Labour hands more power to Israel’s lobby

Mike Katz and Margaret Hodge both now sit on Labour's Anti-Semitism Advisory Board - their Jewish Labour Movement has close ties to the Israeli embassy in London (Ian Vogler -PA Wire)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 5, 2021

Pro-Israel group the Board of Deputies of British Jews came under fire last week, for a post on Twitter.

The tweet apparently had nothing to do with British Jews or representing their interests – as the Board of Deputies claims to do. Instead, it vigorously defended Israeli apartheid.

The Board of Deputies denounced the increasingly undeniable finding that Israel practices apartheid as a “slur,” and defended “Israel’s security measures” against Palestinians.

It also accused Human Rights Watch of authoring a “sham” report.

A new report by the New York-based group this week finally conceded that Israel commits the crimes of apartheid and persecution against the Palestinian people as a whole.

This means that even Human Rights Watch – a group which often follows the agenda of the US government – is finally admitting the truth of what Palestinians have been saying for decades.

The reasons Israel can be accurately described as committing apartheid – a crime against humanity according to the Rome Statute – are well documented.

But for the Board of Deputies, the new report is “false hyperbole.”

The responses to its tweet were almost entirely negative.

Many pointed to the group’s hypocrisy.

For years, the Board fervently opposed left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party, falsely accusing him of anti-Jewish bigotry because of his support for Palestinian rights.

Some commentators lamented how the Board of Deputies has now effectively been put in charge of the party’s policies on alleged anti-Semitism.

In February Labour announced a new advisory board on anti-Semitism.

The list of names of those appointed to the new body reveals a major escalation: Most are affiliated with pro-Israel lobby groups, while none appear to be affiliated with Jewish organizations and communities that are critical of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

This means that Labour may have handed effective veto power over its membership to advocates for a violent, racist foreign state.

By outsourcing policy to the Israel lobby, Labour is formalizing what has been the practice under party leader Keir Starmer for more than a year.

Labour’s “Action Plan” on anti-Semitism published in December gives the new advisory board a significant oversight role.

Labour will create a supposedly “independent process to handle and determine anti-Semitism complaints.” During the design of this process, according to the plan, officials will engage in “continuous update and consultation” with the advisory board.

And as the party develops its “principles and practices to tackle anti-Semitism,” officials will “request feedback” from the advisory board.

The plan also gives a major role to “Jewish community stakeholders, especially [the] Jewish Labour Movement” for developing a training program on anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Labour Movement is a group with close ties to the Israeli embassy.

Left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour criticized the action plan, noting that “distinguished nominees who represent much of the diversity of Jewish opinion have been excluded” from the advisory board.

Israel lobby on board

During the Corbyn years, many Labour members supportive of Palestinian rights were purged from the party as a way to destabilize the left-wing leader.

Yet this process carries on today, even with Corbyn out.

Board of Deputies documents and Labour emails obtained by The Electronic Intifada last year show that the Israel lobby group had a hit list of Palestine solidarity activists it demands Labour expel.

It now appears that with direct input from the Israel lobby, Labour will become an even more hostile environment for Palestinians and those who believe that they should enjoy full human and political rights.

Five of the nine members of Labour’s new advisory board are representatives of the UK’s leading Israel lobby groups:

Another three members of the advisory board have less obvious ties to the Israel lobby: Natascha Engel, Janet Royall and David Evans.

Royall has been on at least one Labour Friends of Israel delegation.

She also wrote a 2016 report into alleged anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club, which, while conceding there was no evidence of “institutional anti-Semitism,” nevertheless made enough headlines to keep the manufactured “crisis” going.

Soon after, Royall bizarrely wrote for the Jewish Labour Movement’s blog of her “disappointment and frustration” that “there is no institutional anti-Semitism in Oxford University Labour Club.”

Natascha Engel

After she lost her job as Labour MP for North East Derbyshire in 2017’s general election, Engel was given a lifeline by Conservative Friends of Israel leader Stuart Polak.

