What is the Labour Party playing at?

Tony Greenstein speaks at a rally against the party’s latest move to ban left-wing groups, in London on 20 July. Image: Labour Against the Witch-Hunt

JVL Introduction

Ali Abunimah reports on one of the stranger legal actions to be launched by the Labour party; it is against Jewish activist Tony Greenstein.

In June Greenstein blogged about how two Labour officials, Kim Bolton and Scott Horner, had banned members of the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party from debating a motion calling for sanctions on Israel following its bloody assault on Gaza in May. Greenstein’s style is robust, and he has expressed himself forcefully on this occasion.

We reported on the events on 3 July, including how the Labour Party had unsuccessfully leant on the Electronic Intifada to amend its report of the events.

Having failed to silence EI, the Party is now suing Greenstein for defamation (see report and letter below).

Following hard on the heels of the Party proscribing four left groupings we can only see this as a further step in the effort to eliminate any and all previously associated with the Corbyn movement’s socialist project and to frighten into silence anybody who might wish to call attention to the increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian Starmer and Evans regime.

At a time when the Party is in a perilous financial state it is odd that it is risking many tens of thousands of pounds of members’ monies (your subs and ours!) to pursue a vendetta against an individual declared bankrupt only a fortnight ago and thus unable to meet any order for costs that might arise in the unlikely event of the Party winning this vindictive action.

This article was originally published by the Electronic Intifada on Wed 28 Jul 2021. Read the original here.

Labour Party threatens to sue activist over criticism of Israel debate ban

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is threatening to sue a Jewish activist for criticizing a party official who blocked local activists from debating sanctions on Israel.

It marks another escalation in leader Keir Starmer’s war on the left, particularly supporters of Palestinian rights.

It also comes after similar legal threats from the party against The Electronic Intifada.

Earlier this month, activist Tony Greenstein received a letter from London law firm Edwards Duthie Shamash accusing him of defamation over a 26 June blog post.

That post is about how two Labour officials, Kim Bolton and Scott Horner, banned members of the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party from debating a motion calling for sanctions on Israel following its bloody attack on Gaza in May.

As The Electronic Intifada reported, Horner, Labour’s South East regional officer, had advised Bolton, chair of the local party, that debating the motion “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members.”

Bolton accepted Horner’s advice and ruled the motion on sanctions out of order.

Greenstein, who is Jewish, wrote that the decision to ban the debate was itself an anti-Jewish action.

“Exceptionalizing Jews in this way as especially vulnerable if Israeli war-crimes are debated (has this ever been applied to resolutions on other oppressive states?) is clearly and obviously anti-Semitic,” according to Greenstein. “It assumes that Jews form one monolithic bloc. That Jews all think the same way when it comes to Israel.”

Greenstein also called Horner a racist.

“Aggressive” body language

The lawyers, who say they represent Horner and the Labour Party, gave Greenstein 14 days to withdraw his comments, apologize and pay legal expenses, or face the prospect of “proceedings against you without further notice” under Britain’s Defamation Act.

They also demand Greenstein promise “not to publish any future statements, articles or social media posts relating to our client.”

The lawyers claim that Greenstein’s accusations caused Horner “emotional distress due to their seriousness in nature and in a climate of increased anti-Semitic hostilities.”

In a bizarre sign of the extreme lengths Labour officials are prepared to go to muzzle any criticism of Israel, the lawyers assert that Horner’s “true concern was that Jewish members should not be made to feel unwelcome by particular language used not in the written motion but liable to be uttered verbally during the discussion of the motion, and aggressive behavior and body language liable to be used by members during that discussion.”

The Labour Party has thus moved beyond retaliating against members for what they say and do, to preemptively curtailing their democratic rights for what they might say or body movements they could make during a debate about the human rights crimes of a British-backed foreign government.

The lawyer’s letter, which is marked “Not for Publication,” is published in full below.

“Chutzpah”

Greenstein, an anti-Zionist and a fierce advocate for Palestinian rights, has no intention of backing down.

“I must confess that I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I received your letter threatening legal action because I accused Scott Horner … of being an anti-Semite and a racist,” Greentein wrote in a response to the lawyers that he shared with The Electronic Intifada.

“For the past six years the Labour Party has accused numerous members who dared to suggest that Israel was an apartheid state or referred to Zionism as a form of racism,” Greenstein added.

“Yet the moment one of their servants is accused of anti-Semitism they send a solicitor’s letter threatening legal action.”

“Chutzpah, “Greenstein added, using the Yiddish word for unvarnished gall.

