There is a serious personal impact to the witch hunt

Leah Levane, Co-chair of JVL, writes to express our concern at the intolerance, indeed toxicity of so much of what is going on in the Labour Party today.

As she says: “When issues are nuanced, or even new to many, when there is legitimate disagreement over definitions and where there are potentially unforeseen consequences, then surely a socialist Party, must allow space for respectful but open discussion; for learning, understanding, for people to be able to adjust their position and for us to work together to develop policies and practices that protect people and protect free speech.”

[post corrected 18 Feb]

JVL is saddened by the death of Pauline Hammerton, a committed Labour Party member, a socialist who was active in the Manchester area on local issues, especially health and poverty, on equality and on justice for Palestinians. Pauline was suspended and then on 4th February received the news that she had been expelled for antisemitism. She died 11 days later. There is speculation on social media that the two events were related but we know that her family and close friends are not making that connection unless and until there is evidence of that.

However, whether these events are linked or not, for the last week of her life, Pauline had to cope with the fact that she had been expelled from the movement in which she had played so great a part. We send our condolences to her family and friends, who we are sure will want to celebrate her contribution to the movement, even when it has been rejected by the Party in which she played such a big part. We are also angry that Pauline and too many others have been treated this way, usually with scant evidence as it is clear that the numbers guilty of actual antisemitism are extremely small; for example it appears that in some cases 90% have the accusations are rejected  for lack of meaningful evidence.

Somehow this reality, along with the fact that the number even of allegations are actually thankfully small (affecting less than 0.25% of the membership) does not percolate through – we contend that there is too much political capital to gain from keeping this going. Apart from the reality of the relatively small scale of the problem, there seems to have been little attention paid to the impact on those accused. But we know that over the past few years, with the often very lengthy suspensions, the expulsions and distressed resignations that we hear of, there has been a tremendous toll. It is no exaggeration to say that we have had reports and direct contact with people who have attempted suicide, been diagnosed with serious depression or have lost jobs and partners and have experienced long term serious physical health impacts caused by the stress of being an antiracist activist who is accused of antisemitism.

We are very concerned for these individuals; the Party seems to realise that there is a risk of such impact as they provide contact details for the Samaritans for anyone who is under investigation or who are further along the process. People find this rather startling and disturbing.

It cannot be right that a socialist party can behave like this and yet, as this issue has been allowed to dominate the discourse about the Labour Party, the way it has been handled has also set the tone for other difficult areas of disagreement, such as the Trans Pledge that leadership candidates have been asked to sign up to. The worrying aspect of such pledges is that they contain condemnation or outlawing of an alternative point of view. When I hear cries of “there is no room for antisemites in the Labour Party” or “Transphobes do not belong in the Labour Party” – how can I disagree? But what is actually meant by such demands?

When issues are nuanced, or even new to many, when there is legitimate disagreement over definitions and where there are potentially unforeseen consequences, then surely a socialist Party, must allow space for respectful but open discussion; for learning, understanding, for people to be able to adjust their position and for us to work together to develop policies and practices that protect people and protect free speech.

This “no platforming” of people who disagree is unacceptable and unproductive, it only silences the opposition and may well push people further into the arms of right wing populism. We are not talking about fascists here, but people seeking to understand and to put their own perspectives. If necessary, we can create rules for how we conduct respectful debates, but we must stop these “ultimatums”. It is dangerous for our cause and, as we have seen, dangerous for individuals some of whom have already experienced mental illness, deep stress and distress, isolation, heart conditions and even attempts to end their lives.

This has to stop.

Leah Levane, Co Chair, JVL

Comments (15)

  • Pauline Inwood says:

    This excellently describes my feelings and thoughts about these issues. Labour party members really shouldn’t be tearing each other apart in the way they now are. Thank you.

  • Gillian Connell says:

    Thank you for sane, reasoned, logical argument. I am horrified by the current lack of fundamental justice in the Party- what’s happened to the principle that someone is innocent until proved guilty ? – and now the politicisation of sensitive and nuanced issues such as gender. It’s time someone raised the issue of the victims of allegations which prove to have ‘no meaningful evidence’, and the effect on mental health of these suspensions. It has fostered a culture in which one has to weigh every word before speaking at a meeting, let alone writing a social media comment.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I know this is a bit of a long shot, but I would urge the officers of JVL to try to get a meeting with Rebecca Long-Bailey. Of all the leadership candidates, she is the only ones who could possibly be persuaded to change course. She is the one who’s most likely to have adopted her position due to a combination of ignorance and fear, rather than political calculation (and it shows in her failure to recognise Corbyn’s position). It’s OK to be wrong about something and change your mind and RLB does seem to have can open and engaging personality when speaking in public (although her willingness to resort to disciplinary action as a first step is worrying and not fitting for a former solicitor). She would have nothing to fear from the membership of the LP, who overwhelmingly oppose the JLM and its activities and would back her when she encounters a media onslaught. Indeed, changing course on the fake antisemitism campaign might be only way she can beat Starmer. I would be interested to hear the outcome of any efforts to meet her.

  • Margaret West says:

    Concerning Philip Wards post ..

    I agree – but how about extending it and asking ALL candidates to meet JVL?