The lobbyist hired her for his consultancy firm TWC Associates – whose clients included deadly Israeli drone maker Elbit Systems.

Polak was recently described by a former Conservative minister as “the principal pro-Israel donor lobbyist in the UK.”

TWC’s website has now been shut down, but a copy on the Internet Archive shows Engel worked on its advisory board under Polak at least as late as March 2018.

In October that year Engel was appointed as “Commissioner for shale gas” – fracking – by the Conservative government, despite having no industry experience.

When she was MP she told her constituents she supported fracking – a major factor in her 2017 defeat, former Derby North MP Chris Williamson told The Electronic Intifada.

Engel resigned six months later, complaining about overly sensitive government policy on fracking and pressure from “highly successful” environmental campaigners.

She still works in PR, and is on the board of the charity that backs former Labour MP and “anti-Semitism crisis” witch hunter John Mann’s parliamentary group on anti-Semitism.

David Evans

Evans was appointed as Labour’s general secretary by Keir Starmer in May last year, and has helped purge the party ever since. He previously worked for Labour under former leader Tony Blair.

In April Evans took part in a meeting organized by Labour Friends of Israel to re-establish ties between the British party and the Israeli Labour Party.

Israel’s Labour is a racist party which has historically supported every Israeli war and carried out some of the state’s worst crimes – including the 1947-49 Nakba, the planned expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian population by Zionist militias and the Israeli army.

In 2018 the Israeli Labour Party cut ties with Corbyn’s Labour, to protest his “hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel” and alleged anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Labour leader at the time was Avi Gabbay, an open racist who only one year prior had described Israel’s illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank as “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”

Doreen Lawrence

That leaves only one member of the new advisory group with no known Israel lobby ties: Doreen Lawrence.

She is the mother of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager murdered by a gang of white racists in 1993.

The police failed to investigate the crime, instead treating the family as suspicious, and even sending undercover officers to spy on the family and their campaign for justice.

In the years since, Doreen Lawrence has campaigned against police racism. She was appointed to the House of Lords in 2013, the UK’s unelected upper chamber, to represent the Labour Party.

Black-Jewish anti-Zionist Jackie Walker told The Electronic Intifada that she was “surprised and disappointed” by Lawrence’s decision to join the advisory group.

Walker said the panel “reflects the pro-Israel lobby rather than the diversity of the Jewish community.”

She said that in taking the position, Lawrence was cementing what the “overwhelming opinion of Black groups inside and outside the party see as Labour’s racial hierarchy.”

An activist from campaign group Labour Black Socialists last week said the party had failed to represent interests of Black people.

Walker said joining the new panel would “undermine the role Lawrence has played as a leader of anti-racist struggle and an advocate for equal treatment for all.”

Israel lobby in parliament

As well as Keir Starmer giving a large oversight role in Labour’s disciplinary process to the Israel lobby, he has also invited an actual former Israeli intelligence agent into his office.

Starmer hired former Israeli military intelligence officer Assaf Kaplan in February.

The Labour leader also recently nominated another figure from the Board of Deputies to take up an unelected position in the House of Lords.

Gillian Merron, a former Labour MP and former chief executive of the Board of Deputies, took her seat on the Labour benches in April.

Anti-Palestinian newspaper the Jewish News described it as “a moment of history for the Board of Deputies.” Labour Friends of Israel also congratulated her on Twitter.

As leader of the Board of Deputies, Merron helped stoke the “anti-Semitism” crisis that ultimately toppled Jeremy Corbyn.

None of this should be surprising to Labour members paying attention to Starmer’s record.

When he was running for leader he proclaimed that “I support Zionism without qualification.” Zionism is Israel’s racist official ideology.

Around the same time, Starmer secretly accepted $62,000 in funding from Trevor Chinn, one of Britain’s leading pro-Israel lobby donors.

Starmer did not reveal the source of the funding until after he won the election, when it was too late for members to make an informed decision.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London