Cambridge CLP motion on the BoD pledges

Cambridge Constituency Labour Party is due to debate a motion regretting the willingness of all the Leadership and Deputy candidates, with the exception of Burgon and Butler, to sign up to the Board of Deputies 10 pledges.

David Plank has collated a careful analysis of  pledges and their anti-democratic and free speech implication  to inform the debate.

WE are publishing this for the information of members of other constituencies who wish to debate this issue.

MOTION – Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “Ten Pledges”

 

 

BoD 10 pledges

We urge all candidates in the elections for leader and deputy leader to drop their support for the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ “Ten Pledges”.

i) We note the substantial overhaul of the Party’s complaints process that has been initiated by the current General Secretary in order to improve both the quality and speed of investigations and judgements. We further note the data released by the Party on 28th January, which indicates that 0.2% of the membership were the subject of an antisemitism complaint in 2019 (assuming each complaint related to a different member).

While recognising the need for ongoing vigilance in relation to all forms of prejudice, we therefore reject the notion of an “antisemitism crisis” within the Party.

ii) We urge all candidates to drop calls for the Labour Party to hand control of its complaints process to an external agency and to divulge case details to third parties. Under GDPR rules the Party is required to recognise the right to refuse access to personal data by any such agency or third party. Any such process is highly unlikely to be practicable or to command the confidence of the Party membership.

We recognise that guarantees of the integrity of the complaints process are vital to all concerned. We note that in relation to antisemitism complaints:

  • all complaints are now dealt with nationally
  • independent specialist legal advice is provided to NEC and NCC panels
  • the Party has committed to the regular publication of relevant data

We consider that these measures should go some way to reassuring those, inside and outside the Party, concerned with the integrity of the process. In addition, the call for all remaining reforms recommended by the Chakrabarti Report to be implemented is reiterated.

iii) We urge all candidates to drop calls for the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) to lead the Party’s programme of training on antisemitism. We do not believe that the JLM has the necessary expertise or professionalism to fulfil this vital role. We note that Party staff and NEC and NCC members currently receive antisemitism training from the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, whose expertise is unparalleled, and believe this arrangement should command widespread confidence.

iv) We urge all candidates to reject the demand that the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism should be used “with all its examples and clauses, and without any caveats” as the basis for considering complaints of antisemitism. We note that senior British jurists have drawn attention to the danger to freedom of speech represented by the IHRA Working Definition, and that its original author has described the Definition’s use to suppress debate on UK campuses as “chilling and McCarthyite”.

We reject any implied conflation of criticism of Israel’s unlawful treatment of the Palestinian people with antisemitism. We recognise that Zionism is a political creed like any other and notes that the Home Affairs Select Committee has acknowledged that Zionism is a valid topic for political debate. We consider that anti-Zionist critiques of Israel are, in principle, entirely compatible with Labour Party values.

v) We believe that it is discriminatory for the Board of Deputies to try to monopolize dialogue between British Jews and the Labour Party, and equally discriminatory for others to concede them the power to do so. We recognize that the Jewish community is as complex and diverse as any other and has no unitary leadership. We consider that the attempt to ban engagement with groups and individuals labelled as “fringe” may constitute an offence under the Equality Act.

Explanation

Pledge Response
1. All outstanding and future cases should be brought to a swift conclusion under a fixed timescale
More verifiable progress has been made in the last 22 months year since the appointment of Jennie Formby as General Secretary than in the previous two years. The number of cases outstanding has significantly reduced due to allocation of extra governance and staff resources – and is now small.

Fixed timescales applied to all cases are inimical to a fair hearing without bias – natural justice. The circumstances of individual cases vary greatly and this must be respected.Summary justice, as acceptance of this pledge would risk in some instances, is not compatible with the Party’s values or with the Chakrabarti Inquiry’s recommendations adopted by the Party in 2016.

