Coordinating resistance: Jewish Voice for Labour’s 2020 AGM

A report of JVL’s Annual General Meeting which was held on 13th September.

It includes the text of Graham Bash’s introduction to our political work and a letter to the Jewish Chronicle taking it to task for its shabby reporting of the event.

7th October: Links to Bisi Williams’ and Mohammed Tamimi’s contributions are now included below.

llllllllUp to 250 people all crammed into the same tiny Zoom computer screen from 11.00am to 5.00pm to attend JVL’s 2020 Annual General Meeting. (although there was a break for lunch).

Zoom presented some technical challenges, in particular in managing registration and admittance of so many members to the meeting, but the benefits were evident in the ease with which participants could be involved from the widely spread Labour International CLP, our speakers from Palestine and Israel, as well as from all over the UK. It was axiomatic that our meeting should be as accessible as possible, with chat open at all times and every participant visible, by name if not by face.

The Annual Report circulated in advance to all members, told the story of a turbulent year. This is reflected perversely in the growth in the numbers of JVL Supporters – the category for people aligned with JVL but who are ineligible for membership because they are not in the Labour Party. Too many of these new Supporters have left the Labour Party in despair or outrage at the systematic abandonment of socialist policies and principles, and the closing down of the space for debate in particular on Israel/Palestine.

Most of the day was taken up with political discussion around three main themes:

  • JVL’s priorities post-Corbyn: Coordinating resistance.
  • Race and Class: Black Lives Matter, Labour and JVL
  • Palestine and Israel – current realities on the ground

During the AGM business session

The Annual Report and Financial Report were approved. All the officers and most of the Committee were willing to stand again and were re-elected unopposed.

In addition two new officer posts were created and filled, those of Labour Party Liaison Officer and a new officer post to develop JVL’s anti-racism work. This latter post was proposed in response to decisions at the January members’ meeting which called for JVL to develop its work as part of the broad movement confronting all forms of racism, including antisemitism. This has gained added urgency in the light of Black Lives Matter. The first priority will be to set up a working group and agree a strategy..

A brief legal report was necessitated by the unwelcome developments which have forced Labour Party members to become involved in legal action. This has happened either because they have no other avenue for challenging disciplinary rules which have had the effect of depriving them of the freedom to express certain political views, or because they have been forced to defend themselves against libel writs designed to gag and ruin them.

In the first such action JVL is supporting the group of eight Party members who have come together as Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J) . In addition our organisation is being sued, along with two named officers, by Panorama reporter John Ware.

The first political discussion, on JVL’s priorities post-Corbyn: Coordinating resistance, was introduced by Graham Bash. His speech is available here. The discussion focused on Graham’s analysis of the crisis confronting the left, in the UK and internationally. Social media has revealed the brutal murders of black people. All this in a context of the worsening climate and refugee crisis, the growing number of right-wing regimes across the world and the impact of the COVID pandemic.

He emphasised that it was crucial to link up “with all those who are part of the resistance –we cannot fight back in the Labour Party unless we bring into the party the struggles outside – it will not be easy to make those connections of the anti-racist struggles, the international struggles, the climate struggle and the class struggle; but it is essential.”

Discussion around Graham’s contribution threw up the valuable suggestion that JVL should create a trade union liaison role – an idea tobe considered in the near future.

The second political discussion was on Race and Class: Black Lives Matter, Labour and JVL.

There were three speakers: Glenroy Watson, Secretary of RMT London Regional Council Black Solidarity Committee; Bisi Williams, vice-chair Islington North CLP; and Talal Karim, former Chair Islington North Black Socialist Society and Anti Racist campaigner.

Edited video and transcriptions will be available on our website shortly.

Chairing the session, Glyn Secker provided a review of how the class history of Jews in Christian Europe formed the backdrop to the current divergence of mainstream Jewry from the wider anti-racist struggle. Glenroy outlined past and present struggles to combat racism within the trade unions and the importance of identity, language and terminology in current conversations about race. Talal spoke about his experience of early Labour Party Black sections and the unsatisfactory situation of “BAME” forums now, even following the democracy review. Bisi drew out the lessons of the current leadership’s failure to confront racism within the party’s own ranks, as revealed in the leaked internal report. This has only confirmed the lived experience of Black members in a structurally racist society over many years, now highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s BLM, not the LP, that is challenging systemic racism.

One member told us that as a Jewish person of colour, she was “absolutely not welcome” in her CLP. Her and others’ complaints of horrendous abuse by senior officers were ignored. “They want our subs and our silence,” she said.

Speakers stressed the importance of uniting on the basis of class solidarity across racial and other divides, while understanding different forms and different experiences of discrimination. We were urged to draw lessons from how Jewish organisations are supporting BLM in the USA.

 

The third political discussion was on Palestine and Israel – current realities on the ground, with our speakers linked directly from Palestine and Israel.

