An “unacceptable” truth

JVL Introduction

Jacob Ecclestone is a longstanding trade-union activist and Labour Party member of South Norfolk CLP

In this article for JVL he poses some awkward questions for Keir Starmer about trust, freedom of speech and more.

In particular he sees a serious underlying tension: on the one hand, antisemitism and the IHRA definition are leading to serious restrictions on discussion within the Labour Party and more generally; on the other, the trade-union movement at its September Congress voted unanimously to adopt a motion describing Israel as “an apartheid state”.

At some point Starmer and the party are going to have to come off the fence: does our opposition to racism include tackling the racism of the “apartheid state” – or are we in for a major clash between unions and party should the former take their commitment to international solidarity seriously?


Jacob Ecclestone writes:

It took the Vatican 359 years to admit that Galileo was right: the earth does, after all, move round the sun. In the early 17th century, however, it was heresy to make such a claim, and the pope and his cardinals threatened Galileo with torture to persuade him to recant. He did.

How long, I wonder, will it take for the Labour Party to admit that Jeremy Corbyn was right – that although “one antisemite is one too many….. the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media” ?

Things don’t look too promising at the moment, with Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of Europe’s largest political party, telling Kirsty Wark on the BBC that although “it might be true” that the incidence of antisemitism in the Labour Party is “a small number….it is completely unacceptable to not understand the hurt and the distress……” So, although Jeremy Corbyn was speaking the truth, he was wrong to do so because Margaret Hodge, John Mann and Luciana Berger would be hurt and distressed. Sure enough, the media wheeled them out to be distressed.

On one level we should be grateful to Ms Rayner for her breathtaking naivety, but for a Labour MP to state publicly that telling the truth is “completely unacceptable” is an indication of how detached she is from political reality and of how the Parliamentary Labour Party now lives in fear of the pro-Israel lobby. After more than 60 years in the trade union and labour movement, I cannot recall hearing a single overtly antisemitic remark – yet today we are expected to swallow the lie that we are mired in rampant antisemitism.

In spite of Keir Starmer’s repeated claims that he wants to unite the party, the issue of Israel and the influence of its supporters has become a running sore, and no-one but a fool could believe that the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn – for a trumped-up offence – will do anything to heal it. Indeed, we may be at a turning point in the history of the Labour Party. I suspect that most members who bother to think about the issue feel that many of the allegations of antisemitism over the last five years have been driven by a virulent hatred of Jeremy Corbyn because of his support for Palestinian rights. Many would also admit their concerns as to the origins of this campaign – something which Al Jazeera exposed years ago.

The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn raises two questions: first, can the Labour Party unite and function effectively if it is led by someone who – in order to get elected – was ready to deceive the membership of the party by refusing to disclose a £50,000 contribution to his campaign funds from the pro-Israel lobbyist, Sir Trevor Chinn… and then, on becoming leader, declare: “We have to face the future with honesty.”

If, from the outset, the relationship between the leader and the led is built on distrust and dishonesty, then what hope is there that the party can ever be united?

Second, if Keir Starmer is willing to defer to the demands of one religion or ethnic group by closing down all discussion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and suspend his predecessor for stating an uncomfortable truth rather than offend the Board of Deputies of British Jews, why does he not also defer to the sensibilities of other religious and ethnic minorities? Since the Roman Catholic church is opposed to abortion, will he ban all discussion of a woman’s right to choose? The absurdity of his position is becoming clearer day by day – particularly as the racial prejudice and discrimination suffered by Muslims and black people in Britain does not apparently cause the Party leadership similar distress.

Labour Party members are now told that they do not have the right to debate, discuss, question and argue over the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report and the extent and sources of antisemitism within the party – and campaign against it in the same way as they campaign against all other forms of racism. Would it not be more honest, at this point, for the party leadership to tear up the Human Rights Act and declare that, as a nation, we must stop preaching and boasting to other countries on the virtues and values of free speech and democracy.

If Keir Starmer and his friends continue to insist that support for the Palestinians and criticism of the racist nature of Israel will not be tolerated because it amounts to antisemitism (which I believe to be the real purpose of the IHRA definition) then they would seem to be on a collision course with the British trade-union movement – the very organisations which created the Labour Party and which keep it afloat financially.

The Trades Union Congress doesn’t get much media attention these days but two months ago the congress voted unanimously to adopt a motion describing Israel as “an apartheid state”. Whether all 5.5 million trades unionists represented by the TUC would concur with that description no-one can say, but the fact remains that nearly 50 affiliated unions voted for the motion, put forward by Unite.

Over the last 40 years the TUC has passed many resolutions about Israel/Palestine, but this is the first time that the annual conference of British trade unionism has explicitly identified and condemned Israel as a state practising apartheid. The resolution was no accident, either, because it comes at a time when Israel is entering “peace” agreements with some of the most repulsive regimes in the world.

