JVL, the election and the future

Mike Cushman discusses how the concerted campaign to falsely describe Labour as antisemitic undermined trust in the Party’s policy agenda and contributed in a significant way to its electoral defeat. He points out that this campaign will not end with Corbyn’s departure and outlines how JVL should organise in the future to preserve free speech here and the ability to campaign for Palestinian rights

This was the keynote paper for the the well-attended and enthusiastic JVL member’s meeting on 12 January. It reprinted here with a post script on the Board of Deputies Ten Pledges

1.  The election

Much attention has been placed on Labour’s Brexit policy in trying to analyse the causes of our General Election defeat. This is both true and not true. Undoubtedly some previously Labour supporters who voted leave either voted for other parties or, as seems likely from the survey evidence, in greater numbers did not vote at all. It is, however, unclear if moving either a clearer remain or leave stance would have been any more successful overall in increasing the Labour vote – either would have gained some votes but it is an open question if they would also have lost more.

Labour’s position in its ‘Red Wall’ had been in serious decline over a number of elections, a fall temporarily reversed in 2017. This fall can be traced back to the failure of New Labour to meet the reasonable aspirations of the voters in these seats. They hoped for fulfilling and well-paid work from Labour after neglect by the Thatcher/Major governments. These were hopes that were difficult to meet in any circumstances but impossible with a policy of subservience to the capital markets and the financialisation of the wider economy and in particular of the services provided by the public sector.

This loss of meaningful employment intensified the feelings of loss of control over both individual and collective lives. The atomisation of work and the loss of trade union membership have eroded the bedrock of collective endeavour that underlay both Labour as an organised force and socialism as a vision. The failure of New Labour to repeal, or at least heavily revise, the Conservative’s punitive anti-trade legislation undermined collective efforts to demand change and give meaning. New Labour’s unwillingness to relax central control over local government closed down another route for communities facing industrial decline to shape their own futures.

Brexit appeared to many voters in these areas to be a way of restoring control, even though the drivers of the loss of control were more located in London than Brussels.

The Labour Party’s inability to gain a hearing for their Brexit policy was located less in any deficiencies of that policy than in the loss of the Party’s credibility over the previous two years. It is to be expected that the Tories and their media allies would seek to destroy Labour’s credibility. Such attacks are an eternal feature and have been effectively confronted in the past. What made these current attacks so damaging, and fatal to the future lives of those who most need a radical Labour Government to defend them, was the reinforcement they gained from the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party who were hangovers from the Blair/Brown years. These MPs and peers have never reconciled themselves to the members of the Party in the country electing, and re-electing, the ‘wrong’ leader.

It is beyond doubt that these internal enemies found the charge of antisemitism against Corbyn as an individual and the Party as a whole their most potent weapon. The charge of antisemitism was particularly wounding for a Party that placed morality at the centre of its appeal. The endorsement of the antisemitism claims from inside the party allowed many commentators to view the claims as uncontroversial and to ignore contrary Jewish voices. JVL were placed in the same category as climate-change deniers whose challenges to orthodoxy were dangerous and best unreported. This equivalence ignores the fundamental difference between a scientific consensus, like climate change, based on data and evidence and a political consensus, like what constitutes antisemitism, which is always contestable

Some of the leading witch hunters probably believed their own claims, no matter how thin the evidence; any doubts they may have had were submerged in the roars of approbation they received for even their most outrageous claims. Others appeared to be more cynical in their campaigns picking up fluff and declaring it solid steel. They did this for a variety of reasons: personal ambition; fear of socialism; hostility to a leadership that placed concern for Palestinian rights over Jewish demands for uncontested sovereignty over the ever-expanding territory the Israeli Government claimed the right to rule.

Whatever their motives the effect of their support for, even leadership of, the campaign of vilification allowed the BBC to accept the charges without the necessary critical appraisal and skew its coverage. Once the party had been so damaged in this aspect, all it its policy proposals lost authority and were largely ignored producing the systematic bias that we observed particularly in the BBC coverage of the election but also from ITV and Sky as well, in addition to the eternal anti-Labour bias from the print media. Within the media echo chamber all Labour’s potentially election winning policies could be ignored or derided; those of the Tories never questioned to the same extent and Johnson’s manifest failures of ethics and competence overlooked.

