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Saturday, 23 April 2016

An Open Letter to Jon Lansman of Momentum on Zionism in the Labour Party

Stop the Appeasement of the supporters of Israeli Apartheid

Jon Lansman and Chair of Momentum
Dear Jon,

Earlier this week I had a long conversation with you.  You also posted a message (below) to a PSC activist, Terry Gallogly from York PSC.

As you know I have been suspended by the Compliance Unit of the Labour Party since March 18th.  I have received no information as to why I have been suspended yet this very same information was leaked to The Daily Telegraph which together with The Times printed articles that stated I was suspended as part of the clampdown on anti-Semitism in the Party.  Both newspapers, under threat of legal action, have now withdrawn those accusations, yet I am still suspended.

You are Chair of Momentum, which was set up to defend the newly elected leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell..  I would like to ask why you and Momentum nationally haven’t raised both my case and that of other people on the Left who have been suspended as a result of allegations made by the Right?  I accept what you have said about Corbyn not having control of the Labour Party bureaucracy, but that is even more reason why you should be speaking out.

When it became obvious last summer that Jeremy Corbyn was likely to become leader of the Labour Party, both the Tory and Liberal press, in particular Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, began a campaign aimed at painting Jeremy as an anti-Semite and someone who kept company with holocaust deniers.  This campaign was spearheaded by the Zionist movement and Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle in particular,

When Jeremy was elected as leader, there was a change in tactics by our opponents.  Starting with the veteran Jewish Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, there was a concerted attempt to paint the Labour Party as ‘riddled’ with anti-Semitism.  The fact that there was no evidence to support such an argument was no barrier to it becoming a truism.  As Goebbels remarked ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.’   

There is little doubt that despite trawling through thousands of tweets, FB postings etc. the Zionist movement and the Tory Press came up with one person who tweeted that Jews have ‘big noses’.  It must have seemed like manna from heaven when the leader of a tiny Trotskyist sect of less than 10 people, Gerry Downing, appeared on the scene with an updated version of the Jewish Question.  That was basically it.

It is clear that there are major differences between us in terms of how you see, or don’t see, the role of the Zionist movement, in particular

You see the Right’s ‘concern’ over anti-Semitism as genuine rather than a pretext in its battle against the Left.  I see Labour Friends of Israel, Progress and the Jewish Labour Movement’s use of anti-Semitism as a cynical weapon deployed against the Corbyn leadership of Labour Party.  If you are correct, then John Mann MP, the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on anti-Semitism, is genuinely concerned about anti-Semitism.  Yet it is clear that his concern is with opposing support for the Palestinians and BDS.  The employment tribunal which heard his evidence in the Fraser v University College Union case held that:
Tony Benn & Jon Lansman, TUC Congress 1981
Mr Mann led for them and the more conciliatory tone of Dr MacShane gave way to a somewhat hostile display in which Mr Mann made no bones about his view that the union was operating in an anti-Semitic way …  He did not explain what the anti-Semitic behaviour was supposed to have consisted of besides referring to the boycott debate and characterising any boycott of Israel or Israeli institutions as itself anti-Semitic.’ Para. 84.

‘We did not derive assistance from the two Members of Parliament who appeared before us. Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions. For Dr MacShane, it seemed that all answers lay in the MacPherson Report (the effect of which he appeared to misunderstand). Mr Mann could manage without even that assistance. He told us that the leaders of the Respondents were at fault for the way in which they conducted debates but did not enlighten us as to what they were doing wrong or what they should be doing differently. He did not claim ever to have witnessed any Congress or other UCU meeting. And when it came to anti-Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, “It’s clear to me where the line is …” but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.’ Para. 148.

What you are attempting to do is to reconcile the irreconcilable.  Support for Zionism is incompatible with support for the Palestinian’s right of return and the achievement of a State in Palestine/Israel based on its citizens.  Israel as presently constituted is a state of Jews throughout the world rather than all its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish. That is why there is no Israeli nationality.

Far from being the ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ Israel could not survive without the threat of war.  Its history consists of manufacturing crises and wars in order to engender a permanent state of emergency.  This enables Israel to continue to apply the 1947 British Emergency Defence Regulations which enable administrative detention for up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely, torture, the censorship of the press and an attitude to civil liberties, in particular for the Palestinian minority, which belongs in a police state.  Israel is no different from its erstwhile cousin, with whom it had the closest of military and economic relations, the Apartheid State of South Africa.

