Dear Tom Watson,
We write as both Jewish and non-Jewish members/supporters of the Labour Party.
We read with interest your speech to guests at the Labour Friends of Israel luncheon recently and watched the video of you singing ‘Am Yisrael Chai’. Perhaps you are not aware that this is the favourite chant of West Bank settlers and the fascist/neo-Nazi Jewish Defence League when attacking Palestinians and those they disagree with?
You began your speech by saying that you supported Israel because ‘our consciences dictate it’. If you had a conscience you would not have spoken of your ‘special pleasure’ at the presence of Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador who, as-Chief Spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, defended Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014 when 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 551 children.
You said that you were ‘ashamed’ at the ‘anti-Semitism in our midst’. Let us reassure you that although you have much to be ashamed of, anti-Semitism is not one of Labour’s sins. Anti-Semitism does not exist as a political force in the Labour Party. It never has and never will. Those who have been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’, in particular Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, and Tony Greenstein, have been suspended for supporting the Palestinians, not because of anti-Semitism. It is no coincidence that both the latter two are Jewish anti-Zionists.
You mentioned your recent, expenses paid trip to Israel recently, where you met the Chairman of the Israeli Labour Party Isaac Herzog. You spoke of his ‘determination to continue to push the path of peace’. Is this the same Herzog who, Ha’aretz reports, pushed for ‘Separation From Palestinians as (the) Party Platform’? In other words an apartheid solution with a Palestinian Bantustan?
We find it difficult to understand, in view of your purported opposition to anti-Jewish racism, why you turn a blind eye to Herzog’s virulent anti-Arab racism? Herzog recently spoke of his fear of waking up to a Palestinian Prime Minister in Israel. He said:
‘I want to separate from the Palestinians. I want to keep a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.’
The Jerusalem Post reported how Herzog had spoken about dispelling the false impression that the ILP were ‘Arab Lovers’
If a member of our Labour Party had spoken about their nightmare of a Jewish Prime Minister or had talked about ‘Jew lovers’ then you would certainly have had cause to complain of anti-Semitism.
You quoted Yehuda Bauer: “thou shalt not be a bystander.” Unfortunately you then went on to demonstrate just how lightly the lessons of the Holocaust weigh upon your conscience. You stated that Israel was ‘A vibrant democracy… a state which strives for equality between … Jew and Arab.’
Perhaps you would care to explain how this is compatible with the pending demolition of Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin village in the Negev, in order to make way for a Jewish town? Or why half the Arab villages in Israel are ‘unrecognised’ and therefore liable to demolition at a moment’s notice?
According to Defence for Children International between 500 and 700 Palestinian children a year, as young as 12, are arrested, interrogated and beaten without any right to see a parent or lawyer. Held indefinitely, they are deprived of sleep, shackled and charged in a language they don’t understand.
Because there are two separate legal systems on the West Bank, this cannot happen to Jewish children. Perhaps you could explain how this is compatible with a ‘vibrant democracy’ and why this is not an apartheid society?
Israel is a Jewish state, i.e. a state in which Jews have privileges over and above non-Jews. This manifests itself on Jerusalem Day in mobs chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’ as they march through the Arab quarter. Fascist groups like Lehava, which campaign against sexual relations between Arabs and Jews are state-funded. Today in Jerusalem, without interference from the police, gangs of Jewish fascists go around attacking Arabs under the pretext of ‘protecting’ Jewish women.
Because Israel is a Jewish state opposition to African asylum seekers has taken the form of pogroms and lynchings. According to Netanyahu, illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state. In the words of Culture Minister Miri Regev "the Sudanese are a cancer in our body." Later she apologised to cancer victims for having compared them to asylum seekers! Your good friend Herzog has been part of this racist consensus, attacking Eritrean refugees as bogus asylum seekers.
Apologists for Zionism always refer to Israel’s Arabs having the vote. This is of course true but Israel is a state of its Jewish citizens and democracy doesn’t simply mean having a vote every few years but civic and political equality regardless of ethnicity or religion. When you are treated as an alien in your own country that is not democracy but ethnocracy. A state where torture is legal, censorship is routine and detention without trial for one ethnic group is routine (Arabs) is not a democracy.
It is therefore no surprise that in Israel’s ‘vibrant democracy’ a plurality of Jewish Israelis (48%-46%) [Pew Research Centre Survey, Israel’s Religiously Divided Society], favour the physical expulsion of Israel’s Arabs and no less than 79% believe that Jews are entitled to preferential treatment.
You refer to your and LFI’s support for 2 States. After 50 years of occupation and settlement, a Palestinian state is not possible. 2 states is a smokescreen for the continued military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and a pretext for Israeli Apartheid. At no time have either you or LFI ever called for an end to the military occupation of Palestinian territories.
You condemn Boycott Divestment and Sanctions but the Boycott of repressive and racist regimes has a long pedigree. From the Boycott of slave grown sugar in the West Indies to the Boycott of Nazi Germany (which the Zionist movement broke) to the Boycott of South African Apartheid, BDS has always been the most moral of movements. Just as Thatcher and Reagan opposed the Boycott of Apartheid South Africa yesterday, so you and LFI oppose the Boycott of Zionist Apartheid today.
Perhaps you have forgotten that it was Israeli Labour governments who supplied weapons to South Africa in breach of the UN Arms Embargo? That it was an Israeli Labour government which invited John Vorster, the South Africa Premier, who had been interned during the war for Nazi sympathies, on a state visit to Israel? [Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria]
If you were at all sincere in your support for a Palestinian state, then you would support pressure upon Israel via a Boycott. The fact that you, the Israeli Ambassador and Labour Friends of Israel, an uncritical Israeli support group, oppose Boycott demonstrates your insincerity and hypocrisy.
