Reject the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges

Palestine Solidarity Campaign demonstration. Photo: Steve Eason.

JVL Introduction

In this article reposted from rs21, Sai Englert explores what he describes as “ the five year-long assault, by both the right of the party and the mainstream press, on anti-imperialism in general and Palestine solidarity in particular, often through a cynical weaponisation of claims of antisemitism in the party”.

This is the context to understand the 10 demands of the Board of Deputies of British Jews which has by its deeds exonerated the vile politics of racism and hated encouraged by Boris Johnson. It prefers the open racism of the Tory party – because that Party isn’t calling Israel to account or supporting the Palestinian struggle.

Shameful. And shameful, too, that all candidates in the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections, apart from Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, have rolled over in the face of the Board’s demands.

This article was originally published by rs21 on Tue 21 Jan 2020. Read the original here.

Reject the Ten Pledges

Every candidate for the Labour leadership has endorsed the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges. Sai Englert argues that what is at stake here, rather than any desire to tackle the growth of antisemitism in the UK, is the continuation of a politically motivated weaponisation of antisemitism to attack the left and the Palestine solidarity movement.

The electoral defeat of 12 December 2019 was as crushing as it was significant. Not only did Labour lose to the most vitriolically right-wing Tory leadership that we have seen in a while, but it did so while proposing highly popular and progressive economic reforms. What is more, its defeat was colossal: in terms of seats (rather than votes collected) the largest since the 1930s.

There are many reasons for this defeat, which have been covered extensively by commentators, pundits and activists alike, from the onslaught of the mainstream press and their vilification of Corbyn as a dangerous communist and/or racist, to the failure of the Labour Party to offer a credible left-wing way forward on Brexit.

These issues are hugely important, and the appropriate lessons should be learned from them. One question that has been barely covered in the post-mortem discussions however has been the five year-long assault, by both the right of the party and the mainstream press, on anti-imperialism in general and Palestine solidarity in particular, often through a cynical weaponisation of claims of antisemitism in the party.

The near total silence on this issue – including from the left – beggars belief, given the massive role it played in undermining the left-wing project inside the Labour Party, demobilising key social movements on which Corbyn’s credibility was built, and in painting the most principled anti-racist leader of any political party in the UK as a vile bigot, exonerating by extension the politics of division and hatred championed by Boris Johnson.

The silence is made all the worse by the fact that all the signs point to the fact that things are not set to get better on this front. Indeed, the Board of Deputies (BoD) has issued a ten-point pledge, which it demands all candidates for the Labour leadership sign up to. The pledge is based on perpetuating the idea that the Labour Party suffers from a structural problem with antisemitism – equated in truth with Palestine solidarity activism.

It demands that the Labour Party accepts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in full, outsource its disciplinary procedures on questions of antisemitism to an external body, and that the party recognise the ‘main representative groups’ of the Jewish community – presumably the BoD and its allies – as its counterparts in solving this issue. Taken together the pledges are an all-out assault on anti-Zionist politics in the Labour Party, given the IHRA’s and the BoD’s repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and structural critiques of Israel with antisemitism, as well as the explicit demand for the sidelining of what the Board considers to be fringe Jewish groups – read, those Jewish organisations that are anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian, or critical of Israeli policies.

It bears repeating over and over again that the idea that there is a specific problem of antisemitism in the Party has been widely debunked, including by such mainstream bodies as the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. All research shows that antisemitism is considerably more prevalent on the right, that antisemitism in Labour has in fact decreased under Corbyn’s leadership, and that the number of cases of antisemitism in the party represent an insignificantly small percentage of its massive membership. It is not for nothing that the IHRA definition moves away from recognising the structural nature of racism and instead privileges the tackling of individual, and therefore anecdotal, expressions of what it considers to be antisemitic. Were it to follow the structural approach that has dominated anti-racist work since the late 1990s, it would leave its proponents unable to operate with such devastating efficiency.