Mohammed Tamimi, a Palestinian activist whose identity had to be protected for the safety of his family, brought home to the meeting the absolute necessity of international solidarity actions. They give concrete help to Palestinians, many of whose communities are facing destruction due to Israel’s continuing policy of creating facts on the ground. This has been happening, and will continue irrespective of whether formal annexation actually takes place. He urged us to think about ‘the guy living in a tent next to an illegal settlement’ and what life was like for him and his family. It was often hard to listen to because of the level of despair and hopelessness.

Speakers from the floor described how the LP has become an unsafe place for Palestinians, where insistence on “no room for antisemitism” has written the Nakba out of the story of Israel’s foundation.

The second speaker was Israeli activist Rami Elhanan. In his view one state/two states was ‘not an issue’. Discourse should be framed about equal rights rather than the occupation. He talked about reaching out and convincing people and building bridges – ideas that were echoed in contributions from the floor about the need to talk to Jews outside our bubble, to connect with younger Jews and Jews of colour.

In discussion several participants expressed despair at the paucity of political education in general in the party and they were particularly alarmed at growing evidence that JVL was being deliberately excluded from running education sessions, or even sending speakers, when invited by members.

We were pleased to receive this observation from a solidarity member after the AGM: “Today is the Labour Party at its best: practical political solidarity and a humane exploration of our history as a movement born in the heart of empire and then framed by the monochrome world of Cold War and then “the war on terror”. We are ahead of our leadership in understanding and like-mindedness. We need to sustain each other in that vital role. Thank you for helping promote that today.”

 


Click on the above to hear Mohammed Tamimi’s contribution

PS:

Making our meeting should be as accessible as possible was unfortunately exploited by someone who sent a copy of the chat to Lee Harpin of the Jewish Chronicle who then slapped an EXCLUSIVE tag on the news – a matter of pride to us – that both Maxine Peake and Jackie Walker were among those present. He managed to write his entire article based solely on the chat, without reference to the actual proceedings. A first for journalism as we pointed out in our letter to the JC that, needless to say, they did not publish or respond to. You can read our letter here.

 


JVL’s priorities post-Corbyn: Connecting the Resistance

Introduced by Graham Bash

When I spoke to last year’s AGM – some 15 months ago – we were on the defensive. We were facing an escalating witch-hunt in the Labour Party – a witch-hunt based primarily, but not exclusively, on allegations of antisemitism. These were often false, exaggerated and distorted, conflating AS with anti-Zionism and used in a factional war to try to undermine Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader and destroy the left. And in the week of our last AGM the EHRC investigation into Labour’s so-called antisemitism problem was launched. Already – even then – we had our backs against the wall.

Well a year’s a long time. The world has turned upside down. And it has in many ways become for us more difficult, whatever the seeds of resistance that we are part of.

Labour’s defeat on December 12th was a massive setback, followed by the left candidate for leader being routed by Starmer, with Labour right winger Evans appointed as General Secretary and then defeat in the NEC by- elections – a defeat that was self- inflicted with the failure of sections of the left to support Jo Bird, now repeated with her exclusion from the CLGA slate in the next round of elections. And we are left with a Labour opposition that is deeply inadequate.

And in the last year, the unprecedented in our lifetime Covid pandemic which has transformed our world. Social media has enabled brutal murders of black people to enter our living rooms. All this in a context of the worsening climate and refugee crisis and the growing number of right wing regimes across the world.

And in Palestine, the continuing occupation, the daily assaults, curfews, arbitrary arrests, detentions, house demolitions, travel restrictions, checkpoints, irrigation systems destroyed, exclusion and discrimination – and of course moves towards annexation in the so-called deal of the century. I saw much of this in my life-changing visit to Palestine last November with ICAHD.

So there are plenty of reasons to be politically depressed. But there are also powerful narratives of resistance and seeds of hope.

Remember the establishment itself is in crisis. We have a government in chaos. There will be no quick recovery either from Covid or for the economy. There is a seismic economic crisis looming, and the potential for a massive counter-movement of resistance. We have seen the phenomenal success of Black Lives Matter. If ever there was a time for a Labour leadership to embody that resistance and to connect the different layers of struggle, this is it.

We are an essential part of a fight back because we have the courage to tell the truth – about the Labour Party, about Palestine, and so much else. And because of that we have a precious reputation for integrity. Imagine how our world would be – in the Labour Party and beyond – if there were no JVL. We have made – and do make – a difference by confronting injustice in the Labour Party, in Britain, in Palestine, and the world. I have been in many left and Labour organisations in my 52 years in active politics. JVL is the best and most effective organisation I have ever been in. Do not underestimate ourselves. For so many, we are a beacon of hope and resistance.

So what are our tasks?

