This is a meeting to defend free speech on Palestine and Zionism and to fight the McCarthyist campaign to no platform anti-Zionists – you can access is via Youtube or Facebook
It is always disconcerting when members of groups claiming to be on the Marxist or socialist left, jettison their principles and basic solidarity for the sake of unprincipled alliances with those to their right. It is usually called Opportunism or Political Cowardice. Unfortunately that is true of the SWP break-away, Counterfire.
During the course of Labour’s leadership campaign the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has support for Israel, right or wrong, hardwired into its constitution, issued an updated version of the 10 Commandments. Their 5th Commandment was a slight change on the version handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Instead of ‘honour your father and mother’ there is ‘thou shalt not have anything to do with those expelled or suspended from the Labour Party.’ The title of these commandments is ‘Provide no platform for bigotry’.
The Zionists’ false anti-Semitism campaign against the Labour Party has been a prime example of what Orwell termed ‘doublethink’. Racists accusing anti-racists of racism and bigots accuse their opponents of bigotry.
This is the same Board of Deputies which has just agreed to take no position on Israel’s annexation (theft) of a third of the West Bank. It refuses even to comment on Netanyahu’s declaration that Palestinians in the territories annexed to Israel will not be granted Israeli citizenship. That Keir Starmer takes his orders on how to fight ‘anti-Semitism’ from a group that justifies Apartheid in Israel speaks volumes about Starmer’s statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
It is of course of a piece with his condemnation of the 10,000 strong demonstration in Bristol which toppled the statue of Edward Colston and threw it in the River Avon. No doubt, if Starmer had been around in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to accept segregation on a bus he would have told her that although segregation should have gone long ago the law must be obeyed.
Don’t Leave Organise Meeting
On April 29th at a Don’t Leave Organise meeting of 600, Diane Abbot and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were the main speakers. Jackie Walker and myself spoke from the audience. The very next day all hell broke loose with the Jewish Chronicle heading ‘Communal outrage over participation of Abbott and Ribeiro-Addy’. Of course British Jews were completely unconcerned about this contrived affair but the Zionist leaders of it were certainly ‘outraged’ at people exercising freedom of speech.
The Board of Deputies demanded that the two MPs should be suspended. Starmer reprimanded both of them for not having scoured the audience to pick out people expelled or suspended from the Labour Party.
Speaking in the same meeting with two Jewish anti-Zionists is now defined as anti-Semitic under Sir Keir Starmer! An allegation which is about as logical as saying that the Earth is flat. But if you repeat a lie long enough, as Goebbels observed, it then becomes received wisdom. Goebbels also stated that the truth is the biggest enemy of the fascist state.
Given the numbers being expelled under the ‘fast track’, no hearing procedures that Corbyn introduced, there’s going to be very great difficulties knowing who is allowed to speak in the future!
Banned Persons Under Apartheid
What one would expect of Sir Keir Starmer QC, being a former Director of Public Prosecutions, is that he proposes draft legislation to enforce the Board’s Commandments. If he is looking for a legal precedent he could do worse than look to South Africa’s Internal Security Act 1992 which governed the category of banned persons. Under this Act, a banned person was prohibited from attending meetings of any kind, speaking in public, or publishing or distributing any written material. It proscribed broadcasters and the press from broadcasting, publishing or reporting the banned person’s words.
This would be much fairer on MPs and other Labour Party members because it would obviate the need to know the background of all those in their audience.
Salma Yaqoob and Stop the War Coalition
On 12th May I was invited to speak to a Birmingham Stop the War Committee meeting along with Paul Kelemen. Salma Yaqoob was also invited to speak and the meeting was advertised as such.
Almost immediately the Zionists, in the form of former Labour MP Ian Austin and the so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism demanded that Salma be suspended from the Labour Party. Salma herself denied having agreed to speak but given that the Right is out to get her, a tactical withdrawal in the circumstances would be totally understandable.
