Labour Party threatens to sue activist over criticism of Israel debate ban

Tony Greenstein whom the Labour Party is threatening with a defamation lawsuit, speaks at a rally against the party%u2019s latest move to ban left-wing groups, in London on 20 July (TEI)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 28, 2021

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is threatening to sue a Jewish activist for criticizing a party official who blocked local activists from debating sanctions on Israel.

It marks another escalation in leader Keir Starmer’s war on the left, particularly supporters of Palestinian rights.

It also comes after similar legal threats from the party against The Electronic Intifada.

Earlier this month, activist Tony Greenstein received a letter from London law firm Edwards Duthie Shamash accusing him of defamation over a 26 June blog post.

That post is about how two Labour officials, Kim Bolton and Scott Horner, banned members of the Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party from debating a motion calling for sanctions on Israel following its bloody attack on Gaza in May.

As The Electronic Intifada reported, Horner, Labour’s South East regional officer, had advised Bolton, chair of the local party, that debating the motion “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular Jewish members.”

Bolton accepted Horner’s advice and ruled the motion on sanctions out of order.

Greenstein, who is Jewish, wrote that the decision to ban the debate was itself an anti-Jewish action.

“Exceptionalizing Jews in this way as especially vulnerable if Israeli war-crimes are debated (has this ever been applied to resolutions on other oppressive states?) is clearly and obviously anti-Semitic,” according to Greenstein. “It assumes that Jews form one monolithic bloc. That Jews all think the same way when it comes to Israel.”

Greenstein also called Horner a racist.

“Aggressive” body language

The lawyers, who say they represent Horner and the Labour Party, gave Greenstein 14 days to withdraw his comments, apologize and pay legal expenses, or face the prospect of “proceedings against you without further notice” under Britain’s Defamation Act.

They also demand Greenstein promise “not to publish any future statements, articles or social media posts relating to our client.”

The lawyers claim that Greenstein’s accusations caused Horner “emotional distress due to their seriousness in nature and in a climate of increased anti-Semitic hostilities.”

In a bizarre sign of the extreme lengths Labour officials are prepared to go to muzzle any criticism of Israel, the lawyers assert that Horner’s “true concern was that Jewish members should not be made to feel unwelcome by particular language used not in the written motion but liable to be uttered verbally during the discussion of the motion, and aggressive behavior and body language liable to be used by members during that discussion.”

The Labour Party has thus moved beyond retaliating against members for what they say and do, to preemptively curtailing their democratic rights for what they might say or body movements they could make during a debate about the human rights crimes of a British-backed foreign government.

The lawyer’s letter, which is marked “Not for Publication,” is published in full below.

“Chutzpah”

Greenstein, an anti-Zionist and a fierce advocate for Palestinian rights, has no intention of backing down.

“I must confess that I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I received your letter threatening legal action because I accused Scott Horner … of being an anti-Semite and a racist,” Greentein wrote in a response to the lawyers that he shared with The Electronic Intifada.

“For the past six years the Labour Party has accused numerous members who dared to suggest that Israel was an apartheid state or referred to Zionism as a form of racism,” Greenstein added.

“Yet the moment one of their servants is accused of anti-Semitism they send a solicitor’s letter threatening legal action.”

“Chutzpah, “Greenstein added, using the Yiddish word for unvarnished gall.

“As you might have guessed I have no intention of either apologizing to Scott Horner nor paying him any money,” Greenstein told the lawyers. “I do not compensate racists for calling them out.”

Greenstein has also responded to Labour’s threats of legal action in a blog post.

In June, Labour Party lawyers sent an apparent legal threat to The Electronic Intifada, demanding the publication alter an article by Asa Winstanley about the censorship of the debate on the motion to sanction Israel.

Labour Party lawyers absurdly accused Winstanley of violating the privacy rights of Kim Bolton and Scott Horner by accurately reporting on their official actions as party agents.

The Electronic Intifada dismissed the apparent threat as a spurious and politically motivated effort at censorship through legal intimidation.

Tony Greenstein has himself been a target of the ongoing Labour Party witch hunt.

He was expelled from Labour in 2018 over allegedly abusive language towards pro-Israel figures in the party – accusations he rejected.

Greenstein says the real reason for his expulsion was his criticism of the Israel lobby within the Labour Party.

Escalating purge

Last week, days after Labour’s lawyers threatened Greenstein, the party formally banned four left-wing groups.

One of them is Labour Against the Witch-Hunt, a group founded in 2017 with Greenstein as vice-chair, to support party members unfairly suspended or expelled amid bogus allegations of anti-Semitism.

This presages an escalation in Starmer’s purge of the party, as anyone found to be a member of the banned groups faces automatic expulsion.

Prominent supporters of Labour Against the Witch-Hunt include award-winning director Ken Loach and British Jewish comedian Alexei Sayle.

The group’s honorary president is Moshé Machover, the Israeli founder of Matzpen, a left-wing anti-Zionist movement. Machover has been living in exile in Britain for decades.

They would all now presumably be liable for expulsion, or ineligible for Labour membership.

Machover was summarily expelled from the party in 2017 after an anti-Semitism smear, but was reinstated by party bureaucrats facing a backlash from members.

He was then suspended last November. Machover characterizes the party’s allegations against him as “full of lies” and “full of shit.”

Hundreds of Labour members rallied outside party headquarters in London last week to protest the ban on the left-wing groups, Labour Against the Witch-Hunt reported.

Norman Thomas, one of the protest organizers, called the bans “an obvious attempt by the leadership to hasten the purge of the left in the party.”

“Starmer is prepared to rip the heart out of the party. He’s trying to push us back to the days of Tony Blair,” Thomas added. “We will not let him do that. We will keep on fighting for a democratic, socialist party.”

Thomas, who was chair of the South Thanet local Labour Party, was himself suspended in December after he allowed members to debate and pass a motion expressing support for the party’s left-wing former leader and long-time campaigner for Palestinian rights Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer – who says he supports Israel’s racist state ideology Zionism “without qualification” – won the Labour leadership with a campaign funded by a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist.

Since taking office last year, Starmer has aggressively set about tilting the Labour Party back to its traditional anti-Palestinian policies.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated that Moshé Machover was twice suspended by the Labour Party. It has been updated to reflect that he was summarily expelled and reinstated, and then later suspended.

Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books