“As you might have guessed I have no intention of either apologizing to Scott Horner nor paying him any money,” Greenstein told the lawyers. “I do not compensate racists for calling them out.”

Greenstein has also responded to Labour’s threats of legal action in a blog post.

In June, Labour Party lawyers sent an apparent legal threat to The Electronic Intifada, demanding the publication alter an article by Asa Winstanley about the censorship of the debate on the motion to sanction Israel.

Labour Party lawyers absurdly accused Winstanley of violating the privacy rights of Kim Bolton and Scott Horner by accurately reporting on their official actions as party agents.

The Electronic Intifada dismissed the apparent threat as a spurious and politically motivated effort at censorship through legal intimidation.

Tony Greenstein has himself been a target of the ongoing Labour Party witch hunt.

He was expelled from Labour in 2018 over allegedly abusive language towards pro-Israel figures in the party – accusations he rejected.

Greenstein says the real reason for his expulsion was his criticism of the Israel lobby within the Labour Party.

Escalating purge

Last week, days after Labour’s lawyers threatened Greenstein, the party formally banned four left-wing groups.

One of them is Labour Against the Witch-Hunt, a group founded in 2017 with Greenstein as vice-chair, to support party members unfairly suspended or expelled amid bogus allegations of anti-Semitism.

This presages an escalation in Starmer’s purge of the party, as anyone found to be a member of the banned groups faces automatic expulsion.

Prominent supporters of Labour Against the Witch-Hunt include award-winning director Ken Loach and British Jewish comedian Alexei Sayle.

The group’s honorary president is Moshé Machover, the Israeli founder of Matzpen, a left-wing anti-Zionist movement. Machover has been living in exile in Britain for decades.

They would all now presumably be liable for expulsion, or ineligible for Labour membership.

Machover has already been suspended twice, most recently in November. He characterizes the party’s allegations against him as “full of lies” and “full of shit.”

Hundreds of Labour members rallied outside party headquarters in London last week to protest the ban on the left-wing groups, Labour Against the Witch-Hunt reported.

Norman Thomas, one of the protest organizers, called the bans “an obvious attempt by the leadership to hasten the purge of the left in the party.”

“Starmer is prepared to rip the heart out of the party. He’s trying to push us back to the days of Tony Blair,” Thomas added. “We will not let him do that. We will keep on fighting for a democratic, socialist party.”

Thomas, who was chair of the South Thanet local Labour Party, was himself suspended in December after he allowed members to debate and pass a motion expressing support for the party’s left-wing former leader and long-time campaigner for Palestinian rights Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer – who says he supports Israel’s racist state ideology Zionism “without qualification” – won the Labour leadership with a campaign funded by a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist.

Since taking office last year, Starmer has aggressively set about tilting the Labour Party back to its traditional anti-Palestinian policies.


You can download the lawyers’ letter to_Tony_Greenstein here.


 

Comments (19)

  • James Dickins says:

    Given that “The [Labour] party’s poor financial state is a result of drastic membership decline and the settling of antisemitism cases” (https://labourlist.org/2021/07/labour-is-being-reduced-to-a-husk-this-cant-be-allowed-to-carry-on/), it seems both bizarre and counterproductive that the Party should choose to fight yet another antisemitism case.

    Keir Starmer doesn’t give much of a sense of being good with money (or anything else, for that matter). It would be ‘interesting’ to see what he would do if put in charge of the country’s finances.

  • Dave says:

    Come on – Labour isn’t suing Tony. It’s just a letter trying to unsettle him and predictably it hasn’t and he has replied saying so and in great detail – well worth a read as it’s a better read than his blog: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ICMpG5-yJz8nJae2aHty3Re8F5EIJxUo/view

    I doubt Labour will waste any more of our cash on hopeless legal actions. As Tony says, calling someone an antisemite (and by extension a racist) is not defamatory but opinion, as he well knows, having lost an action himself against the CAA* and even if he lost I think he is already bankrupt!

    * “You also state, in paragraph 13, that my allegations of anti-Semitism against your client ‘are matters of fact rather than opinion…’ I disagree. In February 2019 Nicklin J in Tony Greenstein v Campaign Against Anti-Semitism [Neutral Citation Number: [2019] EWHC 281 (QB)] ruled that allegations of anti-Semitism were matters of opinion under s.3 rather than fact under s.2 of the Defamation Act 2013.”

  • DJ says:

    A good article. Under the leadership of Keir Starmer the Labour Party is becoming increasingly undemocratic. We need more debates on Israeli settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid, not less. The act of cancelling such debates is anti Palestinian and a form of institutional racism.