2. An independent provider should be used to process all complaints, to eradicate any risk of partisanship and factionalism This is incompatible with safeguarding the essential independence of the Labour Party from political interference by other bodies. The only external influence on Labour’s processes should be the law of the land to which we are subject.
3. Key affected parties to complaints, including Jewish representative bodies, should be given the right to regular, detailed case updates, on the understanding of confidentiality This is incompatible with the Party’s essential independence, the Data Protection Act and natural justice. There could be no guarantee of confidentiality given breaches of individuals’ confidentiality which have occurred to date, notably the breach of confidentiality from the training session led by the Jewish Labour Movement at the 2016 Annual Conference, which resulted in proceedings against Jackie Walker.
4. It should be made clear that prominent offenders who have left or been expelled from the party, such as Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker, will never be readmitted to membership This is in breach of the Labour Party’s Rules. [Chapter 6, Clause 1.2] It is also incompatible with natural justice and the right of review adopted by the Party on the recommendation of Shami Chakrabarti’s Inquiry in 2016, and long overdue for implementation. It ignores the possibility of court action rendering expulsions unlawful. It is discriminatory as it picks out particular people for harsher treatment.
5.Any MPs, Peers, councillors or CLPs who support, campaign or provide a platform for people who have been suspended or expelled in the wake of antisemitic incidents should themselves be suspended from membership. This is unacceptable, as it seeks to establish “guilt by association”, a notorious feature of the McCarthy “trials” in the USA. Any member of the Party has the right – and duty – to speak up for others, such as Chris Williamson, who they believe stands wrongly accused and/or poorly treated. It would be unconscionable and oppressive for such righteous conduct to be punished in this way.
6. The IHRA definition of antisemitism, with all its examples and clauses, will be fully adopted by the party and used as the basis for considering antisemitism disciplinary cases. Senior British jurists have drawn attention to the danger to the right of free expression under the Human Rights Act which adoption of all of the working definition’s illustrations and examples represents. [Geoffrey Robertson QC; Sir Stephen Sedley, former Appeal Court judge; Opinion given by Hugh Tomlinson QC). Its original author has described the working definition’s use to suppress debate on UK campuses as “chilling and McCarthyite”. Members’ ability to express fully justified criticism of Israel’s internationally unlawful conduct towards Palestine and the Palestinians would be under threat.
7. The Jewish Labour Movement should be re-engaged by the Party to lead on training about antisemitism This is proposed on the basis that it would deliver a “programme that has the buy-in of the Jewish community.” This is demonstrably untrue. There is no single “Jewish community”, as the existence of the growing Haredi, Ultra-Orthodox, ideologically non-Zionist Jewish community in the United Kingdom (making up 20% of Jews), which is not represented in any way by the Zionist Board of Deputies, and of the many secular British Jews (making up 50% of Jews in the UK) who do not necessarily share the Board of Deputies’ singular perspective. The Jewish Labour Movement, known as Poale Zion until 2004, is a partisan not an impartial body, being affiliated to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation of the UK, and organised within the World Zionist Federation. The respected Pears Institute would be a much more suitable choice.
8. Labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups and not through fringe organisations and individuals. This is unacceptable because it seeks to give some Jewish groups the power of veto over other Jewish groups. It would be discriminatory for the Party to behave in this way. As stated above, there is not a single “Jewish community”; by definition, therefore, no one group can legitimately claim to represent varied Jewish communities.

It is ill-defined: who are “main representative groups”? The Haredi communities in the United Kingdom do not recognize the Board of Deputies of British Jews as their representative, nor do large numbers of secular Jews.

The reference to “fringe groups” is derogatory. Bodies such as Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel have every right to speak to the Party, and be heard, without the Board of Deputies’ permission.

9. Bland, generic statements should give way to condemnation of specific harmful behaviours – and, where appropriate, condemnation of specific individuals It would indeed be welcome, and refreshing, if discussion of racism against Jews concentrated on specifics. This would readily identify that the growing danger is not in the Labour Party but in the racist right, whose racist conduct is too often obscured by the Board and others who focus instead on those who are brave enough to stand up for Palestine and the Palestinians against the cruel, unlawful occupation and oppression of the Israeli State:

“Through prolonged occupation, with practices and policies which appear to constitute apartheid and segregation, ongoing expansion of settlements, and continual construction of the wall arguably amounting to de facto annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, the denial by Israel of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people is evident. The Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts provide guidance as to the consequences of serious breaches of peremptory norms under international law. In this respect there is authority to suggest that the following prohibitions have attained the status of peremptory norms: aggression through military occupation and imposition of military blockades on ports and coasts, racial discrimination and apartheid, and torture. In addition, the right to self-determination itself has been recognized as a peremptory norm which applies erga omnes.”
United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967”, Richard Falk, 13 January 2014

An assessment endorsed in various reports by Michael Lynk, successor to Richard Falk as Special Rapporteur.

