The Electronic Intifada / November 20, 2020
The UK’s Labour Party has been purging members using a hit list by a leading Israel lobby group, The Electronic Intifada has learned.
In a secret document in May, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said a Palestine solidarity activist and 10 other Labour members would “require permanent expulsion.”
A redacted section of the hit list was revealed last week after a data access request made by Becky Massey, one of the targeted activists.
You can read the disclosure in full at the end of this article.
Corbyn was first suspended as a party member last month. The pretext was a statement by the former leader that the scale of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
This overly cautious, blandly factual statement caused outrage among the party right and the Israel lobby.
Labour’s remaining left-wing MPs rhetorically condemned the suspension, but did very little.
Five Labour councillors in the northern city of Lancaster quit the party in protest at Corbyn’s suspension and Labour’s lurch to the right.
“For a brief time, a ‘moment’, the Labour Party offered hope to millions, to the many not the few. Today under Starmer, it is offering a return to ‘business as usual’,” they said.
On Tuesday, a Labour disciplinary panel ruled that Corbyn should be readmitted to the party. According to The Times, they also “ordered” Corbyn to delete his statement that anti-Semitism has been dramatically overstated from social media.
However, the BBC reported that this was only “a suggestion” not a requirement.
Either way, as of this writing, Corbyn has not deleted the posts. But the former leader did – once again – capitulate to demands made on him.
In another apologetic statement issued on social media the morning the disciplinary panel met, he seemed to reverse his earlier statement that anti-Semitism had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons.
“To be clear, concerns about anti-Semitism are neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated,’” he wrote.
Corbyn’s back-pedaling did him no good.
After Corbyn was readmitted, Labour Friends of Israel supporter Margaret Hodge, a right-wing Labour MP, threatened to quit the party. Israel lobby group the Jewish Labour Movement accused Corbyn of having “offered no apology for his total failure of leadership to tackle anti-Semitism.”
Starmer announced the next morning he had “taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn” – meaning that Corbyn cannot be part of the Labour group in the House of Commons.
The purging of Corbyn is only the most high-profile sign of a much wider problem in the Labour Party: the fabrication, exaggeration and weaponization of anti-Semitism in order to attack the left and the Palestine solidarity movement.
That purge has been raging for more than five years now, dramatically ramping up since Starmer took over in April.
Starmer – who says he supports “Zionism without qualification” and has been richly backed by prominent Israel lobby funders – made his very first acts as leader meetings with the Israel lobby to confirm his intention to meet their demands.
The secret Board of Deputies document was sent the following month, on 11 May. Seven days later Massey was suspended.
Earlier the same day Labour Party staffers had discussed how to have the activist expelled, redacted emails released to the activist by Labour under her subject access request show.
Under British law, individual members of the public have the right to access most information an organization holds on them.
You can read the full chain as redacted by Labour below.
“Good spot,” wrote one of the staffers, after a colleague found a tweet by Massey to use as a pretext.
The November 2019 Twitter posting had been a expression of respect for Chris Williamson, an MP who wrote in an article – linked to in the tweet – that he had “resigned from Labour to spend more time fighting for socialism.”
Williamson had been the only Labour MP to call out the smear campaign. He was pushed out of the party as a result.
The letter suspending Massey was sent the evening of the day of the email chain. Earlier that day, Starmer had met with the Jewish Labour Movement.
A Labour Party spokesperson at the time told me that it was “categorically untrue to claim or imply that this or any other suspension was in any way connected” to the JLM meeting – even though the group has for years been demanding suspensions and expulsions of leftists from Labour.
But a statement the very next day by the Board of Deputies suggested there was indeed such a connection.
Obliquely referring to the hit list later revealed by Massey’s access request, the Board wrote they had “sent Labour a briefing on 11 cases of anti-Semitism that we believe to be outstanding.”
The hit list is titled “Briefing: Eleven Outstanding Labour Antisemitism Cases.”
The statement went on to say the Board was “heartened by Sir Keir’s meeting with the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) yesterday.”
The hit list is marked “confidential” on each page and is dated 11 May – exactly a week before Massey was suspended.
The email chain released to Massey also suggests that Labour’s “investigation” process is a sham, with staffers discussing the fact they had suspended her “with a view to her auto-exclusion.”
By way of contrast, the letter sent to Massey said only that she had been suspended “subject to the approval of the next meeting” of Labour’s ruling national executive.
A failed redaction in the email chain also suggests that Keir Starmer’s office is guilty of political interference in the disciplinary process.
The subject line of most of the emails reads: “Subject: [REDACTED] Rebecca Massey.”
“LOTO” is a reference to the office of the “Leader of the Opposition” – Keir Starmer.
This suggests that Starmer’s office initiated the purge of Massey and the other left-wing Labour activists, or at least was informed about it from the outset.
And Starmer’s contemporaneous meetings with Israel lobby groups in which they demanded the expulsions of those on the hit list – combined with the contents of the document itself – shows that, once again, the so-called crisis of anti-Semitism in the party is actually being driven by the Israel lobby.
Ironically, “political interference” is exactly the charge that the Labour right and the Israel lobby levelled at Corbyn during his time as leader, accusing him of protecting “anti-Semites.”
A controversial report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission last month also accused Corbyn of “political interference.”
After a 17-month investigation, the report failed to find Labour guilty of the alleged “institutional anti-Semitism.”
“We lobby unashamedly for Israel”
Becky Massey is a leading activist in one of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s most visible branches, in Brighton on the south coast.
Massey’s suspension in May came as part of a wider purge of Palestine solidarity activists from the party, including others in Brighton PSC.
Responding to the new revelations on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said they had “warned on many occasions of the wrongs of any conflation of anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism” of Israel.
They said Labour should make its complaints process “fair, transparent and free of political interference.”
They said Labour should not restrict members’ rights to discuss the “historical and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people and to call for action, including via support for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”
The Board of Deputies and the Labour Party did not reply to requests for comment.
Although it represents itself as almost the sole spokesperson for “the Jewish community,” much of the Board’s activities are devoted to protecting Israel’s crimes.
In 2013 its president wrote that “we lobby unashamedly for Israel.”
Corbyn’s current Labour Party limbo leaves the former leader in a contradictory and confusing situation.
He is still an MP and still a member of the Labour Party but – at least according to the Labour leader – no longer a Labour MP.
It is currently unclear how long the suspension of the whip will last.
This situation means that, were a general election held tomorrow, Corbyn would not be the party’s official candidate for his North London seat in Parliament. The next election is due in 2024.
Corbyn could be facing a choice between giving up altogether or standing as an independent socialist MP – perhaps forming a new party.
Corbyn’s massive local support base, national profile and enduring popular loyalty would mean he’d have a serious chance of winning the seat, even standing against the Labour machine.
But Corbyn’s half-century of party loyalty means it’s hard to see a scenario in which he would willingly split off from Labour.
A far more likely scenario is for Starmer and the Labour machine to connive another pretext to have him expelled.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London