Furthermore, given the recent victory of Johnson on an openly racist ticket, one would be excused to think that the focus of the leadership of any minority in the UK should be turned to fighting it. The same is definitely true for any Jewish organisation today. Given the large incidences of antisemitism in the Tory Party, the recent unveiling of a statue by Tory MPs to the honour of an open Nazi supporting antisemite, the praise lavished on the Orbán government by a Tory adviser, as well as the support it has received from the Tories in power, or the close links between the Johnson leadership and antisemites like Steve Bannon, it is clear where the threat to Jewish communities in the UK are actually coming from. In fact, all yearly reports by the Community Security Trust come to the same conclusion: the large majority of antisemitic incidences in the UK come from the right. Yet, we should not hold our breath to see the BoD launch its campaign targeted at the Johnson government. Instead it supported his campaign and celebrated his election.

What is at stake here, rather than any desire to tackle the growth of antisemitism in the UK, is the continuation of a politically motivated weaponisation of antisemitism to attack the left and the Palestine solidarity movement. This is not for nothing. It is from the campaigns against British wars in the Middle East and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation that the left in the UK has rebuilt itself from the early 2000s onwards. It is also within those movements that key political figures on the left – not least of which is Jeremy Corbyn himself – have built their base and popular support.

In addition, the demands of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement put not only continued Israeli settler colonialism at the centre of their demands, but also the governments and companies that continue to profit from it. This includes important sections of the British establishment, starting with its military and financial industries. The growth of BDS is therefore a threat to both Israeli and Western ruling classes, who have moved aggressively to illegalise and repress the growing solidarity movement. The assault against the Corbyn-led Labour Party has been a central aspect of these efforts.

It is therefore hugely worrying to see that all candidates in the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections bar-two, Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, have uncritically signed up to the BoD’s demands. This includes the left’s candidate for leader Rebecca Long-Bailey, who has doubled down in interviews on her support for the ten pledges and criticised the previous leadership on its failure to tackle antisemitism in the party effectively.

Worse, Long-Bailey has openly linked antisemitism to the Palestinian solidarity movement, thereby actively joining in with the right-wing assaults against the Palestinian liberation struggle. She wrote, for example, in the Jewish news that

We need an education programme that challenges the conspiracy theories and explains the tropes. Labour Party members who do feel strongly about Palestinian rights must also understand why Jewish people in Britain today, for whom the Holocaust is a recent memory, see the existence of a Jewish state as a source of hope and security. They must learn to recognise the racism that permeates even a party that sees itself as anti-racist.

Palestinians and their supporters are made to bear the blame for antisemitism despite the overwhelming evidence that the attacks on the Jewish community are, as they have always been, the outcome of home-grown far-right activism. In addition, support for Israel – a colonial state in the Middle East – is justified through the memory of the Holocaust – a European genocide. Instead of the attacks on Jewish communities being placed within the framework of the growing violence directed against Black, Muslim, or migrant communities, as one would expect coming from a left-wing candidate, these are placed in opposition to one another.

This astonishing failure on behalf of the left’s best chance at avoiding a full-frontal counter-movement in the party, speaks also to a broader weakness of the Corbyn leadership. It attempted to side-step the key political issues it was faced with, through bureaucratic fudges and compromise, in the hope that its economic program would serve as an effective unifying force in its race to power. This approach is characteristic of left-wing social democrats throughout history and only rarely succeeds.

In fact, the recent election demonstrates exactly that. While the Johnson campaign was all politics – Brexit, immigration, racism, nationalism – the Corbyn campaign avoided a clear line on most of these issues and allowed the Tories to set the agenda on all of them. The same is true for the antisemitism claims. Labour candidates and activists were told by party officials not only to avoid fighting back against them, but to respond to public attacks with apologies. The fightback, so the line went, would come after the election. Just as with Brexit, Labour ended up allowing itself to be painted as indecisive, unclear, and unable to respond on the issue of antisemitism while allowing the Tories’ brazen antisemitism to go undiscussed.