Which didn’t stop the New Statesman’s Ailbhe Rea pontificating that ‘Starmer is facing his first test over anti-Semitism’. The irony is that the New Statesman was founded by a genuine anti-Semite, Sidney Webb, who once exclaimed that ‘French, German, Russian socialism is Jew-ridden. We, thank heaven, are free.’ His explanation being that ‘There’s no money in it.’ [Paul Kelemen, The British Left & Zionism – History of a Divorce, p. 20, Manchester University Press, 2012]
The reality is that Labour anti-Semitism, the genuine kind that is, has been the repository of the Right, figures like Herbert Morrison.
But at least the New Statesman had the good grace, after complaints from Jackie and myself, to alter Rea’s abysmal piece of writing by accepting that neither of us were expelled for anti-Semitism. Even the New Statesman, mouthpiece for the Fabians and the Labour Right accepts that lies need should be corrected.
Would that the same were true of Lindsey German, Convenor of Stop the War Committee and one of the founders of Counterfire. Counterfire likes to present itself as the with-it, up-to-date revolutionary and avante garde alternative to the staid and boring Socialist Workers Party from which it originated.
Stop the War Coalition Statement that Counterfire’s Lindsey German Endorses
When the furore over Salma Yaqoob erupted, Stop the War Coalition, of which she is a patron, issued a statement in defence of Salma. No one can complain of this, even though the statement was extremely defensive and goes out of its way to state that it ‘is implacably opposed to anti-Semitism’ thus lending credence to the idea that the attacks on Salma and the two Black MPs were really about anti-Semitism. It also, in the context of condemning the vitriol and abuse levelled against the three Black women said that it is ‘deeply irresponsible of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism to be adding fuel to this fire.’
The CAA is a far-Right, Islamaphobic organisation, with close ties to the Israeli Embassy and almost certainly funded by the Israeli state. Calling it ‘irresponsible’ for encouraging this abuse is like asking Tommy Robinson to condemn Islamaphobia. That is what fascists and racists do.
The statement strenuously avoids using the terms ‘Zionist’ or ‘Apartheid’ to describe the Israeli state instead calling for ‘justice’ for the Palestinians, which is something most Zionists could sign up to. It is a liberal phrase that avoids the political questions at the heart of the Palestinians’ Question.
The statement goes on to say that Stop the War Committee ‘refuse(s) to accept that criticism of the Israeli government and its policies can be construed as anti-Semitic.’ Again this is liberal Zionist phraseology not anti-Zionism. Even the most right-wing Zionists, including the CAA accepted that mere criticism of Netanyahu and the Israeli government isn’t anti-Semitic. The IHRA misdefinition of anti-Semitism is quite clear about this. It states that:
‘criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.’
It is only when people criticise the Jewish supremacist, i.e. Zionist nature of the Israeli state itself, or in the words of the IHRA
‘claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor’
that the accusation of anti-Semitism is levelled. Far from owing anything to a Marxist analysis this is just liberal flatulence, pure sound and fury signifying an abandonment of any class analysis of the Israeli state. I don’t believe that this is accidental.
Sir Stephen Sedley, a former Court of Appeal Judge, who is himself Jewish, is hardly a revolutionary socialist as John Rees and Lindsey German would claim to be. Yet Sedley in ‘Defining Anti-Semitism’ was able to deconstruct the IHRA in a way that Counterfire and Stop the War Committee seem completely unable to. Sedley wrote that:
‘Endeavours to conflate the two [Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism] by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic are not new…. ‘
Sedley went on to state that the seventh IHRA illustration of ‘anti-Semitism’
‘‘Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.’
‘bristles with contentious assumptions about the racial identity of Jews, assumptions contested by many diaspora Jews but on which both Zionism and anti-Semitism fasten, and about Israel as the embodiment of a collective right of Jews to self-determination.’
