An outrage against justice and truth
LEADING MOMENTUM ACTIVIST Jackie Walker has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged anti-Semitism. The allegation is baseless. The evidence for it consists of two comments Walker made on Facebook. The first accurately dismissed allegations that Labour has a “major problem with anti-Semitism”, on the same grounds and in much the same language as did those notorious anti-Semitic hate-groups, the Jewish Socialists’ Group and Independent Jewish Voices.
The second took issue with the argument that the moral legacy of the Nazi holocaust forbids Europeans from boycotting the State of Israel, on the basis that - in Walker’s words - the “Jewish holocaust does not allow Zionists to do what they want”. No historical group is purely and perpetually a victim, Walker observed, drawing upon the experiences of her own Jewish and non-Jewish ancestors, and in any case, “having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator”.
As Jon Lansman, chair of Momentum, has written, there was “nothing” remotely anti-Semitic in either of Walker’s comments. Walker’s critics evidently agree, since they felt obliged to misrepresent her words to make the charges stick. In response to a comment decrying “[any] action against” Jews (i.e. boycotting Israel) as “shameful” because of the Holocaust, Walker wrote:
“Oh yes - and I hope you feel the same towards the African holocaust? My ancestors were involved in both - on all sides and as I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews . . . and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator.”
That is, in response to a particularist weaponisation of the Nazi holocaust to secure legal and moral impunity for the State of Israel, Walker urged a universalist compassion and a sober sense of historical perspective. The Jewish Chronicle rendered this thoughtful and nuanced plea as follows: “Labour suspends Momentum supporter who claimed Jews caused ‘an African holocaust’”. The obvious question is, if Labour truly were awash with anti-Semitism, would there be any need for such brazen and cynical misrepresentation as this?
In truth, Jackie Walker is a committed and principled anti-racist activist, herself of Jewish heritage, who led the fight against UKIP in South Thanet, marched in Dover to defend impoverished refugees from neo-Nazi thugs, and co-founded the Kent Anti- Racism Network, which describes her as among the labour movement’s “most committed anti-racist campaigners”. Walker represents, in her person and in her conduct, the very best of what Labour could, should and needs to be.
The same cannot be said of her accusers. Walker’s ‘incriminating’ Facebook comments were unearthed by the Israel Advocacy Movement (IAM), a crude pro-Israel advocacy group which denounces Palestine solidarity activists as “fascists” and proclaims that “Zionism and Judaism are inseparable”. The IAM was founded by Joseph Cohen, who also set up the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) to discredit the wave of public opposition to Israel’s summer 2014 offensive against Gaza. In January 2015, the CAA released two polls suggesting that the UK was riddled with a rampant and virulent anti-Semitism. The polls were dismissed by all serious experts, and the CAA’s credibility was shattered - at any rate until its rehabilitation in recent weeks by credulous journalists hunting for anti-Corbyn rent-a-gobs.
The political calculation behind Labour’s trigger-happy policy is understandable. But the Tory, pro-Israel and Labour right activists manufacturing and publicising these false allegations have no interest in anti-Semitism and therefore cannot be appeased by even the hastiest and most indiscriminate Labour crackdown. They simply want to see the elected Labour leadership and its organised grassroots base diminished and destroyed. Even for the sake of political self-interest, it is time for Labour to end its cringing defensiveness in the face of a dishonest and cynical smear campaign, and take a firm stand on the evidence.
At the very least, allegations which have no prima facie evidence to support them must be dismissed, with their victims reinstated, and the process for dealing with such allegations ought to be made clear and transparent. The current approach stains the reputations of decent Labour members and deprives the Party of dedicated activists, while granting unwarranted credibility to the chancers, cynics and careerists who are abusing the moral legacy of Jewish suffering to commit outrages against justice and truth. » Jamie Stern-Weiner is an independent researcher of dual British-Israeli nationality based in Cambridge. He has written about the Israel-Palestine conflict for The Nation, openDemocracy, Jadaliyya, MERIP and Le Monde diplomatique (English edition). He is on twitter @jsternweiner.