10. The Leader must personally take on the responsibility of ending Labour’s antisemitism crisis. The evidence, as distinct from the rhetoric, refutes the existence of a “crisis” in the Party. Therefore, this pledge is misplaced.

Disciplinary statistics for complaints of antisemitism alleged to have been committed by members of the Party have just been issued by the Party for the year 2019. They state that the total number of complaints was 1,028, of which 255 were deemed after initial investigation not to warrant further investigation, as there was insufficient evidence of a breach of the Party’s Rules. Figures are not given for the number of members to whom these relate – some may have concerned the same member. Assuming for the sake of argument that each of the 1,028 complaints concerned a different member, this would represent around 0.2% of the total membership (512,000 approximately in February 2019). Excluding the 255 found not to warrant further investigation, this falls to 0.15%.

Rightly, this is being taken seriously by the Party – but 0.15 to 0.2 per cent of the total number of members is not a crisis. [See also “Journalists check your evidence on antisemitism”. By Jonathan Coulter, Dr Alan Maddison and Tim Llewellyn May 2019: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/app/uploads/2019/05/Journalists-check-your-evidence-on-antisemitism.pdf

See also “Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party & Public Belief”. By Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Anthony Lerman and David Miller. Pluto Press, 2019.]

This pledge contradicts pledge 2, which demands independence of the Party, while this demands the opposite, i.e. the Leader’s personal intervention.

The Leader is not responsible for the operation of the Party’s disciplinary procedure, nor should s/he be. Under the Party’s Rules, the executive responsibility is vested in the National Executive Committee and the General Secretary; and responsibility for adjudication is vested in the National Constitution Committee. All of these give due accountability to the Party as a whole. The Leader has influence of course, but it is only that. It is not absolute power as the pledge implies. The Leader should not be held to account for that which s/he is not constitutionally able or allowed to deliver

 

see also:

Comments (12)

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    I would very much like to see these closely argued points put to the Leadership candidates and have them explain whether they are now prepared to withdraw their endorsements of the 10 Pledges – and if not why not.

  • Philip Ward says:

    A test of Labour’s disciplinary system will be the suspension of Trevor Phillips for alleged Islamophobia. I don’t agree, by the way, that it is functioning well and I’m not even sure that Phillips should have been suspended: this is meant by Chakrabarti to be a measure to be taken in the most serious of cases, even though I think Phillips’ comments are Islamophobic.

    You can hear how little this man understands about “race” (which he seems to think exists: he clearly hasn’t met any biologists), racism and Islamophobia in his interview on the Today programme this morning. If this is the kind of thinking that pervades the EHRC, I’m not hopeful of a positive outcome in the “investigation” of the Labour Party (at 1hr 32mins):

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000g4ys

    An interesting exercise is to think “Jews” when “Muslims” are mentioned and wonder if Phillips would have been quite so happy with what he was saying if he was had been discussing them (us) instead.

  • John Spencer says:

    Note that the effect of applying the IHRA ‘definition’ ‘without caveats’ would be to deprive the attached examples of their exemplary character and make them unchallengable rules. As it stands the caveat at the start of the examples section of the definition says ‘Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:’.
    Stripped of this caveat, the definition becomes a rigid ban on any of the statements listed as examples, regardless of context. This is completely unacceptable and amounts to an attempt to redraw the IHRA definition to straitjacket any discussion about Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights — which is the Board of Deputies’ true objective.

  • George Wilmers says:

    The above criticism of the outrageous demands of the BoD is generally precise and well formulated. However the motion is seriously compromised by the quite ridiculous claim that

    “More verifiable progress has been made in the last 22 months year since the appointment of Jennie Formby as General Secretary than in the previous two years.”

    It is utterly incomprehensible to me that anyone familiar with the facts could indulge in such wishful thinking. The only sense in which this claim is true is under a purely administrative Interpretation, which is precisely what Jennie Formby boasts about: yes, indeed more cases have been “dealt with” and faster than ever before, and more people have been “convicted”.
    But what on earth has this got to do with justice? During the course of the last year not only have large numbers of members been falsely accused on the flimsiest of evidence, but the actual procedures of the inquisitors of the Governance and Legal Unit have actually got worse, to such a degree that their notion of justice now resembles a parody of that of the worst totalitarian regimes. If you don’t believe this then please read my documented account of my treatment at the hands of these anonymous charlatans:

    https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/the-labour-party-inquisition-a-case-study/

    In fact for the last year the Labour Party has capitulated to external pressures with such moral cowardice that the Board of Deputies or the JLM might as well have been in charge of its disciplinary procedures.

