Labour Party tries to intimidate The Electronic Intifada

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 2, 2021

Labour officials Kim Bolton and Scott Horner claimed debate on sanctions against Israel would encourage anti-Semitism.

Britain’s Labour Party tried to pressure The Electronic Intifada to alter an article we published last week with an apparent legal threat.

The 25 June article by Asa Winstanley reveals that two Labour officers banned a local party branch from debating a motion calling for sanctions on Israel.

It shows that Kim Bolton, chair of Hove and Portslade Constituency Labour Party, on the south coast of England, and Labour South East organizer Scott Horner, decided that discussing the motion “would undermine the party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space” for Jewish members.

Bolton also concluded that a debate on sanctions against Israel may lead to “anti-Semitic behavior.”

Winstanley emailed Labour’s press office and the South East regional office where Horner works the day before The Electronic Intifada published his article to ask for comment. Both emails were ignored.

Demands and threats

But on Monday, Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit emailed The Electronic Intifada’s general address with a message marked “URGENT – For the Attention of Asa Winstanley.”

The email claimed that it was “neither necessary, nor in the public interest” for The Electronic Intifada “to name and publish the photograph of Mr. Horner and the name of Ms. Bolton.”

Labour claimed that “as a result of your article” being passed around by activists “it has been necessary to limit Mr. Horner’s duties as an organizer owing to concerns for his safety.”

It did not explain what these “concerns” were or how his duties have supposedly been limited.

The party asserted that “the source material you rely on clearly constitutes the personal data of Mr. Horner and Ms. Bolton, being email exchanges that they would have a reasonable expectation would remain private.”

In fact, Winstanley’s article quotes extracts from the Hove and Portslade party branch minutes, two pages of which you can read below.

Nonetheless, the party alleged that the “continuing publication of the article in this form” breaches the UK’s Data Protection Act.

“We therefore require that you immediately amend your article to remove all personal data pertaining to Mr. Horner and Ms. Bolton, and confirm that you have done so by return,” the party stated.

The email implied that legal action could follow if The Electronic Intifada did not submit to the Labour Party’s demand.

The Electronic Intifada’s reply

I replied to the Labour Party on Thursday, explaining that as director of The Electronic Intifada I had no intention of making any changes to Winstanley’s article unless it was shown to contain factual inaccuracies.

Notably, the email from the Governance and Legal Unit did not assert that there were any inaccuracies. It did not contest or dispute a single fact.

Still, I gave the party an additional opportunity to submit any information showing the article to be inaccurate, but I received no response by my deadline of Friday afternoon in London.

Winstanley’s article therefore remains unaltered.

I also explained to Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit that The Electronic Intifada is published in the United States, where our right to free speech and to conduct our work as journalists is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The Labour Party has no basis to “require” The Electronic Intifada to edit our articles to its liking, especially not for accurate reportage on the acts and decisions of party agents relating to matters of clear public interest.

It cannot be the case that Labour Party officers can misuse their power to silence members concerned about Palestinian human rights and then hide behind a shield of anonymity.

Democracy requires transparency and accountability.

I told the Labour Party that I consider its email to be a politically motivated attempt at censorship through legal intimidation, albeit on entirely spurious grounds.

Indeed, if the Labour Party under its current leader Keir Starmer is ready to engage in such heavy-handed tactics against the press while it is out of power, it is troubling to think what it might do against critics and independent media should it ever regain control of the British state.

The real Labour anti-Semitism

Sadly, however, this is all in keeping with the Labour Party’s zeal to crack down on speech it doesn’t like using whatever pretext may be at hand.

Particularly troubling is the false equation of calls for Israel to be held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians with anti-Jewish bigotry.

That is at the heart of the story Winstanley reported, evidently to the great irritation of party bureaucrats.

It is a point emphasized by Tony Greenstein, a Jewish anti-Zionist and Palestine solidarity activist, who also reported about Bolton and Horner suppressing the Israel sanctions debate.

“Exceptionalizing Jews in this way as especially vulnerable if Israeli war crimes are debated … is clearly and obviously anti-Semitic,” Greenstein says. “It assumes that Jews form one monolithic bloc.”

Bolton and Horner are “anti-Semitic for assuming that Jews are uniquely incapable of debating the question of Israel rationally,” Greenstein asserts.

For Greenstein, the right wing of the Labour Party is using Jews as a “moral alibi” to silence any questioning of British policy.

“But of course it’s not about Jews at all,” Greenstein writes. “It’s about British foreign policy in the Middle East which is based on Israel’s role as a strategic watchdog and its industrial-military complex.”

Crying anti-Semitism where none exists is the British establishment’s hammer to smash anyone who objects to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians and the UK’s role in them.

My message to the Labour Party managers, who are part of this establishment, is simple: We will keep doing our job of reporting on you. There is no chance that your attempts at intimidation will succeed.

Ali Abunimah is Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)