Labour Party tries to intimidate The Electronic Intifada

JVL Introduction


On 25 June 2021  the Electronic Intifada published the story Labour bans Israel sanctions debate.

The motion whose discussion was banned in Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had been duly passed by a local branch.

It simply calling for Israel to “end its violation of the human rights of Palestinians” and for the UK government to “impose legal sanctions on Israel,” specifically an end to arms sales and “trade with illegal settlements”.

As the article related, the  Labour’s South East regional officer ruled it out of order, and chair of the CLP agreed with with this ruling.

The grounds given? Such a discussion “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members…”

Apart from infantilising Jewish members it accords an extraordinary power to party officials to decide arbitrarily what may and what may not be legitimately debated.

It is utterly undemocratic.

Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit now wants Ali Abunimah, editor of the Electronic Intifada, to amend his report…

This article was originally published by the Electronic Intifada on Fri 2 Jul 2021. Read the original here.

Labour Party tries to intimidate The Electronic Intifada

Britain’s Labour Party tried to pressure The Electronic Intifada to alter an article we published last week with an apparent legal threat.

The 25 June article article by Asa Winstanley reveals that two Labour officers banned a local party branch from debating a motion calling for sanctions on Israel.

It shows that Kim Bolton, chair of Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party, on the south coast of England, and Labour South East organizer Scott Horner, decided that discussing the motion “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space” for Jewish members.

Bolton also concluded that a debate on sanctions against Israel may lead to “anti-Semitic behavior.”

Winstanley emailed Labour’s press office and the South East regional office where Horner works the day before The Electronic Intifada published his article to ask for comment. Both emails were ignored.

Demands and threats

But on Monday, Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit emailed The Electronic Intifada’s general address with a message marked “URGENT – For the Attention of Asa Winstanley.”

The email claimed that it was “neither necessary, nor in the public interest” for The Electronic Intifada “to name and publish the photograph of Mr. Horner and the name of Ms. Bolton.”

Labour claimed that “as a result of your article” being passed around by activists “it has been necessary to limit Mr. Horner’s duties as an organizer owing to concerns for his safety.”

It did not explain what these “concerns” were or how his duties have supposedly been limited.

The party asserted that “the source material you rely on clearly constitutes the personal data of Mr. Horner and Ms. Bolton, being email exchanges that they would have a reasonable expectation would remain private.”

In fact, Winstanley’s article quotes extracts from the Hove and Portslade party branch minutes, two pages of which you can read below.

Nonetheless, the party alleged that the “continuing publication of the article in this form” breaches the UK’s Data Protection Act.

“We therefore require that you immediately amend your article to remove all personal data pertaining to Mr. Horner and Ms. Bolton, and confirm that you have done so by return,” the party stated.

The email implied that legal action could follow if The Electronic Intifada did not submit to the Labour Party’s demand.

The Electronic Intifada’s reply

I replied to the Labour Party on Thursday, explaining that as director of The Electronic Intifada I had no intention of making any changes to Winstanley’s article unless it was shown to contain factual inaccuracies.

Notably, the email from the Governance and Legal Unit did not assert that there were any inaccuracies. It did not contest or dispute a single fact.

Still, I gave the party an additional opportunity to submit any information showing the article to be inaccurate, but I received no response by my deadline of Friday afternoon in London.

Winstanley’s article therefore remains unaltered.

I also explained to Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit that The Electronic Intifada is published in the United States, where our right to free speech and to conduct our work as journalists is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The Labour Party has no basis to “require” The Electronic Intifada to edit our articles to its liking, especially not for accurate reportage on the acts and decisions of party agents relating to matters of clear public interest.

It cannot be the case that Labour Party officers can misuse their power to silence members concerned about Palestinian human rights and then hide behind a shield of anonymity.

Democracy requires transparency and accountability.

I told the Labour Party that I consider its email to be a politically motivated attempt at censorship through legal intimidation, albeit on entirely spurious grounds.

Indeed, if the Labour Party under its current leader Keir Starmer is ready to engage in such heavy-handed tactics against the press while it is out of power, it is troubling to think what it might do against critics and independent media should it ever regain control of the British state.

The real Labour anti-Semitism

Sadly, however, this is all in keeping with the Labour Party’s zeal to crack down on speech it doesn’t like using whatever pretext may be at hand.

Particularly troubling is the false equation of calls for Israel to be held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians with anti-Jewish bigotry.

That is at the heart of the story Winstanley reported, evidently to the great irritation of party bureaucrats.

It is a point emphasized by Tony Greenstein, a Jewish anti-Zionist and Palestine solidarity activist, who also reported about Bolton and Horner suppressing the Israel sanctions debate.

“Exceptionalizing Jews in this way as especially vulnerable if Israeli war crimes are debated … is clearly and obviously anti-Semitic,” Greenstein says. “It assumes that Jews form one monolithic bloc.”

Bolton and Horner are “anti-Semitic for assuming that Jews are uniquely incapable of debating the question of Israel rationally,” Greenstein asserts.

For Greenstein, the right wing of the Labour Party is using Jews as a “moral alibi” to silence any questioning of British policy.

“But of course it’s not about Jews at all,” Greenstein writes. “It’s about British foreign policy in the Middle East which is based on Israel’s role as a strategic watchdog and its industrial-military complex.”

Crying anti-Semitism where none exists is the British establishment’s hammer to smash anyone who objects to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and the UK’s role in them.

My message to the Labour Party managers, who are part of this establishment, is simple: We will keep doing our job of reporting on you. There is no chance that your attempts at intimidation will succeed.

