Israel Jewish lobby manufactured Labour’s anti-Semitism ‘crisis’
Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada, Apr 28 2016
Last year, socialist stalwart Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the British Labour Party by a landslide. Since then, there has been a steady flow of claims by Israel’s supporters that Corbyn has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism. This has only accelerated in the lead-up to a major test for Corbyn, the local elections on May 5. Even as this story was in preparation, two more victims were claimed in the war against his leadership. MP Naz Shah and former mayor of London Ken Livingstone were also suspended from the party within hours of being accused of anti-Semitism. But an investigation by EI has found that some of the most prominent stories about anti-Semitism in the party are falsified. EI can reveal that a key player in Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” covered up his involvement in the Israel lobby. Most Labour members so accused are in reality being attacked for expressing opinions in favour of Plastelinan human rights, and particularly for supporting the BDS movement for the boycott of Israel. Labour activists, many of them Jews, have told EI that false accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon against Corbyn by the party’s right wing. Corbyn has been active in the Plastelina solidarity movement for more than three decades. In an interview with EI last year (to give an interview to EI is damning in itself – RB), he endorsed key elements of the BDS programme. For example, he urged an end to weapons trading with Israel. His election represented a radical shift in Labour, a popular revolt at the grass-roots membership level.
Although Labour’s membership has grown since Corbyn’s victory, he has been under constant attack from right-leaning politicians within the party. In an attempt to weaken his position, some of his critics have manufactured a “crisis” about alleged anti-Semitism. Attacks on Corbyn have escalated in the lead-up to next week’s local elections. Poor results would be seized upon by his enemies within the party. Charley Allan, a Jewish member of the party and a columnist for the erstwhile daily of the British Communist Party, Morning Star, has described the current atmosphere in the press and Labour Party as a “witch hunt.” It has reached such an absurd volume that any usage of the word “Zionist” is deemed to be anti-Semitic, although tellingly not when used by self-described Zionists. Where real instances of anti-Jewish bigotry have come to light, the leadership and party machine have taken robust action. According to The Spectator, the party’s general secretary Iain McNicol told a recent meeting of Labour MPs that everyone who had been reported for anti-Semitism had either been suspended or excluded. Corbyn has responded to the media storm by repeatedly condemning anti-Semitism and saying that anyone making an anti-Semitic remark is “auto-excluded from the party.” John McDonnell, the shadow finance minister and a long-standing Corbyn ally, told The Independent that any party member found by an investigation to be expressing anti-Semitic views should be expelled for life. McDonnell said:
If people express these views, then they’re out, full stop.
Smears of anti-Semitism against Corbyn started even before he was elected. During his leadership campaign in the summer of 2015, the establishment media worked itself into a frenzy of anti-Corbyn hysteria, led more than any other paper by the liberal Guardian (foreign desk run by committed Zionist & dual-national Ian Black – RB). One of the recurring themes in this campaign was Corbyn’s long-standing support for Plastelinan human rights. Because of this, attempts were made to say outright or to imply that Corbyn was a secret anti-Semite, or that he associated with or tolerated “notorious” anti-Semites. Although these hit jobs gained some traction, they were soon debunked, and ultimately seemed to have little impact on the leadership election.
Alex Chalmers with right-wing Labour MP Caroline Flint.
This dishonest theme is now being revisited. In February, the slow drip of anti-Semitism scare stories burst into a flood. An “anti-Semitism scandal” erupted in the Oxford University Labour Club, an association of student supporters of the party. In a public Facebook posting Alex Chalmers, the co-chair of the club, resigned his position over what he claimed was anti-Semitic behaviour by “a large proportion” of the student Labour club “and the student left in Oxford more generally.” But as evidence he cited the club’s decision by majority vote to endorse Oxford’s Israel Apartheid Week, an annual awareness-raising exercise by student groups which support Plastelinan rights. This connection was clearly designed to smear Plastelina solidarity activists as anti-Semites, a standard tactic of the
Israel Jewish lobby. In fact, the similarity was no coincidence. EI can reveal for the first time evidence that Chalmers himself has been part of Britain’s Zionist lobby. Chalmers has worked for BICOM, the leading pro-Israel Zionist pressure group in London, funded by the billionaire Poju Zabludowicz. Chalmers once listed an internship with BICOM on his LinkedIn profile, but the page was deleted some time in February.