It is a sad day when so-called revolutionaries find themselves to the right of a former Court of Appeal Judge!
Why do I say that this liberal Zionist hogwash is not just accidental or sloppy wording but a deliberate attempt to accommodate to Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign and in particular the surrender of the Campaign Group of MPs to that campaign?
It lies in the final two sentences of the statement which read:
‘Local StWC groups act autonomously in deciding their platforms, but we note that Tony Greenstein has never been asked to address a national StWC meeting. StWC rejects both anti-Semitism and abusive language in political debate.’
This is, as I told Lindsey German, nothing less than political scabbing. Political and class treachery. It is saying to the Labour Right and Ian Austin that unfortunately local Stop the War groups are autonomous and the national group can do nothing about them. However the National Stop the War Committee is more responsible and has never had and never would have Tony Greenstein on its platforms.
Why else advertise the fact that I’ve ‘never been asked to address a national StWC meeting’? Does StWC regularly publish lists of people who they are not going to invite to address them?!
The final sentence makes it even clearer. The statement had already said that the StWC was ‘implacably opposed to anti-Semitism’. Why repeat it? It is abundantly clear that it can only refer to me. It also refers to ‘abusive language’. This was precisely the charge or should I say pretext that was levelled at me during my expulsion.
Permit me to give a few examples of ‘abuse’ that I was guilty of. The first was when I used the term ‘crooked McNicol’ about the Labour Party’s General Secretary, Iain McNicol. My charge sheet stated that
‘Mr Greenstein uses the word “crook” or “crooked” to describe Mr lain McNicol no less than 17 times’ .
It went on to explain that ‘A crook is a dishonest or criminal person. Mr Greenstein uses the work to abuse Mr McNicol.’ I agree with their definition! The reason I called McNicol crook was that thousands of Labour Party members had been suspended for the sole ‘crime’ of voting for Jeremy Corbyn. My own vote, as a registered supporter, was fished out of the electronic ballot box.
Calling McNicol ‘crooked’ was not abuse but an accurate description. Well after Labour’s leaked report this was precisely the adjective that Len McCluskey used!
Another example of the ‘abuse’ I was guilt of was when, according to the same charge sheet,
‘In the same article, Mr Greenstein insults Tom Watson MP by saying that his behaviour reminds him of the comment that he has “every quality of a dog except loyalty”
Was this abuse? After Corbyn was elected leader Watson pledged his undying loyalty. I think we know how that turned out.
The CAA, in its attack on Salma Yaqoob noted, the ‘second charge’ at my expulsion hearing
‘related to abuse, including calling the Jewish then-Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman a “supporter of child abuse”
The CAA is, for once, correct. In January 2016 and again in February 2018, in debates in the House of Commons on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children, Ellman defended Israel’s abuse, including sexual abuse, blindfolding, torture, beatings and isolation of Palestinian children on ‘security’ grounds. Nothing moved her. Is it seriously suggested that my description of Ellman was abuse?
The Origins of Counterfire
Counterfire’s repetition of this charge is truly shameful. And why has it done so? Because it seeks the patronage of Labour MPs and other worthies. Rather than standing up for its principles it bows to their prejudices and what is the received wisdom of the ruling class that the Labour Party is overrun with anti-Semitism.
The behaviour of Counterfire, which effectively controls StWC, is not accidental. Counterfire came out of the SWP. It was a right-wing split. When the SWP’s coalition with George Galloway in Respect collapsed in 2008, John Rees took the blame. It was he who had led the break-up of the Socialist Alliance in order to form a cross-class non-socialist party, Respect, based on communalism. In Respect’s founding conference in 2004 Rees had argued that
“We … voted against the things we believed in, because, while the people here are important, they are not as important as the millions out there. We are reaching to the people locked out of politics. We voted for what they want.”
The things the SWP voted against in Respect included a woman’s right to choose in deference to Galloway’s anti-abortion views.
