Jackie Walker’s surreptitiously taped words taken out of context led to a 2016 suspension; now she has been expelled. We discuss the case with Jackie Walker herself
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.
As most of us are aware, the British Labour Party has been embroiled and engulfed around issues of anti-Semitism and it being anti-Semitic, its members being anti-Semitic, much of that being directed directly at Jeremy Corbyn himself, who is the head of the party. But the brunt of the attacks have been born and felt by a woman who is Black, who is Jewish, and a key Labour Party activist. Last week, I interviewed John Pullman about the film he made around this issue called Witch Hunt, which was about her story and the story of anti-Semitism and the battle inside the Labour Party itself.
And Jackie Walker herself joins us here. She’s been suspended from the party for being anti-Semitic, now she’s been expelled from the party, and joins us to talk about that and all manner of other things related to this. And Jackie Walker, welcome. Good to have you with us here at The Real News.
JACKIE WALKER: Thank you. Can I just correct you for one thing.
MARC STEINER: I’m always–go ahead, yes, please.
JACKIE WALKER: I’ve actually not being expelled for being anti-Semitic. It’s a really interesting thing.
MARC STEINER: OK.
JACKIE WALKER: Because that’s what the media is saying, but one of the reasons they couldn’t expel me for anti-Semitism is that they knew I would take them to court and they would lose. So they got me on something that’s like talking–you know, being offensive or bringing the Labour Party into disrepute. So it’s quite important, that.
MARC STEINER: No, it is.
They actually didn’t, that they would have needed to do that to me.
MARC STEINER: A couple of questions here, then I want to take us back to two and a half years ago when this whole sojourn began for you. How odd, and how strange or how frequent is it that someone actually is pushed out of the Labour Party like this?
JACKIE WALKER: Well, if you’d asked me that three or four years ago, it would be very unusual. There was a period, something like 20 years ago, when there was another purge by the right of the Labour Party under Tony Blair’s regime, of an organization called Militant, but we’ve never seen something like this before. Since the “witch hunt” has been going on, I would say it’s become pretty commonplace.
MARC STEINER: That’s interesting. So let’s go back two and a half years to this conference that was held around anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party. And you were secretly taped–you didn’t know you were being taped when you were making comments. This is where this began, correct, where you made a couple of comments? One had to do with the Holocaust Memorial memorializing the Holocaust should be expanded beyond just the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and you’re questioning the definition of anti-Semitism. Let’s get that straight. Tell us what actually happened.
JACKIE WALKER: That, again, is not actually quite what’s happened. I mean, what’s really interesting is how successful the mainstream media has been at supporting this false narrative. What I was actually suggesting was that Holocaust Memorial Day should be widened. So at the moment, what it does is it only memorializes people who have suffered genocide post the Nazi period, which excludes a whole load of people. But in terms of my particular interest, of course, it excludes the people from the Belgian Congo, who 30 years before the Nazis, something like 12 million of them were killed by King Leopold of the Belgians. And of course, it excludes everybody who was a victim of genocide during the African Holocaust. In fact, one of the accusations that was made against me for my hearing was that I dared to call it an African holocaust.
MARC STEINER: You were condemned for saying it was an African holocaust, what happened in the Congo.
JACKIE WALKER: Absolutely, absolutely. Because apparently, even though, for example, Black people have been referring to what’s happened to them as a holocaust since the 1920s, and Churchill referred to the Armenian holocaust, apparently now in the Labour Party, we’re only allowed to use the word holocaust if it refers to what happened under the Nazis.
MARC STEINER: So I guess–let’s just talk about this for just a moment. Because this is where I’ve heard since this happened, and I hear this often from friends of mine in the Jewish community as well, that the Holocaust Day is something extremely special in what comes with the Jewish community because it was an effort to annihilate the Jewish people in Europe by the Nazis. So the Holocaust Day is the Holocaust Day, and expanding it kind of diminishes, people argue, the Holocaust. Though I’d throw in here that one of my main intellectual mentors who survived the Holocaust didn’t join the memorial himself because it didn’t also memorialize the five million others who were killed in the camps along with six million Jews who were killed in the camps.
So it’s always been this really touchy issue that kind of hones in, for some, into anti-Semitism, saying there you go trying to minimize what happened to us as Jews. And so, I’m saying that I can see in some ways why this kind of rubs some people the wrong way and why that could cause some dissension and a real discussion.
JACKIE WALKER: Well, one thing I want to say is that there was another people who were singled out for total annihilation, of course. And that was the Romani people.
MARC STEINER: Yes, right.
JACKIE WALKER: And so, we get into this horrible area of sort of negotiation, don’t we? Was this worse, was that worse, what’s the function of Holocaust Memorial Day? My positioning is, I don’t want to have a hierarchy of holocaust or genocide. I think, of course, I can understand why many Jewish people feel like that. But being both Jewish and Black, I’d like some appreciation as well as to why for me, as a person of color, that I would want some recognition that actually the Holocaust that happened to people in African descent was also unique. And it remains unique because as people of color in Europe in America, we are still suffering those consequences, and that makes it pretty unique as well.
So every genocide is unique, every story is special, every holocaust has a political purpose, it has its own context. And what I want is not to make this smaller, but actually that the message of the six million Jews who died and the 6 million others who also died is that it should never happen again, not just to Jews but to anybody. It’s never again to anybody. And if we really want that message to mean something, then we have to consider. How we’re commemorating this.
