Who is stepping over a line?

Last night I was outraged by Margaret Hodge’s disgusting abuse of the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to shield her appalling behaviour over a political difference with labour leader jeremy Corbyn on how the Labour Party combats antisemitism.

Today I’ve been getting more and more wound up by her outrageous assertion in the same interview (or rather “platform” – because in an interview you might be challenged), that there is “a very thin line” between supporting Palestinian rights and antisemitism.

Margaret-Hodge-Jeremy-Corbyn-1004616She claimed that Jeremy Corbyn had crossed that line ( slandering him again as an antisemite, with the same lack of evidence but more self-control).

What an insult to the Palestinian people, living as refugees in exile or under occupation for so many decades, to believe that their assertion of their rights and their campaigning for human dignity might, at any moment, tip into antisemitism.

What a clear example of how the dubious IHRA examples will work in the Labour Party should they be accepted – any open campaigning for Palestinian human rights among Labour members will be forensically scrutinised, and have to continually prove that it wasn’t antisemitic. Guilty until proved innocent.

The only line connecting support for Palestinian rights and antisemitism should be a linewest-bankpalestinian-woman-israeli-soldiersrtr23635 of solidarity – for one, and against the other – as the fight against antisemitism and for Palestinian rights are actually part of the same fight… if you believe in equality.

But then again, I’m not convinced that advocates of Labour Friends of Israel such as Hodge and her backing vocalists Berger, Smeeth and Austin, and their transparent propaganda to defend the indefensible actions of the Israeli military under both Labour and Likud governments, have any conception of equal rights for Palestinians.

The Holocaust clearly features high in Margaret Hodge’s consciousness. It must do  because she keeps mentioning it in her political squabbles. I wonder, then, if she has heard of Marek Edelman, Jewish socialist, internationalist and anti-Zionist, second in command in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?

He fought against fascist hooligans in Poland before the war, was incarcerated by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought in the guerilla battles of the Uprising for three weeks, escaped through the sewers after the Nazis burnt the ghetto to the ground, and hid with non-Jewish Polish socialists in Warsaw until the end of the war.

He came out of hiding to fight alongside other ghetto survivors and with fellow socialist Poles in the ’44 Warsaw Uprising.

Staying in Poland after the war Edelman held fast to his principles of equality and internationalism and was a fighter for human rights not jsut for Jews but for all, for freedom and dignity for all peoples, until he died in 2009.

And he absolutely detested Zionism – what it did to the Palestinians and how it continued to oppress them. He made contact with Palestinian students in Poland, and through his professional life (as a cardiologist) with Mustapha Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian doctor and human rights activist in the Occupied Territories.

edlemanEdelman saw no distinction and no contradiction at all between fighting for peace with justice and full equality for Palestinians, and fighting to his last breath against any expression of antisemitism. He did both courageously to the best of his ability at every stage of his life.

His motto for Jews was “Always with the oppressed. Never with the oppressors”.

I wonder if Hodge would have dared to suggest to this Holocaust fighter and survivor that his support for Palestinians might at any moment cross “a very thin line” into antisemitism?

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Terrorists and peacemakers in Tunis and Israel – what the papers won’t tell you

While controversies rage on over Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Tunis in 2014, and whether he was standing near the grave of Salah Khalaf (AKA Abu Iyyad), or not, one of the greatest advocates for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, 94 years old Uri Avnery, lies unconscious after a severe stroke from which he may not recover.

So, what’s the connection?

Avnery, a prolific journalist, came to Palestine as a child in the 1930s when his family fled from Nazi Germany. He did not just talk peace: he put himself on the line by meeting with high up figures in the PLO including Yasser Arafat, at a time when governments and mainstream press outlets in Israel, Britain and the USA all cast Arafat as a terrorist, and leader of a terrorist organisation. In the late 1940s, Avnery was a member and activist of Irgun the same right-wing Israeli nationalist and terrorist body that Menachem Begin was so proud of being part of. But Avnery broke from their politics in the mid-1950s and never looked back.