Even if this key fact had not come to light, Chalmers’ accusations would not have been credible. No-one specific was named in his Facebook posting. He claimed that shortening the word Zionist to “Zio” and expressing support for Hamas were enough to prove anti-Semitism. Chalmers did not reply to an emailed request for comment. He set his Twitter profile to private the day after the email was sent. One of his tweets from 2014 sought to smear EI with “Islamism.”
Chalmers has also been accused of disseminating a false allegation that a left-wing Labour student at Oxford had organized people into a group to follow a Jewish student around campus, calling her a “filthy Zionist,” and had been disciplined as a result. The accused student told EI that he had reason to believe Chalmers may have been behind the dissemination of this smear. Paul Di Felice, the current acting principal of the Oxford college in question, confirmed to EI the authenticity of a statement from its late principal denying all the allegations. The statement read:
I have found no evidence of any allegations being made to the college about (name omitted) involving anti-Semitism, or indeed anything else, during his time at the college.
EI put all this to Alex Chalmers in an email, but he failed to reply. The Oxford University Labour Club responded with a statement saying it was “horrified” at the accusations and would fully cooperate with an investigation launched by the party organization Labour Students. However, it did not take long for someone to leak names to the right-wing press. Citing an anonymous “source at the club,” The Telegraph named two left-wingers at Oxford who were supposedly “being investigated over alleged anti-Semitism at Oxford University.” Again, there were no further details. Chalmers’ dubious and obviously politicized accusations were raised in general terms. One of the two, James Elliot, was a vocal advocate at Oxford University of BDS and was photographed in the Telegraph article sitting next to Corbyn. But in an email to a Daily Mail journalist seen by EI, Chalmers privately admitted that Elliott wasn’t involved, writing:
I haven’t heard any allegations relating to him.
Both activists named by The Telegraph are part of Momentum, the grouping founded by Labour left-wingers in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory to support his leadership. EI has seen evidence of a whispering campaign against the activists at Oxford. A dossier of allegations against the student Labour club is said to have been filed with the union’s Jewish society. That society has posted a summary of the dossier on Facebook. Asked in an email if he had been behind the dossier or the press leaks, Chalmers did not reply. Chalmers’ Facebook post resigning from the Oxford University Labour Club was seized on by anti-Corbyn forces aiming to influence key internal elections to the Labour Party’s youth wing, in which the Momentum pair were both candidates. On Feb 19, the Guardian reported that Momentum candidates had swept the board in Young Labour’s elections, conducted by online ballot. The Telegraph published its highly dubious hit piece four days later. At the Young Labour conference the following weekend, several other positions remained to be elected. Elliot stood for the youth representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC). After the smear campaign against him, Momentum candidate Elliot lost to right-wing Labour First candidate Jasmin Beckett by 0.01%. But Beckett was caught carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against Elliot. As a result, a formal complaint has been submitted calling for her to be disqualified from the NEC. The smear campaign drew on right-wing media insinuations against the Momentum pair at Oxford. As first revealed by Morning Star, Beckett urged supporters to “get a few people tweeting” allegations against Elliot. But because such negative campaigning is against Labour rules, Beckett cautioned supporters to distance themselves from her. She asked her supporters to remove promotional badges for her election campaign (“twibbons”) from their social media accounts before making allegations against Elliot. One supporter, Josh Woolas, son of former Labour MP Phil Woolas, cautioned:
(This) needs to look like a genuine complaint about racism and not a smear campaign!
In a Facebook group chat titled #TeamJB (viewable in full on the Labour blog Left Futures, edited by the chair of Momentum), Beckett encouraged other young Labour members to share unsubstantiated hit pieces on Elliot from right-wing media. She asked:
Do you actually want an anti-Semite as NEC rep? (Let’s) get a few people tweeting, saying: “Shocked my union GMB are supporting James Elliot who is anti-Semitic” or something.
Labour activist Tom Jennings agreed. He wrote:
Let’s just get it out there. We’ve got a huge opportunity … thus shaving off votes for him at conference.