The failure of the Guardian to treat antisemitism charges with due scepticism meant that a voice that might have fought back against the tide became, instead, an enabler.

It has to be said that the failure of Labour’s media team in the face of this onslaught contributed to the defeat. They had no easy task but their response to a failure to get a hearing for long considered and balanced policies seem to be ‘if this policy isn’t gaining traction, let’s throw in another one’: a strategy that looked desperate and undermined the belief in competence that Labour had, with some success, been building.

JVL and its allies had some, but very limited, success in pushing back against the flood of allegations. Our rebuttal materials strengthened the resolve of many members and were used effectively in many individual encounters with voters. They were not adopted by any part of the Labour machine which responded to even the flimsiest of allegations against Corbyn supporting candidates by disowning the alleged perpetrator rather than confronting the accuser.

2.   The future

Given how much success our opponents have had with the use of antisemitism allegations we cannot expect them to cease to exploit such a valuable seam. They appear unconcerned that there was no sizable antisemitism problem in Labour in the first place, nor that their wild allegations against Labour have diverted attention from challenging antisemitism in other Parties and in the extra-parliamentary right – and has even encouraged it by appearing to normalise antisemitism. JVL will have to compensate for this cavalier lack of attention by playing its part in the fight against the far right and antisemitism wherever it manifests itself.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership election allegations of antisemitism will persist. If a candidate determined to continue the Corbyn project is elected their position will be under attack from day one. Indeed, during the election allegations that their dog-walker’s cousin once posted a poorly worded tweet will be used against them and if no compromising, but innocent, photo can be found there is always photoshop to remedy that. JVL must attempt to ensure that the new leader adopts a more robust attitude to malicious accusations – there must be no more Marc Wadsworths.

If a right-wing candidate is successful we can expect a purge of activists associated with Corbyn and in particular activists associated with JVL. JVL has been inconvenient to the right-wing because we have shown that there is no singular Jewish opinion and have made their task far more difficult than they would like. Our very existence calls the legitimacy of the JLM into question and makes Labour reverting to its stance of excusing Israel’s crimes more difficult.

Speaking out under right-wing leadership will be dangerous; not speaking out will be a disaster. We cannot pretend that public identification with JVL will not place any member’s Labour career, or even membership, at risk. We must prepare resources and build alliances now to make the cost of any such purge much higher: defence of independent thought and free speech will be crucial. We must strive for the correct identification of such a purge as antisemitism in practice. Requiring Jews to conform to majority opinion of how a Jew should comport themselves is an insidious form of racist stereotyping.

JVL has grown rapidly in size, standing and authority since its founding in 2017. It has established itself as a valued part of the Labour Left and has played a far more significant role than its founders anticipated. At a time when many were reluctant to speak out through fear of being falsely, but damagingly, labelled antisemitic and at risk of disciplinary sanction, JVL created and defended a space for honest anti-racist opinion. The larger JVL is, the stronger we will be and the more possible it will be to protect and expand that space. Recruitment will be a priority; public expressions of solidarity with JVL by individuals with positions to lose by making such an identification will be of great value. We have covert support from a few MPs but none who are yet prepared to be open about it. While the new PLP is still heavily right-wing the new intake has strengthened the left contingent; we must help them realise that their strengthened position allows them to be bolder and to stand with their comrades when they come under attack.

The issues of Palestine, Israel and antisemitism are important in themselves, and thus the particular role of JVL in the Party, but they also stand as proxies for how far the Party is willing to define itself as the leader of a movement for social justice at home and international justice globally whatever the opposition.

Postscript

This paper was written before the Board of Deputies issued their ten pledges to suppress free thought in the Labour Party. It is a matter of great regret that all the leadership candidates and all the deputy candidates with the honourable exceptions of Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler have rushed to sign. They may have signed from fear of the vitriol they would have been subject to if they had not signed; or because they see the pledges as a convenient way of driving socialists out of the Labour Party; or from a commitment to silence just criticism of Israel; or a mixture. Whatever the reason signing is collusion in an attack on Labour Party democracy. The pledges do nothing to advance the essential cause of tackling antisemitism.

