Take Palestine off agenda, says Jewish Labour Movement

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 9, 2021 

The Jewish Labour Movement has been using its new anti-Semitism “training” sessions to suppress debate on Palestine in the UK Labour Party.

Footage of online “training and awareness-raising” sessions shows JLM chair Mike Katz suggesting that party officials should halt discussions on Palestine.

“If you’re setting the agendas, there’s lots of really important international issues going on out there,” he said.

“You don’t have to have motions on Israel-Palestine on your agenda every single month,” he continued, suggesting party meetings instead discuss other issues, including Brexit and the Uyghur Muslim minority in China.

The training sessions are being run by the JLM on behalf of the Labour Party. Recordings were obtained by The Electronic Intifada.

The Jewish Labour Movement is a pro-Israel lobby group with close ties to the Israeli embassy in London.

Labour – under its current right-wing leader Keir Starmer – has handed the JLM and other Israel lobby groups sweeping powers over the party’s membership.

The 10 June webinar via Zoom was targeted at “CLP role holders” – chairs and other elected officials in local groupings of Labour. Such groupings are known as Constituency Labour Parties.

JLM staffer Rebecca Filer claims it’s anti-Semitic to use the word Zionism “as a term of abuse.”

Katz strongly implied that advocacy for Palestinian rights was inherently anti-Semitic, claiming such discussion “inculcates a real kind of loathing in turning up to meetings by the Jewish members.”

That very same day in Hove, near Brighton on England’s south coast, Katz’s desire for censorship had already been fulfilled.

As we reported last month, regional Labour official Scott Horner and Hove CLP chair Kim Bolton ruled a motion calling for sanctions against Israel out of order. The motion was removed from the agenda for a meeting, based on a claim that the discussion could lead to “anti-Semitic behavior.”

Labour’s legal unit wrote us after publication threatening baseless legal action unless our report was censored. We responded that we would not change the article and also published pages from the Hove CLP minutes to back up our reporting further.

Without naming us, Hove MP Peter Kyle (who is an officer for lobby group Labour Friends of Israel) responded to our article the next day claiming that people were “misinterpreting the work of our busy CLP.” But he did not deny the substance of our report.

It is likely that Horner, as Labour’s paid South East regional organizer, had already attended a JLM training session, which would have informed his decision.

“The vast majority of Labour’s party staff have already had this training,” said Greg Burton, a Labour Party director, who introduced the 10 June session, saying the same program was “being rolled out across the organization.”

The training was led by Katz and Rebecca Filer, the JLM’s national organizer.

Palestine is “boring”

Burton said that more than 500 people attended on 10 June, while more than 5,000 had registered for another session the following week. That session – held on 14 June – was reportedly Labour’s largest ever training initiative of any type.

The 14 June session was again led by Katz and Filer. But this time it was introduced by Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner.

Rayner gushed that she had already heard the session so many times “I probably know it off by heart.” She said that by the end of the year the training “will have been offered to over half a million members and staff.”

During a strictly controlled question and answer session, Katz made a very similar claim to the one he had made the previous week. He said that discussions on Israel and Palestine make for “monotonous meetings” and are “quite difficult to handle if you’re a Jewish member.”

Katz suggested that members should be steered away from Palestine to talk about “the huge number of really worrying issues around the globe going on at the moment” such as “the plight of the Uyghurs, [the] Rohingya, [and] what’s happening in Yemen.”

He bemoaned that “the only international issue, indeed the only issue that some CLPs want to discuss is Israel-Palestine.”

He claimed this “puts people off, the endless barrage – and it makes for boring meetings actually.”

JLM staffer Rebecca Filer claims it’s anti-Semitic to make “Nazi comparisons.”

Rebecca Filer, the JLM’s national organizer, spoke the most during both sessions.

Left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour has published a response to the training.

Jewish Voice for Labour pointed out that one of JLM’s core “values” – as stated in its rule book – is “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.”

The JLM training makes “no reference to the fact that not all Jews are Zionists.” And it omitted that “the majority of Zionists are not Jews, their numbers boosted by millions of Christian Evangelicals in the US and around the world,” the critique by Jewish Voice for Labour stated.

Jewish Voice for Labour also criticized what it said was Filer and Katz’s “exaggerated view of the ongoing threat that anti-Semitism presents to British Jews.”

Their approach “seemed designed to stir up fear as a way of justifying harsh punitive measures against individuals, rather than using evidence-based debate to challenge ideas.”

The video footage of Filer running the training sessions substantiates the criticisms made by Jewish Voice for Labour.

She claimed that “using Zionism or Zio as a term of abuse” during discussions on Palestine was unnacceptable and anti-Semitic. She also claimed that “comparing Israel to Nazi Germany” is “one of the most hurtful comments that can be made for the Jewish community.”

The Jewish Labour Movement, Mike Katz and Scott Horner did not respond to emails requesting comment.

The group has in the past aggressively refused to comment, responding with copies of a letter written by a lawyer. The implied legal threats against The Electronic Intifada came to nothing.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London