  • Robert says:

    Its clear to me Starmer has been promised all the necessary funding he requires by business interests, genuinely frightened by Tory incompetence and the prospect of serious social unrest, provided he eliminates all vestiges of socialism from the Party; the Corbyn episode was far too close for comfort.

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Surely the reason is obvious: Starmer has so little agency over the wider polity that he is only able to make himself feel effective by (ab)using what little power he has to continue purging members on the left of the Labour party. It’s not helping him!

  • Myra Sands says:

    The question is:- will Mr. Chin step in to save Starmers’ bacon?

  • Harry Law says:

    This beggars belief, the party have taken leave of their senses.
    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/organized 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.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    `Norman Thomas, one of the protest organizers, called the bans “an obvious attempt by the leadership to hasten the purge of the left in the party.”’

    I suppose it might be worth asking – who do they need to try and hasten the pace of trends that are already well under way? Is this conference-related?

  • John Thatcher says:

    You might be forgiven for thinking the LP leadership and those it employs, have taken leave of their senses, but given some of the decisions we have seen in British courts over the last year or so, they are perhaps on more solid legal ground than you might at first think. Assange, Murray, and of course the 8 members who were the victims of perverse decisions in the courts must give Starmer and his gang some real hopes of success, and of course Starmer knows only too well the corrupt nature of British Law in its various manifestations.

  • Allan Howard says:

    It’s ironic that Tony lost his libel case against the so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism for calling him a notorious anti-semite, on the grounds that if that is their honest opinion, then they are entitled to say so – ie refer to him as such in publications.

    I wonder if the ‘honest opinion’ caveat will apply in this instance!

    It’ just outright vindictiveness.

  • ‘Greenstein’s style is robust, and he has expressed himself forcefully on this occasion.’

    I have to confess I am somewhat surprised by the above statement. I’m usually accused of being afraid to give offence!

    Yes it is quite remarkable that the Labour Party has spent the best part of £1,000 in sending this letter. Surely they didn’t expect me to back down? I don’t know who gave the go ahead for this letter but I find it difficult to believe they would go ahead with such a risky action, bearing in mind that Justice Nicklin ruled in my action against the Campaign Against Antisemitism that calling someone an anti-Semite is a matter of opinion.

    Of course judges are quite adept at tailoring their judgments to the prevailing political winds and distinguishing precedents they don’t like but, as you say, you can’t get money out of a stone or in this case a bankrupt!

    As Bob Dylan observed, when you’ve got nothing to lose you’ve got nothing to lose!

    I await their libel action with bated breath.

  • Barrie Lambert says:

    I think your website is one of the most valuable publications covering Labour affairs.

    After reading this article, I sent the following complaint to the Party on a website (which seems incapable sending complaints on the humble membership form). Please contact me if Tony chooses to crowdfund his response/defence.

    “Why is the Labour Party wasting my money on this embarrassing bullshit when it had the laser guided stupidity not to defend an equally strange action brought by the Party’s unfaithful servants in the 2017 election?

    https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/app/uploads/2021/07/lawyers_letter_to_tony_greenstein.pdf

    We lost the Labour Heartlands because we were perceived as a political party which could no longer be trusted because of decades of disloyalty culminating in the campaign against the Party’s Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the PLP’s obvious inability, including that of the current Leader, to accept the outcome of the first democratic national vote in my lifetime (and before) to command an absolute majority.

    I am deeply concerned that the Party is now seen to express a greater loyalty to Israel than to England, the nation in which the next general election will be fought and lost following the boundary changes which will be in place before this, or the next, Tory Leader will go to the country.

    I live in an area intimately connected with the military and the defence industry and I am in regular communication with family and friends in every nation and most counties in the United Kingdom and the lack of loyalty both to the last Leader and the UK are the issues which lie at the root of their concerns. The present Leader is merely and invisible absence unless he, or any other Labour represenntative, raises the issue of antisemitism when he becomes merely a visible irrelevance.

    I would very much appreciate some insight into the current Leadership’s thinking on these matters and, if necessary, I can cope with a reply using words of more than one syllable. In fact, I would prefer a reply using words of more than one syllable.”

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    It comes as no surprise.
    The Labour Party is now a racist, pro-Zionist, Islamophobic Party, which has no shame and whose political agenda is crystal clear.

  • William Johnston says:

    I have to say that I can only offer qualified support for Tony Greenstein.