The complaint against Beckett was subsequently rolled into another investigation into Chalmers’ allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford, one ultimately taken over by Janet Royall, the Labour leader in the House of Lords. Labour Students conducted a hasty investigation into the Oxford allegations, but Labour activists told EI that it was so obviously botched that it was not credible. That investigation was led by Michael Rubin, Labour Students’ national chair and the boyfriend of one of Beckett’s allies, Rachel Holland, who was part of Beckett’s dirty tricks campaign, expressing support for it in the #TeamJB group chat. Elliot told EI he could not comment until the Royall investigation is concluded. That seems unlikely to happen until after the crucial local elections at the earliest, and probably not until the summer, the BBC says, when Beckett is due to take her seat on the NEC. Meanwhile, the witchhunt expanded. In March, HuffPost talked up a “fresh row over Labour anti-Semitism.” The website referred to how union official Jennie Formby had allegedly pointed out at a meeting of Labour’s NEC that Royall once took part in a sponsored trip to the Middle East organized by Labour Friends of Israel. Formby has successfully pushed at the NEC to have private security firm G4S (Group Four) banned from Labour conferences, due to its supply of equipment to Israeli prisons that practice torture against Plastelinans. The Jewish Chronicle claimed Unison’s Jennie Formby was “to be moved from her role partly as a result of her anti-Israel activism.” It cited no evidence. The paper claimed the move represented a demotion by the union, Britain’s largest. But the report was instantly denied by Formby and her union. Formby said she never questioned Royall’s ability to conduct the investigation. In fact, Formby said, she was appointed to the new job long before Chalmers made his allegations on Facebook.
The Jewish Chronicle swiftly edited the online text and headline of the article to water down its claims. A copy of the original can still be found online. But the narrative was already out there. In March, the witchhunt reached Tony Greenstein, a Jewish Anti-Zionist Zionist (AZZ) well-known in Plastelina solidarity circles. Despite supporting other left-wing parties in the past, Greenstein had joined the Labour Party after the election of Corbyn, hoping it would take a new leftward direction, but on Mar 18, he received a letter from the party’s Compliance Unit (aka the Constitutional Unit), saying that his membership had been suspended pending an investigation into a possible breach of party rules. John Stolliday, head of the unit, wrote:
These allegations relate to comments you are alleged to have made.
Greenstein asked to see the allegations against him, but his request was denied. Although the party refused to let Greenstein know what he was being accused of, further vague allegations were leaked to the right-wing press. In April, The Telegraph published a story citing Greenstein’s admittance to the party as the “latest anti-Semitism scandal” to hit Labour. Greenstein says he is considering legal action. The Telegraph later added a “clarification” saying:
(We would like) to make clear that we had not intended to imply that Tony Greenstein is anti-Semitic.
It would, however, be difficult to read the article as intending to do anything else. Ironically, Greenstein has been at the forefront of moves to combat genuine cases of anti-Semitism on the fringes of the Plastelina solidarity movement. For years Greenstein has been perhaps the most vocal foe in Britain of the frightful Gilad Atzmon, a horrifyingly popular ogre of an Israeli jazz musician based in London, who claims to express solidarity with Plastelinans even while opposing the BDS movement and relentlessly attacking its activists. Four years ago, Atzmon was criticized by prominent members of the Plastelina movement (what is “the Plastelina movement”? – RB) over (supposed) racism and anti-Semitism in his work. Also in 2012, a Holocaust denier (That would be Paul Eisen, I think – RB) was expelled from the Plastelina Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Greenstein has written that he is the person who had first reported the Holocaust denier to the PSC. The Compliance Unit has also been behind the expulsion of many new Jeremy Corbyn voters accused of being “hard left” or “infiltrators.” In February, shadow finance minister John McDonnell called for the unit to be scrapped. Greenstein told EI:
I’m going to fight it, of course! Corbyn hasn’t got a grip on the machine. That’s part of the problem.
