Evans’s Zionist enforcers

Supporting Israel will become a requirement for sitting councillors, prospective candidates and staff members. Graham Keene digs the dirt on the first ‘training session’

‘Understanding anti-Semitism’, held via Zoom on June 14, served - as very much expected - to confirm the status of the Jewish Labour Movement. Not only is it affiliated to the Labour Party: it now acts as the general secretary’s principal enforcer of Zionist orthodoxy.

A week before, four Labour left groupings - Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Left Alliance and Labour in Exile Network - urged Labour members to stay well clear of these ‘training sessions’.1 But, while I agree with the boycott call, I thought it would be useful to go along in order to report on the first of them. After all, not only are all Labour Party members to be offered a place on one of these courses, but it seems likely that for staff, sitting councillors, prospective candidates, etc, they will be made compulsory. Expect trainers; expect tests; expect wrong and right answers; and expect those who fail to give the right answers to have ‘problems’ with Labour HQ.

Before proceeding, a little background. JLM was originally founded in 1903 as Poale Zion. As its name suggests, it was dedicated to the cause of Zionism: ie, an ideology which claims that in order to escape from the ‘inevitable’ anti-Semitism that will always be directed against them, Jews have no alternative but to form their own separate state. And, following the establishment of Israel in 1948, Poale Zion acted as the voice of that colonial-settler state within the Labour Party, renaming itself in 2004 as the Jewish Labour Movement.

The JLM remained dormant in the Labour Party until it was relaunched immediately after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015. According to Jeremy Newmark, who became JLM chair until his resignation amidst corruption allegations, they wanted to re-form JLM specifically to make Corbyn’s leadership as short-lived as possible.2

At its 2019 annual general meeting JLM overwhelmingly agreed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, declaring that under his leadership Labour was now “institutionally anti-Semitic”. The same AGM actually discussed another motion calling for disaffiliation from Labour, but this was defeated. Just before the general election of that year, the JLM issued the following statement:

The last four years have been catastrophic for Jews in the Labour Party. Nevertheless, the Jewish Labour Movement has kept true to our Labour values and resolved - for now - to stay and fight racism, rather than disaffiliate and walk away (my emphasis).3

As for its “Labour values”, that statement added, in relation to the forthcoming election:

We will not be campaigning unless in exceptional circumstances and for exceptional candidates - like our parliamentary chair, Ruth Smeeth, and members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who’ve been unwavering in their support of us. We will not be giving endorsements to candidates in non-Labour held seats.4

All this was a little ironic, because, despite its failure to back Labour in the 2019 general election and its continued discussion about the possibility of disaffiliating from the party, there was a campaign in certain localities for Constituency Labour Parties to affiliate to the JLM!

Not that any of that was of concern to Labour general secretary David Evans, who on June 6 issued a call to individual members to attend the June 14 event, which would be “covering what anti-Semitic incidents look like in the UK and the world today, identifying different elements of anti-Semitism and how members of the Labour Party can create a welcoming environment for Jewish members”.

After all, the JLM has been “the Labour Party’s Jewish affiliate for over 100 years”, Evans stated, so who better to speak at the “training session” than Mike Katz, its national chair, and Rebecca Filer, its national organiser?

Jews and Israel

The session was introduced by Anna Hutchinson, senior regional director of Labour North West, who assured us that by the end of the year this “training” would have been offered to every one of Labour’s half million members and staff. She said that we will be able to judge its success “when members who have left because of anti-Semitism return”. She reiterated that the JLM was “one of our oldest socialist affiliated societies”, so who better to lead the way?

Mike Katz then spoke briefly and began by saying that in October 2018 Labour had been “found to break the equality law” by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but in fact by that time, he said, it was already clear that “the party just couldn’t police itself” and this had had a “huge impact on Jewish members”. But thankfully there is now “strong leadership from Keir and Angela”.

As throughout the rest of the session no examples were given of Jews suffering actual (rather than self-constructed) anti-Semitism at the hands of the party or its members.

Then we had the main speaker, Rebecca Filer, who began by stating that the 300,000-strong “Jewish community” constituted a largely “invisible minority”. That is because the overwhelming majority cannot be immediately identified as Jewish. While half belong to a synagogue, she said, most of them “rarely attend”. As for the general population in the UK, only a “very small minority” are anti-Semitic, but there were three times more “incidents” reported in 2020 compared to 2007, she said. However, very few of them were classified as “extreme violence”: it was mainly a case of “abusive behaviour”.

