By David Collier
Today was the fourth and final instalment of the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ called ‘The Lobby’. The “undercover report exposing how the Israel lobby influences British politics”.
For those that haven’t seen it. The show came in four, 25 minute videos (1, 2, 3, 4). Highly repetitive, extremely drawn out, with about 5-8 minutes of content in each one. The sinister music and hidden footage feel, create the atmosphere you are watching something illicit. After a while you realise that despite the eerie music, the accusation itself is empty.
Viewing figures tend to agree with me. Whilst the firstshow on YouTube has already reached nearly 100,000 views. The Second sits at 24,000, the third 16,000 and currently the last show has only been viewed 3,000 times. Everyone soon realised there was no meat on this bone.
The antisemitic premise
Far too often, as I watched, I simply couldn’t understand what was wrong with what I was seeing. This difference, between my recognition of everyday political actions, and the attempt to suggest that we were witnessing the inside actions of a powerful conspiratorial story, highlights exactly what was wrong with the show itself.
The idea, the premise could only have been formulated within an antisemitic mind-set. The ‘undercover reporter’, Robin Harrow, spent six months looking for evidence of something that quite simply does not exist. His findings are disjointed pieces of a picture of a UK Jewish community that is deeply connected to Israel, put together haphazardly by the mind of an antisemitic conspiracy theorist.
In a excellent take down of the ‘expose’, Marcus Dysch, Political Editor at the Jewish Chronicle, called it “harassment of Jews dressed up as entertainment”. Jonathan Hoffman, in a piece on Harry’s Place, broke his analysis into three central complaints, brilliantly summing up the show as ‘voyeurism For antisemites’.
In essence, the entire show hangs on a single sentence. Six months of undercover work, numerous events, scores of meetings, untold hours of networking, and they caught one ‘take-down’ comment on camera. Even then, it was spoken by a junior member of the Israeli Embassy staff with an over-inflated opinion of himself and a dubious command of English.
Trust me, undercover work is what I do. If I had six months, professional assistance and proper funding, I know that what I would put together would do major damage to the anti-Zionist camp in the UK. They had six months and found nothing. I have real material to work with. They don’t.
Andrew Billen in The Times said this:
“For the life of me I could not see what Israel was doing wrong here. The Lobby sensationally exposed the existence of, well, a lobby.”
Al Jazeera attacks British Jews
So, what was this all about? Yes, the focus was on one embassy employee, but that was not the point. He was just the eventual conduit and you cannot write history backwards. An important point to remember is this: when they started, they could not have known which way this was going to go. The intention was to damage the grassroots, the strategy to weaken the fight against antisemitism, and the goal was to suggest British Zionists, one way or another, are all paid puppets of the Israeli State.
The anti-Israel (pro-Palestinian) movements in the UK have been damaged over the last 18 months, due to their inability to separate themselves from rabid antisemites. If they did not want to operate from a drastically weakened platform, they needed the tools to protect the antisemites. The ability to deflect the accusations, to continue to work unhindered by such ‘petty’ issues such as racist abuse against Jews.
Therefore, this was a deliberate attack on British Jews by a state funded, state owned, news outlet from Qatar. And in return, those who have found themselves politically weakened by antisemitic accusations, such as Jeremy Corbyn, are clamouring for the government to investigate Al Jazeera’s baseless conspiracy theory. The first opportunity Corbyn had to sell out the Jews to regain some political power, he has taken with both arms raised. Dancing with him on the table are people like Jenny Tonge, Ben White and Jackie Walker. I hope he enjoys the company.
This type of antisemitic suggestion, that Jews conspire and rule the world, is still common in the Middle East. Yet, Al Jazeera was operating inside the UK, attacking British Jews with a highly antisemitic brush. If I had one major accusation outside of the Al Jazeera team, it would be that the Mail on Sunday promoted the Al Jazeera ‘expose’ with front page cover just four day before broadcasting. What on earth possessed the Mail on Sunday to jump into bed with Qatar, antisemitism, Electronic Intifada and Jenny Tonge against what is just a group of people who all share similar western values together?
There’s no antisemitism here guv
The two details worthy of note came in the second and third installments. The first was a confrontation between Labour MP Joan Ryan, and Jean Fitzpatrick an anti-Israel activist. The entire confrontation in my opinion, was a set-up. Fitzpatrick is a hard-core activist. If she was politely asking questions about settlements, it was because she was on a mission. In any event, we also only see part of the footage.