At some point, therefore, and perhaps sooner than he would wish, Keir Starmer will have to decide whether the Labour Party supports the apparatus of apartheid (repression, demolitions, imprisonment and torture for the Palestinians and de jure annexation of the West Bank and more illegal settlements on stolen land for the Israeli Zionists), or opposes it – both here in the UK and on the international stage. Jewish people have suffered grievously over the centuries, especially from the religious intolerance of European Christians, but that historic discrimination and hostility cannot be used indefinitely to prevent the condemnation of Israel for what it is, a regime based on racial and religious discrimination

For the last five years the party bureaucracy has had little trouble in throwing out anti-racist members such as Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and others for daring to challenge the racism inherent in Zionism. But are they now going to take on the leadership of Unite, or Aslef or the FBU? I doubt it. That said, this is also a crunch point for the trade unions. It is easy to nod through a resolution at congress, but will union leaders make good their fine internationalist sentiments? If they do stand by their principles, and their demand that Jeremy Corbyn is reinstated, then Keir Starmer and his colleagues in the Labour Party leadership are in for a bumpy ride.






Comments (20)

  • steve mitchell says:

    A cogent, brilliantly argued summary of a disaster devised by members on the Labour Right. who understood exactly what they were doing.I repeat what I have commented previously. This is a self inflicted injur. Our own members have ,albeit in advertently given succor and comfort to the Far Right. The vital changes the country needs have been delayed for years. The organisation that could have brought about that change has been crippled for the foreseeable future. The vast majority of Labour Party members are on the Left of our Party. The chance of Starmer uniting the Party and the Labour movement is somewhere between nil and zero. The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs has, alas, won a tremendous victory.The Labour Right has put our very democracy in danger. The Jewish community historically has been tormented by the Far Right. It is now in danger once more. Antisemitism will increase. All thanks to those who hate Corbyn and the politics of real change.

  • Mary Davies says:

    Brilliant article on the absurd position the Party is in under the duplicitous SKS.

  • Sean O’Donoghue says:

    Brilliant….I especially like this bit
    “So, although Jeremy Corbyn was speaking the truth, he was wrong to do so because Margaret Hodge, John Mann and Luciana Berger would be hurt and distressed. Sure enough, the media wheeled them out to be distressed.”

  • Brian Robinson (Dr) says:

    Keir Starmer isn’t going to change his position either on ‘antisemitism’ or Israel. He can’t. And he’s not going to change his position on Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension. He simply can’t. (For many reasons, some personal and subjective for him, others objective and political.) Barring unforeseeable circumstances to the contrary, he’s going to be Labour leader up until the next scheduled general election. Those are the realities. We may like them, dislike them, but that’s the way it is.

    In the past many of us have, in the well-worn phrase, held our noses and voted Labour because under our awful FPTP system (little better, if at all, than the USA’s electoral college) it’s been the only way, for much of the country, to kick out the Tories — the real reactionaries and wreckers.

    Instinctively I tend to feel that public criticism of Starmer from within is bad for Labour as it tries to recover from the hammering it got almost a year ago (‘divided parties’ and all that).

    But on further thought I’m not so sure. It might not be too fanciful to suppose that he and his party supporters welcome an opportunity to demonstrate to their Zionist critics how tough, serious, unyielding they’re being — deploying a sort of political Jiu-Jitsu.

    If we’re not going to change him, and the rest of the leadership, we’re not only wasting our time and energy, we’re paradoxically building him up. Unless of course one of the ‘unforeseeable’ circumstances is all too foreseeable, the splintering of the Labour party with new ones formed of the fragments. I’m sure I’m not alone in believing that would be a tragedy.

  • Steve Griffiths says:

    A brilliant article. Is there a standard no confidence motion anywhere? It would be good to unite behind it. Maybe two versions, one giving it the full welly, and another, feasible I think, which negotiates the ludicrous restrictions of Evans and focuses on their deceptions and their flouting of the values of the party, and indeed of any functioning democracy. It’s becoming clear that he isn’t so very bright after all. At the same time, we really must devote energy to building a movement to confront the destructive and poisonous control of our media – and to bypass the blighters. Not long ago at all, we had an energised mass movement. Millions are sickened by a political system stricken with misrepresentation, both in the Labour party and far beyond it. A lot of people have had their lives ruined by it. We won’t win if we don’t take this on.

  • Doug says:

    But at the same time there are 3 left wing candidates contesting the Unison election against one right wing candidate
    Pretty basic stuff to get control of the NEC
    Wolfie of the Tooting Popular Front would be proud

  • JVL you are a breath of fresh air. In a storm of foul smelling falsehoods. Please make your newsletter shareable so I can fwd it to friends on Messenger. Shalom.

  • John Thatcher says:

    The writer is to be commended for his clarity and directness. Thank you for an excellent article.