There is no doubt that if the right manages to take back control of the party – presumably through the leadership of Keir Starmer – the first all-out assault on the left within the party will be directed against Palestine activists under the cover of fighting antisemitism as defined by the IHRA definition. If this happens, the left candidates and their allies in the party who have remained quiet will have a lot to answer for.

That said, while much can and should be said about the weakness of the Labour top-brass in fighting back, this weakness is – as it often is – also a reflection of the lack of effective pressure from the rank and file. Indeed, despite excellent work by Palestine solidarity activists, led by Palestinian socialists themselves, inside the Labour Party to pass policy targeting, for example, British arm sales to Israel, much of the left has been unable and unwilling to challenge the attacks effectively. Supposedly left-wing pundits fell over themselves to denounce the Labour Party leadership’s supposed inaction of antisemitism, while many high-profile party and trade union activists decided it was politically unwise to be tarnished by the antisemitism scandal.

Social movements outside the party similarly got drawn into the minutiae of each claim, failing to grasp the key question at hand: the attacks aimed at weakening, disorganising, and demoralising efforts to fight Israeli apartheid and its British allies. In that it has, unfortunately, been largely effective.

If we want to be able to build enough pressure on whichever new leader of the Labour Party on these questions, we will need to rebuild in our colleges, universities, workplaces and communities a grassroots movement that makes demands on local government, administrators and bosses to break all economic, diplomatic, and institutional links with Israel and all those who profit from its dispossession of the Palestinian people. Only by rebuilding from below, can we hope to hold those at the top accountable – whether in our movement or beyond.

Comments (9)

  • Philip Horowitz says:

    It seems that the author would favour a Labour party which would “fight Israeli apartheid and its British allies” while also working to “break all economic, diplomatic, and institutional links with Israel and all those who profit from its dispossession of the Palestinian people” and I am sure many can be found to agree with this. I do agree that raising the issue of antisemitism here is, at the least, confusing. But surely any Jew who regarded him or herself as any kind of Zionist would be rightly concerned if not frightened by a Labour party which unequivocally took such a stance. I viewed the party under Corbyn in such a way and I was indeed deeply worried that it might win the Election – even though, with the benefit of hindsight, I now see that this was unlikely to happen.

  • Greg Douglad says:

    This creates a problem of whom to support for Labour leader. I can’t support Long Bailey now. Emily Thornbury is a No go and Keir Starker doesn’t sound right. But it now seems a choice between him and Nandy. I would like to have a vote for Burgon as leader. Dark days ahead for the Left!

  • Gerry Glyde says:

    I am very disappointed that not one of the leadership candidates were prepared to stand up and oppose No 5 demand that hits at the heart of justice and due process of an accused person being allowed the right to call their witnesses, without those witnesses being put at risk, purely on the basis that they wished to provide support and thus potentially ending their own party membership.

    That type of justice would be typical in a right wing dictatorship. That is what the BoD want to impose on my party. A Guardian columnist today was arguing that the party must be pragmatic and prepared to compromise. He implied that Burgon would not be prepared to meet Jewish people who support settlements, but in effect that is the BoD and JLM do, despite their rhetoric. The journalist should have posed the question , why will the BoD not meet with other Jewish groups who support an independent Palestinian state and the Party. It is they who have stalled progress on this issue by refusing to discuss but continuing to issue demands

  • Richard Hayward says:

    A sobering summary of one of the worst periods in the history of the Labour Party.

    “The near total silence on this issue – including from the left – beggars belief”

    Indeed. But ‘this issue’ isn’t just the antisemitism scam. It is the utter corruption/sequestration of the media, of which everything else was a part. And yet the Labour Party in all its manifestations is engaged in mickey-mouse soul-searching that ignores the mastodon sitting on the sofa in the living room.

    I can’t be alone in feeling massively ashamed of my country, but also despairing of my Party where all candidates for the leadership have ruled themselves unfit for the role on the grounds of cowardice in the face of the enemy.