The pledges do not acknowledge the heroic work of Jennie Formby and her team to clear the backlog of cases she inherited from her predecessor. The process is still far too slow but it is better than it was. Progress would be faster if the Party were not deluged with spurious cases which inhibit dealing with the minority that expose troubling behaviour.

We would welcome pledges that are based on natural justice and demand the Party moves from an investigation process which demands the accused prove their innocence of opaque and ambiguous charges to one which places the burden of proof, where it should lie, on the accuser.

The Board of Deputies has shown no love for the Labour Party at almost any time in its history. It displays infernal cheek in suggesting that the JLM has the standing to provide training given its record of offering hectoring instruction rather than an education process based on empathy and developing understanding of complex issues. The BoD seems to be ignorant of the Party’s engagement with the widely respected Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism to provide education in this area. It further shows its ignorance of how to advance understanding by talking about training and not about education.

The BoD seem to have a totalitarian view of the world where opinions at variance to theirs are to be silenced. ‘Fringe organisations and individuals’ are to be ostracised. So the many hundreds of Jewish members of JVL are not to be heard in their own Party while outsiders like the BoD are to determine our policy – I think not.

When members are suspended no guilt has been determined yet the BoD want to penalise any who associate with them – the very essence of a witch hunt. The act of claiming there has been a miscarriage of justice is itself to be an offence. It is as though the Oval 4 and the Birmingham 6 and many others had never existed; we must remember that those who queried their convictions were derided until they were proved right.

This is only a very partial list of the problems with the pledges. They were not issued in good faith and will not ‘End the Antisemitism Crisis’. The crisis will end when those who daily utter false or grossly misleading or exaggerated accusations cease their slurs and put their energy, not into pouncing on a poorly worded tweet, but into tackling those who would harm British Jews.

JVL must continue to assert its right to speak to the Party and to wider society on behalf of its members and supporters. Speaking out may be costly and risk subjecting us to abuse and worse but to be silenced would be to abandon the core Jewish value of Tikkum Olam – to heal the world. Seeking fairness and equality in Britain and justice and peace internationally are too important to be squashed by a squalid pledge card.

 

Comments (28)

  • Sheila Killingworth says:

    Thank you for this analysis. I’ve never understood the claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party, examples have been lacking, and I’m appalled that all the Labour leader contenders have agreed to the 10 demands.

  • David Hawkins says:

    I think JVL should consider this.
    Many of us will no longer wish to remain members of a political party that accepts the ten pledges. The Board of Deputies is the self proclaimed agent of a racist foreign government.
    Arkush, the Board of Deputies president, welcomed Netanyahu.
    “Our community is a strong community, only one-half of one percent of the British population, but we carry a degree of confidence in ourselves and in Israel,” Arkush said. “And every single one of us round this table is working totally for the good of the Jewish community and for the STATE of ISRAEL.”
    https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-in-london-meets-with-uk-jewish-leaders-to-mark-balfour-centenary/
    But at the moment the only way to be a non Labour Party member of JVL is to get expelled from Labour!
    I think JVL should introduce a new category of membership “non Labour Party supporters of JVL”.

  • Brigid Harbour says:

    What a great analysis of this crisis. I was thinking of leaving the party but this has made me hesitate. If I could see another party on the horizon that offered a socialist alternative I would be gone. so we must keep fighting.

  • Lisa Phillips says:

    I’m really grateful for this article. As a 64 year old Jewish woman who lived in Israel/Palestine for several years in the 70’s I have considered giving up my party membership in the light of all 6 contenders signing the BoD pledge. I feel extremely saddened by the prospect of the new leader either not having a strong enough moral conscience to refuse due to their own political career or equally to have succumbed to pressure in order to remain in the race because of allegiance to the members. It’s time that we stand strong against the abhorrent treatment of the ingenious Palestinian People’s oppression. Corbyn is a truly honorable man, he may not of got it all right but his judgement, honesty and integrity could have radically changed the party to shine as a beacon of light for the world.🔯☯️☮🌈