What we do know is that Fitzpatrick, who was investigated and cleared, was not the only incident. We hear that “”one nutter came up and basically said that the coup was run by Jews, and Jewish MPs and Jewish millionaires.” we know also that “others suggested the creation of the antisemitism scandal was merely part of a plot”. Even if the comments from Fitzpatrick are arguable, the atmosphere surrounding the stall may have already been toxic.
In any event, consider this, we have two non-Jews arguing over what they consider is antisemitic, and a state funded Arabic TV station showing some of the footage of the exchange to suggest a conspiracy in which antisemitism in Labour does not even exist. I am sure that Jackie Walker would be horrified, if someone tried to use the inability of two white people to ably identify the boundaries of racism, to discard all claims about the existence of all racist abuse.
Bullying the victims
The second incident left me feeling physical sick, and was the conversation between the reporter and Jewish Labour Movement Director Ella Rose after the antisemitism meeting at the Labour Conference. As David Hirsh put it “Al Jazeera’s spy pretends to comfort a Jewish woman who is in tears after experiencing antisemitism, secretly videos her exasperation, then runs off to his pals to help them edit his footage into an antisemitic documentary.”
Ella Rose “formerly worked” at the Israeli embassy. Apparently, if you work at any time for the Israeli embassy, you are forever tainted. According to Al Jazeera, Jackie Walker and co, this is proof positive you are of evil intent. Once this ‘horrifying’ detail about her past life was uncovered by Asa Winstanley, Ella suggests Jackie Walker ‘slammed her all week’ on social media. This is the life of those that choose to work within the Jewish community in this way. They become stalked, investigated, the prey of the antisemite.
Then much was made of her post abuse comments. When I saw this footage, it seemed to be that of a victim, trying to rebuild, to retake ownership of her pride. So I asked an expert. This from psychotherapist Amanda Perl:
“This fantasy or rehearsal that she talked about is simply a way of overcompensating for feeling dis-empowered, scared, humiliated, inferior and ashamed – it’s as if she has been left looking like a coward, not dealing appropriately or how she wanted to in a situation – she is simply with such words trying to overcompensate for being seen as ‘weak’. This overcompensation its a coping mechanism”
So, not only do Al Jazeera take hidden footage of a victim of antisemitism. They then use a natural response of a victim, a response nurtured in clinics for abuse victims around the country as a way of overcoming abuse, and they turn her into the abuser as part of an antisemitic documentary. Currently, because of Al Jazeera, some antisemites are further fueling the abuse against Ella. Everyone involved in this, including those who commented on it, or sent vicious messages via social media, are assisting in further abusing a victim. This Al Jazeera action needs to be thoroughly investigated.
This was a heavily funded, antisemitic attack on British Jews by a Qatari funded state news agency. As at times, we saw footage from different angles in the restaurant, we know there was more than one cameraman involved. We know that Shay Masot was probably drunk on at least one of the occasions he was on camera. After six months of investigating, it is safe to say they found nothing.
We know that sending MPs to Israel is a lot better for ‘fact finding’ than sending them to ‘Palestine’. We know that MPs that go to Israel are at least given a grounding in the truth of the conflict. Why don’t Al Jazeera investigate themselves? Or better still Caabu:
“In 2013 Caabu took three delegations to the West Bank including former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw; Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna; Jake Berry MP; Karen Buck MP; Cathy Jamieson MP; and Mark Pawsey MP.”
At many events I go to, I hear of MP’s having been taken by anti-Israel groups to Palestine. I hear of groups taking them. It never crossed my mind to take the footage, edit it, and turn it into a conspiracy. Others have written the bottom line already about this antisemitic show. It is a disgrace. It is also disgusting that some politicians are using the product for their own political gain. We know these people bully Jews and they further smear them, by pretending the victims are the abusers.
We are a community at war. In an environment that is deteriorating. There is nothing imagined about it. We are now entering an atmosphere in Europe where torching a Synagogue is no longer seen as an attack on Jews, but rather an expression of frustration against Israel. We are no longer at the top of this slippery slope, but have begun a descent. Be alert.
Follow, like, donate
Please if you can, consider making a donation. Mine is an independent action and research is expensive and time consuming. Even producing just one of these piece does take days, sometimes weeks, and whilst I do what I can, there are serious constraints that impact on what is possible. Your assistance can and does make a difference. Every contribution is greatly appreciated.
