Setting the record straight
Tony Greenstein reviews 'Labour, the anti-Semitism crisis and the destroying of an MP' by Lee Garratt (Thinkwell Books, 2021, pp237, £10)
The suspension and forcing out of Chris Williamson from the Labour Party was a watershed moment in the death of the Corbyn project. Alone amongst Labour MPs, Chris understood that the Zionist so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign was not about anti-Semitism, but the removal of Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership. For anyone interested in how a popular Labour leader went from near victory in 2017 to humiliating defeat in 2019 this book is essential reading.
It opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Why author Lee Garratt began with this post-modernist nonsense is unclear, but the Nakba of 1948, when three quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled from Palestine, is a fact, regardless of the Zionist interpretation that they ‘ran away’. Likewise the holocaust is a fact. I can only assume that the quotation was included as a reference to the fake evidence that was used to ‘prove’ that the Labour Party was overrun by anti-Semitism.
Tommy Sheridan, the former Scottish Socialist Party MSP, provides a foreword. He makes the point that the “creation of a narrative during the last decade that casts [Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and Williamson] as anti-Semites underlines the preposterous and perverse power of the billionaire-owned mainstream media”. This is the basic political lesson that Corbyn, John McDonnell and former Labour general secretary Jennie Formby forgot.
There is a preface on the origins of the word ‘anti-Semitism’ and there follows an interesting discourse on its definition, together with the Zionists’ International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance version. Lee points to one of the illustrations of ‘anti-Semitism’ - “accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than the country they live in” - and arguing it is a fact that many Jews proudly declare that their first loyalty is to Israel. Indeed fundamental to Zionism is the belief that Israel is the nation-state of the Jews, which therefore demands their allegiance. This is a good example of how Zionism and anti-Semitism can coincide.
Unfortunately the book has a potted history of anti-Semitism that accepts the Zionist myth of an eternal 2,000 years of Jewish suffering. In fact Jews have been both oppressors and the oppressed. As Abram Leon wrote in The Jewish question: a Marxist interpretation, “Zionism transposes modern anti-Semitism to all of history and saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of anti-Semitism and their evolution.”1
Garratt also argues that the Israeli state itself has changed since 1948, when it was “leavened with left, egalitarian views: eg, the kibbutz movement”. In fact the kibbutzim were the pioneers of Zionist apartheid: Arabs could not be members of what were Jewish-only stockade and watchtower settlements.
When Williamson was suspended, after his speech to Sheffield Momentum had been twisted and distorted to mean its exact opposite, I wrote that “The suspension of Chris Williamson MP is shameful - this may be the end of the Corbyn project.”2
The suspension of Williamson and the refusal to support him when under attack by Tom Watson and the right was perhaps the most shameful aspect of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership - more shameful even than the suspension and expulsion of Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone and myself.
It is to the discredit of John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Laura Pidcock, Diane Abbott and the other members of the Socialist Campaign Group that not only did they fail to offer any solidarity with Chris, but Pidcock actually told him not to come to SCG meetings any more. Richard Burgon’s excuse was: ‘What can 10 MPs do against 100?’ It was an attitude of utter defeatism.
Ian Lavery, as a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, knew better than anyone what the meaning of solidarity is, yet he too failed to utter a single word in support of Chris Williamson. The exception to this scabbing by the SCG was Laura Smith, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich, who unfortunately lost her seat at the last election (and ironically Fabian Hamilton, the Leeds North East MP who is also a Zionist! - see p67).
When Corbyn was suspended, the SCG “released a few ambiguous, wishy-washy faux solidarity statements to the media”. They expressed regret at Corbyn’s suspension, whilst at the same time wanting him to issue another apology. Garratt is right when he says:
... it has been these erstwhile supporters that have done the most damage to the left. It is much easier to deal with one’s enemy when he or she is out in the open. Rightwing bully boys such as Ian Austin can easily be seen for who they are and their comments are taken as such. But when people like John McDonnell express support, yet saddle it with further conditions, one would be better off without that support in the first place; their crocodile tears and misplaced concern serving only to give further credence to the lies and calumnies.