    Jeremy Corbyn has, at least, refused to mouth platitudes about the Trump/Netanyahu neo-colonial stitch-up dressed as a negotiation. But that is small comfort in the face of potential successors bending the knee to the racism and deception of the Board of Deputies.

    What say Long-Bailey and Starmer on the issue? Have I missed something?

  • Saul Binstok says:

    I am a hated and vilified person according to many of JVL supporters.
    Why is that I ask myself though the answer is pretty self evident.
    I am a religious Jew who believes in a two state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
    I am never given the right to express my views without being vilified and shouted down.
    I am called terrible names and treated as an unthinking bigot without values.

  • john higginson says:

    Given the Deal of the Century announcements I hopelessly hope that the U.N. passes a resolution: Enough is Enough ….. We Have Gone Along With This For Far Too Long …… We’re Through With The Apologies …. They could call it the Williamson Resolution.

  • Paul France says:

    How could we get the JVL to replace JLM in the LP?

  • Simon Dewsbury says:

    Labour List have a link to a document ‘Labour Party Disciplinary Processes on Antisemitism – Statistics’ giving figures to the end of 2019.

    The report suggests a big increase in numbers, but that is dealt with in the Labour List report. It shows only one expulsion for anti semitism in 2017. Was that because there was no specific offence of ‘anti semitism’ before that?

    In 2019, 149 members were removed from the party as a result of disciplinary processes relating to antisemitism, either being expelled or quitting the party as proceedings progressed. This includes 49 members actually expelled – so twice as many resigned/lapsed (75/18) as were expelled – and one in 5 was members lapsing rather than resigning – after all, who would want to continue to pay subs to an organisation which had suspended you?

    We do not know how many of those were genuine instances of antisemitism or cases where forceful anti zionism was equated with anti zionism and the resignation was in disgust with the process. No examples are given of criteria so we just don’t know, but I have seen anecdotal stories of the latter on social media.

    Speaking of which the report has some interesting statements near the end,

    “The vast majority of complaints pertain to social media activity, often going back several years. A third of all cases in 2019 have the same single individual as the main complainant.” That individual is not identified.
    This is thus almost exclusively social media led and at least partly historic. In other words there has been a large media trawling going on (not big news, simply confirmed here).

    “ All complaints relating to protected characteristics are logged, regardless of merit. Some do not meet the threshold of a rule breach and no further action is taken”:
    For some reason, these are not part of the main table.
    It looks as if in 2019 there were about 1100 complaints, about a quarter (255) were found to be groundless, about a third (296) were suspended, another third (283) were given notices of investigation, about 20% (184) were given reminders (“Reminders of Values are issued where complaints do not meet the threshold of a rule breach, but the party deems it appropriate to remind the member(s) involved of our values “).
    So about 50% of complaints did not constitute a rule breach. About 300 – 400 complaints were from a single person. It looks to be over a complaint a day from that person. There is no information about how many additional complaints by that person turned out to be about people who were not actually Labour Party members.

    In the 274 cases actually heard in 2019 only about 10% (26) were clear enough to justify immediate expulsion, though about half (230) were referred to the NEC.Again, no criteria. About 20% (50) had formal warnings and a slightly higher number (68) were given Reminders, or had no further action taken, i.e. they had not broken any rules> So about 40% were ‘acquitted’.

    The Tables appear to be inconsistent (or I am misunderstanding them). Table ! states 49 expulsions in 2019 (nearly all in the final quarter), Table 3 says 26 expulsions.

    The Party does not appear to find it important enough to publish any information on the incidence of general racism or sexism complaints/investigations/suspensions among members.

  • Doug says:

    I have asked the Labour party to comment on the individual responsible for over a third of complaints, which reflects the industrial level of trawling going back years, the vast majority of which were dismissed
    I have asked them how they treat members who make vexatious claims of anti semitism against other members

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