The strategy to undermine Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party includes, charging his supporters with anti-semitism and then suspending them, says Richard Kuper of Jewish Voice for Labour.
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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. A curious thing has been happening to progressive members of the Labour Party in Britain ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected head of the party. The party has been purging members who express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. They are branded an anti-Semite and then kicked out of the party.
In a meeting held by a group of Labour against the witch hunt are three expelled Jewish members of the party. Members of Momentum, a progressive movement within the party, came together to discuss how anti-Semitism was used to kick them out because they were progressive members of the Labour Party. Let’s listen.
LABOUR PARTY MEMBER:I was suspended, was it, 22 months ago, March 2016. I was suspended, they said, “For comments I was alleged to have made.” It was nothing more. That was it. I couldn’t get anything out of them, they didn’t return my correspondence at all.
Two weeks later, April the 2nd, I learned something about why I was suspended because it appeared via the Daily Telegraph and The Times. That was how I put together that it was the anti-Semitism witch hunt. I had dared to say that Israel’s marriage laws bore comparison with Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Laws, Jews could not marry non-Jews in Israel. If you’re Jewish you can’t marry a non-Jew.
SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about this with me is Richard Kuper. He’s a member of the Steering Group for Jewish Voice for Labour. He is a founding member of Jews for Justice for Palestine. I thank you so much for joining us today, Richard.
RICHARD KUPER: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: Richard, several members of the Labour Party, who are Jews, have been accused of anti-Semitism and then expelled from the party. Do you believe that this is to rid the party of progressives?
RICHARD KUPER: Yes. It isn’t only Jews who are being accused of activities that are held to be undermining the party. We have a byzantine disciplinary process in which accusations are anonymous, people are not told what they are accused of, and they find themselves in a state of administrative suspension, sometimes for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years.
Among the reasons given for these suspensions, quite often, has been alleged anti-Semitism.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Jackie Walker was kicked out of the Labour Party then, I believe, reinstated and then kicked out again. What was the particular reason or rationale they provided for doing this?
RICHARD KUPER: It was alleged anti-Semitism. She wasn’t actually kicked out, she was suspended, which is a state of animation where you wait, as I said, sometimes for very long periods before there is any progress in your case. But during that period you are not allowed to take an active part in party activities.
She was originally suspended because of comments on a Facebook page of hers in private conversation to do with the Atlantic Slave Trade and her ancestors, who on her mother’s side, were Jewish in the Caribbean. She was reinstated and she was then suspended again for questions she raised during an anti-Semitism training session at the Labour Party Conference where people were invited to express their doubts, their queries and their arguments in that session, supposedly a protected space, supposedly private. She was filmed, a film was released and she was suspended again. Nothing in what she said, in my view, was anti-Semitic.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, the Israeli Lobby, if it is an indication what they manage to achieve here in the United States, has a very powerful presence also in the UK. Do you see that they are behind some of these suspensions and reinstatements and having people branded as anti-Semites, which really hampers their involvement in political activity?
RICHARD KUPER: We suspect so. We know there is an Israeli ministry of propaganda, Hasbara, which spends an inordinate amount of money on defending Israel and on undermining its critics. We know that many people in the UK work to trawl through Facebook and Twitter feeds in order to find any possible statements that might implicate people in some criticism of Israel that might be held to go beyond the pale. So, we have our suspicions.
We also know from the Al Jazeera program on The Lobby, which was aired last year, that there is some direct involvement, yes.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So, tell us about some of these very concrete examples we have for their interference in the political affairs of the UK and Labour Party in particular.
RICHARD KUPER: Well, we only know really what there was in the Al Jazeera program, The Lobby, where an undercover agent was discovered working out of the Israeli embassy, meeting with various people in the Labour Party, promising funds available and so on. I would recommend that people look at that program. I think it is very telling, and the allegations made in the program have never been adequately answered.
But we also know is that because accusations are anonymous, we don’t know whether the Israeli Lobby is directly involved in any of the cases of suspension, because people are not told who has made the accusations. It is as simple as that. It is a snoopers charter, if you like, the current rules or the way in which the current rules in the Labour Party are applied. And they are simply unacceptable.