  • These comments, especially the reaction of the leadership contenders in accepting The BoD demands, are very much to the point. Whoever becomes leader will have shown a complete lack of understanding and respect for the (lack of) evidence for serious amounts of antisemitism or considerable cowardice in failing to respond to the outrageous BoD demands, or a mixture of both.
    It seems to pose a dilemma for JVL as pointed out in the final paragraph. If, in the name of unity, it does not publicly condemn this capitulation, it could, implicitly, be viewed as condoning it. To publicise its disagreement could also be attacked as ‘splitting’ the Party at a time when it does need some degree of unity.
    My own view is that JVL should strongly, and publicly, express its concern. It should openy challenge especially the ‘guilt by association’ demand by working with anyone unfairly expelled and it should strongly continue to campaign against the pernicious IHRA ‘definition’.
    The point is that ‘unity’ is meaningless unless it is achieved on the basis of a proper dialogue where disagreements are transparent and where they emerge, and are seen to emerge, from careful and rational debate.
    All of this is part of a more general position that the ‘left’ should be taking which is to try an dtell th etruth – even where it may be uncomfortable.

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    A welcome and just analysis, Mike.

    We must indeed fight genuine antisemitism and all other forms of racial or religious prejudice, even in our Party, but also challenge its dangerous weaponising to discredit and ultimately destroy the ‘pro Palestinian rights’ anti-racist Left, both here and in the USA.

    Antisemitism is most prevalent on the Right and Far Right, groups largely being ignored.

    And yet.

    After WW2 socio-psychological studies were initiated to prevent another rise of Nazism and Holocaust. Decades of research have led to the identification and characterisation of ‘Right Wing Authoritarianism’ (Altemeyer).

    It is troubling that Labour members, a group with probably the lowest prevalence of antisemitism and racism, are attacked daily, while the Tory Party moves towards an expanding extreme right, and this is rarely mentioned.

    In particular, no alarm bells are being sounded by the BoD, JLC, JLM et al when recent studies indicate the Right Wing Authoritarianism trait is now manifesting in British and US politics.

    These decades of research are being ignored and British Jews and other minorities exposed to the real risk of a repeat of history, the very thing these studies were set up to prevent.

    I hope Labour’s leadership candidates are made aware of this risk, and turn to face the real threats before us. Weakening the anti-fascist Left from within is a dangerous and ill considered political strategy.

    Paul Naggs posted the very appropriate words of Tony Benn;

    “If the Labour Party could be bullied or persuaded to denounce its Marxist, the media -having tasted Blood- would demand next that it expelled all its Socialist and reunited the remaining Labour Party with the SDP to form a harmless alternative to the Conservatives, which could then be allowed to take office now and then when the Conservatives fell out of favour with the public.

    Thus British Capitalism, it is argued, will be made safe forever, and socialism would be squeezed of the National agenda.

    But if such a strategy were to succeed… it would in fact profoundly endanger British society. For it would open up the danger of a swing to the far-right, as we have seen in Europe over the last 50 years.” -Tony Benn

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    Well said Mike, it’s good to read an an analysis I completely agree with.

  • Colin Bowman says:

    The stance taken and perspective offered by this piece specifically, and JVL generally; appears to me to be centrally important to our collective address of antisemitism. Without this voice I fear a darkness will threaten.

  • Nicola Grove says:

    Brilliant Mike and thank you for this brave challenge

  • Jem Coady says:

    Fair and balanced comment. We may be appalled that the leadership candidates have fallen for BoD’s chicanery, but withholding our votes, or even leaving the party, is exactly what BoDoBJ are after. They (and their backers) would be delighted think they’d seen off some of those pesky, Palestine supporting socialists.

  • You guy’s do such fantastic work! And I find the language that the CAA website use against you incredibly disturbing! They’re are calling you antisemitism deniers and other really bad stuff!
    I’d be really happy to work with you guys if ever possible! Keep up the good work!

  • Mostly agree, but on Brexit – any consistent and clear policy since 2017 would have been better for Labour,. votes were lost primarily because on this and much else, Corbyn didn’t look like a leader. Not of his party, and certainly not someone you’d trust to run the country. Honest, decent, collaborative etc are all great characteristics but not on their own for the PM of a country of 60m people who may have to face crises. Not that you’d want the opposite – a PM like Johnson who just blurts whatever is on his mind, like a mini-Trump EG today he really damaged any chance of Anne Sacoolas’ extradition and repeated Trump/US lies about Iran.