Keep up to date, subscribe to the blog by using the link on the page. Follow the FB page for this blog: and follow me on Twitter.
A personal reaction from Phil Burton-Cartledge (at his blog All That Is Solid), a member of Stoke Central CLP and once a staffer in Hunt’s constituency office:
Goodbye to Tristram
It was nice for Stoke-on-Trent to make the news for something other than footy and the BNP. Less nice that it was my constituency party and my MP at the centre of it. Yes, as the world and its uncle now knows, Tristram Hunt is resigning the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat to take up the leadership of the Victoria & Albert in London. He can now spend more time with his young family, and it’s a role he’s temperamentally and culturally suited to. This then is going to be the first of two posts – the second will look at Stoke-on-Trent Central, the state of the local party, potential candidates and Labour’s chances of holding on to the seat. This one is all about Tristram.
First things first, Tristram’s announcement was greeted with the crows of his opponents, and the commiseration of his friends. For those identifying with the Corbynist left, this proves he was a careerist with no interest beyond self-advancement. For those arrayed against the leadership, Tristram’s resignation is a loss of talent that reflects badly on Corbyn’s prospects. There is no attempt to analyse or understand. Pigeonholing is the order of the day. The truth lies between these two poles, and I know. Because not only do I know him, have shared the local party with him for almost seven years, I used to work for him too. So if you came here hoping for a denunciation, you will be disappointed.
Readers with long memories might recall the circumstances in which Tristram became the Labour MP for Stoke Central. The fag end of Gordon Brown’s short tenure saw a scramble for seats as the 2010 general election loomed. Coincidentally, a long-running factional battle in this constituency centered around the local directly-elected mayor reached its climax. Early that year, the NEC intervened and put the CLP into special measures – in effect, the Labour Party’s version of direct rule. Letters were issued to members ruling the upcoming AGM out of order and attendees were threatened with suspension and sanction. Said meeting went ahead and the whole constituency party was placed on the naughty step. The ruling on this came very quickly on the heels of the incumbent MP – Mark Fisher – unexpectedly announcing his retirement. Two months from the election and Labour was without a candidate.
Because of the special measures and because of the proximity to D-Day, longlisting and shortlisting was the province of a NEC panel. It was at this point that Tristram’s name first surfaced, with the FT getting the scoop. Being foolish I didn’t believe he stood much of a chance – little did I appreciate the dark arts of Peter Mandelson and how brazen the party can be when sorting sinecure for the favoured. I then thought selections were a meritorious affair. Pah. The longlist was a varied field of local folks and people from outside Stoke. And then came the shortlist: it was basically Tristram and two also-rans cynically tacked on so the local party had no choice but to rubber stamp the NEC’s favoured choice. Seriously, I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for the local government panel and I struggle to remember anyone worse than this pair. But as stitching goes, this isn’t the most egregious. I digress. Tristram was duly selected and the Potteries moved into the light of a new dawn.
Locally, Tristram made a bit of a splash. The sort of plaudits getting heaped on him now echo those greeting his arrival in Stoke. Tristram had glamour, had connections, had ambition. He was going places and that made him a good catch for Stoke-on-Trent. He was lauded by local notables as a future Prime Minister, or at the very least someone who could open doors for the city in The City. As I was unemployed and despairing of ever finding work, Tristram was kind enough to offer me a job as a caseworker in the constituency office. Given the political distance between us it did give me pause, but in the end making a living came first. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the casework, each of us in the office had a number of projects that aimed to define the shiny new MP in some way. For example, I was charged with putting together the ‘Stoke Stories’ conference in conjunction with the RSA to strengthen relationships between local third sector organisations, and lend any assistance and support the office could give them. This was one initiative among many over the last seven years that tried to define him. These included the backstamping campaign, the annual get together of local business leaders, the Maths Excellence Partnership, a campaign to save nursery provision, and securing an exemption for beleagured potteries from the renewables obligation. There were more! In addition to this, Tristram and his office got through a heavy caseload and secured some notable victories at the local council, with the DWP and sometimes (sometimes!) the government. Small shifts in policy or getting back monies owed isn’t Bastille storming stuff, but it is important and makes a difference to those affected by them.