As Shami Chakrabarti, who was commissioned by the Labour Party to inquire into anti-Semitism almost two years ago now, made quite clear in her report, in the Chakrabarti report, and she called for a disciplinary procedure in which people knew what they were accused of, knew, unless there were good reasons otherwise, who had accused them, in which they did not learn of their suspension from the Labour Party by a journalist from the Jewish Chronicle phoning them up and saying, “I hear you’ve been suspended.”
She called for transparent procedures for natural justice or due process, and she called also for educational rather than disciplinary approaches to dealing with issues of discipline in the Labour Party, that first of all people should be spoken to, there should be attempts to inform a resolution of conflicts and so on, and only if the case is of such seriousness should it proceed to a quasi-judicial inquiry. None of this is what has taken place at the moment.
Perhaps I can illustrate with a good example from last week. Glyn Secker, who is the Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour, received a letter from the Head of Disputes of the Labour Party, out of the blue, suspending him because there might be some allegations of anti-Semitism against him. Five days later his suspension is withdrawn. They said they had investigated and now there was no longer any reason to suspend him.
It’s an absurd process. Suspend first and then investigate. He should’ve been told what the accusations were. He should’ve been pulled for interview if need be, and only then, if the issue couldn’t be resolved, should there have been any further proceedings.
Now, of course, Glyn Secker is Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labor, and I don’t think it’s an accident that he was targeted. It is a shot across the bars of all those in the Labour Party who are fighting for Palestinian rights and who are fighting for the general kind of orientation that Jeremy Corbyn represents in the new Labour Party.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, Richard, there was also a very high profile figure, Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, who remains suspended, and that remains in effect, and apparently it was also extended a few days ago. Now, Ken Livingstone, unlike the other three that were suspended that we know of, or that have a profile: Jackie Walker, Moshe Machover and Tony Greenstein, he is not a Jew. So, does this mean that he is treated differently by the right wing members of the Labour Party?
RICHARD KUPER: I don’t think so at all. They are really targeting people who they feel are supportive of the new project of the Labour Party, and anything is grist to the mill. Ken Livingstone was, in my opinion, rather foolish in some statements he made a couple of years ago in an interview at the height of one of the crisis about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. He said some things about Hitler supporting Zionism, which I do not think are defendable, although he was alluding to the Haavara Transfer Agreement between the Zionist Federation in Germany and the German Economics Ministry. And there is an unfortunate history of collaboration between those in the period, particularly in order to undermine the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany which had been enforced since the Nazis came to power earlier in 1933.
But the way he presented it was absurd. He was suspended for two years and that ought to be an end of it. He has now been told that his sentence of two years suspension will be reviewed and may be extended. I think it’s partly people settling old scores. Ken stood against the Labour Party under Tony Blair for Mayor of London and defeated the official Labour Party candidate. He had led the Greater London Council in the 1980s, and there were many in the Labour Party who did not like him at all. I think a lot of the issue with Ken is the settling of old scores.
The Jewish Board of Deputies also had scores to settle from the ’80s when Ken had refused to accept them vetting who grants went to in the area under the GLC’s control. But the Board of Deputies, believe it or not, had demanded the right to vet which Jewish groups got money from the GLC and Ken rightly refused to have anything to do with that demand.
So, there are a lot of people who have been waiting a long time to get him, and this is possibly an opportunity they have. It has very little to do with anti-Semitism of any kind. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism of any kind to be brutal about it.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now Richard, let’s talk a little bit about the accusation of anti-Semitism as a political tool or political weapon. In the repressed Al Jazeera report about the Israeli Lobby in the US, which was supposed to be a sequel for the documentary that you were referring to earlier that was aired in the UK, a member of one of the major Israeli Lobby groups says that anti-Semitism as a smear is not what it used to be. It is still being used with great vigor within the Labour Party. But what about other parties in the UK? Is it also being equally applied there?
RICHARD KUPER: No, not at all. It’s only being used in the Labour Party and, in my view, it is very much connected to the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. There are people who are unreconciled to the fact that he has the support of the mass membership of the party. The majority of MPs, it must be remembered, were selected before Jeremy became leader, many of them under Tony Blair’s day when candidates were simply imposed in particular constituencies, and some of them are very resentful of his being leader.