Another feature of Israel which its defenders seem to omit is the growth of fascist gangs and movements in Israel who parade under the slogan of ‘death to the Arabs’.  As I am sure you are aware, this was the slogan of the far-Right in Europe in the pre-war period, except ‘Jews’ were substituted for ‘Arab’.  At the Tel-Aviv demonstration in support of a soldier Elor Azraya who was filmed killing in cold blood an injured Palestinian lying on the ground, there was a banner ‘Kill them All’ with one demonstrator parading with the SS slogan ‘My honor is my loyalty’.  This is the Israel that LFI and JLM uncritically defend.

In your comments below you make a great play of what Zionism means and you believe it is wrong to use it as a term of abuse.  Zionism at its most basic was the movement set up in 1897 with the goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.  It undertook this in alliance, in 1917, with British imperialism and it established a settler colonial movement in Palestine.  Settler colonialism has always been, without exception, the most virulently racist of colonial movements.

The cardinal features of the pre-state period were the Labour Zionist policies of Jewish labour, Jewish produce and Jewish land.  What this meant was best explained by the Managing Director of Solel Boneh, the Histadrut owned building company David HaCohen,:

I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my Trade Union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there... to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they, had bought... to buy dozens of dunums from an Arab is permitted but to sell God forbid one Jewish dunum to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild the incarnation of capitalism  as a socialist and to name him the 'benefactor' - to do all that was not easy. And despite the fact that we did it- maybe we had no choice - I wasn't happy about it.” [David Hirst, The Gun & the Olive Branch, p.63]

Nor does this belong to the past.  Even today Israel evicts Israeli Palestinians from the land to make way for Jewish towns, as it is currently doing in the Negev.  The Bedouin village of Arakabh has been evicted 96 times.

Of course there are British Jews who support Zionism without realising its consequences.  There are some who believe that a Zionism which treats Palestinians and Jews equally is possible.  There were also white South Africans who genuinely believed that Apartheid, separate development, did not imply inferior treatment.  Did not the judges in Plessy v Fergusson in 1896 argue that segregation on the basis of separate but equal treatment was possible?  It was not until Brown v Board of Education in 1954 that this pernicious racist myth was finally laid to rest.

In Israel segregation is alive and well.  Virtually all schools are segregated, maternity wards and even student accommodation is segregated, employment is segregated, most towns and villages are separate with Arabs barred from living in ‘Jewish’ towns.   Arab towns are denied planning permission as a norm, such that not one new Arab town has been constructed since 1948 despite the population having increased 10 fold.  Half of all Arab villages are ‘unrecognised’ i.e. liable to instant demolition.  ID cards differentiate between Jew and Arab, as do car number plates.  In the checkpoints in the Occupied Territories there are different gates for Jewish settlers and Palestinians but then there are also two systems of law in operation.  Even the road system is divided between Jewish and non-Jewish.

What is outrageous is that the British section of the Israeli Labour Party, a party which is racist to the core is allowed affiliation to the Labour Party.  Only this week Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the ILP said that Israel's Labor party shouldn't give off the constant impression that they are "Arab lovers." 

The Jewish Labour Movement together with Labour Friends of Israel is the emanation of the Israeli state inside the Labour Party.  Its attitude to the new leadership was best summed up by Rebecca Simon Vice-Chair of LFI who said of Corbyn:  ‘no one wants to vote for a leader they think is rubbish.  And he is rubbish – never mind about the Israel stuff, he is just not a credible opposition.’ JC 30.12.15.

The purpose of LFI and JLM is to justify the actions of the Israeli state, whomsoever is in power.  The ILP has never condemned the occupation.  As former leader, Shelly Yacimovich  declared:  “I reject the definition of the IDF as an occupation army,” [Ha’aretz 16.4.16.] JusticeAccording to Israel’s Nationalist-demagogue Spokeswoman  Ha’aretz described how ‘She doesn’t give a damn about the Palestinians’ rights. They’re nothing to her. …. This is justice according to Yacimovich – for Jews only. Her justice is “Zionist,” as she calls it. Her morality isn’t universal. Calling her a social democrat is a disgrace to social democracy. Her disgraceful take on the Palestinians has nothing to do with socialist or democratic tradition. She’s a nationalist-socialist leader.’  
The idea that JLM or LFI are going to ‘build bridges’ with the Jewish community is absurd.  The majority of Jews today vote for the Right because since the 1950’s Jews have move up the ladder socio-economically.  Physically they have moved from the East End of London to Hendon, Golders Green etc.  This is well documented in Geoffrey Alderman’s The Jewish Community in British Politics, Clarendon Press, 1980. 