Meanwhile, Tristram was something of an object of fascination for the left. As one of the best known Blairites in the PLP, and being one of the few unafraid to (occasionally) avow himself a disciple, I always found it strange why he had a weird fan club. Was it the glamour? The proximity to Mandelson? His book on Engels? Far from getting a hostile reception, trade unionists in Stoke couldn’t wait to meet him. I had self-identified Trots from elsewhere always asking after him. And even after that picket line crossing episode to deliver a lecture on Victorian civic culture and not, as per received myth, to speak on Marxism, he remained the left’s favourite Blairite. Even if to hate and troll.
The mystery didn’t end there. In person, Tristram is pleasant and funny, isn’t overly posh and doesn’t come across as a snob. But he remained an enigma both to his staff and the local party. Hand on my heart, despite working closely with him I cannot say why he decided to become a Member of Parliament. Nor, unlike Liz Kendall and her liberalism can I honestly say what his politics are. There would be many times he got up in front of the CLP to defend the Blairite commonsense about winning elections, of securing the southern marginals so we can help best Stoke-on-Trent, but there was never a sense of vision. For someone heralded as an ideas man, there were no ideas. For someone who was and remains passionate about education, I never understood where that sprang from. There was no patrician concern for the poor, which some might have expected. Nor a desire to get into power and reform our way to the New Jerusalem. Absent too was the obsession with power for its own sake – he never struck me as someone who had a personal hunger for government. On a number of occasions when asked about Tristram, I often likened him to the gentlemanly Victorian who was passing through Parliament on his way to other things.
The absence of politics was also the root of his mistakes as a politician. In the days following the 2015 defeat, he was shocked to find his opponents had laid the groundwork for their leadership challenges among PLP colleagues well before election day. As a result, the MPs not already signed up for others and happy to back him were quite modest. This absence of nous touched on other areas of work. As I wrote previously, one of the benefits of having Tristram as a boss was that he’d leave you to use your own initiative. He was not the kind of Member who took the correspondence home to check the spellings and tone. This also meant he didn’t take as much of an interest in local politics as an MP should. Meetings with councillors were ad hoc and infrequent, local party strategy was something he fought shy of, and keeping the CLP happy wasn’t a high priority. The latter undoubtedly helped contribute to it near-unanimously voting to endorse Jeremy Corbyn last summer. Unfortunately, like many Labour MPs, Tristram doesn’t and didn’t understand much the party or movement of which he is part, and didn’t show interest in advice from staff and other local Labour people about how to navigate these choppy waters. He might have avoided the embarrassment of picket-linegate if he had, for instance.
Lastly, I was not surprised to learn of Tristram’s departure this morning. Even before the election, local comrades knew my belief that if we didn’t win in 2015, he wouldn’t contest 2020. That became increasingly obvious after the Boundary Commission slated Stoke-on-Trent Central for deletion in the great Tory gerrymander. And there was the summer’s grumblings that saw a local branch take a vote of no confidence against him. If Tristram wanted to hang on he would have had a torrid time, and not in a good way. The V&A position with its reported £300k salary has saved him from all that. Other Labour MPs in similar pickles are looking for similar gilded exits.
I don’t bear Tristram any ill will. I shall always be grateful for the two-and-a-half years I carried bags. It was a fantastic job and, bleeding heart that I am, I helped a lot of people out in shit situations. We all did. But like him or not, the politics of his departure leaves the party in a weakened position and a by-election that is going to be difficult. Legacies should be celebrated. It just saddens me that Tristram’s is something Stoke Labour is going to have to overcome.
Nick Wrack has just posted this on Facebook:
“This has just been sent to members of the Momentum Steering Committee by Jon Lansman.
I am still digesting the contents of the email but I am staggered. It has to rank as one of the most undemocratic manoeuvres in the history of the British left – and that is saying something.
What was the purpose of the National Committee meeting on 3 December? Now we can understand why the Steering Committee has not met.
A constitution will “apply from now but would be reviewed in due course and be subject to amendments”.
The local groups and special interest/liberation groups are to be by-passed and the whole correct structural set-up is to be abolished by a plebiscite.
“If this constitution is agreed, the effect would be to wind up the SC, the NC and CAC, with immediate effect, though the conference would go ahead but under the new rules, no motions would be considered.”
So, it would seem, the conference, set for 19 February, will no longer decide policy, even if it still goes ahead.