  • Edith Dyas says:

    What a welcome change, to read an article which is unbiased and truthful. I have been outraged by the anti- semitism attacks on JC and others in the Labour Party, particularly the treatment of Chris Williamson, who has been treated very unfairly by the Party. This latest demand by the BoD is outrageous, and the fact that virtually all the would be Leaders are prepared to accept it, except for two, is most disturbing.

  • John Dunn says:

    Thank you Mike Cushman and Jewish Voice for Labour for this article, it sheds light and understanding on a very important matter. Yours in solidarity, John Dunn.

  • Chris Khamis says:

    Brilliant article which I agree with completely (and I usually find something to niggle about).

  • Hi I really welcome what you are doing and have always felt an affiliation with you. This is definitely the way to go and I would like to join but the Link is not working.I will keep trying.Solidarity

  • Gill McCall says:

    Well said, Mike! JVL is a shaft of bright light in a very dark place.
    It is ridiculous that such an essay even needs to be written, but reason does not come into the arguments of this particular agenda.

  • Peter says:

    Perfect statement of the situation, thankyou.
    As others commenters have said, leaving the party, or not voting in the leadership election, is what they would like.
    Are there any ways for party members who feel this way to raise a public protest? I suspect there are a lot of us.
    Perhaps a campaign of spoiling ballot papers for the leadership election, with a comment about the 10 pledge issue, would be effective?
    But then we would get a right wing leader?

  • RH says:

    I can only echo the views of others expressed here, particularly Harvey Goldstein’s over-riding comment :

    “All of this is part of a more general position that the ‘left’ should be taking which is to try and tell the truth – even where it may be uncomfortable.”

    As we’ve seen, capitulation winds up in a dead end.

    I’d make only one particular amendment to Mike Cushman’s article. He comments on :

    “The failure of the Guardian to treat antisemitism charges with due scepticism …”

    I think that he is far too generous. The role of the propaganda press was *the* key element in all the elements of this election – the rubbishing of Corbyn, the antisemitism scam – and Brexit. I have absolutely no doubt that it was this drip of poison in the ear of the electorate that was the key factor in shaping the result.

    In this rubbish heap, the Guardian was happy to enthusiastically cover itself with the same muck as the Mail & Sun nexus etc. The paper was far from just insufficiently sceptical – it wholly indulged the lies from the Right and the Israel lobby. One of its main techniques was almost total exclusion of the clear contrary evidence from appearing anywhere other than occasionally in its Letters page. The major academically reputable studies that refuted the ‘antisemitism’ trope were simply excluded from consideration. This, remember, from a newspaper whose previous editor had quite explicitly (in Peter Oborne’s groundbreaking ‘Dispatches’ documentary of 2009) detailed being leaned on by the wealthy scions of the Israel Lobby. Of course, both that documentary and Al Jazeera’s later one were never mentioned by the Guardian (or for that matter, the BBC and the New Statesman).

    I don’t think that one can over-emphasize the willful descent to appalling journalistic standards that this represents.

  • Frank Land says:

    Signing up to the BoD ‘conditions’ is tantamount to admitting the Anti-Semitism charges.
    One question we have to answer: why was Corbyn rejected by so many Labour voters after his initial success in the 2017 election?

  • Heather Smith says:

    I am a non-Jewish Labour party member and i 100% agree with everything you have said. I am so upset with the leadership contenders for agreeing to sign the BoD demands. I’m really going to struggle to vote for any of them. I am sick to death of the media right-wing propaganda that is spewed out daily and the constant AS slurs the LP endures. But i’m also upset with MP’s for not standing up and calling out the MSM Tory bias and slander. Solidarity JVL, you have my respect and support.

  • Tony Johnson says:

    Agree 100% with Heather Smith’s comment. A very thoughtful and useful article. I was considering leaving the party but have taken on board Jem Coady’s comment that to do so would be what the BoD wants so I’m resolved to stay and join JVL as a non-Jewish supporter.

  • John lewis says:

    Keep up the good work. I am not a member but JVL is one voice I trust in this toxic debate.

