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Defend Jackie Walker! Defend Free Speech on Israel!

1st November 2016

Defend Jackie Walker! Defend Free Speech on Israel!

By Pete Firmin

FOR A SECOND TIME, JACKIE WALKER has been suspended from membership by the Labour Party, having been cleared of any offence the first time. Although the Party, as is its usual practice, has not notified her of the reason for her suspension, it is generally believed to arise from remarks she made (or is claimed to have made) at a training session at Labour Party Conference.

I was at that training session. Like several others involved in ‘Free Speech on Israel’, I was concerned that the Party was holding a training session on antisemitism, and even more that the session was to be led by a member of the Jewish Labour Movement.

The Chakrabarti Report came out against breaking anti-racist training down into separate “racisms”, and there was no suggestion that such training be given by the JLM, whose views are known to be contentious among many Jewish members of the Party. The only place such training has been suggested (other than by the JLM itself) is in the report by Baroness Royall into allegations of antisemitism in Oxford University Labour Club. She found none, but still proposed that there be training given by the JLM on antisemitism. That proposal has never been endorsed.

Jackie is being pilloried mainly for two things she said. She questioned why Holocaust Memorial Day could not include all holocausts - Jackie is well known for raising the fact that the death of millions of Africans in the slave trade goes unmarked. And - after several other anti-Zionist Jews had made the same point - she said that she had not heard a definition of antisemitism which she could work with ‘here’. She was not denying that a definition existed, but like others before her, was asking the trainer for his definition of antisemitism. Whether you agree with Jackie or not on these points is irrelevant. No one has yet shown them to be antisemitic.

At this point the real agenda of the Jewish Labour Movement became clear. Mike Katz, the JLM vice-chair giving the ‘training’, referred to the EUMC (European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) definition. In fact, the report he was referring to, which attempts to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, was not drawn up by the EUMC and never adopted by it. It was largely drafted by the American Jewish Committee in opposition to the EUMC’s own definition of antisemitism. The EUMC merely put it on its website as a draft for consultation with a view to revising it. Its director said it “should be viewed as ‘work in progress’ … with a view to redrafting”.

This never happened and the EUMC’s successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency, later dropped it as not useful. A version of this discredited EUMC definition has now been adopted by Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee in its report on antisemitism which the Committee wants written into law and into the constitution of political parties. Much could be written about problems with the Party’s training sessions, not just this one, but this stands out for its crassness, and for the fact that the JLM secretly recorded the whole session and then released the recording to the media. Not only does this contravene the law on data protection, but the Party has yet to make any public denunciation of the recording of what was its meeting.

Allied to this, the JLM is attempting to get the Party to adopt a rule change which effectively says that someone accused of antisemitism is automatically guilty, and claiming the findings of the McPherson report into the police investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence as their justification - although that report said all allegations should be fully investigated, not that they were necessarily proven. They hope to guilt-trip the Party into accepting their proposals with their claim that to do otherwise is to refuse to listen to the Jewish community, despite the fact that many Jews disagree with them.
. Subsequently, the JLM went on the attack. Never satisfied with Jackie’s previous acquittal by the Party and denouncing Chakrabarti for not having found that the Labour Party has a significant problem with antisemitism, they want scalps to advance their efforts at closing down debate on Israel/Palestine and undermining Corbyn. Tweets criticising Jackie from a Guardian journalist appeared almost immediately, briefed by “a senior member of Momentum”. These tweets have since disappeared. That day the Guardian online, followed immediately by the paper version, quoted a “spokesman from Momentum” announcing that a Steering Committee would be held the following Monday where Jackie Walker would be suspended! In an extraordinary move Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA, threatened to withdraw support and office facilities from Momentum if Jackie was not suspended as vice-chair of Momentum.

The Labour Party moved to suspend Jackie following the statements of the ‘leaked’ Momentum source and the intervention of Cortes. Despite the anonymous Momentum spokesman and the comments by Cortes, Momentum announced that Jackie was removed as vice-chair because of a “lack of confidence” and not because of any allegations of antisemitism. The Momentum Steering Committee has neither condemned Manuel’s blackmail, started an investigation into the leak nor launched a campaign against Jackie’s suspension by the Labour Party, despite claiming to oppose it.

This is part of a worrying trend in Momentum, reinforced by proposals in circulation on how a conference in February 2017 should be conducted only discussed by two members of the Steering Committee before being sent out, and with little time for Momentum groups to discuss before they need to be finalised. Some fear transparency and accountability could be as difficult to achieve in Momentum as in the Labour Party.

Apart from anything else, the Momentum decision on Jackie is shortsighted, apparently failing to realise that the JLM and their allies will be emboldened by their decision and on the search for others to attack. The only way to stop this advance is by a rigorous defence of Jackie Walker and rejection of the claim that criticism of Israel (including its right to exist as a Jewish state) is intrinsically antisemitic. Briefing readers should campaign for Jackie’s reinstatement by the Party and a calling to account of the Momentum Steering Committee, as many Momentum groups are already doing.

This article appeared in the November issue of Labour Briefing, the magazine of the LRC.

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