Garratt gives as an example of the complicity of the SCG in the witch-hunt the attack by Alliance for Workers’ Liberty supporter Nadia Whittome MP on Nottingham East Constituency Labour Party for having the temerity to discuss the Equality and Human Rights Commission report.3 One Jewish Zionist left the meeting after having made false allegations against another member. Other Jewish members supported the motion. The chair, Louise Regan, quite rightly refused to rule the motion on the EHRC out of order. Instead of supporting the democratic rights of CLPs, Whittome condemned them for not obeying David Evans’s diktat. Ms Regan was suspended almost immediately. Unfortunately the SCG has no procedure for suspending or expelling scab members.
In the Kafkaesque atmosphere of the Labour Party, merely challenging accusations of ‘anti-Semitism – ‘denialism’ - is deemed proof of anti-Semitism, just as in 17th century Salem denying that you were a witch was proof of being one.
What were the ‘crimes’ that Williamson was suspended for? There were two major offences:
- Chris’s speech to Sheffield Momentum of February 23 2019.
- Booking a House of Commons committee room for a showing of Jackie Walker’s film Witch Hunt.
The first offence was a classic example of how the words of people were twisted and mangled to serve the Zionist agenda. It is proof of the poisonous nature of the British press and British politics. It was an example of Orwellian doublethink. War is peace - or in this case anti-racism equals racism, and opposition to anti-Semitism equals anti-Semitism.
After being suspended Chris was asked by Labour’s Thought Police about what he had said in Sheffield:
During this meeting did you say “The party ... is being demonised as a racist, bigoted party... I think the party’s response has been partly responsible ... we’ve backed off on too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic”? (p149).
If so please explain what you meant when you said this.
Chris’s response was that this “selective and highly misleading quote” is “without context and appears to have been provided maliciously and vexatiously ... with the deliberate intention of my words being misconstrued”.
What then were the actual words which Chris had said?
We are not a racist party, are we? We’re not an anti-Semitic party. We are the party that stood up to racism throughout our entire history ... It was Labour that was the backbone of the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s, when we confronted the anti-Semites, the racists, the Islamophobes on the streets and we defeated those fascists, didn’t we? And now we - Jeremy, me and others - are being accused of being bigots, of being anti-Semites. And it’s almost as we’re living within the pages of Orwell’s 1984. You know, the party that’s done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.
And I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that. Because in my opinion ... we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic. What have we got to apologise for? For being an anti-racist party? And we’ve done more to actually address the scourge of anti-Semitism than any other political party. And yet we are being traduced. And grassroots members are being traduced.
Chris can certainly be criticised for giving too rosy a picture of Labour’s record, when it came to fighting racism and fascism. It is not true that the Labour Party mobilised for the battle of Cable Street, for example. On the contrary, members were dissuaded from going, just as Jews were urged by the Board of Deputies not to confront the fascists. It was the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party and Jewish workers themselves who took the lead.
The record of the Labour Party from the Kenya Asians Act in 1968 to the Blair government’s “hostile environment” policy (home secretary Alan Johnson coined the phrase) was anything but anti-racist. Labour’s record on support for imperialism, from India to Africa to Palestine, is a shocking one.
There is nothing in what Chris Williamson said in his speech that was remotely racist or anti-Semitic, nor did it criticise the Labour Party for fighting racism and anti-Semitism. What he was saying was that the Labour Party should have done more to reject and rebut the false allegations of anti-Semitism.
Yet what was the reaction to Chris’s speech? The Independent led the mob with the article, ‘Chris Williamson: Labour MP filmed telling activists party is too “apologetic” about antisemitism’ (February 26 2019). Writing in the same paper the next day, Matt Greene chimed in with a particularly disgusting opinion piece: ‘Chris Williamson has given Labour the perfect opportunity to show it is serious about tackling antisemitism’, which compared Chris’s failure to apologise for Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ to the failure of the US Congress to apologise for its “maltreatment” - in fact extermination - of the native Indians or the failure of David Cameron to apologise for the Amritsar massacre, when he visited India in 2013.