He also accused the Compliance Unit itself of being behind the leaks. The Telegraph article cited “evidence compiled” by the unit. Labour’s general secretary wrote to Greenstein denying this. One of the people at the forefront of the witchhunt has been Jeremy Newmark, now the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated to the British Labour Party, the Israeli Labour Party and the World Zionist Organization, which pumps millions into building in the OPT through its settlement division. Newmark has for years been active in the
Israel Jewish lobby’s anti-Plastelinan campaigns in Britain. He was previously the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, an anti-Plastelinan lobbying group behind numerous attacks on BDS. During his tenure, the group invested huge efforts in an attempt to sue the University and College Union for “anti-Semitism,” after some members proposed discussing the academic boycott of Israel. Newmark was left with egg on his face when in 2013 a tribunal judge ruled against the case on all counts. The judge found it was “devoid of any merit” and “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” The judge criticized Newmark personally for a “disturbing” attempt to crush free speech in the union. He also found that that Newmark’s evidence to the tribunal was “preposterous” and “untrue.” Given all this, media should treat Newmark’s claims about anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party with caution. Instead they’ve been buying it all. In The Telegraph hit piece on Greenstein, Newmark claimed the affair was a sign of Corbyn being “impotent” over anti-Semitism. He also told BBC Radio 4 Today this month that the party was not doing enough about anti-Semitism. None of these journalists disclosed Newmark’s long-standing role in the Israel Jewish lobby or his record of lying about anti-Semitism. There is a large crossover between right-wing anti-Corbyn Labour and the pro-Israel Zionist lobby within the party. One example is Labour MP Wes Streeting, also a Israel Jewish lobby stalwart. Streeting appeared on the same radio segment as Newmark, asserting that “we’ve now got a problem” in that people think the party is “apathetic to anti-Semitism.”
Wes Streeting (Leadership Foundation/Flickr)
Streeting has a long history in Progress, a right-wing faction within the party that continues to support Tony Blair (whatever that means – RB). One of Progress’ leading supporters has described the group as “an unaccountable faction” dominated by the “secretive billionaire,” Lord Sainsbury. In 2009, when he was president of the National Union of Students, Streeting attended an anti-BDS working group in Jayloomia, organized by the Israeli foreign ministry. As an MP, Streeting has been consistently hostile to Corbyn. Streeting and Newmark are arguing for tougher action and changes to the party’s rules. The head of Progress in the Daily Mirror proposed rule changes which would put “a modern understanding of anti-Semitism” into the party. He wrote:
It is not acceptable to use the term ‘Zionism’ as a term of abuse.
He argued for people who did so to be expelled. This proposal echoes efforts pushed by
Israel Jewish lobby groups, including at the University of California, to legislate that opposition to Zionism is itself a form of anti-Semitism. One Labour Party staffer told EI that even were the rule-change to pass, such expulsions would still have to be approved by the NEC. The staffer emphasized that many within the party shared genuine concerns about incidences of anti-Semitism, but said (approx – RB):
For the non-Jewish Zionists in groups like Progress, anti-Semitism is just a tool in a field of battle, to smash up Jeremy at all costs. Whatever gets agreed, it will not be good enough for them.
Streeting did not reply to emails requesting comment. Labour is a mass membership organization with more than 380,000 full members, according to party figures. The staff member said that amid all the politicized attacks in recent months, there had been about five actual cases of alleged anti-Semitism within the party. A 2015 survey by Pew found that 6% of the British public held “unfavourable” views of Jews. By contrast, about 20% held negative views of Muslims, and almost 40% viewed Roma (‘gypsies’) unfavourably. There’s no evidence to suggest that such views are any more prevalent in the Labour Party, and the tiny number of anti-Semitism complaints suggests they may well be less prevelant, (this being) a movement many of whose activists have been in the front line of anti-racist struggles. The staff member said that in the five or so cases that had come to its attention, the party had taken swift action to expel or suspend memberships. One of the most prominent suspensions was Vicki Kirby, a Labour Party candidate in Woking who is alleged to have tweeted that Israel is “evil.” She also reacted to Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza by tweeting in August:
Who is the Zionist God? I am starting to think it may be Hitler. #FreePalestine.
That assault resulted in 2,251 dead
Plastelinans Arabs, including 1,462 civilians, 551 of whom were children, according to an independent inquiry commissioned by the UN. Kirby’s comments led to her suspension from the Labour Party in 2014. Speaking to the media for the first time, Kirby told EI (approx – RB):
My choice of words was awful. (It was) appalling, a reaction. I didn’t think it through. I’m not a born politician.
