A culture of apology
David Miller is worth more than the whole pack of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs put together. Apologising makes you complicit, but taking a stand brings vindication, writes Eddie Ford
As commented upon many times in this publication, politically there is very little that separates Sir Keir Starmer from Rishi Sunak. But when it comes to their internal regimes the contrast could not be greater. Liz Truss and her PopCons are just the latest Tory faction to enter the fray. By contrast Sir Keir and his general secretary, David Evans, operate a policy of zero tolerance, at least when it comes to anyone vaguely on the left.
After the 2015-20 years of Corbyn they need to prove to the capitalist media, the boss class and the administration in Washington that they would provide an utterly safe, an utterly reliable government. Israel, Palestine and so-called anti-Semitism is the litmus test (Israel is, after all, America’s most important ally in the oil-rich Middle East).
The latest person singled out for sacrifice is Kate Osamor, the Edmonton MP and member of the Socialist Campaign Group. As the great and the good prepared to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 (the day in 1945 when Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces), she shared a photograph of herself signing the commemoration book in parliament and distributed a message in her weekly mailout to local party members, saying:
Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day, an international day to remember the six million Jews murdered during the holocaust, the millions of other people murdered under Nazi persecution of other groups and more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Gaza.
This seemingly worthy remark got her suspended from the Labour Party “pending an investigation”, even if it essentially reproduces what is on the home page of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s website that says the day is also to remember “the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur”.1 But, of course, it was her addition of Gaza to the list that generated the howls of outrage.
The Trust itself described her remarks as a “painful insult to survivors of the holocaust”, with its chief executive telling Jewish News that this “disgusting post” was “a malicious distortion of the truth”. As for the Board of Deputies of British Jews - always in a hurry to be offended - it called her comment “disgraceful” and stated that they “unreservedly condemn the attempts by Kate Osamor to link the holocaust to the current situation in Gaza”. Meanwhile, the Jewish Leadership Council accused her of “abusing” HMD in order to attack “the Jewish state”, declaring that “Holocaust inversion is anti-Semitism”. Naturally, the Jewish Labour Movement thought her message was “wholly inappropriate”, on the basis that “unilaterally coopting the war in Gaza” on to that list is “wrong and offensive”. Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary - fresh from his trip to Davos, where he rubbed shoulders with the filthy rich - said it was “not acceptable to equate the holocaust to the situation in Gaza”.
It is quite apparent though that Osamor did not equate Gaza with the Nazi genocide - she did not say that the mass extermination of Jews between 1941 and 45 was the same as what was going on now, or that the Israeli Defence Forces were the equivalent of the SS. That indeed would have been a nonsense. Whatever the horrors, there are no extermination camps or trains being diverted from the front in order to take people to their deaths.
Sadly, however, unlike David Miller who successfully stood up to Bristol University and has just won his case in an employment tribunal, Kate Osamor grovelled. She apologised for “any offence” caused by her message. But why on earth did she apologise? Would anyone apologise for upsetting a fascist by saying the Hitler regime was a death cult? Should Steven Spielberg apologise for making Schindler’s list, or Jonathan Glazer for The zone of interest, because it upset a Nazi? Would you apologise for “any offence caused” to China and the US by reminding them that they diplomatically and militarily backed the Khmer Rouge killers who wiped out nearly a third of Cambodia’s population? You should be glad to have given offence, as they fully deserve it - the same going for Israel and Zionists.
You do not have to share David Miller’s particular brand of anti-Zionism to admire his backbone and welcome his courtroom success as a victory for free speech. He is certainly worth more than the whole of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs put together.
In the same week that David Miller secured his ‘landmark’ decision, the Birmingham Hall Green MP, Tahir Ali - yes, another Socialist Campaign Group member - accused Rishi Sunak of having “the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands” during prime minister’s questions. This was during a debate about recently released documents revealing that the foreign office had concerns over Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law in its ongoing Gazan onslaught as part of a legal challenge to the business department’s decision to continue arms export licences to Israel. The licences were eventually continued after the foreign secretary, Lord David Cameron, advised they should, but be kept “under review”.
Angered, Ali said the documents had been “hidden from parliament”, whilst Sunak had “boldly stated his confidence in Israel’s respect for international law” - arguing that since then “the scale of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza have been revealed to the world, thanks to South Africa’s case to the International Court of Justice”. Hence his accusation against the prime minister.