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Avnery and Sartawi, London 1983

In 1983, for the first time in Britain, a high-ranking PLO official – a heart surgeon called Issam Sartawi – shared a public platform with an Israeli peace activist – Uri Avnery. The meeting took place at County Hall, then seat of the Greater London Council, now an aquarium. I was one of a dozen activists, mainly Jewish Socialists’ Group members and expatriate Israeli anti-Zionist leftists, who organised the meeting. We had been encouraged to undertake this initiative by Maxim Ghilan, founder in 1981 of the International Jewish Peace Union.

Like Avnery, Ghilan had come to Palestine as a youngster (via France his birthplace and Spain where he grew up), and joined an even more extreme right-wing Zionist group than Avnery – the Lehi of Yitzhak Shamir (also known as the Stern Gang). Ghilan’s switch though, from right to left politically, came earlier than Avnery’s. Imprisoned by the Labour Zionist government shortly after the establishment of Israel, he became an advocate for Palestinian rights after personally witnessing the sickening torture of Palestinian prisoners.

He moved back to France, from Israel, in 1969 and began the project of bringing together Israeli leftists such as Avnery and General Mati Peled with PLO members and officials in a secret dialogue in various European cities.  This dialogue was in part facilitated by another key contact of Ghilan’s – an Egyptian Jewish communist called Henri Curiel.

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Henri Curiel

The event in London in 1983 was electric. Around 300 people attended, the majority sympathetic to the aims of the meeting, but a few dozen on either side – Far Right Zionists and Palestinian rejectionists – determined to physically disrupt it. I was among the stewards in this testing situation. There were also armed police present, as Sartawi was convinced there were operatives who for some months had been seeking an opportunity to assassinate him. Just six weeks later he was gunned down in the lobby of a hotel in Portugal where he had been attending a conference of the Socialist International. Ghilan was in Spain at the time and Sartawi had invited him to meet him in that hotel lobby, but Ghilan was called back to Paris to attend to an urgent matter. He was convinced later that he would have been gunned down too, for the same reasons.

The night before the County Hall meeting we gathered in a private house to confirm every practical detail of the meeting. We hadn’t yet decided who should speak first. Sartawi said Avnery should speak first. Why? “…because you were a terrorist before I was a terrorist”. Avnery had been part of Irgun’s activities in the 1940s; Sartawi had been one of the Fedayeen (Palestinian guerillas) who survived the Battle of Karameh in 1968. Both Avnery and Sartawi were now completely focused on dialogue and peace with justice.

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Salah Khalaf with Yassir Arafat

Which brings me back to Salah Khalaf/Abu Iyyad, believed to have masterminded the horrific Munich massacre of Israeli athletes, and now buried in the Palestinian Cemetery in Tunis. When I heard his name mentioned in connection with the Corbyn in Tunis story, I remembered his name from the conversations with Maxim Ghilan in the early 1980s, but at the time I was unaware of his connection with the Munich massacre. This morning I read an interview Ghilan gave in 2004, a year before he died suddenly in Tel-Aviv, in which he recalled the main Palestinian contacts he had made in the 1970s and 80s, and who were engaged in, or facilitated, the secret dialogue activities. He listed four people in particular from the PLO leadership. The first name was Abu Iyyad’s.

Abu Iyyad had apparently undergone a similar process to Avnery, Sartawi and Ghilan.

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Maxim Ghilan

At the time of his murder in 1991, he was not a terrorist but a fighter for peace, a strong advocate of dialogue with Israelis, and mutual recognition. Indeed that was probably why he was murdered, rather than as revenge 19 years later for Munich.

One in-depth newspaper report just after he was assassinated in 1991 said:

Salah Khalaf, 57, was born in Jaffa. He was…considered the organization’s (PLO’s) main ideologist and strategist. He was the key person behind the idea of a secular state in Palestine, in which Jews and Arabs would live together. That idea replaced the original PLO ideology, which saw no place for Jews in Palestine. In recent years, Khalaf encouraged meetings between Palestinian leaders and representatives of the Israeli left.

…he was the key figure behind the initiative two years ago to declare an independent Palestinian state, which implied recognition of the State of Israel. Khalaf had a PLO career that ranged from most bloody to conciliatory, even a voice of moderation. He was a founder … of the terrorist Black September organization, … responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics… But he was also the man who made a videotaped address to Israelis calling for peace.

…In February 1989, in an address which was smuggled into Israel and presented at a Middle East peace symposium, Khalaf called for direct talks with the Israelis, with a goal of signing a peace agreement and then taking it to an international conference… Khalaf’s statements in the address to (this)… symposium… were praised by Israeli doves.