So what form does this anti-Semitism actually take? As you might guess, much of is linked to the state of Israel. Jews are accused of having a “dual loyalty”, she said, displaying an online post which described former Labour MP Louise Ellman as a “representative of Israel”. This is a “common form of anti-Semitism” apparently.

Another “common form” was the idea that “Jews equal Israel”. She displayed an image of one poster reading “Jews did 9/11” and then another which read “Israel did 9/11” - for her both were equally anti-Semitic. Well, both are certainly stupid. Then she displayed another social media posting which made numerous false accusations against Jacob Rothschild, and this she described as anti-Semitic too, even though the posting, while absurd, did not refer to or even imply that he is Jewish (or even connected to Israel).

She did have a point about the anti-Semitism emanating from the Soviet Union under Stalin, however. Even though the Soviet posters she showed stated their opposition to “international Zionism”, they were illustrated by ugly, greedy, large-nosed cartoon figures who were supposed to be Zionist representatives.

Filer went on to say that one of the most “hurtful comments” made to Jews is that “Zionism equals Nazism”, but, you see, the problem is that people are disguising their anti-Semitism by “talking about the state of Israel rather than Jews or Zionists”. In addition, some people do not seem to recognise how close many Jews feel to Israel. Therefore, to make such a connection (even though, for example, Israeli Jewish opponents of Binyamin Netanyahu have themselves frequently criticised him in that way) is deeply hurtful to Jews.

She stressed that, when criticising Israel, we must “talk about the state of Israel, not Jews [no problem there] or Zionists [!]” In fact, “do not use ‘Zionism’ or ‘Zio’ as a term of abuse”. What on earth does that mean? Is the JLM seriously saying that Zionist ideology, which is by definition racist, must never be opposed using harsh, robust language? So we can use the term ‘racist’ as an insult, but not ‘Zionist’ - though it is a form of racism!

Filer displayed another placard which read simply “Free Palestine”, which, she stated, was certainly not anti-Semitic - good. However, “context matters”, she added, and if, for example, you hold up such a placard outside a synagogue, that is apparently problematic. She repeated once again that it is “not anti-Semitic to criticise Israel”, as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “made clear”, although, of course, she claimed that the IHRA ‘definition’ gave clear examples of actual anti-Semitic behaviour (most of which were linked to Israel).

She concluded urging us to “show respect for Jewish members” and said that local branches could demonstrate how opposed to anti-Semitism they were by inviting speakers from the JLM and also, for instance, be wary of “holding events on the Jewish Sabbath”! Presumably, to show similar “respect” to Christians and Muslims, we should think twice about holding them on a Sunday or Friday too.

Open debate?

Filer’s speech was followed by what was supposed to be ‘questions from the floor’. But it was clear that no genuine interaction was to be permitted and, as this ‘training session’ was supposed to end after just an hour, there was time for just three ‘questions’ - which had obviously been concocted by the organisers themselves.

Although in this Zoom meeting there was a ‘Q&A’ space, it only contained one contribution that participants could see, which was there from the start, while the ‘Chat’ feature was available only to the organisers for references to features on the Labour website, etc. So nobody’s actual questions or opinions, let alone criticisms, were available to other participants

But not to worry. In his invitation Evans had written:

What happens if my question does not get asked? Unfortunately due to high volume of questions, we cannot answer every point individually. Please rest assured that your contribution will be noted, and will be taken on board for future training.

Anna Hutchinson implied that the three questions she read out were actually a compilation of points that attendees were raising, but we were not told how many points had actually been raised by the audience - or, for that matter, how many were attending. Apparently she had taken the most common and pertinent points that featured in the Q&A and summarised them in those three ‘participants’ questions’.

I will just mention the first, which was: “How can members ensure that discussion of Israel and Palestine does not stray into anti-Semitism?” Katz reiterated that we are all free to “criticise Israel as much as you want”. In fact “we [presumably the JLM] do not agree with Netanyahu”. Well, that’s something, isn’t it? But “there are lots of things going on round the world” and Jewish members will “feel uncomfortable” if we only focus on Israel/Palestine.

For her part, Filer stressed that we must not deny what she claimed had been made apparent by the EHRC: “Talk, support, but don’t deny.”

It was pretty clear to me what this ‘training session’ was really about: deepening and extending the purge of the left in the name of combatting anti-Semitism.

  1. See labourleft.org/statements-and-campaigns/just-say-no-to-antisemitism-training-by-the-jlm.↩︎

  2. electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/jewish-labour-movement-was-refounded-fight-corbyn.↩︎

  3. ‘General election statement’, October 31 2019: jewishlabour.uk/general_election_statement_2019.↩︎

  4. Ibid.↩︎