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Supposedly, debating a motion on ending the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and imposing sanctions on Israel would make Jews in the Labour Party feel ‘unsafe and unwelcome’. Tony Greenstein reports on Labour's silencers
Last week Goldsmid and Hove Park branch in Brighton passed this motion, to be moved at the next scheduled meeting of the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party:
The Hove and Portslade CLP call upon the leader of the Labour Party and the shadow foreign secretary to strongly urge the government to:
1. Call on the Israeli government for an end to its violation of the human rights of Palestinians and for an end to the illegal occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank.
2. Impose legal sanctions on Israel for its repeated violations of international law, and, in particular, place an embargo on arms sales and end trade with illegal settlements.
Support for sanctions against Israel, as with South Africa in a previous era, is hardly controversial in the Labour Party. A survey by YouGov in March 2021 found that 61% of Labour members support boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, while only 8% are opposed (even though the survey questionnaire called it ‘boycott, diversity and sanctions’!).
Even Keir Starmer, the Labour leader who supports Zionism “without qualification”, has not, as far as I know, claimed that 61% of Labour Party members are anti-Semitic. Perhaps the purge is about to take on new dimensions.
In the normal course of events in the CLP, democracy would take its course and the motion would have been discussed at the next general committee meeting. However, led by their pro-privatisation MP, Peter Kyle, the Zionists immediately sought to stop the motion from even being discussed. Kyle is vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel - which, as Al Jazeera’s documentary, ‘The lobby’, demonstrated, is both funded and controlled by the Israeli embassy.1 In addition, the political education officer of Hove is Jon Pike, a Zionist fanatic and member of Engage - a group formed in opposition to the Association of University Teachers (which is now part of the UCU) and its support of the academic boycott of Israel in 2005.
One of the characteristic features that distinguishes the left from the right in the Labour Party is the attitude to democracy. I know of no example where the left has banned the right from moving a motion. But what we are seeing, both locally and nationally within Labour, is an attempt by the right to clamp down on all discussion and debate. And always the excuse is ... the Jews! We have become the right’s political football - pawns on their chessboard.
In Israel the police use tear gas, water cannons, bullets and batons against government opponents if they are Palestinians. Palestinians cannot demonstrate without the dogs of war being let loose upon them. For example, three worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque lost an eye when the Israeli police invaded, firing sponge-tipped bullets directly at them.
Of course, the Labour right does not shoot its opponents - at least not yet! It simply forbids the discussion of certain topics. It even outlaws motions calling for freedom of speech! Regional officials literally pull the plug on Zoom meetings they do not like.
The Goldsmid and Hove Park resolution was prevented from even being discussed by a certain Kim Bolton. In the minutes of the executive committee she states: “As CLP chair, on the advise [sic!] of Scott Horner, Labour South East officer, I rule the motion on sanctions against Israel out of order.”
Scott Horner’s email had stated:
While we encourage comradely debate, I feel that this discussion would act as a flashpoint for the expression of views that would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members [my emphasis].
I support that view. The motion from Goldsmid and Hove Park branch requesting sanctions against Israel risks opening a debate that will stir up internal conflict in our CLP and may lead to further anti-Semitic behaviour.
At a branch level it may be a safe space can be created to debate this motion. That will not be the same in the CLP GC meeting.
Exceptionalising Jews in this way as especially vulnerable if Israeli war crimes are debated (has this ever been applied to resolutions on other oppressive states?) is clearly and obviously anti-Semitic. It assumes that Jews form one monolithic bloc. That Jews all think the same way, when it comes to Israel. This is the continuation of the idea of the ‘wrong sort of Jew’.
But, of course, it is not about Jews at all. It is about British foreign policy in the Middle East, which is based on Israel’s role as a strategic watchdog, and its industrial-military complex.
How, you might ask, does a resolution calling for sanctions against Israel make Jewish people in Britain feel unsafe? The attitudes of British Jews to Israel survey in 2015 showed that 24% supported sanctions against Israel and 66% were opposed. But amongst secular Jews this rose to 40% and amongst under 30s support for sanctions was 41%.
So the reactionary non-Jew, Kim Bolton, decided that she knows better than British Jews themselves as to what is and what is not anti-Semitic. Some might say that this kind of arrogance is, in itself, a demonstration of racial supremacy.
According to the IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism that was foisted on the Labour Party, “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” is anti-Semitic.2 That is one of the few things in the IHRA we can agree on. It therefore follows that saying that Jews will suffer from some kind of trauma if sanctions against Israel is discussed assumes that they bear some responsibility for what Israel does. Bolton is hoist by her own petard.
If Bolton had any integrity or honesty, she would resign forthwith - along with the rest of her executive committee. But in the present purge, when lies and dissembling become the new truth, integrity and honesty among Labour’s right is as rare as snow in the Sahara.
Bolton and Horner are also anti-Semitic for assuming that Jews are uniquely incapable of debating the question of Israel rationally. What is shocking is how Jews are treated by the right as their moral alibi. This is how Jews were used by French colonialism in Algeria - as intermediaries and scapegoats.
Imagine that there was a debate on Ulster becoming part of a united Ireland. Northern Ireland was a Protestant supremacist state, just as Israel is a Jewish supremacist state.3 Would anyone rule out the motion on the grounds it would offend Protestants? So why the pretence that Jews would be offended if sanctions against Israel were discussed.