There were no depths to which the press would not sink in order to demonise Williamson. Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ is a contested allegation - 70% of Labour members believing it has been weaponised by the Zionists4 - a belief that has been thoroughly vindicated by Keir Starmer, who in his mission to “root out the poison” of anti-Semitism has proportionately expelled and suspended five times as many Jews as non-Jews.
Greene’s comparison of Williamson’s speech to the massacre of thousands of native Indians or the machine-gunning of a peaceful crowd, of whom at least 400 died, to Labour ‘anti-Semitism’, where not one single ‘victim’ was identified, was obscene. But it was no more obscene than Nazia Parveen’s article in The Guardian: ‘Chris Williamson: “no place” in Labour for MP embroiled in antisemitism row’ (July 1 2019).
Steve Lapsley, a member of the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, was quoted as saying, “There is no place for Chris Williamson in my Labour Party”, despite the article pointing out that, while he was leader of Derby council, “Williamson was instrumental in setting up Holocaust Memorial Day events in the city, and he also rescinded the medieval proscription of Jews living in Derby.”
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland joined in with: ‘Labour doesn’t have zero tolerance of antisemitism if Chris Williamson is an MP’ (February 27 2019). In one continuous litany of lies Freedland, knowing that his assertions on Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ lacked merit, began his contribution with a sarcastic:
Credit to Chris Williamson for originality. Not many have suggested that Labour’s chief problem with antisemitism within its ranks is that it has been too apologetic to the Jewish community, that it has shown an excess of concern and contrition.
Freedland quoted that well-known anti-racist, Tom Watson, who wasted no time in branding Williamson’s apology “long-winded” and “not good enough”, adding that if it were up to him, he would have removed the whip from Williamson already.
This is the same Tom Watson whose reaction to the decision of the high court to remove racist MP Phil Woolas from the House of Commons, after having fought an election designed to “make the white folks angry”, was: “I’ve lost sleep thinking about poor old Phil Woolas and his leaflets.” And if anyone is under any doubt that this was not a one-off, Watson was the campaign manager in the by-election in 2004 in Birmingham Hodge Hill, when Labour issued a leaflet with the slogan, “Labour is on your side. The Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum-seekers”.
Garratt documents the onslaught of the media, especially The Guardian. On July 9 2019 I coordinated a letter from over 100 Jewish people to that paper protesting at Williamson’s suspension. Immediately after its publication the Board of Deputies and Hope Not Hate protested because two of the signatories, although individual members of the Jewish Labour Movement and HNH, were not writing on their behalf. The letter was ‘disappeared’ by The Guardian from the online issue. But even in the age of the internet you cannot ‘disappear’ the printed word!
Owen Jones played a particularly disgusting role in the attack on Williamson. He was The Guardian’s faux left columnist who, lacking all arguments, resorted to insults describing Chris as the “king of the cranks” for having something Jones himself lacks - principles. Jones joined the clamour against Corbyn, writing, ‘Jeremy Corbyn says he’s staying. That’s not good enough’ (March 1 2017), a month before the general election.
Garratt says that Jones had a “blind spot” on the question of Labour anti-Semitism. I disagree. It is part and parcel of his noxious identity politics, which promotes the most powerful and reactionary identities - Zionist Jews, as against their victims, the Palestinians (p114).
Every racist and reactionary, inside and outside the Labour Party, was clamouring for the expulsion of Chris Williamson.
Chris’s second offence was to book a room in the House of Commons to show Jackie Walker’s film Witch Hunt, which is a sustained polemic against the ‘anti-Semitism’ narrative.
It was due to be shown by Jewish Voice for Labour at the 2018 Labour Party conference, but this was prevented because of a bomb threat. Instead of calling out this political terrorism by the Zionists, Jennie Formby did their work for them: instead of defending the democratic right of an MP to organise the showing of a film that offended the Zionists or simply defending the right to free speech, Formby sent an email to Williamson demanding that he cancel the showing - “with a heavy hint that, if he didn’t, she would suspended him”.
