- Created: Friday, 19 April 2019 10:52
- Written by Robert Clough
The divisions in the Labour Party are becoming uncontainable. The decision of seven Labour MPs on 18 February to split and set up The Independent Group (TIG) marks a new stage in the struggle of the dominant right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to remove Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Corbyn himself has shown that he will not stand up to these attacks: maintaining the unity of the Labour Party has been his justification for a series of concessions to his political enemies.
This, however, has not stemmed the attacks. Jackie Walker’s expulsion on 27 March follows the suspension of left-wing MP Chris Williamson, a prominent Corbyn supporter, for alleged anti-Semitism, all part of a strategy to intimidate anyone expressing even mild support for the Palestinian people. Such support is now routinely claimed to be in breach of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. Behind this lies an equally serious intent – to create a hostile environment within Labour for anyone with the slightest anti-capitalist sentiment. Robert Clough reports.
The Independent Group
Announcing their decision, the seven MPs – Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Mike Gapes, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Angela Smith and Chuka Umunna – claimed that they had had ‘no choice’ but to resign the Labour whip. Berger declared that Labour was now ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ while Leslie said that Labour had been ‘hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left’. As Remainers who back a second referendum on EU membership, they condemned Corbyn’s leadership on Brexit. Six of the seven are members of Labour Friends of Israel; the day after their resignation, they were joined by LFI chair Joan Ryan. All faced deselection as MPs; they are all pro-imperialists:
- They voted for the 2011 NATO onslaught on Libya and are in favour of replacing Trident.
- Berger, a virulent Zionist, avoided or abstained on a parliamentary vote in 2016 to withdraw British support for the Saudi war on Yemen, as did Coffey, Gapes, Leslie, Ryan and Smith.
- Coffey, Gapes, Leslie and Ryan voted for war on Iraq. The others, who were not MPs at the time, later voted against any investigation into the war.
- Ryan collaborated with Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot to fabricate a charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ against another Labour Party member. A 2017 Al Jazeera investigation revealed Ryan’s collaboration; its report showed an LFI employee admitting that although ‘publicly we just try to keep the LFI as a separate identity to the embassy,’ they work ‘really closely together’ adding that Ryan spoke to Masot on ‘most days’.
- Umunna received a donation of £25,000 from the Zionist lobby.
Following Ryan’s departure from the Labour Party, the LFI stated in her support that ‘Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, anti-Jewish hatred and demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state has been allowed to flourish.’ These MPs are fully in the tradition of the Labour Party, a party which has always been pro-Zionist. Back in 1917, Labour declared its support for the Balfour Declaration; its 1944 conference advocated ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to allow the establishment of a Zionist state (‘Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out, as the Jews move in’); in 1972, then Labour leader Harold Wilson urged Israel to retain the post-1967 Occupied Territories: ‘Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation’.
These reactionaries understand that even the tamest support for the Palestinian people raises questions about the role of British imperialism in the Middle East. Ryan declared in her resignation letter that she could not support Corbyn because he ‘has presided over the culture of anti-Jewish racism and hatred of Israel.’ These reactionaries elide anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to characterise any opposition to Israel as anti-Semitic. Yet they can tolerate the sort of racism that Smith exhibited when she described ethnic minorities as having ‘a funny tinge’. They can accept into their ranks three former Tory MPs who had supported May’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. They remain silent on the racist oppression of the Palestinian people, now made explicit in the Israeli Nation-State Law. They have no comment on the UN report which says that war crimes may have been committed against Palestinians in Gaza during the 2018 ‘Great March of Return’. Nor do they reject war criminal Tony Blair’s support for TIG despite the vast sums of money he has made as a consultant to the brutal Saudi state. And while they support a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit, they are utterly opposed to resigning their seats to trigger a by-election over their stance. Democracy is all very well, but not when it may mean losing seats on the Westminster gravy train.
Undermining Corbyn the aim
The resignations triggered a renewed campaign to undermine Corbyn. Deputy Leader Tom Watson declared that ‘he no longer recognises’ his own party and claimed Labour had been too slow to deal with complaints of anti-Semitism. Watson himself has received tens of thousands of pounds from the Zionist lobby channelled through wealthy businessmen such as David Garrard (who helps finance LFI). Garrard is giving financial support to TIG. Watson has set up the Future Britain Group for Labour ‘moderates’. Its launch on 11 March attracted 130 Labour MPs and peers, and was addressed by Lord Mandelson, Lord Kinnock, Hilary Benn and millionaire MP Margaret Hodge. As pro-Palestinian journalist Jonathan Cook has observed, these ‘moderates’ ‘viscerally hate Corbyn. They regard his mildly socialist programme as a threat to the economic and social order that privileges them’.
When at the beginning of March, the ultra-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) threatened to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, over 100 Labour MPs pleaded with it to stay, apologising for the party’s ‘toxic racism’, and declaring that they recognised the importance of ‘calling out those who seek to make solidarity with our Jewish comrades a test of foreign policy’ – a dishonest swipe at anyone criticising the Israeli state. Corbyn himself also wrote to the JLM expressing his and the shadow cabinet’s ‘very strong desire for you to remain part of our movement.’ Such cravenness was sufficient to appease the JLM – for the present.