    Bolton’s and Horner’s actions and justifications for those actions in ruling the motion out of order were absurd. However, extending that absurdity to labelling both of them RACISTS in banner headlines is equally absurd.

    Attack the action, not the person. There are arguments for saying that Bolton’s and Horner’s actions are racist and/or anti-Semitic. However, when Greenstein says that they are both racist, then that means that every thought, action and word on their part is motivated by racism. Whatever I may think of their actions, Bolton and Horner remain human beings. Labelling them as racists means dehumanising them as effectively as any racist act dehumanises the object of its intent.

    I see Greenstein’s labelling of Bolton and Horner as asinine. Note, I do not label him, an ass. Again, I challenge the act, not the person who committed the act.

  • Tony Troiani says:

    I don’t have enough words to describe the likes of Kier Starmer and the Labour right. In short this is very sad, dangerous and dictitorial. Every intelligent effort most come to force to stop this nonsence.

  • Can I just correct William Johnston’s comments? By calling them both racists and antisemites I did NOT say ‘every thought, action and word on their part is motivated by racism’. Clearly that is untrue.

    Even racists do things that are not in themselves racist. Racists run charities and do good deeds, they might teach mathematics without being racist etc. etc. What I am saying is that in forbidding the discussion of a motion supporting BDS then yes, they were indeed motivated by racism and antisemitism and I stand by my words.

  • Dave says:

    I tend to agree with William Johnston – bandying about the labels of racist and antisemite by both sides just further renders the terms meaningless.

    Yes, you can make the point that being pro-Zionist is inherently racist, but the motivation for much of this support is western imperialism and oppression, which is also apparent in many other political situations. I would also add a large dose of ignorance and indoctrination.

    It’s the same as the recent backlash against Neil Coyle for wanting to proscribe JVL. Can we really say he is motivated by real antisemitism? I know most of you think he is being antisemitic but it doesn’t get us anywhere in the real political battle between left and right. As Tony G says, it’s never been about antisemitism.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    The temptation, when we see the abusive weaponization of the charge of antisemitism on the part of the opponents of socialism and Palestinian freedom, is to turn these people’s tactics against them, and name them racists for treating Jews as a monolithic Zionist block. While there is some justice in the charge, it doesn’t advance the argument that antisemitism is being falsely weaponized by those who want to destroy the left and ensure that Corbyn, socialism and Palestinian rights are rendered toxic in the eyes of the public.

    Yesterday I came across a recorded conversation from March 2019 between Peter Beinart of the Forward and Deborah Lipstadt, recently appointed as Biden’s antisemitism envoy (you can find it at https://forward.com/opinion/421286/listen-columnist-peter-beinart-and-historian-deborah-lipstadt-discuss-anti/). When asked to furnish examples of a new wave of antisemitism, Lipstadt turns instantly and predictably to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left that support him. Rather than giving evidence of this alleged antisemitism, Lipstadt thinks it sufficient to refer to the matter as to ‘a truth universally acknowledged’ (to borrow Jane Austen’s ironic phrase). The fact that this smear should have acquired this status on both sides of the Atlantic is a measure of the challenge we face to restore the reputation of Corbyn and the left from what I consider to be a vile and unscrupulous falsehood. Calling those who promote the smear ‘racists’ obscures the real point; they are liars who want to rewrite history for the benefit of entrenched power, and must be held to account on that basis. The stakes are enormous; over a reasonably long lifetime I have never seen a situation comparable to that of today in which the power of the state has been marshaled to suppress dissent and the truths that dissenters are persecuted for speaking. The media’s apparent lack of interest in the cases of Murray and Assange and the war-crimes of Israel constitute only three of the most egregious examples.

  • Dave Hansell says:

    This letter and action alone provides clear evidence of a gerrymandering of due process for political ends.

    Members, including members from within the Jewish Community, who disagree with the monopoly imposed narrative can be smeared at will by the Party and it’s employee agents, along with tame fifth column so called ‘journalists, and either sanctioned by a not fit for purpose internal procedure which would make Kafka and Machiavelli blush or simply booted out on a whim. As is the case of those members subject to the decision of the NEC last week with no due process rights and in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and potentially GDPR.

    https://davehansell.substack.com/p/joining-the-dots

    Those subject to this selective use of due process receive no support from the Party. Neither moral nor financial. Those who do challenge this blatant gerrymandering of process and attacks on their character are left struggling to fight this via crowd funding. Whilst those who obey the orders and deliberately attack other members in various ways and sabotage elections receive financial support from our subs.

    The decent majority of us see those who misuse their positions within the LP for sectarian political ends, whether elected or employed.

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