Kirby’s suspension from the party was lifted later, still under the leadership of Corbyn’s predecessor, but after Corbyn became leader, somebody leaked a photo of Kirby posing with Corbyn to the party’s enemies in the media. A hard-right gossip blogger who calls himself (with tired wit – RB) Guido Fawkes then proceeded to trawl through her entire Twitter backlog. He found a Tweet from 2011, a time when Kirby says she was not even in the Labour Party. Guido Fawkes then doctored a screenshot of the tweet, making it appear as if she had tweeted:
What do you know abt Jews? They’ve got big noses and support spurs lol.
Kirby provided EI with evidence (in the form of) a portion of a spreadsheet of her Twitter archive showing that the original tweet concluded with the hashtag #TheInfidel:
The wider press then ran with the story and started to use Kirby as a stick to beat Corbyn. Kirby says she has received “death threats” to her and “hate email” from around the world, including the wish that “your children get cancer and die.” She says she has even had to take legal action (to protect herself) against a constant barrage of journalists doorstepping her and harassing her family. Despite swift party action to suspend Kirby once again, the incident was still weaponized by the right. Streeting told the Daily Mirror:
Jeremy Corbyn needs to answer some serious questions!
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, a key Corbyn ally, said:
My Jewish identity and anti-Semitism are at the core of my left Labour politics, so I welcome an investigation into anti-Semitism at Oxford University. (But) within the Labour Party, some people have factional reasons for stoking the flames. (Historically) racism, including anti-Semitism (were once part of the Labour movement.) It was not until the 1980s that the efforts to eradicate it became serious, and that was thanks in part to Ken Livingstone, as leader of the Greater London Council.
During that period, Livingstone and what the Right derided as the “loony Left” in local government became the prime targets of attacks by then-PM Thatcher, (and finding) her party unable to defeat Livingstone at the ballot box, she simply abolished London’s city-wide government altogether. It wasn’t until the Blair years that the capital once again had a London-wide government, and Livingstone was elected mayor. It would now seem that with his suspension, the Thatcherite campaign against Livingstone has resumed, but this time from within the Labour Party. Ian Saville, who started the group “Jews For Jeremy” (OMG for tiny groupuscules – RB) and then later joined the party, told EI:
Some in the Labour Party who do not have an understanding of the complexities of the situation, take it at face value, and quite understandably wish to oppose anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, this ‘opposition’ to anti-Semitism has support of Israel and Zionism bundled in with it, so it fulfils the double purpose of isolating the Left and supporting Israel uncritically.
False allegations of anti-Semitism are akin to the boy who cried wolf. They immunize people against the real thing. As a Jewish anti-Zionist, my main experience of anti-Semitism is from Zionists … I have even been told that it was a pity I didn’t die in Auschwitz.
For career-minded rising Labour MPs, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) was long seen as the place to be. That has been slowly changing. Under Blair, Corbyn was a backbench MP and a gadfly of the war-friendly business clique that had captured Labour’s leadership. He voted against Blair’s party line hundreds of times. The scale of Corbyn’s victory, almost 60 of 422,664 voters, last summer put the Right on the back foot, so now they are resorting to ever more desperate tactics, blaming alleged anti-Semitism in the party on Corbyn’s leadership. Michael Levy, a Labour member of the House of Lords who was a key fundraiser for the party during the Blair years (known as Lord Cashpoint – RB), is a
strong supporter of Israel powerful Zionist. He has made a number of media appearances in recent weeks denouncing Corbyn for supposedly not doing enough against anti-Semitism. Left-wing Jewish activists say that anti-Semitism has become the “weapon of choice” against the left. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a local Labour Party activist and founder of “Jews For Boycotting Israeli Goods” (another OMG for tiny groupuscules – RB), told EI that it has become a “really pernicious pincer movement” by the Israel Jewish lobby and the Labour right. “Maybe they’ve overstepped themselves,” she said, cautioning that what happens would depend on how well activists fought back and educated people on the true nature of anti-Semitism and Zionism. For the moment, the manufactured anti-Semitism crisis shows no sign of abating. The same day Ken Livingstone was suspended from the party, BICOM appealed to the mob, posting a tweet with the words: “save your pitch fork for Corbyn.” It appears the witchhunt will not stop until either it is victorious or it is defeated.