He had every right to be angry, of course, as the British government’s justifications for arming are totally revolting and built on a transparent pack of lies. But his remarks were deemed “clearly inappropriate” by a Labour spokesperson and, with the party whips breathing down his neck, Ali too took to X to apologise - this time “for the way in which I described the prime minister in my question” (though he added: “I do not resile from my strongly held views on the situation in the Middle East”). While Tahir Ali has not been suspended yet, for whatever reason, the fact that the Labour bureaucracy brings massive pressure upon people to apologise for telling the truth tells you everything about the state of the party today. Under Tony Blair there was relative toleration for the likes of Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, no longer. Under Sir Keir, a former Socialist Alternatives Trotskyite, there is what amounts to a form of McCarthyism.
Not that long ago, as readers will remember, Andy McDonald, the MP for Middlesbrough, was suspended for his “deeply offensive” comments during the massive London anti-war/pro-Palestinian demonstration in October. The words in question were: “We will not rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.” McDonald was obviously not calling for the destruction of the Israeli state, whether merited or not, let alone the mass extermination of all Jewish people in the region - an insane interpretation. Rather, as he said afterwards, his words “should not be construed in any other way than they were intended: namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to the killings in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence”. He even tried to sue Tory MP Chris Clarkson, who accused him of “seeking to justify the murderous actions of Hamas”, using “a deeply sinister anti-Semitic trope”! Regardless of the truth though, as Lord Peter Mandelson said to the host of ITV’s politics show, Peston, McDonald used language that “would be interpreted as calling into question the existence of Israel”, which “necessitates that person being put outside the tent” - which is precisely what Keir Starmer has done.
But at least McDonald did not apologise, even if his tone was unduly ameliorative, saying he was “saddened” to have received the news about his “precautionary suspension” from the part chief whip. Hardly a cry of defiance.
On one level, it is hard to understand people who cannot stand up for what is right - having the whips threaten your career prospects hardly amounts to torture. More than that, apologising makes no difference. In the case of Osamor, the Board of Deputies immediately issued a statement saying they “view her apology as utterly hollow”, because “we believe that Ms Osamor was perfectly aware of what she was saying”. Similarly, the Jewish Labour Movement said her “subsequent non-apology rang hollow”. Whatever you might say, whichever way you might squirm, they will always come after you - the apology just encourages them. If you are apologising, then surely you must be guilty of something.
Crucially, apologising sets up the next victim - as we repeatedly saw during the witch-hunt conducted by Jennie Formby under the Corbyn leadership. Therefore it is an uncomradely act. What you need to do above all is to tell the truth, no matter what the political consequences: solidarity, not evasion.
Of course, what a suspension means in the Labour Party of today - given that this is going to be an election year, unless there is some freaky set of circumstances - is that you will not be allowed to stand as a Labour candidate, with Osamor joining the growing list of MPs who have been suspended or had the whip withdrawn, most notably Jeremy Corbyn himself.2 The Labour leadership has made it perfectly clear that any MP who lost the whip or made ‘controversial’ statements not fully in line with party policy - like Tahir Ali - will be prevented from standing for Labour and new candidates will be selected instead. All the rest of the MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group are under threat. You speak your mind, you come out against the possibility of genocide in Gaza, you protest against ethnic cleansing and the deaths of over 27,000 people - then you lose your position as MP.
But what is the use of you as an MP if you keep your mouth shut under these circumstances? We now have the absurd situation where Gary Lineker appears to have more political courage than the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, daring to ‘like’ a tweet from a Novara Media presenter defending Kate Osamor from the “insane” suspension - causing the so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism to say that Lineker’s action demonstrated his “utter disregard” for both the Jewish community and also “the BBC and its rules”.
No, you are completely useless as an MP if you do not openly express your opposition in parliament or elsewhere to the Israeli terror against the Gazan people - it makes you complicit. You are not going to get killed or dragged off to prison: it is only your precious career that takes a hit - along with your £86,584 a year salary! But people in Gaza are dying right now, and the chances are that very soon the death toll will go up incredibly rapidly - it is hard to understand why the official statistics have remained so low, given the war waged by Israel. A war that will never achieve its stated aim of “eradicating” Hamas.
This is clearly a situation where we are on the cusp of deaths on a huge scale. Already the death toll per capita in Gaza is higher than was suffered by London or even German cities such as Dresden in World War II. The future looks utterly bleak for the people of Gaza, who are at risk of death from hunger and disease … that or being pushed into Egypt’s Sinai desert in a second Nakba.