Even more to the point, the machinery of the party is one that was almost entirely constructed as a top-down machine of control in the Tony Blair days, and that is virtually unreconstructed. It needs to be changed, and in the meantime, I think part of what we’re seeing is that machinery which felt it had a right to control and to dominate the Labour Party reeking vengeance on the new regime. Things are changing, the General Secretary of the Labour Party has resigned, there is an election in a week or two for a new General Secretary and we’re all optimistic that there will be some changes coming about. In particular, we look forward to the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report on disciplinary procedures which is now, I think, 21 months since its recommendations were adopted by the Labour Party and nothing has been done to implement them. I think we’re going to see rapid change on that.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Richard. Finally, what does this mean in terms of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party?
RICHARD KUPER: He is a leader of a very divided party, having many currents within it. And it’s his job as leader to build coalitions, to take progressive policies forward. He has a long record of being a supporter of Palestinian rights and I have no doubt that he is still absolutely committed to them. He has been a supporter of human rights and fights against depression anywhere and everywhere, and has a very long and honorable record. He is known to be an anti-racist. There is no way in which he is anti-Semitic in the slightest.
And indeed, very few people make an accusation of anti-Semitism against him. They merely say he tolerates the situation…on the left is allowed to flourish. It’s so much rubbish. People have been suspended for anti-Semitism almost immediately these accusations have been made. The problem is not that the party hasn’t acted to suspend them, the problem is that the party hasn’t acted to resolve the issues. Part of this is because what counts as anti-Semitism is really in question.
In the past, we used to know anti-Semitism was hatred of Jews, discrimination against Jews, because they were Jews, a form of racism. No question about it. Since the early 2000s, there has been an attempt to redefine anti-Semitism to include certain criticisms of Israel that some people feel go too far.
Now, there is no right not to be offended. Some of these criticisms may indeed be offensive to some people. They may even be wrong. That isn’t the point. The point is that anti-Semitism towards Israel would only be there if the criticisms of Israel manifested hatred towards Israel because it was a Jewish entity, whereas most of the criticism of Israel overwhelmingly, in my experience, is criticism of Israel because of what it does, because of what it continues to do to the Palestinians, because of the continuation of its illegal occupation, because of the housing demolitions, because of its racist discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens, the Bedouin, in an-Naqab, who’s villages have been erased time after time after time.
This is why people get upset about Israel and this is what the overwhelming criticism of Israel is about. An entity which seems to be increasingly authoritarian, increasingly committed to absorbing the whole of the West Bank, increasingly dismissive of Palestinian rights, increasingly discriminatory internally in terms of what rights it accords to its Jewish citizens and what rights it accords to the others who are clearly regarded by the ruling group in Israel as inferior. This is what it is about.
Sometimes, some criticisms of Israel may be exaggerated or may be expressed badly. Very few that I have seen can be regarded as anti-Semitic in the sense of expressing any hatred towards Jews. And if there are any like that, of course, they should be dealt with. I don’t think many of them, even the ones I’ve seen express an ingrained anti-Semitism. They express a criticism of Israel which describes itself as the Jewish State in which people sometimes are unable to make the distinction between what Israel does and Jews’ responsibility worldwide for those actions. That requires discussion, education, and so on.
And then, if anyone remains committed to an anti-Semitic worldview, they should not have a place in the Labour Party. I have no problem with that. But that is not what is going on. Instead, discussion about Israel-Palestine is becoming harder and harder. People are terrified. People walk on eggshells, scared of getting it wrong, scared that the wrath of some section of the Israel Lobby will come down upon them and that they will be criticized, reported anonymously, suspended, whatever. This really has to change. It is quite unacceptable in a democratic party like the Labour Party.
SHARMINI PERIES: Richard, I thank you so much for joining us. We’ve learnt so much from this discussion. I hope that we could learn more. If the Al Jazeera documentary, the sequel to the UK one is actually released here, we might be able to have some evidence for those who are doing similar work as you are in the UK, here in the United States. So, I thank you so much for joining us today.
RICHARD KUPER: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.