“From: Jon Lansman <email@example.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 7:39 PM
Subject: Proposal to Steering Group: A new constitution for Momentum
To: Marsha Jane Thompson <xxx>, Christine Shawcroft <xxx>, Sam Tarry <xxx>, Jacqueline Walker <xxx>, Martyn Cook <xxx>, Michael Chessum <xxx>, Matt Wrack <xxx>, Sam Wheeler <xxx>, Professor Cecile Wright <xxx>, Jill Mountford<xxx>, Maggie Simpson <xxx>
Cc: Emma Rees <xxx>, Adam Klug <xxx>
I am writing to explain why, in consultation with a number of others in Momentum, the Leader’s office and trade unions that have supported Jeremy Corbyn, I have decided to propose today that we immediately act to put Momentum on the proper footing that those dependant on the success of Jeremy’s leadership need it to be and our members want it to be.
Most of our members joined Momentum because they support Jeremy Corbyn and want to help him achieve what he is trying to do. We must put behind us the paralysis that has for months bedevilled all our national structures, and focus on our most urgent task – winning the general election that could come within months, by turning Labour into an effective force committed to that task, and to the transformative government that would follow.
I have also taken legal advice, based on a review of a substantial body of Momentum records, which is that in order to operate effectively as an organisation with members, Momentum needs written rules or a constitution with which all its members agree, and in our current circumstances, the only way of agreeing such a constitution which is binding on the relationship between the organisation and our members is to seek the individual consent of each of our members and affiliates.
The papers which are included in this mailing set out:
The results of the survey initiated by Jeremy Corbyn’s pre-Christmas message to Momentum members, which indicate members’ overwhelming support for the type of organisation we will continue to build, action-focused, rooted in our communities, wholly committed to the Labour Party, and involving our members directly in decision-making;
A constitution which establishes a sustainable democratic framework for the sort of organisation we need – an outwards-looking, campaigning organisation to change and strengthen the Labour Party, not to mirror its structures. This constitution would apply from now but would be reviewed in due course and be subject to amendments;
A paper on interim governance.
A paper on election process for the new National Coordinating Group to replace existing regional and national structures.
The Constitution may not be perfect in everyone’s eyes, but, whatever process we follow, it is common ground that we need one, and it is surely better to have it now and amend it later by a process that is indisputable. As well as setting out the essential elements of our aims and objectives as they have always appeared on our website and in our public statements, the constitution:
Reinforces our wholehearted commitment to the Labour Party by restating our aim of working towards affiliation, and requiring all members to be party members;
Provides for elections and key decisions including changes to the constitution to be made by our members themselves;
Provides for a structure with minimum bureaucracy reflecting members desire to focus externally on organising and campaigning through our local groups, liberation networks and the Labour Party rather than internally on making policy for ourselves.
If this constitution is agreed, the effect would be to wind up the SC, the NC and CAC, with immediate effect, though the conference would go ahead but under the new rules, no motions would be considered.
If you are happy with all these proposals as they stand, please indicate by email. If there is a majority – I think we all recognise that we shall continue to disagree on this matter – I propose that we seek the approval of members immediately.
Momentum National Steering Group
Jon Lansman’s attachments:
Momentum members’ survey
See also: Tendance Coatesy
From Momentum South Birmingham to the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party
Regardless of your views on the leadership election and the movement around Jeremy Corbyn, it is clear that the Labour Party faces a huge task locally and nationally. The polls are unlikely to be that out of kilter with reality and if there was a general election tomorrow in all likelihood the Labour Party would lose, and badly.
More specifically, here in Birmingham we also face big challenges. With the Midland Metro Mayor election next year and “all-up” council elections in 2018, we will need a large, motivated and dynamic ground operation to achieve the results we want. In particular with the Metro Mayor, the Conservative candidate, Andy Street, is clearly no fool and the contest will be a very tough one. Without a significant Labour presence on the streets and in our communities, we won’t win.
The Tories have vast amounts of money and plenty of friends in the media to help put their case. The Labour Party has the overwhelming case that exists for a democratic socialist society, obviously, but more prosaically, it’s huge membership, which has more than trebled nationally in just over a year.
That membership will need to be mobilised. And in order for it to be mobilised it will need to have a say in how the party is run.
It was therefore with huge disappointment that we learned that the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party voted to exclude all members who had joined in or after July 2015 from selecting our candidates for the 2018 local elections.
Two thirds of Labour Party members have been disenfranchised at a stroke. It is also worth bearing in mind that the next local elections after 2018 will be in 2022, so selection will take place in 2021. Therefore if you joined the party in July 2015 you will face a six year wait to select a council candidate. The national Labour rule is 6 months.