  • Paul Crowther says:

    The quote “One antisemite is one too many … dramatically overstated …” goes on to say, crucially, “That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.”
    This is a key reason why Jeremy Corbyn was right to raise the point of the harm done by overstating the scale of antisemitism in the Party. On the one hand, people were distressed by the fear heaped upon them, that this man would pose an existential threat if he became Prime Minister. On the other, Jewish Labour members were abused for supporting the leadership – some to the point of being branded as antisemites. To ignore that deep hurt, the result of partisan politics, would be to condone the harm inflicted on Jewish people within and outside Labour.

  • Allan Howard says:

    When Keir Starmer says that he wants to unite the party, what he REALLY means is that he will be doing everything he can to ‘prompt’ the left membership to leave the party in disgust so that only the right remains, because only THEN will it be ‘united’.

    It also sends out the message – ie it implies as such – to the general public that if he wants to unite the party, then nothing he does in respect of left-wing MPs (or the left membership) is being done out of malice and factionalism….. whilst doing precisely that!

  • Philip Wagstaff says:

    Hi Jake!
    I’m sure you won’t be surprised I was kicked out of South West Norfolk CLP. Good to see you are still fighting the capitalists, but in South Norfolk CLP?

  • Philip Wagstaff says:

    Nothing’s changed since Ken was forced out. He was telling the truth but it was “inappropriate” and that was under Corbyn who according to the Leaked Report was enthusiastic to have him, Jackie, Chris, Marc and Tony kicked out. He has blood on his hands and has not said sorry. I hear he won’t even answer their calls to offer their solidarity which is damn big of them IMO.

  • John Webster says:

    The attack on Corbyn was an open campaign. It was launched by pro-Israel elements who saw him as an ‘existential threat’. It was NOT a conspiracy. It was opportunistically supported by those in the Labour Party who wanted to get rid of Corbyn and what he represented and pro-Israel elements in the Conservative Party and the media.
    I have never witnessed any ‘racist’ antisemitism in the Labour Party and what I have seen in society has come almost exclusively from the extreme right. The invention of ‘political antisemitism’ in the IHRA definition is a disgrace meant to try and suppress those critical of Israel. It is clear to those of us who have watched events in the Middle East unfold. However, the LP members I know in the main are completely confused about the issue. They haven’t witnessed any antisemitism and think it’s been blown out of proportion but accept what ‘the Leadership’ says because they think there’s a better chance of Starmer winning an election.

  • William Johnston says:

    Thank you. A glorious example of “Tell it how it is”.

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    A very convincing and well written article.
    I see our main difficulty has been getting these fundamental truths out through the establishment media to the general population.

    Once more our leaders are already out of step with society.
    Although there is much ignorance, in one JPR survey 18% of Britons were more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians, against 6% for Israeli Jews.
    So the public, if informed, I think is likely to be supportive of this union motion.

    The risk is that that it is labelled antisemitic by the BoD/ JLM/ CAA. Then Starmer could dishonestly attack unions to “defend Jewish people”, and continue his weaponising of antisemitism to destroy the Labour Left.

    We must perhaps offer those union individuals passing this motion our fullest support? Perhaps JVL could write to them?

  • Patricia Wheeler says:

    A very good article. It could have mentioned Starmer’s adherence, before his election as leader, to the ‘ten pledges’ issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

  • steve mitchell says:

    Holding our noses is a worthless exercise. The truth about this infamy has to be revealed. It is the only way our country can be saved from an extreme Right populist government . The UK is in crisis wherever you look and was long before the word Covid was mentioned. There are ministers in government who openly sympathize with the likes of Victor Oban. Already schools and colleges have been told socialist history must not be taught. One minister denies any analogy between US and British slavery and attacks the BLM . The National Trust has been castigated by Tory ministers for exhibiting images of British slavery. This is classic fascism. The UK is on the edge of a precipice. High Court judges and the security services are issuing warnings. I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1956. I believe as I have believed all my adult life the Party is the ONLY vehicle for making our country a great place to live in again The 1945 Attlee government lighted the way. The decades immediately after WW2 were years when the ordinary working persons lives were improved as never before. Corbyn gave us hope for a return to the hopeful lives we enjoyed then. WW2 was not just a fight against a terrible Right wing enemy. It was a fight against Depression. Those like my Dad who risked their lives to ensure the awful 1930s never returned have ,alas, been betrayed.

  • This article is wonderfully expressed, especially when it says: “Would it not be more honest, at this point, for the party leadership to tear up the Human Rights Act and declare that, as a nation, we must stop preaching and boasting to other countries on the virtues and values of free speech and democracy”. Jacob might have said the same of the Lib Dems who have torn up their commitment to hallowed principles of John Stewart Mill over this issue.

  • Brilliant letter Jacob. I agree whole heartedly and I refuse to be told by Sir Kier what I can and cannot discuss at CLP meetings.

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