You said ‘Let’s have no more parallels drawn between today’s tragic conflict in Israel-Palestine and the bloodlands of central and Eastern Europe.’ You appear to forget that it is the advocates of Zionism who make such comparisons. From Menachem Begin equating Yassir Arafat in the siege of Beirut to Hitler in his bunker to Netanyahu’s comparison of Iran with Nazi Germany or Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai promising the Palestinians of Gaza a ‘bigger Shoah.’
Zionism has always equated the Palestinians with the Nazis. When the Israeli Right marches to the drumbeat of ‘Death to the Arabs’ it is difficult not to recall similar marches in Europe when the chant was ‘Death to the Jews’.
Despite your attempts to equate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism it is clear from what is happening in the United States that anti-Semites are the most fervent supporters of Israel. Donald Trump, whom Herzog has welcomed to power, has appointed open anti-Semites like Steve Bannon of the alt-Right as his advisors. This does not appear to trouble you or Labour Friends of Israel for some reason.
When you say that ‘The BDS movement is morally wrong’ you betray you real concern is to support the US’s watchdog in the region. BDS is an entirely moral response to Israel’s immoral Occupation.
Tony Greenstein Brighton & Hove DLP
Barry Ackerman Enfield & Southgate CLP
Mo Akram Newcastle East CLP
Jackie Alsaid Fareham CLP
Mo Aziz Dulwich and West Norwood CLP
Claude Baesens Warwick and Leamington Spa CLP
Graham Bash South Thanet CLP
Labina Basit Uxbridge and South Ruislip CLP
Mary Beaman Wimbeldon CLP
Lisa Bell Forest of Dean CLP
Tas Bhatti Nottingham CLP
Simon Brace Gedling CLP
Haim Bresheeth Hornsey and Wood Green
Karen Brett New Forest East CLP
Tarin Brokenshire Cambridge CLP
Neil Cameron Sheffield Central CLP, Unite and Sheffield Momentum
Marilu Cavaliere Luton South CLP
Trevor Challenger Taunton Deane CLP
Carl Clarke Richmond CLP/Unite
Mike Craig Mid-Ulster Branch Northern Ireland
John Davies Liverpool Riverside TULO/Liverpool Momentum
Helen Dickson Liverpool Riverside CLP
Ajay Domun Pimlico CLP/Westminster Momentum
Mark Elf Barking CLP
James Ellis Brighton & Hove DLP/Secretary B&H Momentum/Unite/Unison
Yousuf Farooq Rushcliffe CLP
Pete Firmin Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Jenny Flintoft Meon Valley CLP
Michael Foulkes Brighton & Hove DLP
Philip Foxe Enfield South gate CLP/Enfield Momentum
Kathlyn Gadd Stoke North CLP
Terry Gallogly York CLP
Yvonne Gibbins Grantham and Stafford CLP
Lynda Gilbert Milton Keynes North CLP
Stephanie Grant Basingstoke CLP
Sue Grant Exeter CLP
James Hall South Cambridgeshire CLP
Jenny Hardacre South Cambs CLP.
Abe Hayeem- Harrow East CLP
Rosamine Hayeem- Harrow East CLP
Rosemary Hedges Calder Valley CLP
Deana Heywood Ealing and Central Acton CLP
Dave Hill Brighton and Hove Momentum
Carl Hodgson Delyn CLP
Doug Holton Hackney North and Stoke Newington CLP
Ian Hunter Gaston and Halewood CLP
Zaed Hussein Hyndburn CLP
Cliff Jones Sefton Central CLP
Markus Keany Luton South CLP
Martin Kemp Lewisham West and Penge CLP
Fee Khan Brandwood CLP
Beverley Krell Stockport CLP
Geoff Lee Holborn and St Pancras CLP
Leah Levane Hastings and Rye CLP
Rachel Lever Hastings & Rye CLP
Debbie Litchfield Don Valley CLP
Jo Manning Leeds NE CLP
Patrick Mansfield Bristol South CLP
Miriam Margolyes Clapham Labour Party
Helen Marks Riverside CLP
Becky Massey Hove and Portslade CLP
Suzanne McCallum Dumbarton CLP
Faye McCardle North Herefordshire CLP
Jane Mills Brecon and Radnorshire CLP
Anne Mitchell Hove and Portslade CLP
Brendan Morgan County Down CLP
Elizabeth Morley Ceredigion CLP/Member of Wales Grassroots/Momentum
Kevin Neil Plymouth Sutton and Devonport CLP, Momentum National Committee
Tony O'Neill Northern Ireland Labour Party
Caroline O’Reilly Brighton & Hove DLP
Pam Page Brighton and Hove DLP
Susan Pashkoff Unite/Redbridge Trades Council
Allan Pearson South Ribble CLP
Jonathan Pullman Edinburgh North and Leith CLP
Mike Rahr Camberwell CLP
Roland Rance Unite; former secretary Waltham Forest Trades Council
Elaine Rigby Bury South CLP
Leon Rosselson Brent Momentum
Ali Samhan Penarth CLP
Matt Scott Islington South CLP
Mark Sedgway Ilford North CLP
David Selzer Chester CLP
Ali Sendall Birkenhead CLP
Sam Semoff Riverside CLP
Reverend Dr Philip Stephens Swansea West CLP
Stephanie Sykes Woking CLP
Pauline Thomas Momentum South Birmingham
Andrew Todd Hexham CLP
John Tymon; Hampstead & Kilburn CLP
Jackie Walker Thanet CLP
Adam Waterhouse Southampton and Ramsey Labour Party
Stewart Whitehead Arundel and South Downs CLP
Nola Wolley North Somerset CLP