WeeklyWorker

21.07.2022
Which side are you on?

An open letter to ACR

Tony Greenstein accuses Anti-Capitalist Resistance of giving succour to the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt in the Labour Party

It really does not surprise me that ACR’s Dave Kellaway has reviewed Mike Phipps’s book Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: the Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn so favourably.1 After all, when you become cheerleaders for Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine, there is no telling where the slippery slope will take you.

However, I am shocked that you should endorse someone who is little better than a witch-hunter. Phipps was on the right of the Labour Briefing editorial board before he flounced out at having to put up with the presence of Jackie Walker, the black-Jewish member who was expelled at the instigation of Jon Lansman and Owen Jones and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement.

I have no interest in reading a book from someone who gets it so wrong on the Labour ‘anti-Semitism’ issue. As the first Jewish person to be expelled from the Labour Party as part of the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ attack, it is blindingly clear - or should be to anyone who considers themselves an anti-Zionist - that there never was a ‘problem’ of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. If there was, then the last people to have been concerned about it were the Zionists and Labour’s right - John Mann, Tom Watson, Ian Austin et al. The same people who voted without a care in the world for the 2014 Immigration Act, which introduced the “hostile environment” and the Windrush scandal to the world.

If you had any understanding or analysis of Zionism, you would know that it never fought anti-Semitism. On the contrary, Zionism began from the position that it was futile to fight against anti-Semitism To quote the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, at the time of the Dreyfus affair: “In Paris ... I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.”2

The allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ were part of a ruling class narrative adopted by every single bourgeois newspaper. It was, of course, a clever strategy not to attack Corbyn on economic questions, but to use anti-Semitism as a wedge issue of identity politics - in much the same way as the right attacked Julian Assange not for revealing US war crimes, but on the issue of rape. (Unfortunately there were some on the left who fell for that too.)

What does Kellaway say about Phipps’s book?

Phipps is critical of how both the Labour leadership and the left responded to the anti-Semitism issue in Labour. He is right to suggest the Chakrabarti report could have been a basis for dealing with the affair if the leadership had been more confident and clear. He also feels with some justification in my opinion that some of the left fell into a trap by closing ranks and refusing to accept that there were any problems of anti-Semitism that needed dealing with [my emphasis].

Of course there were anti-Semites in a party of 600,000, just as there were paedophiles. But did anyone suggest there was a ‘problem’ of paedophilia? Of course not. Likewise there was no ‘problem’ of anti-Semitism.

I do not know whether this review was written out of ignorance or malevolence, or both. Nor do I care! What I do know is that Phipps favourably reviewed David Renton’s atrocious book Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis: what the left got wrong and how to learn from it and concluded: “Many on the left won’t like this book, but everyone should read it if we are to do better in future.”3

Phipps wrote:

Many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s former leadership, Renton believes, took the view that if only complaints about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party had been investigated more effectively, then it would have been clearer that only a tiny minority of Labour members were involved.

So, if readers are hoping that Renton’s book will simply take sides, “excoriating Corbyn’s critics in every instance and giving the Labour left a clean bill of health”, they will be disappointed. In his view, “the left has tolerated anti-Semitism, or at least a mindset which comes close to anti-Semitism - an ignorance about what most British Jews think, combined with an indifference to the thought of antagonising them”.

Anti-Zionism

Just what was this ‘anti-Semitism’ that antagonised “most British Jews”? We never learn, but we do know that the adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition was drawn up specifically to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Is it necessary to point out that Zionist organisations - the Jewish Labour Movement, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, Board of Deputies, etc - were in the forefront of the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign?

Phipps continued:

“Not all Corbyn’s supporters made these mistakes,” contends Renton, “but enough did to damage his cause.” In his estimation, there was an important distinction within the Corbyn project between elements associated with Unite and those grouped in Momentum. “The former encouraged those who sought to escalate the crisis, was ignorant of Jewish sentiment, and blithe at the thought of offending it. Momentum, by contrast, saw the gap emerge between Jewish community institutions and the Labour left and worked hard to address it.”

These “Jewish community institutions” were 100% Zionist. The offence they took was at criticism of Zionism and Israel. If Renton or Phipps were Marxists, then they might have analysed that overwhelmingly the “Jewish community” had long since deserted the left for the Tory Party. But, of course, Phipps is no Marxist.

He tells us how:

Renton takes us through the various stages of Labour’s burgeoning crisis, from Naz Shah’s unacceptable comments, which - unusually in the list of allegations made about Labour anti-Semitism - seemed to stem from wholehearted support for the Palestinian cause and for which she had the good sense to make a genuine apology. Then Ken Livingstone waded in to defend her. The author writes: “It was his intervention, and the thoughtless way in which parts of the left rallied to defend him, which changed a containable crisis into a story which was to drag on for several years.”

