by W Stephen Gilbert
It’s crucial to remember that anti-Semitism is the McGuffin, a plot device that fifth columnists in the Labour Party deploy to further their aim of undermining Jeremy Corbyn. The Jewish community has for centuries been one of the most progressive, radical and creative contributors to Britain’s politics and culture, and there has been a natural and easy affinity between Socialism and Judaism. What Marx called “the Jewish question” has always attracted lively interest and sympathy on the left. This has not changed since Corbyn became Labour leader; not one iota.
Though anti-Semitism has frequently been expressed on the right of British politics, racial and/or tribal and/or cultural distinction has rarely before caused dissension on the left. It’s true that male chauvinism and homophobia have been more difficult for the left to grasp, but not for all on the left; James Connolly, the Irish patriot and Socialist thinker who was executed a century ago this year, wrote wisely and well about feminism though he, like all thoughtful men, would not claim to himself an organic, lived understanding of women’s politicisation:
“The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave” The Reconquest of Ireland 1915
The latest Labour stalwart to find herself being torn down by the anti-Corbyn attack dogs is Jacqueline Walker. Walker is the daughter of a part-Jewish, part-black Jamaican mother and a Russian Jewish father. Both her parents were Civil Rights activists in the States before her mother brought her as a child to Britain where she has lived ever since. Her partner is Jewish. I suggest that she speaks with more authority and personal experience of abuse and discrimination than anyone who presumes to judge her. The presumption of judgment arises from the notion that she spoke in anti-Semitic terms at an event at the World Transformed fringe event, organised by Momentum and sponsored by Red Pepper, alongside the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. As with the extended row about the supposedly offensive tweets of Naz Shah MP last spring, many of those who deliver themselves of a dogmatic opinion have neither heard nor read the words that are supposed to have given offence. They simple swallow what they are told by the media.
Well, here’s what Walker actually said, transcribed verbatim:
May I just say, I came in here and I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with…[at this point, others in the audience, of which she was part, spoke over her and she could not be heard]…and in terms of Holocaust Day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all people who experienced Holocaust…[more speaking over]…in practice it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such…[more speaking over]…”
It’s disingenuous to judge the position of a person who is shouted down before she has the opportunity to develop and complete her point. But taking what she was able to say, in what sense and to what extent was it an outrage or untrue or offensive or indeed specifically anti-Semitic? Out of eleven million slaughtered in the camps by the Nazis, six million were Jewish people. The other five million comprised black people, Slavs, priests, those with mental or physical disabilities, criminals, lesbians and gays, Communists, trade unionists, sex workers, Romanis, pacifists, twins, members of the resistance in Poland and elsewhere, Freemasons, immigrants, vagrants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, miscegenists, alcoholics, spies and others. In what way does it reduce the Jewish ownership of Shoah to remember also (but not instead) the murdered who were not Jewish?
In 1979 (it opened the day Thatcher came to power), Martin Sherman’s searing stage play Bent (made into a less effective movie) re-established the fact of the persecution and destruction of gay men by the Hitler regime that was determined to eliminate Berlin’s Weimar reputation as the decadent capital of Europe. Sherman, a London-based American, is Jewish as well as gay and he deliberately chose to raise the issue of the neglect of Nazi victimhood that was additional to that of Jews. It was a brave decision and one that did much good. Was he being anti-Semitic? Was the vogue in the 1970s for wearing a pink triangle – the mark imposed on gay inmates in the camps, as Jews were obliged to wear the yellow star – an anti-Semitic gesture?
The meeting at which Jackie Walker spoke from the floor was described as a training session and was not intended as an event for the general public and certainly not for the media. Such an event, you might think, would invite questions broached in a safe spirit of enquiry and of the search for enlightenment and engagement. Was it Walker’s question about the inclusivity of Holocaust Memorial Day that led to people accusing her of anti-Semitism?