‘I look forward to a future in which our meeting will be face to face and we can discuss the future of our two peoples as well as of real peace,’ he told startled Jews and Arabs at the symposium, which was organized by the International Center for Peace in the Middle East… Everything that has happened to the Palestinian and Israeli people — the blood which has been spilled, the victims, the maimed — has moved us to react to the call of every Palestinian and Israeli child, so that we can take a serious step toward peace… There can be no peace without two states which will co-exist side by side… and which will be able to say to the entire world: the war in the Middle East has ended, and the tragedy is over.’

That report was filed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a widely respected news bureau created just over 100 years ago in the Hague, by Jacob Landau, as the Jewish Correspondence Bureau. Then, just as now, its mission has been to collect and disseminate news to Jewish newspapers across the world. Today it operates from New York as a not-for profit corporation.

If the more serious media today, beyond the gutter press, weren’t afflicted with willful amnesia, in their efforts to tag-along on the relentless and dishonest anti-Corbyn bandwagon, they might have uncovered the much more interesting story about the controversial individual who was buried in the cemetery that Corbyn visited. Corbyn, with his lifetime of commitment to peace and internationalism, had gone there to honour 73 people – mostly Palestinians but also Tunisians –  killed in 1985 in an act of state terrorism by Israeli forces, an act unequivocally condemned by the UN, and even by Corbyn and the Labour left’s nemesis, Margaret Thatcher.

 

 

Labour’s centrists can’t ignore the threat from the Tory right and their far right allies any longer

Jacob Rees Mogg’s open support for Boris Johnson after yet another of his outrageous racist statements, is a calculated move. And it is not only about throwing down a challenge to Theresa May at a time when she is clearly floundering on a host of issues, not least Brexit.

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Temporary UKIP leader Gerard Batten with permanent far right moron, Tommy Robinson

The forces of the right and far right are re-aligning. UKIP has openly shifted towards a more fluid relationship with the menacing street forces that have coalesced recently around the “Free Tommy Robinson” Campaign. As a result it is experiencing a revival in its cross-class support.

In response to this, Johnson and Rees Mogg are deliberately seeking to strengthen support among Conservative voters for the openly racist right-wing of the party, and reassure those considering ditching the Tories for UKIP, that the space for their views and the policies they inspire not only exists within the Tory Party, but it is getting wider.

At a time when American alt-Right figurehead Steve Bannon is dashing around Europe establishing a very well-funded foundation to strengthen similar-minded movements and parties on our continent, Johnson and Rees Mogg want to create a closer alignment between the Conservative Party and those same forces.

May is being presented as the “moderate” here, yet we know that she promoted and presided over the scandalous hostile environment that resulted in such disgraceful treatment of Caribbean citizens in Britain, a number of whom were deported to their countries of birth where many are now destitute. New and shocking cases continue to come to light. And May continues to allow the tortuous regime in detention centres such as Yarls Wood to persist.

We know too, though the media very rarely remind us, that she remains absolutely committed to the Tories’ alliances with some ugly right-wing parties in Europe, that were cemented by David Cameron when he helped to found the European “Conservatives and Reformists Group” in 2009. This group includes openly antisemitic, Islamophobic and anti-Roma parties. The Conservatives make up the largest contingent but their principal ally remains the Polish Law and Justice party – who have seriously upped the ante on antisemitism in the last two years.

Hungary’s Fidesz Party, led by Orban, remains outside that alliance though there is an

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Anti-Soros poster blaming Soros for migrants

increasingly close and sycophantic relationship between the Polish and Hungarian governments, each reinforcing the other’s populist authoritarianism. Orban’s recent decisive election victory owed much to his openly antisemitic propaganda campaign about George Soros, alongside his scaremongering about refugees and Muslims. His election victory was gushingly welcomed by Johnson.

One of the very few Labour politicians here who seems cognisant of the growing threat posed by populist racist parties in Europe is Jeremy Corbyn who has taken opportunities on visits to Europe over the last two years to warn of these dangers. But he is engulfed in the crisis here where his political opponents not only outside the party, but also many within, are waging an unrelenting war on him, purportedly over the Labour leadership’s positioning on a definition of antisemitism that comes in a package with a contentious set of examples. Ironically several of the countries whose governments have signed up to this definition – promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – are those where the forces of antisemitism and other racism grow by the day nurtured by these same governments. For many of Corbyn’s opponents though, it is little more than a smokescreen behind which a proxy war against him is fought.