Witch Hunt was a film produced by Jon Pullman, himself Jewish. It offered a different perspective to that of the Board of Deputies, the Daily Mail, Jonathan Freedland and John Mann. It would have been easy for Formby to defend the showing of the film as a basic democratic right. Instead, acting on behalf of Corbyn and the Leader of the Opposition Office, she became the emissary of apartheid Israel and its apologists. In Israel they administratively detain dissidents. In Britain they rely on ‘socialists’ to do their dirty work (pp61-62).
In this one incident we see exactly where the Corbyn project went wrong. Instead of defending their supporters against the attacks of Zionists and Israel apologists, Formby went out of her way to appease them. And a fat lot of good it did, because, when the 2019 general election came, they wheeled out the Chief Rabbi, the Board of Deputies and all the rest of the Zionist cabal to damn Corbyn as the worst thing since Adolf Hitler.
It is regrettable that Chris initially apologised and even more regrettable that, once he was suspended, he did not rebook the film. However, he was under immense pressure.
In appendix 5 there is reprinted a copy of the questions sent by the witch-hunters to Chris. Four of these related to the film:
- Did you book a room in parliament for 4th March 2019 to screen a film entitled Witch Hunt?
- Please explain your understanding of the film.
- Please explain why you booked a room in parliament to screen this film.
- Do you have anything else you think the party should know about this screening.
If I had been sent these questions my answers would have been short and to the point. I would have asked Formby and the witch-hunters why they had a problem with the screening of a film? What did they fear? Do they not believe any longer in democratic debate? Is the Labour Party a replica of the Israeli state? Did they never consider that the Zionists had something to hide?
The shrill and raucous Ruth Smeeth MP, who lost Stoke on Trent North at the 2019 general election, whined that “Giving these people and Jackie Walker a platform at the home of British democracy is a complete and utter disgrace” (p62).
Smeeth, who was previously director of public affairs and campaigns at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, became CEO of Index on Censorship in June 2020 after having lost her seat in the general election (IoC should be called Index for Censorship). The fact that Formby and Corbyn backed up Smeeth - an utterly reactionary MP, who was identified by Wikileaks as a US embassy source flagged as 'strictly protect' - demonstrates the cowardice and lack of any political perspective of these spineless reformists.
Smeeth was defending an Israeli state that has ruled over five million Palestinians for over half a century. There are two systems of law in the occupied territories - one for Palestinians and another for Jewish settlers. That is the definition of apartheid and that is what Corbyn and Formby were defending. We should bear this in mind next time Corbyn speaks at a Palestine solidarity event or pushes his Peace and Justice campaign.
There follows an amusing chapter on the main Zionist ‘victim’ of anti-Semitism, Luciana Berger - the Blairite parachuted into Liverpool Wavertree constituency in 2010 (who did not even know the name of the famous Liverpool football manager, Bill Shankly). Despite the false allegations by Tom Watson et al that Berger was driven by anti-Semitism out of the Labour Party, Garratt is right to say: “... to this day, there remains no evidence of any anti-Semitism directed at Berger from within the Liverpool Wavertree constituency or from anyone with any serious connections to the party” (p37).
In a trenchant defence of Williamson, Garratt points to the stench of hypocrisy emanating from Margaret Hodge. She compared herself to a victim of the Nazis, declaring that she knew “what it felt like to be a Jew in Germany in the 30s”. If anyone else had compared themselves to the Jewish victims of the Nazis, they would have been labelled as anti-Semitic.
The section on Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic jazz musician, is badly researched. Atzmon has an interesting back-story, having become alienated by what Israel was doing when he fought in the 1982 Lebanon war. However, he did not reject Zionism: rather he internalised Zionism’s Jewish self-hatred and turned it into anti-Semitism.
Despite quoting Atzmon as saying that we “must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously”, Garratt says that he “overreached” himself in saying that and that this was “merely clumsy writing”, arguing that his subsequent substitution of ‘Zionists’ for ‘Jews’ worked in his favour (in fact Atzmon was covering his tracks). Garratt argues that whether this makes him an “anti-Semite” is another matter. Well it does matter and Atzmon is an anti-Semite.
