Jewish activists criticize Labour anti-Semitism training
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Sep 28 2016
Jackie Walker (center right) at a meeting in June. (Momentum Brighton and Hove)
The vice chair of the Jeremy Corbyn support campaign Momentum has slammed as an “outrage” a training session at the Labour Party conference which conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Anti-racism activist Jackie Walker, who is Jewish and Black, attended the Jewish Labour Movement training session along with other individuals active in the Palestine solidarity movement, including boycott activist Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and London School of Economics professor Jonathan Rosenhead, who told EI on Wednesday that the group, all of whom were Jewish, were “concerned to understand how the Jewish Labour Movement thought training on anti-Semitism should be carried out, but became aware of serious defects.” EI observed the session, which was part of the official program at the Labour Party annual conference in Liverpool. The group did not heckle or interrupt, but asked questions when invited by the speaker. But others in the room did heckle these Jewish critics of the Jewish Labour Movement. Walker’s contribution was repeatedly interrupted, in one instance by mocking laughter. Speaking to EI by phone on Wednesday, Walker slammed the JLM for apparently leaking a video of the training to right-wing media, as part of an ongoing campaign to have her suspended from the Labour Party for her political views. Earlier this year, she was briefly suspended before a successful campaign led to her reinstatement. Jewish Labour Movement vice chair Mike Katz ran the session. At one point, he claimed that the “standard” definition of anti-Semitism was the “EUMC definition.” Many in the room immediately objected. In fact, the 2005 EUMC discussion paper on anti-Semitism has always been controversial. Critics of the EUMC paper have always said it was not suitable because it conflated anti-Semitism with criticism of Zionism. It proposed that any claim that the foundation of Israel was a “racist endeavor” was tantamount to anti-Semitism. Despite never being formally endorsed by the EU agency, the paper has long been promoted by pro-Israel groups, who pressure governments and institutions to adopt it officially. In 2013, the Simon Wiesenthal Center conceded that the EUMC definition had no official status and had been ditched by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the EUMC’s successor. Speaking to The Electronic Intifada, Momentum’s Jackie Walker accused the JLM of a potential breach of UK data protection laws. EI observed JLM campaigns officer and Labour councillor Adam Langleben filming Walker during the training. The Daily Telegraph published a story on Wednesday attacking Walker, with the apparent intent of having her suspended from the party:
A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. Anyone who goes to a Labour Party training space has to be careful what they say.
She accused the Jewish Labour Movement of running a “propaganda space” where those who dissented from its views supporting Israel were not welcome. In the training, Walker said:
In terms of Holocaust Day I would also like to say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all peoples who have experienced holocaust?
This statement, and an obviously mistyped tweet that Walker quickly corrected were seized upon as part of what looks like a renewed effort to expel her from the party.
Walker said of a potential suspension or expulsion:
If they do I’ll fight it.
She pointed to a definition given by UK comedian David Schneider as one she endorsed. She said:
In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of anti-Semitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I would never play down the significance of the Shoah [Holocaust]. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimized. If offense has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologize.
LSE professor Jonathan Rosenhead told EI that Walker, who spoke on panels at a Momentum event during the conference, was “a deeply serious person who impressed the entire audience with her commitment and indeed her balanced perspective which included the treatment of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic – RB) members as well as Jewish members. The UK’s government-endorsed Holocaust Memorial Day Trust does recognize other genocides apart from the Nazi Holocaust, although only after WW2. There seems to be no mention of the slave trade. It is estimated that 12.5 million people were transported out of Africa by transatlantic slave traders, of whom 10.7 million arrived in the American colonies alive. Walker recently fought off an effort to expel her from the party over comments on Facebook in which she referred to the Atlantic slave trade as an “African holocaust.” In May, she was cleared of anti-Semitism and the suspension of her Labour membership was lifted. The Jewish Labour Movement has faced intense criticism from Jewish Labour Party activists over its pro-Israel positions. Its new full-time director worked as an Israeli embassy officer for the last year. A speech by the the JLM’s Mike Katz was heckled by Jewish Palestine solidarity activists on Tuesday.