Those outside the party, mostly for their own narrow political purposes, will try to keep the heat on that issue. But inside the party it is really time for the Labour Party across the spectrum of left to right to pause for a moment, for all our sakes, put things in perspective, and wake up to the urgent need to confront the right and far right in Britain and continental Europe.

That doesn’t mean abandoning genuine arguments of principle, strongly felt, around approaches to antisemitism. Of course they should continue to be debated, through branches and other democratic party forums, and through the NEC,  in a calm and respectful manner, rather than the bullying, headline-grabbing way that elements of the Labour Right have adopted.

The Labour Party, as a result of its openly declared progressive, anti-austerity, anti-racist politics, is currently bucking the trend in Europe, where social democratic parties are struggling and in decline. But this is a critical moment, which means that the party needs to give itself much more space right now to discuss how it can develop as clear and unified an approach as possible to tackle the much greater and more pressing threat from the right.

The Tories are allied with parties in Latvia and Bulgaria who organise annual marches respectively for local Waffen SS fighters and pro-Nazi generals. That is a little more serious than a hyperbolic tweet about Israel, or an allegation of guilt by association at an  almost forgotten event.

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March to honour Latvian SS, supported by Tories’ European allies

If the likes of Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, Ian Austin and Ruth Smeeth, are not willing or able to help unify the party against this threat, because they are obsessed above all with toppling the Labour leadership, then wiser individuals in the centre and right of the party, who have a broader and more open and constructive perspective, need to step up. They will need to push themselves forward in order to discuss matters with the left in a civilised way that respects democratic norms, for the benefit of the party as a whole.

Those, like the Jewish Labour Movement, who think that despite the threat from the right/Alt-Right/far right, the most important thing to do as the 2018 Labour Conference opens, is to demonstrate against their own party over the antisemitism row, with numbers swollen by Tories and Right wing Zionists, need to be urgently challenged, not least by their friends.

The stakes could not be higher.

Time to call their bluff

It is surely getting near to the time when Jeremy Corbyn will need to call their bluff. Whose bluff? The self-proclaimed and self-important leadership of the Jewish community, who don’t want to talk to Jeremy at all – they just want to talk at him. When Jesus said “It is better to give than receive”, the Board of Deputies thought he was talking about “advice”. They want to humiliate him. They want to drive him from office, to save Theresa May’s bacon (or salt beef, if you prefer), and keep us all nervous about discussing the rights of Palestinians.

But he’s got to speak to Jewish leaders – we elected them. Didn’t we? No, very few of us Jews did that. Jewish Leadership Council? Unelected. They just announced themselves. Chief Rabbi? No, appointed not elected. Campaign Against Antisemitism? Where the hell did they come from? Completely unelected. Ah, but the Board of Deputies – some of them are elected. No? Well, in theory, yes. If you are a member of a synagogue you might get a vote, but in some synagogues not if you are a woman. How many elections are contested? What percentage of voters take part? When did your synagogue last change its deputy? What – as long ago as that? And then there are a lot of Jews are not members of synagogues. Hmmm, that’s a problem. And, at the end of the day, decisions of the Board are made by paid officers not ordinary elected members.

They talk in such portentous tones. But for them it is a sick game. Make a statement about this. Apologise for that. Get rid of this person from the Labour Party. Disown that one! ….antisemitism, antisemitism, antisemitism. Probably the least of their nefarious activities is how they have cheapened and devalued that term to the point where ordinary people outside the community are getting dangerously tired of hearing about it and might not react to actual cases.

There have been so many ridiculous allegations against Corbyn – the latest one about how offensive it was for Jeremy Corbyn to release his statement just a few hours before the Sabbath! (A bit like the Jewish Chronicle every week.) When I heard that one I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I think I actually cried.

I cried for the ordinary people of Britain, who include a significant number of Jews, struggling to get by as the wealth gap increases. And I cried even more for the real have-nots, the growing number of homeless I pass in the street. The people in one of the richest countries in the world looking at the future with hopelessness and desperation.