What propelled Livingstone onto the front pages was his claim that Israel was an illegitimate state, because it had been born out of an alliance with Nazi Germany, and that the ideology of Zionism was irredeemably tainted because Hitler, in Livingstone’s words, supported it.

The blind ignorance in these remarks is stultifying. Zionism is “irredeemably tainted” not because of its dalliance with Hitler, but because it is a Jewish supremacist ideology and settler-colonial movement, which has created an apartheid state.

In discussing Chris Williamson’s suspension - a pivotal moment in the defeat of the Corbyn project - Renton excels himself. He wrote: “At its heart were complaints that he had used his social media account to promote the standing of other people who had been accused of anti-Semitism.”

This was a mendacious lie. What led to the suspension of Chris was the deliberate distortion of a speech he made to Sheffield Momentum, portraying it as its exact opposite. In the words of The Independent: ‘Chris Williamson: Labour MP filmed telling activists party is too “apologetic” about anti-Semitism.’ What were Chris’s actual words?

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 now we - Jeremy, me and others - are being accused of being bigots, of being anti-Semites ... And it’s almost as if 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.

To go along with the bourgeois press and media in the vicious attacks on the one genuine socialist MP should be condemned without reservation. Seventy percent of Labour Party members supported Chris, yet Renton, in his barrister’s robes, was unable to. And ACR is guilty by association in endorsing Phipps’ analysis of the ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt.

The central fault with Renton’s book is an almost total inability to understand the relationship between race and class. Renton uses the terms ‘prejudice’ and ‘racism’ interchangeably, yet they are not the same. Jews in Britain today do not experience structural and institutional racism deriving from the state. What they experience, to some degree, is prejudice based on the past. It is blacks and Muslims who experience the full force of state and fascist racism and violence.

Jewish voice

Renton also attacked Jewish Voice for Labour: Now I agree that they can be a bit soft on Zionism, but that was not his critique of them:

The problem in leaning on JVL to provide an objective view of the crisis was that, no matter how bad the allegations were, it always found a way to excuse those who were criticised: each of Walker, Williamson and Livingstone was defended by JVL.

In other words, Renton supported the witch-hunt and expulsion of the above named.

The culmination of the fake anti-Semitism campaign was the complaint to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Renton fails to critique the EHRC and its motives for opening an investigation. How come a body that ignored Islamophobia in the Tory Party, which had done nothing about the Windrush scandal and whose first chair was the Islamophobe, Trevor Philips, was so concerned about Labour ‘anti-Semitism’?

This was clearly an intervention in internal Labour Party affairs by the state. The EHRC is not an anti-racist body. Its treatment of its black staff demonstrates that it is riddled with racism. Renton, however, ignores this. His criticism of the EHRC was entirely different. The problem in his view was that “The EHRC report did little to convey the extent of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.” In other words, the EHRC findings should have been more damning!

Renton ends with warm words for Jon Lansman and Momentum, “who had managed to consistently maintain their support for Palestinian rights”, while opposing ‘anti-Semitism’. But this is untrue. In May 2016, Lansman wrote in Left Futures that “the left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’”. He prioritised ‘anti-Semitism’ without so much as a cursory glance at the racism of the JLM. People such as Margaret Hodge had advocated all-white housing shortlists, which led to the British National Party sending her a bunch of flowers. Lansman supported the IHRA definition, whose only purpose was to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Renton described Ruth Smeeth as storming out of the Chakrabarti press conference “in tears” - repeating the lies of the yellow press. This led to the expulsion of black anti-racist activist, Marc Wadsworth. Renton quoted uncritically Ruth Smeeth’s attack on Marc for “invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish conspiracy” and then says that he “should not have used an event intended to prove Labour’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism to attack a Jewish MP”. The 2016 Chakrabarti report was about racism in the Labour Party, not just about anti-Semitism. Yet one more error in his book.

Marc not only did not invoke anti-Semitic stereotypes, but he did not even know that Smeeth was Jewish. Because Renton’s book was so poorly researched, he did not even know that Smeeth actually took these allegations off her website.

For the so-called Anti-Capitalist Resistance to treat Mike Phipps as a comrade in arms says everything. I suggest that you read my review of Renton’s book in the Weekly Worker4 and then eat copious helpings of humble pie, as you are clearly heading in the same direction as the pro-imperialist lapdogs of the misnamed Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.


  1. anticapitalistresistance.org/whats-next-for-socialists-in-the-labour-party.↩︎

  2. www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/mideast/toi/chap3-11.html.↩︎

  3. labourhub.org.uk/2021/09/13/labour-and-antisemitism-did-the-left-lose-its-bearings.↩︎

  4. ‘No saving graces’. November 11 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1371/no-saving-graces.↩︎