Comments (14)

  • Jacob Ecclestone says:

    The fact that an unelected young bureaucrat like Scott Horner can decide what members of the Labour Party may or may not discuss is a measure of how little the present leadership cares about
    the democratic process but also – and perhaps more important – how it no longer has the slightest respect for Article 10 of the European Convention: the right to freedom of speech.

    Having been exposed by Tony Greenstein and the Electronic Intifada, the party machinery then has the brass neck (or was it sheer stupidity?) to make threats. Maybe they have been able to do that with the hacks from the Guardian and the BBC, but forgot that some journalists still have a backbone. Good for Asa Winstanley and the Electronic Intifada.

    I don’t know what Keir Starmer means by “coming home” – but if it involves the continued suppression of dissent and discussion within the party, then I would rather stay away.

  • John Noble says:

    Great work thank you.

  • When the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign started we were accused of being paranoid conspiracy theorists for suggesting that it was all about Israel. Perish the thought the JLM said.

    Now where has it ended up? Any mention of Israel is likely to send Jews (not the ‘wrong sort’ of course!) into palpitations and fevers. These Zionists you understand are very sensitive and fragile, unlike Palestinians who are, to quote Katie Hopkins apropos refugees ‘built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors”.

    It is quite a heady brew of racism and dishonesty, all in the guise of opposing anti-Semitism.

  • John Thatcher says:

    In doesn’t surprise me that the Labour party employ these sorts of tactics to suppress ideas and debate that doesn’t meet their requirements, but it is chilling. This LP is the enemy of truth and so the enemy of the people.

  • George Wilmers says:

    For a prescient cartoon “The Thinkers’ Club” anticipating Keir Starmer’s primitive brand of totalitarianism by 200 years see the link below. The original refers to the Carlsbad Decrees drastically restricting freedom of speech, implemented in the states of the German Confederation at the behest of Prince von Metternich in 1819. The translated caption reads:

    “Important question to be considered in today’s meeting: How long will we be allowed to think?”

  • Christine Ladyman says:

    Bravo, I love the response from both the Electronic Interfada, and Tony Greenstein. This feeble and ugly use of calling anti semitism has worn far too thin to ever be taken seriously again. I’d love to see some sort of legal restriction or consequence for this bigotry. We must be allowed to speak out about Israel as we so easily do about everywhere else!

  • Alison Vaspe says:

    Far more likely that suppressing free speech and colluding with ugly right-wing policies in Israel will create an atmosphere of conspiracy theories and antisemitism. I wish countries would stand up to the UK and call us out for the same sort of thing. Does that make me anti-anything apart from anti-right-wing authoritarianism?

  • Emma Tait says:

    I attended the antisemitic awareness event organised by the Labour Party and JLM and distinctly remember being told that criticism of the Israeli government is not antisemitic. The LP officials need to be sent to these awareness sessions.

  • Cormac Kelly says:

    Well done. The Electronic Intifada is right to face down Labour Party intimidation. It is a Stalinist organisation which seeks to ban any criticism of the state of Israel. This is the thin end of a very thick wedge. If they ban any discussion about Israel, why not forbid discussion on nationalising, planning the economy, taxing the rich or any other socialist measure.

  • Jenny Mahimbo says:

    “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members…”. I’m particularly also concerned that the party provides a safe and welcoming space for Palestinian members (amongst others). I’m not a believer of hierarchies of racism

  • harry law says:

    The Labour party stands for NO free speech when the General Secretary Say’s he can arbitrarily decide what can and cannot be discussed.
    The NEC and therefore the GS has no authority in the rules to dictate what is ‘competent business’ for a CLP to discuss. The only authority is in Chap 1, VIII, 3.E-“The NEC shall from time to time, issue guidance and instructions on the conduct of meetings…” CONDUCT not CONTENT Conduct is a noun meaning ‘the manner in which an activity is managed or directed.’ That is not the same as the content or subject the meeting deals with. The NEC can issue guidance on how a meeting can be run/organised but not dictate what motions are competent business. In some ways I don’t blame the Labour Leadership, if they can get away with this blatant nonsense, I blame LP members who, if they do nothing about it, have no backbone or self respect.

  • SH says:

    Britain under the evil Johnson, Tories, Starmer, Blair, Mandelson, MSM, BBC and gullible voters has become a very frightening place, huge eroder of freedom of speech, human and civil rights, undemocratic, a terrible police and survellience state.

  • steve mitchell says:

    There is a long and disgraceful tradition of banning free speech in the Labour Party. One of my most treasured possessions is Michael Foots’ biography Nye Bevan. Arguably, Bevan has left a legacy unmatched by any other peace time politician. As we celebrate the 73rd anniversary of Nyes’ creation . Johnson should get down on his knees and thank Bevan for saving our country and his bacon. No other health system could have organised a vaccination programme in such an efficient way. The NHS is never described as what it is – a perfect example of socialism in action . It works. During his career Nye was continuously vilified by the Right Wing of the Labour Party. He was threatened with suspension and expulsion by the bureaucracy. Some on the Right like Herbert Morrison were less than enthusiastic about Bevans plan for NHS. At the end of WW2 some leading figures came under suspicion that they might continue with Churchills coalition. The list of Right Wing MPs who ,having made a good living from the Party and then gone on to stab it in the back is endless. Just five years before his tragic death Bevan came very close to being expelled. If that can happen to the Labour Partys greatest son then who is safe? Starmer and his colleagues have driven a dagger through the soul of the only institution that could rescue this country

  • DJ says:

    What a pathetic attempt to justify shutting down. democratic debate in the Labour party. The party leadership is simply unprepared to entertain any idea of adopting policies in favour of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli settler colonialism.

Comments are now closed.