MARC STEINER: So the other issue we talked about a moment ago, because we can spend a long time talking about this, I wish we had more time to do this because I think it’s really an important subject. But the other issue is when you took umbrage at using certain definitions of anti-Semitism that we debated and discussed when we talked to John Pullman about the film. But let’s talk a bit about that. So what would be a definition of anti-Semitism that you would find acceptable and you think should be part of the discussion that’s not part of the discussion?
JACKIE WALKER: I think hatred of Jews because they’re Jews. I cannot understand the problem with that as a definition. I mean, I just can’t understand the problem with that. IHRA definition that we have now–I mean, let’s face it. That was sort of foisted on the Labour policy. And in fact, although according to the British media this is a generally accepted definition, in fact what we know is it’s only been accepted in eight countries, eight countries in the world. And one of the reasons, of course, it’s so contentious, is because of the way that the sock clauses of this definition really include criticism of the state of Israel as it functions now.
MARC STEINER: And as Shakespeare might say, “and there’s the rub.” And so, the question becomes–well let me take a step back for a moment. I’m very curious, on a personal and political note, have you heard from Jeremy Corbyn about any of this yet, any of the leadership around him talked to you since this has happened you?
JACKIE WALKER: Of course I haven’t heard from Jeremy Corbyn. And I wouldn’t expect to. In the position he is, he’s the leader of the Labour Party, he has nothing to do with disciplinary matters.
MARC STEINER: So there are a number of groups that I want to talk about for a moment to kind of understand what just happened. There’s a group, Momentum, which is part of the left of the Labour Party, if I’m correct. Right?
JACKIE WALKER: It’s more complex than that.
MARC STEINER: I figured it would be. I figured it would be, and then there’s the Jewish Voices of Labour, and there’s the Jewish labor movement. And they’re all very different.
JACKIE WALKER: They’re very different.
MARC STEINER: Right. And you were also pushed out of Momentum, am I correct about that?
JACKIE WALKER: Well, no. I was pushed out of being the vice chair, but in fact, I resigned from Momentum.
MARC STEINER: And you resigned because?
JACKIE WALKER: Well, because I could see the direction that the person who is the chair is Momentum–who also, by the way, is the owner of the database. I could see the political direction that he was taking the organization in, and it wasn’t one that I was happy to support.
MARC STEINER: So where does this take Labour, and what is it at this moment? Because clearly, all the tensions around Brexit and the negotiations going on between Corbyn and May at the moment, and all that, there may be there may be new elections, a number of Labour Party people have left, some of the Jewish members of the party left, some have stayed. And this could become a central issue in the election, also moving forward in terms of policy both around racism, anti-Semitism, and about Israel. I mean, this is kind of a very explosive moment, it seems, for British politics.
JACKIE WALKER: Oh, it’s an extraordinary moment for British politics. But I think one thing I might differ with about–because we saw what happened in the last general election. We were told that anti-Semitism would be a major part of the election, in fact it wasn’t. It wasn’t a major part of the election. And all the experience that people have door to door, knocking on people’s doors, people aren’t talking about anti-Semitism. They’re talking about austerity, they’re talking about the National Health Service, they’re talking about hospitals, schools. They’re not talking about anti-Semitism. So that’s the first thing. But another comment I want to make is I do think the issue of race in this election, particularly because of the proximity of Brexit if there were to be an election, I think that would yet again be a hot potato. And I think, in fact, the issue of race in the Labour Party is almost now a toxic issue, really.
MARC STEINER: So where do you go from here with the Labour Party. You’ve been an activist for a long time.
JACKIE WALKER: Yeah. But I’m not gonna spend my time trying to get back into the Labour Party. I’ve got other things to do. And one of the things I want to do is to start a dialogue about race in the labor movement, which isn’t the Labour Party. I mean, I think the way–I mean, what people perhaps don’t know about what happened to me, and one of the reasons that I withdrew from the hearing, was I was faced with racist abuse being included within the Labor Party evidence against me. So what that would have meant was I would have been standing there, or sitting there, giving evidence, and as I was turning over the pages are being asked, I would have seen anti-Black, racist comments against me. Now, my solicitors asked twice for that material to be withdrawn, and the Labour Party refused to do that. Or shall we be clear, not the Labour Party, but the Labour party disciplinary unit.
So the whole issue of race and the position of minorities within the Labour Party, I think is something that needs to be examined. I mean, for example, last year, from what I know, had the smallest amount of BAME candidates ever going up for a winnable seats. So there is this real concentration on one group, and other groups who are actually excluded from power at all levels from the Labour Party–that’s not just people of color, that’s Romani people, that’s Muslim people–excluded PL, at the parliamentary level, at the structural level, at local councilor levels. That doesn’t seem to be a sort of–an equity about how that is being dealt with. And I think as the left, we’re needing to really think about what’s going on here.
MARC STEINER: Well, I think this is–I wish we had a great deal more time, because we’ve only touched the surface of I think some of the critical issues that both Britain, the Labour Party is facing. And I want to thank you for your time, Jackie Walker, and I look forward to having more conversations with you about this and where this takes us around anti-Semitism, racism, Labour and socialism, and this weird interaction we’re in the midst of now and where it may take us. Thank you so much for your work and thank you for joining us today.
JACKIE WALKER: Thank you very much.
MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.