Labour purges defenders of Palestinians

Labour leader Keir Starmer is expelling those who disagree with his unqualified support for Zionism (John Sibley - Reuters)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 16, 2020

Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, is purging left-wing members who disagree with its anti-Palestinian policies.

Academic David Miller told The Electronic Intifada he quit the party on Monday, objecting to many of its MPs’ “Islamophobic ideology and anti-Black and anti-Palestinian racism.”

Party bureaucrats also expelled Becky Massey, a Palestine solidarity activist in the city of Brighton, earlier this month, she has confirmed.

And in the Wavertee area of Liverpool, four anti-racism activists have been suspended from UKLabour after criticizing a pro-Israel article written by their local MP, Paula Barker.

In Jewish Telegraph article, Barker had claimed that the departure from the party of their previous MP, Luciana Berger, “was a shock,” which was down to “the scourge of anti-Semitism within our ranks.”

Berger in 2019 quit in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, one of a group claiming the party was systemically anti-Semitic.

But in a bulletin for local Labour members, the “Wavertree Four” countered that local opposition to Berger had been down to purely political differences and had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

Nina Houghton, Helen Dickson, Kevin Bean and Hazuan Hashim wrote that Paula Barker had “reiterated the inaccurate and factionally motivated position on anti-Semitism” which had been used to “seriously undermine Labour’s socialist program during the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.”

It was apparently this objection that got them suspended.

Smear campaign

Labour under Corbyn lost December’s general election. A four-and-a-half year smear campaign run by the pro-Israel lobby – which continuously alleged that Labour was anti-Semitic– contributed to that loss.

One leading Israel lobbyist claimed they had “slaughtered” Corbyn.

Paula Barker had also written in her Jewish Telegraph piece that she supports “Israel’s right to exist” and the definition of anti-Semitism endorsed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a grouping of 34 governments.

The Wavertree Four replied quoting another, left-wing Jewish member who stated that “the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is deeply flawed. It is clearly designed to protect the Israeli state from legitimate criticism.”

The misleading and politically motivated IHRA definition is widely promoted by Israel and its lobby. It includes “examples” of anti-Semitism which conflate criticism of Israel’s political ideology, Zionism, with anti-Jewish hatred.

Although the four criticized the IHRA definition, which Labour fully embraced in 2018, they did not comment on Israel’s supposed “right to exist.”

The notion that Israel as a state has an abstract “right to exist” goes against basic precepts of democracy and international law. Israel has no more “right to exist” than, for example, East Germany or the United Kingdom.

Suspended

The Wavertree Four were suspended from the party at the end of May, after details of their article in the bulletin were leaked to the press.

Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer has said that he supports “Zionism without qualification.”

A former director of Labour Friends of Israel, Luciana Berger quit Labour in February 2019, to join the short-lived Independent Group of breakaway Labour and Conservative MPs. All lost their seats in Parliament in December’s general election.

The group had claimed that Labour under Corbyn was “institutionally anti-Semitic.” It was also funded by David Garrard, a long-term Israel lobby financier.

The Wavertree Four wrote last month that after Berger’s resignation, local members “were subject to further abuse and false allegations in the media, all of which were designed to obscure the political differences between” her and the local Labour party.

Massey and Miller

Becky Massey, a leading activist in the Brighton branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was suspended as a Labour member last month.

Her suspension was part of a wider purge of supporters of Palestinian rights by the party. Other members of Brighton Palestine Solidarity Campaign remain suspended.

On 2 June, Labour informed her that she had been expelled. The party cited her “support for a candidate who was standing against an official Labour candidate.”

That was a reference to Chris Williamson, an MP until last year, who ran as an independent candidate in the December election.

Williamson, a left-wing anti-imperialist, had originally been elected on a Labour ticket but was pushed out of the party for refusing to accept the false narrative that – under Corbyn’s leadership – the party was “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

David Miller is an academic with the University of Bristol, an expert in lobbies and systems of propaganda. Miller had been suspended from Labour last month before deciding to leave the party.

In his full resignation statement on Monday, provided first to The Electronic Intifada, he said that his suspension was one of many designed to target those who understand that Zionism is “founded on and sustained by ethnic cleansing and racial supremacy.”

Miller also described the response of the Labour leadership to the Black Lives Matter protests as “appalling.”

Keir Starmer recently opposed direct action undertaken by anti-racist campaigners. Starmer argued it was “completely wrong” to pull down a statue of a slave trader in the city of Bristol.

Miller said his research into the Zionist movement, shows it to be a “transnational network of organizations, which work tirelessly to justify Israel’s ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians” and which has “influence on the British left and British politics more widely.”

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London