MP Siobhain McDonagh spelled out what the ‘moderates’ regard as at stake when asked in a Radio 4 interview if she thought Labour was dealing with anti-Semitism ‘seriously’. In reply, she said ‘I’m not sure that some people in the Labour Party can. Because it’s very much part of their politics, of hard left politics, to be against capitalists and to see Jewish people as the financiers of capital. Ergo you are anti-Jewish people.’ Asked whether her statement meant that ‘to be anti-capitalist you have to be anti-Semitic?’, McDonagh answered ‘yes’. The elision of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has been taken a step further: being anti-capitalist is now deemed to be racist.
Intensifying the attack on the Labour left
The PLP and its backers in the corporate and Zionist media got a taste of blood with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson on 27 February, following his public comments that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ in the face of criticism that it had not dealt with anti-Semitism seriously. Nearly 40 MPs from the so-called ‘soft left’ Tribune group called for disciplinary action. Zionist Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland accused him of being a ‘Jew-baiter’, even though it was clear that Williamson was not defending anti-Semitism, but confronting the relentless Zionist campaign against Corbyn. Williamson was further damned for helping to organise the showing of a documentary, Witch Hunt, in Parliament. The film exposes the way the Labour right-wing sought to defame black Jewish activist Jackie Walker as an anti-Semite. Suspended from the Labour Party for over two years, Walker was finally expelled, not for anti-Semitism, but for ‘prejudicial and grossly detrimental’ behaviour. Williamson’s subsequent, unnecessary apology for his choice of words will not save him: he has already been pilloried for opposition to the coup against President Maduro in Venezuela.
‘Momentum Friends of Israel’
Williamson has not just been vilified by the Zionists, but by sections of the Labour left. Momentum leader Jon Lansman, who had expressed ‘regret, sadness and some shame’ at Berger’s resignation, adding ‘I don’t want any Jewish member in the party to be leaving. We are absolutely committed to making Labour a safe space’, comments which Guardian columnist Owen Jones immediately seized on to expostulate ‘This (Williamson’s comments) is utterly out of order…Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?’ Jones has ignored Lansman’s principal concern which is to ensure that Labour remains a safe space for the JLM because he says it ‘clearly does represent the Labour wing of the Jewish community.’
Support for Williamson’s suspension also came from the supposedly radical Novara Media, with Ash Sarkar speaking about the need to confront ‘anti-Semitic thinking on the left’, and Aaron Bastani adding ‘I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.’ Other Corbyn supporters have published an open letter saying ‘We sincerely apologise to the Jewish community … for our collective failure on this issue to date’. Momentum has supported this initiative, moving Asa Winstanley to dub it ‘Momentum Friends of Israel’ in Electronic Intifada. Winstanley has himself been suspended from the Labour Party.
Labour – a ruling class party
The assault on Corbyn’s alleged tolerance of anti-Semitism has always been a cover for undermining not just his now much-diluted support for the Palestinian people, but also his declared opposition to austerity. McDonagh’s comments reflect the real concern of the dominant faction in the PLP to frustrate any serious Labour opposition to the impact of the crisis on the working class. Corbyn’s role is to square the circle: to reconcile those hundreds of thousands of supporters who wanted him to lead Labour into battle against austerity with the reactionary PLP.
Those on the left who dismiss the PLP reactionaries as ‘Blairites’ with a standpoint alien to Labour Party traditions are obscuring the reality. Labour is a ruling class party committed to parliamentary politics and the defence of British imperialist interests. These MPs are the mainstream. From time to time, it may be politically expedient for Labour to accommodate a left-wing trend to keep its ties on the working class, and to prevent any movement emerging beyond its control. In such conditions, the job of this opportunist left is to spread the fiction that Labour can be a progressive force, and that the mainstream are interlopers or aliens. This narrative is shared by the opportunist left outside the Labour Party, and with it come the same ideological concessions. Thus the SWP allowed the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland to attend its Stand up to Racism demonstration in Glasgow on 16 March, agreed with a Zionist diktat to ban Palestinian flags from the event, and attacked those who opposed Zionist participation. Rather than step up solidarity with the Palestinian people and challenge Zionist racism, the left outside Labour is backing down like the left within.
It is evident that divisions in the Labour Party will continue to deepen. Even Corbyn’s timid economic and social reform programme is too much for the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs. They may not want to leave the Labour Party – there is no guarantee that such a move will allow them to keep their snouts in the Westminster trough. But they do want to beat back the accession of members who have an anti-capitalist and pro-Palestinian sentiment. That means they will continue their witch hunt of those deemed to be anti-Semitic, with the enthusiastic support of the media and The Guardian in particular. If they are thwarted in their attempt to expel those whom they describe as anti-Semites, they will renew their threat to split to force Corbyn into further concessions. There is no way that Labour can be broken from its defence of Zionism and British imperialism.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 269 April/May 2019