How UK’s Jewish Labour Movement tries to intimidate journalists
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Feb 24 2017
Shai Masot (L), Newmark (R) from al-Jazeera’s The Lobby
Jewish Labour Movement chair Jeremy Newmark apparently wants people to believe he is unconcerned by EI’s reporting on his organization’s pro-Israel advocacy within the UK’s opposition Labour Party. While he feigns nonchalance in public, Newmark’s organization had its lawyers send a “private and confidential” letter to my colleague Asa Winstanley in a blatant attempt to intimidate him and EI from doing our work as journalists. But before I get to that, let’s look at what Newmark says in public. On Feb 21, EI published Winstanley’s article “How the Israel Lobby is using Owen Jones.” It argues that the Jewish Labour Movement’s invitation to Jones, a prominent ‘left-wing’ Guardian columnist, to keynote one of the group’s events, is part of a bigger strategy backed by Israel to drive a wedge into the Palestine solidarity movement. The strategy, articulated among others by the influential Israeli Reut Institute, calls for pro-Israel groups to attempt to co-opt so-called soft critics of the state to separate them from “hardcore” critics, meaning principally supporters of the BDS movement. Winstanley argues that Jones, who opposes the Palestinian civil society call for boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions complicit in rights violations, will perform the role of soft critic at the Jewish Labour Movement event. In an exchange on Twitter after the publication of the article, Newmark denied an accusation by a Twitter user that the Jewish Labour Movement receives Israeli government funding. I intervened in the exchange to emphasize that Winstanley’s report had never made such an allegation.
Newmark publicly claimed that he doesn’t have time to contest all the alleged errors in EI’s reporting, but just a week before his tweet, the Jewish Labour Movement’s lawyers took the trouble to send a warning letter to Winstanley when he was working on another story related to the group. That story, headlined “Jewish Labour Movement director investigated for violent threat,” was published on Feb 15. The previous day, Winstanley sent an email asking for comment to Newmark, the Jewish Labour Movement chair, and to the group’s director Ella Rose. The following morning, Winstanley received an email from a general Jewish Labour Movement address stating:
Dear Asa, Thank you for your email. JLM will be responding shortly.
When no further reply came, EI proceeded with publishing the article, which mentioned:
Rose did not reply to a request for comment. The Jewish Labour Movement said it would issue a response, but it was not forthcoming by time of publication.
Then, within minutes of the article being published, Winstanley received an email from the London law firm Taylor Wessing with a letter attached. The letter attempts to spin the circumstances under which Labour Party officials investigated Rose over comments she made that were recorded by an undercover Al Jazeera reporter as part of its series The Lobby. The lawyers claim that the “suggestions” Winstanley made in his email requesting comment from Rose were “false and defamatory.”
The Jewish Labour Movement has not contested EI’s published reporting on the Labour Party investigation, which stemmed from a complaint by several members over comments Rose made that she would be able to physically “take” fellow Labour Party activist Jackie Walker using Krav Maga, an Israeli army hand-to-hand fighting technique. Walker is a Jewish anti-Zionist and anti-racism activist. Rose expressed the hope that her critics and perceived enemies would “die in a hole.” Rose is a former head of the Israeli government-funded Union of Jewish Students. From there she went on to a job at the Israeli embassy, where she worked directly with Shai Masot, the senior political officer revealed by Al Jazeera to have been plotting to “take down” a senior UK government minister critical of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Following her time at the embassy, Rose went on to her current position as director of the Jewish Labour Movement. Rose is now standing as a Labour Party candidate in local government elections in May:
It was EI’s public exposure last September of Rose’s embassy role that sparked her foul-mouthed outburst that was filmed by Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter. Using expletives, she called her critics “anti-Semites, the lot of them.” Speaking to the reporter, who she knew as pro-Israel activist “Robin,” Rose lashed out in vulgar terms at Winstanley, the author of the article exposing her embassy role. As EI reported, Iain McNicol, the Labour Party’s general secretary, closed the investigation without taking action against Rose. However, he conceded:
Some of the language which Ms Rose is filmed using does fall below the standards expected of Labour Party members.
One of the complainants called McNicol’s investigation a “whitewash.” Jeremy Newmark has a history of being economical with the truth. He became leader of the Jewish Labour Movement in Feb 2016. But what most Labour Party members may not know is that he has long been a leader in the UK’s Israel lobby. In 2013, an employment tribunal dismissed as false evidence Newmark gave about alleged anti-Semitism at the University and College Union as it discussed a potential academic boycott of Israel. The academic staff union had been the target of a long-running lawsuit alleging “institutional anti-Semitism.” The case was dismissed on all counts. The employment tribunal ruled that the lawsuit was “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” Newmark was a key witness against the union. The tribunal judges rejected as “preposterous” his claim in an answer to a lawyer’s suggestion that he had tried to force his way into a union congress, that a “pushy Jew” stereotype was being applied to him. The tribunal judges wrote that they had “rejected as untrue” evidence that Newmark gave on the witness stand. The judges also rejected as “utterly unfounded” testimony by another witness that Newmark had been “Jew-baited.” As the judges found, Newmark was not allowed to enter the closed meeting because he was not a member of the union. The real reason for the lawsuit was that union activists had called for debate of the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Newmark’s campaign against unions that dare express solidarity with Palestine continued in 2013. In his capacity as director of the British Jewish Leadership Council, he said his organization was “liaising closely with the government of Israel” in a similar failed lawsuit against public sector union Unison. Speaking at the Big Tent For Israel conference in 2011, Newmark encouraged pro-Israel activists to join unions to be “a voice for Israel” and combat boycott motions, saying:
If you’re not in a trade union and you’re able to join one, join one! When you see these resolutions appear, speak out!
Newmark stated in 2010 that under his direction, the Jewish Leadership Council “contributed heavily to the compilation” of a report by the Reut Institute that set out a strategy for Israel to sabotage and attack the Palestine solidarity movement. Jeremy Newmark has a history of making false accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry as part of his efforts to silence and discredit the UK Palestine solidarity movement. It is clear that EI’s reporting is hampering the Jewish Labour Movement’s effort to obscure its role as a pro-Israel lobby group within the Labour Party. Letters from lawyers and other intimidation tactics will not deter us from pursuing our work.