  • Mike Scott says:

    I think we can all agree with this analysis, but the question is, what are we going to do about it? Below is my personal Emergency Motion, which will be put to my CLP – please feel free to use it yourself:

    EMERGENCY MOTION

    This CLP utterly condemns the ultimatum to the Labour Party and its leadership candidates by the Jewish Board of Deputies.

    To accept their “Ten Pledges” (attached) would be to put the Labour party under the permanent control of an undemocratic right-wing group and prevent any attempt to speak up for the Palestinian people against a hard-right Israeli government. It is an unprecedented and quite blatant attack on free speech.

    We note that:

    • The Jewish Board of Deputies represents only the minority of British Jews who attend certain synagogues and that some of those synagogues refuse to allow women to vote.
    • The Chief Rabbi has described Boris Johnson as “a longstanding friend of the Jewish community” and congratulated him warmly on his election as Conservative Party leader.
    • The former Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council is now Chief Executive of the Conservative Party
    • The Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, is in no sense a representative organisation, in that its members don’t have to be Labour Party members and don’t even have to be Jewish. Further, it is only open to people who are explicitly Zionist and therefore excludes many left wing Jews.
    • All of the above organisations have refused to meet with the Jewish Voice for Labour group to discuss their views on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in a calm and civilised way.
    • Independent research carried out by Jewish and other organisations has clearly shown that anti-Semitism is more common on the right of politics than the left.
    • All of these facts are well-documented and easy to confirm.

    We call on both the NEC and all leadership candidates to condemn the attacks on the Labour Party and its members unless and until independently–verified evidence of anti-Semitism is produced.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    Thankyou for this article. I am a non Jewish member of JVL, and was appalled at the 10 pledges. My first thought was to leave the LP. Now having calmed down and read this article and all the comments , I will hold in there. Also thanks to Mike Scott, for his Emergency Motion which I will use ! I hope that Dawn Buttler and Richard Burgon will make a vocal stand, they do have lots of support.

  • David Jones says:

    Thank you JVL for your commitment to – and thereby keeping alive – a very ancient Jewish principle, namely that Truth and Justice go hand in hand, or are two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Such a pity that the BoD and their fellow travellers don’t share the same.

  • Alison Vaspe says:

    Thank you so much for giving heart and stopping me, as I thought to resign from the LP. By the same token, not standing up against accusations that New Labour caused the financial crash of 2008 has weakened the LP. I can’t understand this silence. Do the leadership contenders really want the job? Still, I will vote for RLB.

  • Noa Lachman says:

    [updated in the light of a subsequent comemnt from the author of this comment – JVL ed]

    Fantastic article, really appreciate you putting your thoughts in a way we can all identify with.

    May I throw into the mix a few facts, I think this would be of interest to the group.
    This is based on a new report by the home office : Hate Crime,England and Wales, 2018/19 This release contains statistics about hate crime offences recorded by the police in Englandand Wales.It looks into Hate crime 103,000 in total 

    The majority of hate crimes were race hate crimes, accounting for around three quarters of offences (76%; 78,991 offences).  
    Religious hate crimes were just 8566 (same as disability hate crime!) of which just under half (47%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted againstMuslims (3,530 offences), A further 18% religious hate crime offences were targeted against Jewish people(1,326 offences most of which were non violent).  This is all!! in a country where the population is 60M 

    Also from David Graeber’s article:

    The easiest way to gauge the political nature of the resulting campaign is to compare the number of references in the British press to “Labour anti-Semitism” with those to either “Tory” or “Conservative anti-Semitism.” Despite the facts that Theresa May’s recent former chief of staff was accused of peddling an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in 2017 and that Boris Johnson himself had written a novel that describes “Jewish oligarchs” as controlling the global media, a search of the media-monitoring service Meltwater reveals the following:

    2015
    Labour anti-Semitism: 1
    Tory/Conservative anti-Semitism: 0
    2016
    Labour anti-Semitism: 2,520
    Tory/Conservative anti-Semitism: 0
    2017
    Labour anti-Semitism: 93
    Tory/Conservative anti-Semitism: 0
    2018
    Labour anti-Semitism: 6,790
    Tory/Conservative anti-Semitism: 0
    2019
    Labour anti-Semitism: 3,820
    Tory/Conservative anti-Semitism: 1 

    Thank you again
    Noa

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