Interserve managed a number of PFI-backed schools and hospitals in the UK. The boss was Lord Blackwell, head of the Conservative government’s policy unit from 1995 to 1997. When Galloway insisted the money was sent back, since he could smell a rat, Rees got the donor to make it out to a now long forgotten SWP front, Organising for Fighting Unions.
When the SWP Central Committee found out it insisted that Rees return the cheque again! It is clear that Rees was quite prepared to make a bonfire of his principles in order for Respect and now Counterfire to succeed. In essence there are no principles that he isn’t prepared to sacrifice.
Solidarity or a lack thereof
Perhaps the most fundamental of all socialist principles is solidarity against the common enemy. Whatever our differences as socialists when we see fellow socialists under attack from the capitalist state or their lackeys in the Labour Party socialists express solidarity and give support. This is really the ABC of socialism.
The SWP were therefore quite right to remove John Rees from their Central Committee although they were clearly to blame for ever having agreed to the Respect Party in the first place. Lindsey German accompanied and supported Rees throughout, resigning from the Labour Party with him.
When I first read the statement on Salma Yaqoob I assumed that the references to me were penned by an office novice. Perhaps naively I assumed that wiser heads would delete the sentences in question. I therefore wrote on 23 May and when there was no reply I wrote again a week later asking that the statement be amended. On 4 June Lindsey German responded in her role as Convenor of StWC: It was short, sweet and to the point:
‘In response to your communications: We are not changing the statement issued, which made no allegations against you. We will not engage in any further correspondence on this issue.’
It was, as they say economical with the truth! It is true there was no direct allegations against me but, as libel lawyers will argue, there was an innuendo meaning which made it quite clear that allegations were being made. The sole reason being to placate and reassure Labour MPs and trade union bureaucrats that StWC would not be taking up the cudgels against the false anti-Semitism campaign that led to Jeremy Corbyn’s removal.
What is truly pitiful is that Counterfire’s Lindsey German, and presumably Counterfire itself, sees no connection between preventing imperialist wars and the Zionist use of ‘anti-Semitism’ as a weapon of political war. Indeed it seems to see no connection between Zionism and imperialism, not least because it doesn’t seem to acknowledge there is such a thing as Zionism.
The Irony of John Rees, Lindsey German and Gilad Atzmon
The irony is that if anyone was guilty of tolerating and condoning anti-Semitism it is Rees and German. Between 2005 and 2010 the SWP had a close working relationship with Gilad Atzmon, an open anti-Semite who has doubted the veracity of the Holocaust.
‘‘If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war?… Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their next-door neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East.’
For over 5 years the SWP worked with Atzmon, defending him throughout as an Israeli anti-Zionist. Rees and German said nothing.
Throughout this time I wrote more than a dozen articles for Weekly Worker attacking the SWP’s links with Atzmon and calling on them to cut them. For example in February 2008 I wrote Time to say goodbye, the subtitle of which was ‘Why does the SWP not break its links with holocaust-denier Gilad Atzmon?’
As Asa Winstanley, the Associate Editor of Electronic Intifada tweeted, I was Atzmon’s nemesis. I made it my mission to purge the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of all traces of his influence. Not because Jews would suffer as a consequence of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism but because the Palestine solidarity movement would.
Yet despite this I do not accuse either Rees or German of anti-Semitism. What they are is political opportunists, who use revolutionary rhetoric to cover up their reformism and complete lack of socialist principles. Even to the extent of working with a well-known anti-Semite. What I cannot accept is their innuendo allegation that I have ever tolerated anti-Semitism.
It is this opportunism, the desire to have the name of an MP adorn their notepaper that leads to them being willing to concede to the Zionist anti-Semitism campaign, to the point where they echo the witchhunters’ accusations. Likewise their decision to frame their own criticism of Israel not in terms of an anti-Zionist, settler colonial analysis and anti-apartheid perspective but in terms which even liberal Zionists could accept.