Glyn Secker told EI that he and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi had said:
We’re Jewish, you don’t represent all Jews in the Labour Party.
Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the JLM
Momentum vice-chair under pressure to resign over anti-Semitism row
Jessica Elgot, Graun, Sep 28 2016
Momentum’s vice-chair, Jackie Walker, is facing calls to resign after she incorrectly criticised Holocaust Memorial Day at a party anti-Semitism training session for commemorating only Jewish victims. Walker also took issue with the definition of anti-Semitism used at the training event, which was organised for members at the annual Liverpool conference by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). She told organisers, heard in a recording of the event:
In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?
Holocaust Memorial Day is intended to commemorate all victims of the Nazi Holocaust, and other genocides, including atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda. (No one else may use word ‘holohoax’ – RB). After shouts from participants, Walker said that was not how she viewed the event. She said:
In practice, it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such. I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.
Walker was previously suspended from the Labour party after posting during a Facebook discussion that Jews were “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade,” and arguing that “the Jewish Holocaust does not allow Zionists to do what they want.” She was readmitted to the party after an investigation. During the training event, Walker also questioned why Jewish organisations, including schools, said they needed high security to protect themselves from anti-Semitic attacks. She said:
I was a bit concerned by your suggestion that the Jewish community is under such threat that it has to use security in all its buildings. I have a grandson, he is a year old. There is security in his nursery and every school has security now. It’s not because I’m frightened or his parents are frightened that he is going to be attacked.
One participant replied:
Are ISIS going to attack your grandson like they attacked a school in Toulouse?
Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the JLM, said Walker should
resign reconsider or resign from her position in Momentum. He said:
I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an antisemitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address antisemitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself. To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of national Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of antisemitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour party today. (She has) consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.
The training event on Tuesday was an official party module on “confronting antisemitism and engaging Jewish voters”, an outcome of one of the recommendations in the report into antisemitism in the party by the Labour peer Janet Royall. Momentum has not responded to a request for comment, but in a statement Walker denied questioning the need for security at Jewish schools and also apologised for any offence she may have caused. She said:
I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism, I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France. In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of antisemitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider’s definition and utterly condemn antisemitism. I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise.
UK Israel Lobby Excoriates Jewish Corbyn Supporter for Pointing Out Jews Weren’t Only Victims of Holocaust
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Sep 29 2016
There is a major flaw in permitting non-Jews and the Israel Lobby to define key aspects of Jewish identity. Especially when those controlling the process either are ignorant of Jewish history or exploit it for political advantage. Take, for example, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The Likudists in Israel and in the Diaspora have twisted the accepted definition of anti-Semitism so that it now includes virtually any criticism of Israel. As for the Holocaust it is, in this view, the sole property of the Jewish people. And our victimhood has assumed saintly status, which may neither be questioned or criticized. For example, anyone who points out that the pre-State Yishuv leadership, including David Ben Gurion, adopted a severely compromised moral position regarding saving the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. And if you, God forbid, point out there were high-level Nazi leaders who, like Ben Gurion, saw for a time an answer to the Jewish Question in expelling European Jews to Palestine, well, then the sky and the wrath of the Lobby will fall upon you.
Over the past few months, as Jeremy Corbyn has assumed leadership of the British Labour Party and triumphed in a second leadership battle last week, the UK Israel Lobby and disgruntled establishment figures in the Party have mounted a rearguard action seeking to undermine him by accusing him of being insufficiently deferential to the interests of Israel. Indeed, they’ve gone further and accused him of supporting Islamist groups like Hezbollah or even being a closet anti-Semite. These nigglers know that they can’t mount a direct assault on Corbyn, who has already won two decisive victories in leadership battles, so they pick and choose among various key Corbyn supporters who display the temerity to question the political line of the Lobby. Such happened earlier today to a leader of the Momentum faction, which offers key support to Corbyn, Jackie Walker. It’s rather shocking to discover, in light of the vicious attack against her, that she is in fact Jewish. It’s not at all surprising that the media outlet which ginned up the latest anti-Corbyn outrage is none other than the Telegraph, otherwise known as Torygraph. At a Party conference on anti-Semitism, she offered the following observations:
I came in here … and I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with … [shouting from audience] and in terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced Holocaust … [shouting from audience] in practice, it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such.
