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An Open Letter to Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

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.

Yours sincerely,

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

No such thing as a free lunch?

New Labour dissected

New Labour dissected