As awareness of, and hostility to, the racism and war crimes of the Israeli state continue to grow, the state and its Zionist apologists respond ever-more desperately. Since they have comprehensively lost the argument on facts, and on ethics, they can only respond by attempting to delegitimise the increasing number of active opponents, which includes many Jews. This has taken the form of both smears against individuals, and attempts to criminalise the entire Palestine solidarity movement.
The Labour Party has been a particular target of this attack. An unholy coalition of the Tory gutter press, the unremitting Blairite rump, and Israel’s allies and propagandists has united in an attempt to isolate and expel key individuals, and to intimidate others from speaking out. As well as trawling through social media to find comments which can be selectively quoted out of context as allegedly antisemitic remarks, these forces have promoted two constitutional and legal changes which could, if adopted, effectively block any effective action in support of Palestinian rights.
The first of these is based on the so-called International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism. Socialist Resistance has already published a detailed critique of this definition, and of the way it could be used to silence any criticism of Israel that goes beyond the bounds permitted by the Israeli state itself.
The second change is based on a tendentious reading of the Macpherson principles, adopted following the inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. However, where Macpherson recommended that any incident believed to be motivated by racism should be investigated as a racist incident, the new proposal is that such an incident should be treated as such. This year’s Labour Party conference will discuss a proposed constitutional amendment which would add to the conditions of membership the words “Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options”. This amendment would remove any objective criteria for determining whether an incident even occurred, let alone what the motivation was. The unsupported assertion of one individual could, if this amendment were adopted, lead to expulsion from the Labour Party. The potential chilling effect on free speech and debate is obvious.
It is no surprise that this amendment has been submitted by, among others, the misnamed “Jewish Labour Movement”. This group, an affiliated Labour society, is also affiliated to the Israeli Labour Party and to the World Zionist Organisation. Although it purports to be “a political movement of Jewish people within the UK Labour Party”, it effectively excludes non-Zionist Jews, since membership requires acceptance of JLM’s values, including a commitment “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life” – a position many cannot accept. The Al-Jazeera documentary The Lobby, broadcast on Channel 4 last January, shows how the JLM works hand-in-glove with the Israeli Embassy in London to target and smear opponents of Israel.
In a bid to counter the influence of the JLM, a new body, Jewish Voice for Labour, has recently been established. A founding meeting in London adopted a Statement of Principles upholding “the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” and opposing “attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews”.
JVL itself deliberately has not taken a position on BDS, Zionism or the future nature of any Palestinian state. There are other organisations which argue these positions more directly. Instead, the intention of JVL is to counter attempts to delegitimise such positions, and to challenge the pretensions of the JLM to speak and act as if it represents all Jews in the Labour Party. Membership of JVL is open to all members of the Labour Party who identify as Jews and who support the Statement of Principles. A supporters group is also being established, open to all Labour Party members who are in solidarity with the group and the Statement of Principles.
JVL is organising a public launch at a fringe meeting at Labour Party conference. This will take place at the Amsterdam Hotel Bar, 11-12 Marine Parade, Brighton BN2 1TL, on Monday 25 September, from 6.15 to 8.00 pm. This event is outside the security perimeter, and is thus not restricted to conference delegates.
Socialist Resistance welcomes the establishment of JVL, and will work to support the group and its aims. We encourage all LP members who identify as Jewish to join the group, and others to join the supporters group. This is an important initiative both in opposing the unprincipled witch-hunt of activists and in helping to open the space for promotion of a clear anti-imperialist and pro-Palestinian policy in the Labour Party.
by Ariel Pardess
More information about Jewish Voice for Labour at http://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk