’s anti-abortion views.
Rees was quite prepared to make a bonfire of his principles and in essence there are no principles that Counterfire is not prepared to sacrifice. Perhaps the most fundamental of all is solidarity: you don’t cross a picket line. Whatever our differences, when we see fellow socialists under attack from the state or their representatives, we express solidarity and give support. This is the ABC of socialism. The SWP was therefore quite right to remove John Rees from its central committee (although it was clearly responsible for having agreed to the Respect party initiative in the first place).
When I first read the STWC statement, I assumed that the final sentences were penned by an inexperienced office volunteer. Naively I assumed that wiser heads would delete the sentences in question. I therefore wrote on May 23 and again a week later, asking that the statement be amended. On June 4 Lindsey German responded as convenor of the STWC. What she wrote was short, sweet and to the point: “In response to your communications: we are not changing the statement issued, which made no allegations against you. We will not engage in any further correspondence on this issue.”
This was, as they say, economical with the truth! It is true that I was not directly accused of anti-Semitism (though some members of Brighton and Hove Labour Left Alliance disagreed with me on that), but, as libel lawyers argue, there was a clear innuendo meaning. Its sole purpose was to reassure Labour MPs that the STWC would not be taking up the cudgels against the “disinformation paradigm”4 that led to Corbyn’s removal.
There is however a supreme irony in all this. Because if anyone was guilty of tolerating anti-Semitism and worse, it is Rees and German. Between 2005 and 2010 the SWP had a close working relationship with Gilad Atzmon, an acknowledged anti-Semite.
Atzmon has written so much anti-Semitic material it is difficult to know where to start. In ‘Guide to the sayings of Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic jazzman’,5 I noted on my blog that he subscribed to the world Jewish conspiracy theory, when he wrote “we must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously”. Atzmon also cast doubt on the holocaust in ‘Truth, integrity and history’: “If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war?” He went on to ask: “Why were the Jews hated? ... Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East?”
For over five years the SWP - under the leadership of Rees and German - worked with Atzmon, defending him as an Israeli anti-Zionist. Throughout this time I wrote numerous articles calling on the SWP to cut their links with him. For example, in February 2008 I wrote ‘Time to say goodbye’, the introduction to which read: “Why does the SWP not break its links with holocaust-denier Gilad Atzmon?”6
In February 2007 I wrote for The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ (before the heavy hand of Jonathan Freedland descended!), expressing my surprise that “the Socialist Workers Party, which previously had a good record on fighting fascism and anti-Semitism, should invite Atzmon to its conferences and rallies”.7 I argued that it was not Jews who would suffer as a consequence of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, but the Palestinians. During that time Rees and German said nothing.
Yet despite this I did not accuse either of them of anti-Semitism. What they were (and are) is political opportunists, who use revolutionary rhetoric to cover up their reformism and opportunism - even to the extent of working with a well-known anti-Semite.
It is this opportunism - the desire not to alienate their MP supporters - that leads to their willingness to echo the witch-hunters’ accusations.
‘SWP dumps John Rees’ Weekly Worker September 18 2008.↩︎
‘Time to say goodbye’ Weekly Worker February 21 2008.↩︎