This cannot be right. There needs to be a freeze date, but the one imposed by the Birmingham Board is ludicrously excessive and smacks of cynical gerrymandering.
It is also self-defeating.
How do we expect to have a motivated membership knocking doors, delivering leaflets and taking the case for Labour candidates into our communities if we won’t even let that membership select those candidates? How will we build the big, lively, well-resourced campaigns that we will need to get Sion Simon elected in 2017?
Momentum South Birmingham calls on the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party to overturn the decision and instead have the usual six month freeze date. It is in our party’s interests to do so.
Momentum’s Facebook page carries a bizarre video which comes from the TSSA rail union.
It’s about railway privatisation, but instead of talking about private businesses exploiting passengers and workers, it focusses entirely on the French, German and Dutch public railway companies that have bought up parts of the UK system, and basically rests on an implied “foreigners stealing our railways” message. Really dodgy, and particularly unhelpful at this time of Brexit-inspired nationalism and racism.
On the TSSA website the link to the video is accompanied by the following gems from the union’s recently re-elected General Secretary Manuel Cortes:
“This film makes the case that it is high time the UK takes back public control of our rail operating companies back [sic] from Keolis, Arriva and Abeilio [sic] who are just front companies for the French, the German and the Dutch states.
“Brexit has made Taking Back Control of train operating companies a vital economic necessity. Leaving the EU but leaving our rail operating companies in the control of EU countries to continue reaping the profits, would now be preposterous.
“It’s a no-brainer case and we hope this film will be shared widely and be used to hold the Tories to account in England and Wales – and in Scotland too where under SNP nationalist rule ScotRail has been tuned [sic] into a Dutch rail colony – for their unpatriotic and misguided running down of UK rail.”
Yes, we must hold the Tories to account for being unpatriotic!
Corbyn’s weakness on Israel/Palestine is because he’s a product of a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues
Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the ‘common sense’ that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that ‘common sense’. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a ‘common sense’ which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
See also: Comrade Coatsey
Above: McCluskey and Corbyn
By Jack Kincaide
Len McCluskey’s decision to stand for a third term as Unite general secretary, and to bring the election forward by a year (while privately telling confidantes that if re-elected he will stand down after a further three years – ie 2020 – presents the serious left in Unite with a dilemma.
Virtually no-one – left, right or centre – within Unite thinks McCluskey’s decision to stand is a good idea. Even McCluskey’s loyal supporters in the union’s United Left (UL) are unhappy with his tactic of standing down only to stand again … but supporting ‘Lennie’ is a matter of faith for the UL. He is almost a cult figure, and the fact that he is the general secretary is ‘proof’ that Unite is a left-wing union. Even the many people critical of McCluskey’s latest decision would find it difficult to break from the UL, a current to which they have belonged all of their trade union lives (if you include its pervious manifestations as the T&G Broad Left and the Amicus Gazette group).
The excuses made for McCluskey over the £700,000 flat largely paid for by Unite also sums up how politically weak much of the UL is – either unwilling or unable to see just how bad this dodgy deal is, and how bad it looks to many rank and file members. Being ‘left’ is a matter of supporting ‘Lennie’ (who has the advantage of being quite personable), not a matter of actual politics. In fact, a large proportion of the UL members who sit on the Unite EC do not have any clear-cut politics. Hence their readiness to roll over and die on issues such as the Collins Review and Trident.
McCluskey announced his resignation last Wednesday. By Friday the national chair of the UL had already circulated a statement in the name of the UL which backed McCluskey’s candidature uncritically and to the hilt. It is true that if it had gone out to the membership, there would have been a (big) majority for McCluskey. But the fact that the statement was issued without even consulting the UL membership cannot be right.
The Morning Star – predictably – has had no hesitation in falling into line behind McCluskey. Perhaps slightly less predictably, so has the Socialist Party (gist of article: Len’s not perfect, but he’s doing a pretty good job. Advice to McCluskey: He should stand for election on a platform which he is not going to stand on. Real reason to support McCluskey in last paragraph: Four SPers are standing for election to the EC. If the SP does not support McCluskey, its members cannot stand on as part of the UL slate and are less likely to get elected).