    It would at least give the lie to the assertion that JVL is “fringe” and that JLM “represents” the Jewish Community.

  • RH says:

    “We are also angry that Pauline and too many others have been treated this way, usually with scant evidence ”

    ‘Scant’ evidence? That’s too kind. The term is frequently ‘No’ evidence.

    … and have no doubt, this Spiv government will be using the unhealthy atmosphere created by these bouts of hysterical (and often faked) intolerance to push their own restrictive agendas aimed at the notions of the rule of law and human rights..

  • Philip Ward says:

    In reply to Margaret West: I think that the approach should be in a spirit of friendly advice/support, rather than of the type “where do you stand on this issue?” which I think is what you would get if you approached all three candidates. I know this involves making a judgement about which candidate is least arrogant and set in their ways, but I think that this is a rather easy one to make.

  • Jan Brooker says:

    As I’ve posted similarly elsewhere: I’ve learnt to recognise stress in myself; I am suspended [5 months and counting]. In that time I’ve had more civility and courtesy from Car Parking firms and Bailiffs ~ chasing me for debts/fines ~ that I challenge ~ than I have had from the Labour Party’s apparatchiks. No answers to any direct question, no names to reply to [just anonymous accusations and discourteous/lack of responses]. 🤬 Sleepless nights, and that rising feeling of stress [tenseness in the chest], irritabilty, loss of appetite, the desire to drink too much, that I try to avoid in life ~ by only mixing with positive people; having already been in a heart unit at the age of 29. As a *people manager* for much of my working life I just wonder what sort of *people* policies the LP thinks it is following with its members, when they come off worse ~ compared to Bailiffs and Car Parking firms, well-known rule-breakers, crooks and vagabonds?🤔 I’m lucky that Liverpool are doing so well in the footie! I discovered that about half-a-dozen other regulars [all women] in my local are pro-Palestinian, as I met them at the Annual Dinner that Liverpool Friends of Palestine hold [about 200 people present], and 3 of them are in the Socialist Choir [so much for not talking politics in the pub].😎 That Elleanne Green has been suspended for 3 years is beyond disgraceful.🤬 She has disclosed publicly today on facebook, that last week she felt suicidal. This is the current Labour Party, and it’s effects on those left in limbo. It is hard to write these words without welling up.

  • Philip Ward says:

    Sorry about this, but just to add to my previous comments: firstly, I want to say that RLB has nothing to lose and everything to gain (in terms of the leadership election: I do not deny that in other respects it would be a brave decision to make) by changing her stance on the antisemitism slurs, as she is behind Keir Starmer and will never be supported in the MSM. Secondly, there is an interesting discussion of the candidates’ responses in the Channel 4 hustings to the issue on Novara Media, where the presenters agreed that her approach is well-meaning but ill-informed (go to 24 minutes):

  • Mary Davies says:

    It is a serious indictment on the Labour Party that this inquisition continues. We must turn it back on those responsible for condemning innocent people.

  • Una says:

    Yes we really need an end to the cowardly no platforming. Why not welcome debate???

  • Paul Leach says:

    I didn’t attend my local branch meeting tonight. I had felt troubled by the news about the NCC being potentially disbanded and general unease about the candidates blanket uncritical support for the 10 Demands. I had suggested we had a friendly discussion but our secretary more or less disavowed it as too divisive, saying one of our members felt all challenges to the predominant narrative on Antisemitism accusations were an attack on Jews. I feel this issue has become so toxic that if we cannot even discuss it as comrades at our meetings something has gone seriously wrong and has to change.

  • Sam Bentley says:

    Thank you for this article and recognising the injustice happening to Labour party members. There were 25 expulsions in one day last week, most by the NEC. It used to be the NCC who made these decisions but only after assessing all evidence and materials. 90% of the evidence passed on by the NEC is discarded as insubstantial. I was expelled for retweeting a crowdfunding tweet from Chris Williamson ex Labour MP. It was not for his campaign as an Independent. I was not given any opportunity to defend myself, I had no idea I was being investigated. It is all wrong

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    I am in touch with a member who was suspended pending an investigation in October. She was not told of which of the headings listed in Rule 2.1..8 she was being accused or who her accuser is (though we think we know). She was advised to maintain complete confidentiality while her accuser or someone else in the same tag-team goes on calling her an anti-semite on Facebook. Insisting on confidentiality amounts to advice not to seek advice. The only suggestion in the letter of suspension was to contact the Samaritans or Citizens Advice! No follow-up letter has been received and I know that apart from the denial to this person of all the rights of membership, this matter is weighing very heavily on her psychologically.
    A month ago her accusers also wrote to her employer and she was called for interview by the employer’s HR officer. Fortunately, probably thanks to the intervention of two Party members who wrote to the HR officer, this interview did not lead to any sanction being imposed.
    I agree with what Leah has written, but want to emphasize that it some cases we are dealing with people whose aim is not only to drive someone out of the Labour Party but utterly to ruin them.

  • Penny Eaton says:

    I could not agree more with Leah Levane’s letter.

  • Chris Khamis says:

    Beautifully written, Leah. And so reasonable and right.

Comments are now closed.