I’m not at all surprised that Walker is dissatisfied with the definitions of anti-Semitism offered by Israel advocates since they are attempts to expand the traditional definition of the term which is confined to hatred of Jews or discrimination of Jews as a religion or ethnic group. There is no reference at all to Israel in conventional definitions, unless someone derogates Israel referring to it solely in a disparaging Jewish context. It’s worth quoting from the actual purpose of the UK Holocaust Memorial Day as stated in the official website:
- recognise that the Holocaust was a tragically defining episode of the 20th Century, a crisis for European civilisation and a universal catastrophe for humanity
- provide a national mark of respect for all victims of Nazi persecution and demonstrate understanding with all those who still suffer its consequences
- raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust as a continuing issue of fundamental importance for all humanity
- ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world
- restate the continuing need for vigilance in light of the troubling repetition of human tragedies in the world today
- reflect on more recent atrocities that raise similar issues
- provide a national focus for educating subsequent generations about the Holocaust and the continued relevance of the lessons that are learnt from it
- provide an opportunity to examine our nation’s past and learn for the future
- promote a democratic and tolerant society, free of the evils of prejudice, racism and other forms of bigotry
- support the view that all citizens without distinction should participate freely and fully in the economic, social and public life of the nation
- highlight the values of a tolerant and diverse society based upon the notions of universal dignity and equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens
- assert a continuing commitment to oppose racism, antisemitism, victimisation and genocide
- support our shared aspirations with both our European partners and the wider international community centred on the ideals of peace, justice and community for all
Note, that there isn’t a single reference to “Israel” nor even a reference to Jews or Judaism. Clearly, those who authored this statement and conceived of transforming Holocaust Memorial Day into a UK national holiday saw the best way to do that as presenting the Holocaust as a crime not just against Jews, but all of humanity. They wisely understood that presenting it solely as a symbol of Jewish victimhood would have less appeal to the British populace. What’s interesting regarding this outburst is that all of a sudden, when it becomes useful, Holocaust Memorial Day relapses into a day owned by Jews. What happened to the universality theme espoused above? It was dropped quicker than a hot potato. Here is some of the meretricious nonsense offered by Jeremy Newmark, chairman of the Board of Deputies in criticism of Walker:
I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself. To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour Party today. As vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.
According to the media coverage of the event, Walker didn’t question the training itself. She questioned the definition of anti-Semitism it offered. And she certainly wasn’t questioning the “universality” of Holocaust Memorial Day. In fact, just the opposite: she was asking why the Day had been shorn of its universality. But what Newmark is really arguing is that the Day should be recognized universally as the property of Jews, not that non-Jewish victims (of whom there were many millions) should be recognized as victims. What about the gays, Communists, disabled people, and Gypsies who were “offered” the Final Solution? Have you forgotten them, Mr Newmark? Apparently, another major irritant for the Israel Lobby is that Walker has compared the slave trade to genocide by calling it an “African holocaust.” In truth, given the millions of Africans who were enslaved or died on their path to the New World, and the role which European powers played in maintaining it, there is ample justification to label this genocide. Just because slave traders didn’t set up crematoria and burn their chattel alive doesn’t mean the term doesn’t apply. In truth, this mock horror at the supposed anti-Semitism of the new Labour Party is a sham. It is a useful cudgel the Israel Lobby and a largely Tory-aligned UK Jewish community can wield against a Party which threatens to adopt a more even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Corbyn’s critics are either Tories, or old Labour who hate the fact that their Party has turned from its Blairite path. There are Jewish Labour Party supporters who have risen to defend Walker here. For a more sympathetic account of Jackie Walker and her background including an interview with her, read this. H/t to OffCentreNews.