Antizionism does not equal antisemitism – defend Moshé Machover

Photo : Hossam el-Hamalawy

Update: Following the huge display of support for Moshé Machover, with dozens of motions passed in CLPs and branches and an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn signed by more than 1300 Labour Party members, his expulsion has been overturned.

In a remarkably grudging letter, the party’s Head of Disputes, Sam Matthews, confirms that the “automatic exclusion” has been rescinded, but then goes on to state that “any reasonable person” would have reached the conclusion that he was a supporter of the CPGB, and to caution him about his future behaviour.

In response, Machover has demanded that the original allegations of antisemitism be withdrawn, and that he receives an apology. All Labour Party members, and members of affiliated unions, should support this demand, and should continue to call for the introduction of a fair and transparent disciplinary process, as recommended by the Chakrabarti report, and for a review of all of the currently outstanding cases (some of which have been pending for eighteen months so far).

 

Labour Party conference saw a considerable political triumph for supporters of Palestinian rights; but this was accompanied by stagnation, and even some losses, in terms of the party’s structures and operations, argues Ariel Pardess.

The highly successful launch of the new, non-Zionist Jewish Voice for Labour, with over 300 people at the fringe meeting and pledges of support from Unite and ASLEF, was a particular high point. In addition, the more explicitly anti-Zionist Free Speech on Israel held a packed fringe meeting, and JVL members Leah Levane and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi received standing ovations for their impassioned speeches on the floor of conference. Grassroots pressure led to the reinstatement of crucial pro-Palestinian statements from the manifesto which had been omitted from the National Policy Forum report. And the most prolonged applause in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech came when he called for “real support” to end the occupation and the settlements.

At the same time, the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement had some success in altering the wording of a change to party rules on disciplinary procedures and the definition of antisemitism, and managed to muddy the water to the extent that may people appear to believe that the JLM’s preferred wording was adopted. The JLM also made a number of vicious and defamatory attacks on JVL and FSoI, and on people associated with these groups.

Conference was also treated to the unedifying spectacle of an award in honour of anti-racist and Palestine solidarity activist Del Singh being given to the JLM. Del Singh’s family have denounced this travesty as “beyond crude and offensive”, demanding an apology and revocation of the award.

Meanwhile, the JLM-inspired witch-hunt continues relentlessly.  Less than a week after conference, Professor Moshé Machover was summarily expelled from the Labour Party, following “allegations” about “an apparently antisemitic article” which “may cause offence to Jewish people”. But with this attack, the witch-hunters may have met their match.

Moshé Machover is a veteran Israeli dissident. In 1961, he was expelled from the Israeli Communist Party for challenging the party’s analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and pioneering an anti-colonialist analysis. In 1962, with other expellees, he established the Socialist Organisation in Israel (Matzpen), the first political organisation in Israel to bring together Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel in an explicitly anti-Zionist framework. He moved to London in 1968, after he was forced out of his lectureship at Jerusalem University when he signed a public statement calling for immediate and unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied as a result of the 1967 war. He has been in Britain ever since, and is now Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London. During the past fifty years, his writings have inspired and educated generations of activists in Palestine, in Israel and around the world. Of particular importance were his essays The Class Character of Israeli Society (with Aki Orr, 1969) and Arab revolution and national problems in the Arab east (with Jabra Nicola, 1973).

On 3 November, Machover received a letter signed by the Labour Party’s “Head of Disputes”, informing him that he had been “involved in a breach of Labour Party rules” in relation to an “apparently antisemitic article” published by Labour Party Marxists. According to Matthews, “the content of these articles appears to meet the International Holocaust Alliance definition of antisemitism”; however, these charges would not be investigated, since he was being expelled for “support for a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party”.  The allegations would be kept on file, and investigated if he ever reapplied to rejoin the party.

The allegations of antisemitism relate to Machover’s article “Anti-Zionism does not equal anti-Semitism”, based on a talk he gave in May 2016 at a dayschool organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain and subsequently reprinted (with his permission) in the conference bulletin produced by Labour Party Marxists. In the article, Machover discusses the development of Nazi policy towards the Jews, noting that in the mid-1940s several Nazi officials made statements in support of Zionism. In this context, he quotes the words of Reinhard Heydrich, a central instigator of the Holocaust, in an SS journal in 1935: “The government finds itself in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry itself, so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry throughout the world and the rejection of all assimilationist ideas”. This was then deliberately misreported as “sharing Nazi propaganda”, and a complaint was made to the Labour Party.

In his letter, Matthews stated that the Labour Party had adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This is not strictly accurate. At conference, the party adopted a rule change which, for the first time, explicitly mentions antisemitism as prohibited behaviour. The rule change does not refer to the contentious IHRA definition. The Race and Faith manifesto for the general election noted that the party had adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception  of Jews, which may be expressed  as hatred toward Jews”, but made no reference to the examples suggested by the IHRA, most of which refer to opposition to Israel rather than to racism against Jews. Machover’s article certainly does not breach the new rule, nor the manifesto commitment, even if it does not comply with the IHRA’s attempt to conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism.

Machover strenuously denies all of the allegations against him. In a letter to the “Legal Queries Unit”, he states: “I have never joined the CPGB as a member, as I do not wish to subject myself to their organisational discipline, and have several political differences with them… the purported evidence you have presented is nugatory; and cannot possibly support the arbitrary step you have taken against me… presenting such material as “evidence” for my alleged guilt is evidence for something quite different: an extremely dangerous and reprehensible attempt to restrict my freedom of speech, as well as that of other members who hold legitimate critical views on Israel and Zionism… I demand a proper apology for that smear you have unnecessarily included in your letter of 3 October, and an immediate rescinding of my expulsion”.

The expulsion of Moshé Machover has been condemned by many. The Jewish Socialists’ Group issued a statement expressing full support for him, and calling for “his expulsion to be rescinded and for his immediate reinstatement as a member of the Labour Party”. The JSG noted that the article cited was “a critique of the political ideology of Zionism, not of Jews. Indeed the article exposes antisemitic ideas.” Jewish Voice for Labour pointed out that “this ill-founded accusation of antisemitism is not, however, the reason given for his summary expulsion. One must therefore seriously question why it was, quite improperly in our view, included in a formal letter of this type”.

Dozens of Labour Party branches and CLPs have passed motions calling for the expulsion to be rescinded, and for the implementation of the recommendation in the Chakrabarti report for “clear and transparent procedures for dealing with allegations of racism and antisemitism” – in most cases, with little or no dissent.  And an open letter by Labour Party members in solidarity with Machover has been signed by more than 1200 people.

This arbitrary attack cannot be allowed to succeed. Labour Party members, and members of affiliated unions, should be ensuring that this is discussed at every level in the party. Moshé Machover is not an antisemite, nor an enemy of the Labour Party. Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. And the Labour Party belongs to us, its members, and not to an unelected and undemocratic inquisition bureau.

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