It is true that, on the web page ‘Why mark 27 January Holocaust Memorial Day?’, the opening rubric is this:
It’s a time for everyone to pause to remember the millions of people who have been murdered or whose lives have been changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust, Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur”
It is also true that, on the same site’s page entitled ‘The Holocaust’, there is no mention of any Nazi victims who were not Jewish:
Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis attempted to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews…”
Depending on where you look, Walker may or may not have a point about the advertising of HMD. But was it anti-Semitic to raise the point?
Mike Cushman, a Jewish member of Free Speech on Israel, wrote this:
It seems to me that Jacqueline Walker as a woman of dual heritage has to deal with the inherited pain of two Holocausts, the Jewish tragedy and the African horror story. Dealing with one is difficult, managing to live with the impact of both doubly so. No one has developed a language for this. Jackie is trying to provide one, a difficult task in the best and most supportive environment; an almost impossible one when every utterance is malevolently misinterpreted.”
And six people issued a statement:
We are Jewish Labour activists who were with Jackie Walker at the training session on anti-Semitism…Like her, some of us were heckled when we raised questions unpalatable to others in the audience…We were shocked at the way the level of barracking rose as soon as Jackie began to speak. Jewish Labour Movement supporters demonstrated contempt for her as a Jewish woman of African heritage who is a lifelong anti-racist advocate for the rights of minorities … We unreservedly condemn allegations of anti-Semitism made against Jackie Walker. Calls for her to be disowned by the Momentum movement of which she is vice-chair…are reprehensible instances of the witch hunt to which she and other Corbyn supporters have been subjected”
This brings us back to the real issue. The myth of anti-Semitism is being used as a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn, not just by the Tories (Theresa May accused the Labour Party of anti-Semitism in her keynote speech to her party conference), not just by the lackeys of the Tory press and the anti-Socialist mainstream media, but also by elements within the Labour Party who would rather lose the next election than win it led by Corbyn.
At the very outset of its report on the synthetic ‘row’ in the party, The Daily Telegraph described Walker as “one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most senior allies”. You may look in vain in the paper for Mark Clarke, the Conservative Party officer accused of bullying thirteen fellow youth workers (including one who took his own life and six cases of “sexually inappropriate behaviour”), as “one of Theresa May’s most senior allies”. The paper also described its video of the event as “a secret recording obtained by The Telegraph”. This implies that the meeting was somehow illicit and subversive; on the contrary, it was open to anyone with an interest in the matter and the fact that whoever recorded the footage on his phone was not prevented from so doing confirms that.
This is very different from the clandestine recording of confidential Momentum meetings broadcast last month by Channel 4, an exercise that proved to be a damp squib, save that it prompted a jump in Momentum membership (much more informative would have been some fly-on-the-wall video of Progress meetings). To attempt further to skew the response to its story, The Telegraph’s website page was illustrated by a shot of Walker singing The Red Flag, as if this were somehow transgressive and not something that all Labour Party members do, even the paper’s beloved Mr Blair.
Someone who has not emerged from this nasty business with much credit is Jon Lansman, founder and chair of Momentum. Many members of Momentum and beyond looked to him to see the wood for the trees and to call out the witch hunt against Walker for what it is. Instead he allowed himself to be swayed by those in the Labour Party who do not take an objective stance either on the interpretation of Jewish history or on the politics of Israel and Palestine. Walker has now been dismissed from her vice-chairship of Momentum, formalising the group’s acceptance of the anti-Corbyn faction’s rout. Lansman’s weak position allowed the scurrilous blogger Guido Fawkes to mock “the bizarre moment when Momentum are taking anti-Semitism more seriously than the Labour Party”.
There are many who contend that the most mild questioning of Jewish tenets or Likud policy and Netanyahu actions is anti-Jewish and hence anti-Semitic, rather as supporters of the Republican Party in the United States would accuse those who found fault with the presidential positions of George W Bush of being “anti-American”. This kind of careless elision of stances leads to damaging and meretricious accusations. The lie that Labour is anti-Semitic is taking root, just as other lies have done: that Labour crashed the economy, that Corbyn is unelectable. Once again, the Labour Party is only damaging itself by omitting to kill a lie for good.