The Electronic Intifada / October 31, 2022
Secret minutes obtained by The Electronic Intifada show just how strongly the UK’s main opposition party has been captured by the pro-Israel lobby.
Shadow minister Steve Reed gave a series of extraordinary pledges during a 2 December 2020 meeting with prominent Israel lobby donor Trevor Chinn.
Chinn and five other Israel lobby representatives took part in the secret meeting, along with Reed and two of his staff. The minutes conclude that the lobbyists had established “a regular channel of communication” with Reed and his office.
The minutes were written by Reed’s aide Owain Mumford, who emailed them to Ellie Robinson, an aide to Labour leader Keir Starmer, as well as to senior party officials Andrew Whyte and Alex Barros-Curtis.
Neither the Labour Party, Steve Reed nor any of the Israel lobby groups involved responded to requests for comment.
You can read the full document at the end of this article.
Multi-millionaire Chinn secretly funded Starmer’s leadership campaign earlier in 2020 and has a long history of financing pro-Israel groups in both main parties of government.
Reed’s pledges included committing Labour to opposing BDS, the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, as well as promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition” of anti-Semitism.
‘A very good friend’
Yet only a few months before the meeting, Reed had been embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal, after a tweet describing Richard Desmond – a Jewish donor to the ruling Conservative Party – as the “puppet master” of the cabinet.
The minutes show that the meeting opened with a discussion of the incident. Chinn reassured the group that “Steve for many years has been a very good friend to the Jewish community and commented that they couldn’t have worked with him if they disagreed,” the minutes observed.
Mumford described the meeting as “the first of regular meetings we will be holding with” the three groups to discuss Reed’s shadow ministerial work “but inevitably this will take in wider internal party management issues.”
All three groups claim to represent the Jewish community in Britain, but their policy agendas are dominated by Israel and its interests. The Board even admits in internal documents to having a “close working relationship with the Embassy of Israel” and strong links to Israel’s semi-covert (but since shut) ministry of strategic affairs, as well as to the Israeli military spokesperson’s office.
The minutes show that the 2020 meeting between Reed, Chinn and the other lobbyists was dominated by the issue of Israel.
Pushing IHRA, opposing BDS
Amanda Bowman of the Board of Deputies “thanked Steve and the Communities and Local Government team for our work in promoting the IHRA definition of [anti-Semitism] and [opposing] BDS in local [government],” the minutes reveal.
Since 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has promoted its highly politicized definition of anti-Semitism, which has been rejected by Palestinians and their supporters as harmful for Palestinian rights.
The minutes show that Reed emphasized he had “worked with [Jewish Labour Movement national secretary] Adam Langleben to encourage Labour councils to adopt the definition.” Reed also “intervened with Hastings” council, the minutes state. The south of England local government body had adopted the definition less than two months before the meeting.
The Jewish Leadership Council seems to have been pleased with Reed’s efforts, while emphasizing they were not enough. The Israel lobby group “encouraged” Reed to “push” what it described as “resistant Labour councils” to support the IHRA definition, the minutes state. They gave the examples of Nottingham and Coventry.
The minutes recount that the JLC’s Russell Langer recommend fellow Israel lobbyist Luke Akehurst as “a good point of contact … in getting more councilors out to Israel,” as well as Labour Friends of Israel.
LFI is a front group for the Israeli embassy in London, which takes lawmakers on junkets to Israel. Akehurst is a full-time Israel lobbyist as well as a right-wing Labour activist. He currently sits on Labour’s influential National Executive Committee.
‘Steve will never accept’ BDS
The minutes also strongly suggest that Reed has committed Labour to tacitly supporting the Conservative government’s long-promised anti-BDS law.
Bowman of the Board of Deputies insisted that Labour “would be unwise to do anything to oppose” Conservative Party moves to outlaw the BDS movement, the minutes note. The advice seemed to come with a veiled threat.
The Board “are keen to counter suppositions from Labour MPs that because they’re nominally committed to combating anti-Semitism, that it gives them carte blanche to say what they like about Israel,” the minutes note.
Reed responded to this extraordinary demand by recounting “his experience of fighting BDS” and the fact that he led “a campaign with Labour council leaders to oppose any attempts to boycott” back when he was leader of Lambeth council.
“Steve will never accept attempts to exceptionalize and delegitimize Israel,” the minutes note – perfectly echoing the terminology of Israeli government propaganda against BDS. “Steve committed to discuss with the Whips and the Leader’s Office about legislation on BDS.”
The commitment of Starmer’s Labour to work against BDS is a reversal of policy positions won by the grassroots during the years Jeremy Corbyn was leader. The party went into the 2019 general election promising a Labour government would suspend arms sales to Israel.
‘Concern’ over the grassroots
As well as working to bring the “resistant” local councils in line, the lobbyists expressed their “concern” over “the attitude of the Labour grassroots to changes [in] the party” since Starmer took over in April 2020.
The minutes claim that “there has been a host of troubling behavior from certain [local Labour parties] that was making the party an unsafe space for the Jewish community.”
Yet the only example of such supposed anti-Semitism the minutes gives is that “every day … it seems like there’s a story about a [local party] debating [the expulsion of Jeremy] Corbyn.”
A few months earlier, Corbyn was expelled from the Labour Party after correctly stating that (as most Labour members then agreed) the press had exaggerated the issue of anti-Semitism in the party. After Corbyn partially reversed his statement, he was allowed back as a party member – but not as a Labour MP (when the next general election is held, he will no longer be Labour’s candidate for the seat and will face the choice of standing on his own or stepping down).
The minutes show the Israel lobbyists demanding that Labour officers rein in their members by preventing debate on Corbyn’s expulsion. Local officers “must be reminded that they have a legal responsibility for their actions,” the minutes say.
As well as dominance of the membership, the Israel lobby appears from the minutes to have demanded vetting of party candidates for local elections.
London mayoral and council elections were soon coming up “and the JLC want to know what vetting of candidates the party is doing,” the minutes state. The vetting appears to have been to ensure compliance with the IHRA.
David Davidi-Brown of the JLC expressed his “serious concerns about [Greater London Assembly] election candidates, including one who was sharing posts about supporting Corbyn.”
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London