The real question is: what have Bolton and Kyle got to hide? And the answer is, of course, quite a lot. How do you defend the military arresting, blindfolding and beating children as young as 12 in the middle of the night? You don’t. You cry, ‘Anti-Semitism!’
Both B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch4 have this year described the Israeli regime as one of apartheid. Imagine 30 years ago a motion calling for sanctions on South Africa being ruled out of order because white people might be offended.
The racist right - not just in Britain, but in Germany too - carry around with them guilt about their role in the holocaust. They relieve their consciences on the backs of the Palestinians, who are caricatured as the new Nazis. In Germany, Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party which contains neo-Nazis, pushed for legislation making BDS illegal. Whilst many of their members deny the holocaust altogether, it nonetheless describes itself as “Israel’s one true friend in parliament”. I have no doubt that Kim Bolton would find a home in the AfD!
Jews today are seen as a stand-in for the holocaust dead, whereas the truth is that to most Jews the holocaust is a memory kept alive by the way Zionism uses it politically as a justification for its war against the Palestinians.
If Labour was a democratic party, Horner would be dismissed. As for Bolton, local Labour members should take steps to remove an open racist from being chair. She was also in the chair at the November 2020 meeting of Hove Labour Party, where she took the decision to ban a resolution from a Unite branch calling for the reinstatement of Jeremy Corbyn. Bolton simply left it off the agenda and did not even bother to inform members that such a resolution existed. When challenged by Unite delegate Ben Armstrong, she then explained why she had not tabled the motion as part of the agenda. Apparently it was not “competent”. That was later condemned unanimously by Brighton and Hove Trades Union Council at its 2021 annual general meeting, which demanded free speech for trade unionists.
The excuse given by David Evans, the unelected general secretary of the party, for ruling that motions supporting Corbyn were ‘non-competent’ was that Jews might be offended! The assumption that Jews are all rightwing bigots in hock to nonentities like Evans (who previously suggested that the Labour Party should dispense with members and simply have supporters) is also anti-Semitic.
Those of us with longer memories in Brighton and Hove remember Jewish councillors like the late Jo Townshend who considered himself anti-Zionist. Anti-Zionism has always been strong amongst Jewish socialists in the Labour Party. Supporters of Poale Zion (now the Jewish Labour Movement) have always been in a minority for the simple reason that if you are a Jewish racist the Tory Party is your natural home.
What about criticism of the oppressive actions of the Israeli state? Take the video showing a routine search, in the early hours of the morning, of a Palestinian home.5 This happens to thousands of Palestinians each year, who have no recourse against this behaviour. Children are expected to get out of bed in the middle of the night. This is what is called a ‘training’ exercise, whose sole purpose is to intimidate the population.
The documentation of Israeli human rights abuses is commonplace today. The idea that Jews will be upset by such discussion suggests that Jews are especially fragile. See for example the latest Amnesty Report in The Guardian.6 But the idea that they will be upset by criticism of such behaviour is itself anti-Semitic. If there are some Jews who are, so what? They deserve to be offended and left to ask simple questions - such as whether they would like it if they and their families were subjected to such behaviour.
Fortunately, however, some Labour branches - even those controlled by the right - are continuing to discuss such matters. Streatham Labour Party, which is controlled by the right wing, has unanimously passed a resolution supporting sanctions on Israel, for instance. The all-members meeting (AMM) was attended by over 250, but even this group of Starmer loyalists realised that Labour cannot abstain from calling for justice and peace in Palestine.
Perhaps there are no Jews in Streatham? Or maybe they are made of sterner stuff? Who knows, but I have not heard of any fleeing Streatham in terror!
This is the agreed motion:
Streatham AMM welcomes the announcement of a ceasefire in Palestine/Israel and a halt to the deaths of civilians.
This AMM notes that the ceasefire does not address the incidents that triggered the recent round of fighting and the serious underlying issues it revealed.
1. The attempted seizure of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah by militant Israeli settler organisations, while Palestinians are denied rights to their property seized by Israel following the Nakba.
2. The attack on rights to religious observance by assaults on worshippers in the Al Aqsa mosque.
3. The intimidation of Palestinians by denial of the right to assemble in the open space by the Damascus Gate.
4. The deep and pervasive inequality in ’48 Israel that led to unprecedented uprisings in the Al Aqsa Damascus Gate, and the deep and pervasive inequality in ’48 Lydd, Yafa and other ‘mixed cities’.
5. The failure of Israeli police to defend Palestinian citizens of Israel against violent assault by ultra-rightwing Jewish mobs.
6. The continuing immiseration caused by the blockade of Gaza and the intensification of misery resulting from the destruction of so much property and infrastructure by the recent bombardment.
This AMM believes that progress can only result from negotiations but that negotiations in good faith will not happen while Israel feels it has external support from Europe and the US for its intransigence.
Consequently this AMM proposes that the Labour leadership put pressure on Israel to negotiate a settlement that enshrines the rights of Palestinians in Israel, the occupied territories and the diaspora, as well as the rights of Jewish Israelis to a peaceful life, whether through a one-state, two-state or any other arrangement. The leadership should:
1. Support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
2. Call for the end of arms sales to and from Israel.
3. Support the ICC7 in investigating war crimes by all parties in the conflict.
4. Demand an immediate end to the settlement programme.
5. Support Palestinians who are seeking immediate free and fair elections to the Palestinian Authority.
See the recent B’Tselem report: btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid.↩︎
The International Criminal Court.↩︎