The use of scare quotes suggests that Garratt disagrees. He is simply wrong and if anyone is in any doubt then I refer them to my blog, ‘A guide to the sayings of Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic jazzman’, where I noted that Jewish anti-Zionists are regarded as a fifth column.5
Atzmon features in the book because Islington council had rejected a booking by him on the grounds of his anti-Semitism. Chris Williamson, not knowing who Atzmon was, tweeted in support of a petition against the ban before deleting his tweet minutes later. The Zionists made hay out of the affair.
However, Chris could have taken up my position. I led the campaign against Atzmon with articles in the Weekly Worker, such as ‘Anti-Semitism in anti-Zionist garb’,6 and, for The Guardian’s Comment is Free, ‘The seamy side of solidarity’7 At all times we stressed that we were opposed to Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, not his music (he is a world-renowned jazz player). I therefore took the decision to sign the petition and I personally attended one of Atzmon’s gigs in Brighton!
Chris’s one regret was being pressurised into apologising for his speech at the Sheffield meeting. It is understandable that he did so in order to avoid disciplinary action, but he made the situation worse: “Typically, later that evening, despite the assurances he felt he had received regarding his apology and despite the agreement he had regarding cancelling the film, Williamson was suspended anyway.”
The reaction to Chris Williamson’s suspension from the grassroots of the Labour Party was overwhelmingly supportive. But what was Formby’s reaction? To declare that motions supporting him were “not competent”. When it came to Corbyn’s own suspension, the same device was used by David Evans, so who paved the way for it? Even worse, when Chris was reinstated, Formby bowed to a petition from Tom Watson and 100 MPs to resuspend him. The cowardice of Formby and the rest of the team in the Leader of the Opposition’s Office knew no bounds.
When Chris went to the high court to obtain an injunction against the Labour Party, he was successful. Anticipating the court’s decision, the party issued another suspension a few days before the hearing and it was this which the judge refused to overturn. The judge ruled that the Labour Party’s original excuse for resuspending Chris was unlawful. This was confirmed when he awarded Chris 100% of his costs.
When Chris ran into Corbyn in parliament, the then Labour leader promised him that he would remain the Derby North MP. However, this was a lie - there was no such agreement.
It is no surprise, given Chris’s prominence as a target in the Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, that he was one of six individuals the EHRC named as guilty of harassing Jewish members of the Labour Party.8 In fact a “swift and comprehensive legal challenge” ensured that Chris’s name was entirely expunged from the report. In the end it scapegoated just two people - Ken Livingstone and Pam Bromley.
Garratt concludes his book by quoting from Norman Finkelstein:
Corbyn, he did not only present a threat to Israel and Israel’s supporters: he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from The Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-Semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented - the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-Semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero” (p117).
This was, as Garratt says, a fabricated smear campaign comparable to the McCarthyite witch-hunts in 1950s America. Chris’s real ‘crime’ was, in his own words, being Corbyn’s
most outspoken supporter in the House of Commons, which made me a target for disgruntled Labour MPs, mischief-making bureaucrats and Zionists. Consequently, I expected trouble, but I never anticipated how serious that trouble would turn out to be. I certainly did not expect to be forced out of the party to which I had devoted my entire adult life (p126).
Chris is clearly right that “there was never any recognition that the capitulation strategy was making matters worse. Jeremy’s advisors seemed to have the collective memory of a goldfish rather than drawing a line in the sand” (p129). The conclusion that Chris has drawn from this - the “impossibility of turning the Labour Party into a vehicle for socialism and anti-imperialism” - is one that is currently being fiercely argued over.
This book, despite its flaws, is a welcome and long overdue exercise in setting the record straight. Chris Williamson was not a Jew-baiter or an anti-Semite, as the Zionists alleged. Jon Lansman and Owen Jones, who propagated the ‘anti-Semitism’ slurs, were in fact the gravediggers of the Corbyn project.
Chris Williamson will long be remembered as a brave and principled Labour MP who was let down and betrayed by those who are only in politics for what they can personally get out of it. All those Socialist Campaign Group MPs are not fit to walk in his shadow.
A Leon The Jewish question - a Marxist interpretation New York 1986, p247.↩︎
Jewish Chronicle March 30 2021: www.thejc.com/news/uk/true-views-of-labour-membership-revealed-in-new-poll-1.513656.↩︎