Jill Mountford on Jackie Walker, antisemitism and Momentum

October 7, 2016 at 8:58 am (anti-semitism, AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, Racism, zionism)

Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:

Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)

On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.

Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.

After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).

I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.

Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us

For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:

“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.

“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.

“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.

“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.

“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.

“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”

Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.

To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.

Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.

Free speech on Israel?

To continue quoting from the article above:

“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.

“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.

“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.

“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”

Momentum’s statement

The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.

Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.

Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.

At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.

This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)

My motivations

There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.

I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.

I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!

I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.


  1. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

    A reply to Jill:

    From your report and other actions, I think the AWL is getting near a tipping point where it may pass permanently onto the other side in the way that Socialist Action clearly has.

    I think you make some good points about the – ill-discipline? – of Jackie Walker, although I don’t think she merits the removal. She wasn’t clear that she (surely) meant ‘there are contrasting definitions of anti-Semitism’ (which is correct); made what sounds like stupid remarks about Jewish school security but was right about HMD not generally being known to be about more than the Shoah (as I demonstrate here http://www.leftfutures.org/2016/09/jackie-walkers-position-is-untenable-she-should-go/comment-page-1/#comment-248672 .)

    But that’s not the big issue. The issue is the AWL relationship to Momentum, Lansman and Corbyn.

    Momentum only exists and with the influence it has because Corbyn (& McDonnell and Abbott) have, at least, acquiesced in its rise – sort of giving it the franchise of the Corbyn fan club.

    Corbyn needs criticising for not supporting having a fully democratic body instead, like I presume the LRC is. Indeed why did Momentum ‘take over’ from the LRC? Maybe because it has access to money?

    Momentum appears, like a one-armed boxer, not be interested in fighting the Right but just promoting the Left,. It has a near suicidal policy to not support MP reselections (the Right don’t work that way) and it appears to prefer issuing toe-curling fanboy pronouncements celebrating people like Starmer (who was part of the front-bench coup) rather than make demands of them. Momentum is on a likely road to be the CLPD or the LCC of tomorrow (originally Bennite organisations that, over time, moved more and more rightwards).

    It’s time for you to push hard for Momentum to break from what it does now and insist it starts fighting – including criticism of the Labour leadership e.g. for the appointment of people like the unelected Chakrabarti – who even knows what her politics are; she only joined a political party recently.

    If Momentum can’t be moved from such actions, I think the AWL need to either leave the leadership or even break from Momentum and seek to organise with other revolutionaries and Labour Lefts. The large membership of Momentum makes this an unattractive course so the fight inside should be the 1st priority – by a long way – but if the ship can’t eventually be steered, it’s lifeboats time.

    If the AWL remain within an unchanged Momentum, the AWL may well end up where those (truly) radical councillors of ‘not setting a rate days in the 80s organised through Labour Briefing ended up – that’s people like Hodge and Blunkett

    For info: I’m an unaligned Trot. member of Left Unity and not a Labour Party member.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      The British voter will end Momentum and sadly maybe my Labour Party.

      • Ben said,

        Which is worse, Labour being defeated in the next two or three general elections, or Labour under Corbyn winning them because of, say, a Brexit-induced recession or even depression?

  2. Goodbye Labour said,

    Momentum is an antisemitic cesspit and the Labour Party has consistently proven over the last year that Jews are no longer welcome or worthy of consideration or equal treatment within the party. Publish as many analyses as you like, make excuses for the movement, make excuses for the disgusting spectacle of a Labour Party led by a man who applauds Hamas and has spent decades campaigning for the abolition of the world’s only Jewish state, offer ‘conditional’ support for Jew haters – you and the entire British left are sleepwalking into National Socialism. Not that there’s a speck of self awareness on display from any quarter.
    Goodbye Labour, you, like so many political movements before you, have abandoned Jews when we needed your help the most. Still, at least your conference concluded that you aren’t Islamophobic. Congratulations

    • Ted said,

      You are aware that Jon Lansman the Chair of Momentum is Jewish? Not sure how that squares with your theory that it’s antisemitic?

      As far as I’m aware Jeremy has never campaigned for the abolition of Israel, but it looks like you’re not prepared to let pesky things like facts interfere with your judgement.

  3. John Rogan said,

    According to Tony Greenstein’s blog, Brighton and Hove Momentum voted 56-6 (with 6 abstentions) to back Jackie Walker.

    A Labour Brighton, Cllr Emma Daniel (@huxley06), said on Twitter on Sunday that Mr Greenstein has been elected to the BandH Momentum Committee, presumably in some form of organising capacity.

    He also has expressed very strong (negative) views on Zionists to her. A cursory reading through his blog also sees very similar strong views on Jon Lansman and the AWL.


    • Goodbye Labour said,

      Greenstein is a fascist pig whose rambling, insane blog praises Jew haters of all stripes, from Livingstone to Armedinijad. His entire worthless and squalid life has been dedicated to the abolition of Israel and the political marginalisation of British Jews.

      A perfect candidate for Momentum then!

  4. jschulman said,

    Lots of right-wing social-democratic nutjob ramblings on this blog. Mirror images of the Greensteins of the world.

    For the record I don’t think Jackie Walker is anti-Semite. Why would an anti-Semite marry a Jew (Graham Bash)? I do think she’s politically clueless and Momentum was right to “depose” her but she shouldn’t be removed from the Labour Party.

    • Jim Denham said,

      “Why would an anti-Semite marry a Jew (Graham Bash)?”

      Jason, you could equally well ask “Why would a Jew (eg Gilad Atzmon) be an anti-Semite?”

      The fact is, it happens.

      And, come to think of it, has Nigel Farage’s choice of wife (a German) prevented him being a racist?

  5. jschulman said,

    Atzmon obviously hates having been born a Jew and would call himself an “ex-Jew.” And last I knew Germans weren’t a race.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Don’t be silly, Jason: you know exactly what I mean. And if Germans (and presumably Poles) aren’t strictly a “race”, presumably the attacks on them since Brexit cannot be described as racist?

  6. jschulman said,

    No, they can’t. Nationalist, chauvinist, pick your favorite word. Last I knew talk of the “German race,” “English race,” etc. ended in the early 20th century.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Sheer pedantry, that in any case doesn’t have any bearing on the central argument – ie a person’s choice of spouse has little or no relevance their racial/national prejudices, and the argument that JW cannot be an anti-Semite because she’s married to a Jew is simply nonsense.

      P.S: didn’t Donald Trump’s daughter, who actively supports his presidential campaign, convert to Judaism, with his blessing? Does that mean he can’t possibly be an anti-Semite?

  7. jschulman said,

    Words have meanings, Jim. I don’t much care for floating signifiers. Anyway Trump’s anti-Semitism is of the “I love the Jews because they’re so good at handling money” rather than the “finish what Hitler started” kind. Some of his followers are “traditional” anti-Semites of course.

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