There is a left wing candidate who on the face of it might be worthy of supporting against McCluskey: Ian Allinson, a respected workplace activist for 25 years at Fujitsu, playing a leading role in building the union in a largely unorganised industry. He led the first national strike in the industry in 2009-10. He served on the union’s executive for ten years before stepping down in 2014. His own workplace is currently in dispute and taking strike action over pay, pensions and job security.
As Allinson says on his blog, “Unlike the two establishment candidates, I’m in the workplace, at the sharp end like the thousands of other reps and activists who make Unite the fighting union it is today”.
It has to be said that Allinson’s political allegiance is to the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century group (aka RS21), an organisation that to its credit, split from the SWP over the ‘Comrade Delta’ scandal three years ago, but still holds to much of the SWP’s crude voluntarism (ie the rank and file are straining at the leash to fight the bosses and only held back by weak leadership), and -in particular – their refusal to engage seriously with the Labour Party.
Which brings us to the strongest argument against supporting Allinson and for a (very) critical vote for McCluskey: the right wing candidate is Gerard Coyne, a capable bureaucrat with a well organised and well funded team behind him. He is standing on a “members must get their union back” platform that is, in reality, an appeal to members who want the union to cease its support for Corbyn and/or to withdraw from active engagement with politics. He is backed by the shadowy anti-Corbyn group around Tom Watson and Reg Race.
There is a growing sense that Coyne could win; this comes from being able to mobilise two groups of people, ex-AMICUS members who vote in elections and a broader anti-Corbyn vote which will be drawn from both sides of the union and who don’t usually vote. This outcome is made more likely with Allinson standing.
While Hicks (the ridiculous “left” candidate against McCluskey in the last two GS elections) pulled together two groups – the far left and skilled AMICUS members who don’t like the T&G tradition – he was unable to go beyond the activists Allinson constituency will solely be the far left which will take votes from McCluskey.
The real difference between McCluskey and Coyne is not industrial (where they don’t appear to have any substantial differences): it revolves around the Labour Party. Coyne’s main selling point will be the union’s involvement in politics, and specifically support for Corbyn. Coyne will have the backing from mainstream labour and the anti-Corbyn organisations, they will also have the press pushing this line: get rid of McCluskey you get rid of Corbyn.
A Coyne victory would see Corbyn’s position unravel in the medium term: the serious left inside Unite has to decide whether to support McCluskey on that basis.
Martin Thomas is a prominent member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty; Jon Lansman founded Momentum.
Jon Lansman and Tony Benn in 1981
I’m glad to read your statement to the Guardian that you’re “not walking away from Momentum”. I hope it will help quiet the split talk from some high-profile people around Momentum – Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Laura Murray – since the 3 December national committee meeting.
I hope, even, that it means it may be possible to talk quietly, without media-provided megaphones and howling about sabotage, to discuss what adjustments or compromises can best keep Momentum on the road.
We are for unity. If we find ourselves on the losing side in some future votes about Momentum structure or policy, as we’ve found ourselves on losing sides in the past, we won’t split. We’ll only take up the democratic rights that every minority should have, to try to convince the majority.
As you know, I’ve sought you out for off-the-record conversations about Momentum, to find common ground and to clarify and explore ways of dealing with differences, since before Momentum was launched. I’m glad you agreed to those conversations, and disappointed that more recently you haven’t responded to requests for further talk.
This has to be an open letter; but it is also a letter, an attempt to restart dialogue.
You and I were effectively co-organisers of the Labour Party Democracy Task Force in 2010-11, when Ed Miliband made a promise (effectively, in the end, annulled) of an open review of Labour Party structures. We were also effectively co-organisers of the campaign against the Collins Report in 2013-14.
Further back, we worked together in the Rank and File Mobilising Committee for Labour Democracy in 1980. I was only a backroom activist, while you were the secretary of the committee, but the organiser of the committee, your partner in the day-to-day running of that campaign, was my Workers’ Liberty comrade John Bloxam.
Thus you know from long experience that Owen Jones’s, or Laura Murray’s, squalling about us as “saboteurs” and “sectarians” is nonsense.
We have never agreed on grand political philosophies. I am, or try to be, a Trotskyist, a revolutionary Marxist. As you said in an interview with me in 2014, you are “not from [our] political tradition”; if I understand right, you are a reform-socialist, a “Dererite” in the sense of the gradualist strategy advocated by Vladimir Derer (founder of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), but, unlike Derer, not a Marxist. Read the rest of this entry »
Next page »