  1. To keep fighting in the Labour Party. The Labour Party is in so many ways politically rotten, corrupt, bureaucratised, undemocratic, in league with, and often part of, the establishment. To fight at times seem hopeless – and in the short-run, perhaps it is, with the party’s democratic structures being so progressively undermined. But whatever resistance we are part of building – it will need to be given a political expression. After all, the party still has over half a million members, the vast majority supporters of Corbyn’s policies. And the trade unions who built the party will not simply walk away from it. The party can’t simply be wished away.
  2. It is crucial that we build alliances – within the party and beyond – linking up with all those who are part of the resistance – with trade unions, BLM, climate change activists, pro-Palestinian groups in this country and throughout the world. For this reason we are concentrating this afternoon on connecting both with the anti-racist and the pro-Palestinian movements. They must be central to our work. We cannot fight back in the Labour Party unless we bring into the party the struggles outside – the anti-racist struggles, the international struggles, the climate struggle, the class struggle. Make the connections. It won’t be easy – but we must do it.
  3. We must swim against the stream. For many of us that’s nothing new. We’re used to that. We must say what others do not and perhaps cannot say – the truth about AS in the LP, the Israel lobby, the racist nature of the state of Israel. We will not be silenced by the establishment, including that section of it within the Labour Party.

We must do this of course in our usual measured way – no need to be confrontational, aggressive or sectarian. And be careful with our formulations. As the Second World War slogan put it, loose talk costs lives. A good example – the Zionists conflate AS with anti-Zionism. We must never do the same, however many times Netanyahu proclaims Israel as the state for Jews throughout the world.

  1. Finally, tell the truth. Fight the restrictions on our vocabulary. Yes, we can and, on occasions, must use the word ‘Zionist’. This attempted restriction of our language is a form of cultural appropriation that we must resist. And challenge those who try to make crucial historical issues off limits – however controversial, whether it is the origins of Israel or anything else.  We must be free to examine our history – Jewish history or any other – on the basis that no peoples, including the Jewish people,  have a monopoly of truth or right. Many peoples have in time been both oppressed and oppressors. Victims can sometimes become perpetrators of oppression. That is the dialectic of history, that is the inter-connectedness of all peoples. That is the internationalist response against all forms of exceptionalism, including Jewish exceptionalism.

As I said at our last conference fringe, one of our key tasks is supporting the just struggle of the Palestinian people and trying to put right a grave historical wrong – but we have to do more than that.

We are all part of an interconnected global class struggle against the power of capital, against an establishment, an elite, an axis of evil, bringing the world hurtling to destruction.

We have to survive, continue our work, speak truth to power. We have to connect, educate and organise. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.


Letter to the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle

The Editor,
Jewish Chronicle

16th September 2020

Dear Editor

We note with interest your online “article” about the Jewish Voice for Labour Annual General Meeting and Conference held last weekend.

This Zoom meeting was not open to the public, and the 250 people present were all JVL members. Your reporter Lee Harpin is not one of our members and was not there. None of the quotes in his article are of anything said at the meeting – they are, instead, extracts from the ‘chat’ in which people make impromptu comments on the ongoing proceedings. The organisation setting up a Zoom meeting does not control the chat – but it was in fact throughout both engaged and courteous.

Writing an article based only on the chat is like staging Hamlet without the Prince.

Since the JC thinks our AGM is of interest to its readership, we thought we could help by providing a brief outline of what actually took place.

Organisationally, we are even more committed than ever to taking significant steps forward in our work on tackling racism (which includes antisemitism), and building solidarity with our Black Jewish members and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Trade Union, Labour and Justice activists within our movement and more widely.  We also had two significant political discussions. In one of these sessions, three excellent Black and Asian Trade Union and Labour Party speakers addressed the prevalence of racism of all kinds, and the Labour Party’s record in tackling it. The second discussion, on the situation in Israel and Palestine, was led by activists from Israel and Palestine.

Our AGM had over 4.5 hours of talks and discussion, as well as videos shown during the lunch break. That the JC could present as a ‘report’ of our meeting an article that is devoid of any mention, any single word, about the actual proceedings must establish a new record in journalism, (and not one to be proud of). We think your readers deserve better than that so that they can draw their own conclusions. We would be delighted to make a report, both more interesting and more nutritious, available to your readers.

Yours sincerely

Leah Levane
Co Chair, Jewish Voice for Labour

 

Comments (6)

  • Eveline van der Steen says:

    I don’t suppose for a minute the JC will publish this letter….

  • Jenny Mahimbo says:

    Just as serious is the act of the “insider leak” to the Jewish Chronicle – an absolute low in my view. Labour International CLP was a victim of the same shenanigans when an informal All Members zoom meeting , which included a left NEC member as a guest, was filmed and was leaked to the Telegraph, Sky News and Twitter. We are still battling with how we can prevent it happening again.

  • Rosie says:

    Complain to Press Council

  • DJ says:

    A tough year. A key battle to be confronted is the relentless campaign of the establishment here and abroad to shut down debate on Israel – Palestine. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is their key weapon. We need a vigorous campaign against its adoption by public organisations and universities. Organisations which have succumbed to pressure to adopt it need to be challenged and offered a better alternative definition to embrace.

  • Ivan says:

    Spot on!
    Like the Hamlet reference.

  • DR MELVYN HENRY says:

    Reasonable. I agree with the sentiments

Comments are now closed.