There is little evidence that Israel in fact plays any but a minor role in how Jewish people vote.  Indeed according to a comprehensive poll by academics at City University, nearly a third of Jews, 31% don't even define or see themselves as Zionist.  That is a higher percentage than vote today for Labour for socio-economic reasons.  See 
You speak of the two-state solution.  Neither Likud or the Zionist Union (Labour Party/Hatnuah) support a two state solution.  Neither do the majority of Palestinians.  The extent and degree of settlement has now made that solution unattainable.  There is one state now in the area of the former British Mandate.  In that area the majority of Palestinians, over 4 million, live under military occupation and have no democratic rights whatsoever.  This is an apartheid state in all but name.  Talk of 2 States serves one purpose only – to legitimise the continued denial of democratic rights to Palestinians because that would mean the end of a Jewish supremacist state.

As you continue to try and appease JLM and LFI, so the accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’ continue.  There is only one way to defeat our accusers and that is to make it clear that when Zionists talk of ‘anti-Semitism’ they are speaking a different language from us.  Anti-Semitism means hatred, violence, discrimination against Jews etc..  It is reprehensible and must be fought.  When the Tories and the Zionist JLM and LFI, to say nothing of the Guardian’s Freedland speak of anti-Semitism they mean BDS and opposition to Israel’s Apartheid.  They even have a word for it, the ‘new anti-Semitism’.

Until you recognise this the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign will go on.  Eric Pickles, Chris Grayling and co. will have a field day.  No amount of statements by Jeremy Corbyn that he opposes anti-Semitism will have the slightest effect because he and they are talking a different language.   What is needed is a clear statement by the Labour leadership that they oppose anti-Semitism but they also oppose conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and support for the Palestinians.  

You believe that there is a problem with equating Zionism with racism.  This is not shared by far-Right Islamaphobic groups such as the BNP/EDL or racists like Gert Wilders, Marine Le Pen or indeed the neo-Nazi Freedom Party in Austria under Strache, all of whom admire the Israeli state. 
The JLM is moving an amendment to Labour Party’s rules to include ‘anti-Semitism’ in the list of disciplinary offences.  They are also using Islamaphobia as a cover for their amendment.  They make it clear, in their supporting arguments, that their definition of anti-Semitism includes opposition to Zionism which they say is part of Jewish national identity.  As a Jewish anti-Zionist I dispute this.  I hope that both you and Momentum are going to take a clear line in opposition to this amendment.  
For the defenders of apartheid in Israel to move an amendment concerning racism in the British Labour Party is a sick joke.  If they are that concerned about racism, maybe they can have a word in the ear of Yitzhak Herzog and tell him that being a lover of Arabs might not be a bad thing.
Yours fraternally,

Tony Greenstein

Jon Lansman to Terry Gallogly
"I don’t agree with your suggestion that the entire right of the party are in cahoots with this though there certainly are some on the right who may be. In my discussions with the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel about this, I find that they are actually (i) very keen to build bridges between Labour (including Jeremy) and the Jewish community and (ii) agree with my point (2) above.................................

I do think that there is a problem of antisemitism in the party that goes beyond the small number of appalling examples such as that of Gerry Downing who was rightly suspended from the Labour Party in my view and should be permanently expelled. This includes the failure to take charges of antisemitism sufficiently seriously and poor choice of language such as conflating words like “Jew”, “Israeli”, and “Zionist”.I think there is a particular problem with the word “Zionist” which is used by some as if it were a term of abuse. This is guaranteed, understandably in my view, to be regarded as antisemitic by many Jews and should never be used in that way. Many people treat Zionist as if it means "supportive of the policies of the Israeli government in relation to the occupation and to Palestinians". It is that understanding of the word which leads to the equations Zionism = Imperialism and Zionism = Racism. Both of those equations are as offensive and wrong as is the equation Anti-Zionism = Antisemitism. The reason is that to most British Jews, Zionism simply means “support for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state” alongside a Palestinian state which is of course the policy of the Labour Party, PSC and Fatah and the Palestine administration etc. Most British Jews (unlike Israeli Jews) believe in equality of rights for Palestinians within Israel and in a two-state solution. A number of self described Zionists in Britain and even  few in Israel are strong supporters of Palestinian rights and I have personally demonstrated alongside such people against house demolitions in East Jerusalem and against the Wall with Palestinian villagers whose villages and land are divided by it.

Much of the antisemitism that exists on the Left is probably unconscious. Lack of intent, however, is not an excuse for antisemitism just as it is not in the case of institutional racism of any variety.

Defending Jeremy in my view means the Left taking a hard line against antisemitism in the Labour party. I know it is a long time since 1190 but I am sure that the Left in York would feel a particular responsibility to make a stand against antisemitism given its bloody history in their/your city."


Jon

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