    I do not wish to criticise Jennie Formby unfairly. I am sure she is an excellent trade union administrator, but she was not the right person for the job she was given. To my knowledge she has no background in jurisprudence and, to judge by current procedures, appears to have no understanding of the basic rules of natural justice. She is a natural conciliator, but setting up conciliation procedures between anonymous agents of a howling mob and a lone terrorised individual who is instructed not to reveal to anyone that they are “under investigation”, is hardly a good recipe for the administration of justice.

    The disciplinary system is entirely unfit for purpose and needs to be rebuilt from scratch with crucial advice from seasoned and principled lawyers with clear minds such as Stephen Sedley or Geoffrey Robertson, whose brains have not been addled by the intellectual sewage of the corporate media.

    However, in addition to the reconstruction of the disciplinary process, the infamous disciplinary Rule 2.1.8 must be repealed by the Labour Party, and replaced by a far more limited and precisely worded criterion for the application of sanctions. It is simply not admissible that any conduct which the NEC chooses to regard as “prejudicial to the party” should be a criterion for sanctions to be applied, because such a criterion is totalitarian in its very essence, and is incompatible with basic principles of freedom of legitimate political expression.

  • Eveline van der Steen says:

    I was also not happy with all the candidates signing the pledges, but on the other hand, I think that if they hadn’t, they would inevitably have been sucked into the same murky battle over antisemitism that did for Jeremy Corbyn. He was rarely allowed to talk about Labour’s program, having instead to defend himself against the same accusations every time and never winning. If he apologised it was seen as an admission of guilt, if he didn’t he was in denial. Even last week Johnson tried to use it against him.

  • JanP says:

    An excellent and useful motion and analysis of the 10 points. Thank you Cambridge CLP and JVL.

  • Graeme Hyslop OBE says:

    A magnificent piece of analysis. Thank you.

  • Marge Berer says:

    I also think the Cambridge CLP motion is excellent and have just tabled it as an emergency motion at my LP branch meeting, which is tomorrow evening, 11 March, with my own views on what has been happening. But now I’m concerned about what George Wilmers says above against the statement: “More verifiable progress has been made in the last 22 months year since the appointment of Jennie Formby as General Secretary than in the previous two years.” Has anyone done research on what has happened in this period to everyone who has been accused that can be shared? Thanks!

  • RH says:

    The motion provides a good model for forensic examination of the BoD’s politics and fakery.

    … and I totally understand George Wilmers’s caveat about recent Party performance. It hasn’t been a shining example of principled behaviour within the basic framework of natural justice!

    I do, however, dispute Eveline van der Steen’s positive rationale for candidates signing up to the BoD pledges. The problem before and during the election was that Labour spokespersons rarely – if ever – contradicted the media narrative.

    Result? Well – it certainly didn’t go away!

    In the end, cowardice and ducking central issues of principle isn’t what leadership is about.

  • Tony says:

    I very much doubt that these demands were put forward in the serious expectation that they would actually be accepted.

    But well done to everyone who challenges such bullying behaviour.

  • Jack says:

    An excellent rebuttal of the ’10 Commandments’ but George Wilmers above is perfectly correct. The “more verifiable progress……” comment is questionable to say the least. Verifiable by whom? The numbers may be verifiable but because of the secrecy, the reasons and justifications are certainly not.

    Surely one of Jennie Formby’s jobs as GS is to look after member’s interests as well as those of the Labour Party. This can sometimes entail going against or disputing internal decisions made by other branches of the executive. She has patently failed to do this and should therefore be replaced.

  • RC says:

    George Wilmers has hit the nail on the head: the fascist method of anonymous delation (common to the application of Rule 2.1.8 and Prevent) destroy natural (indeed, any form of) justice and set the party bureaucracy in enmity to the interests of the membership – and therefore of the party as any sort of democratic institution. Even totalitarian arguments like those of Trevor Phillips are best dealt with by political argument – perhaps within Holborn and St Pancras LP, for a start? – rather than by administrative – and secret – fiat. Acceptance of externally imposed definitions, rules and mechanisms would (will?) exacerbate the bureaucratic centralism that increasingly plagues the party.

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