I have heard Jeremy say on more than one occasion that if he becomes Prime Minister hefood-bank-2015 would want to be judged first and foremost on what he had done for the homeless. Sadly he will have been the first Prime Minister to have had that priority. How criminal would it be, if this autumn there was an election, but the current government of Foodbank Britain, Grenfell Tower, zero-hours contracts, the Windrush Scandal, of Yarls Wood Detention Centre etc. etc etc…(together with its bribed bigots of the DUP), continued to be in office because enough people had been brainwashed into not voting for Jeremy – the “fucking antisemite and racist” as one of his own MPs disgracefully called him? Or because so much possible campaigning time was wasted on the false outrage of a few loud, but actually unrepresentative, self-defined Jewish leadership bodies, who are a bit top-heavy with Conservative supporters in any case.

Those “leaders” could have met Jeremy last Friday at mid-day at the Jewish Museum (I was invited too). The Museum agreed after a little wobble, but as one of the main culprits, Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard gleefully claimed in a tweet, many of them were emailing him to say they would boycott the museum if the meeting went ahead there.

Many more Jews, beyond those “leadership ” bodies could have met Jeremy to discuss matters three months ago, but the very same people complaining “But he won’t meet us”, made it clear that they wouldn’t attend if certain other Jewish groups (who they might have disagreed with) attended. The whiff of hypocrisy is in danger of becoming a stench.

I have this fantasy that Corbyn does meet these “leaders”, and they agree that he can set the agenda. He puts foodbanks at the top, then he poses the question: “What is the Jewish community’s view on foodbanks? Are they good or bad? What might be the best way of reducing the need for them without harming those who rely on them? And then he brings up transport, and asks for the Jewish  community view on renationalisation of the railways, to which these leaders reply: “I don’t know really, we would need to talk to our communities, gather different views…”

And then he says quietly, “But you seem to know very well, without any consultation at all, what ‘the community’ believes about the IHRA examples, their attitude to Israel/Palestine, don’t you?”

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in the middle of the Jewish bloc on the refugee demonstration september 2015

Well it is just a fantasy. But it reveals a truth. There is a very great deal of point to Jeremy meeting with, and listening to, the issues and concerns of ordinary Jews, especially those Jews who he can find at least some common ground with. There are a lot of us about.

I can remember the day he was elected leader in 2015. Within minutes of the result being announced, he rushed off to speak at a huge demonstration on an issue that has been close to his heart for decades – supporting refugees. I may be wrong but I don’t recall his detractors (Hodge, Austin, Berger, et al) being there. But I do remember being part of a very large Jewish bloc on that demonstration, with a huge contingent from Liberal and Reform synagogues, especially younger people.

I know many of those Jews who have shared the same desire that Jeremy has displayed throughout his political career, for social justice, for community, for human rights, would relish the opportunity to sit down with him and give their range of  perspectives on the issues that are being talked about in such a narrow and destructive way. For all the well publicised stories of Jews leaving the Labour Party, I know many Jews who have joined Labour since he became leader.

Back in April he had a very relaxed encounter with 100 young Jews. He spent four hours at a Seder night to mark the festival of Passover with them, and a few older ones (like me). But for his troubles he was denounced as an antisemite, and seen as particularly reprehensible by the Daily Mail for sitting on the same table as me (a “left-wing author”, no less.)

It was important that Jeremy has now made a public statement in his own voice on the painful current disputes. I have small quibbles with it, but in general I think it was a very good statement. It reassured Jews who wanted to listen. It set out in a very clear way his commitment to them as citizens, as members of a minority community, and as Labour Party members. It acknowledged communal diversity and the significant input of non- and anti-Zionist Jews in the party alongside those committed to Zionism. It argued forcefully that the perspective of Palestinians in the party should not be censored or penalised, and that anti-Zionism did not equal racism. He spoke of the recent killings of Palestinian civilians, and condemned the new Nation-State Law in Israel that has formally turned Palestinians and other non-Jews into second class citizens.

He openly acknowledged that the party faced some genuine issues around antisemitism but put it in perspective. The complaints – which must be fairly heard and more speedily – involve less than 0.1% of the membership. (Note to the press who talk of hundreds of incidents – these are complaints and allegations that have yet to be tested for the evidence).

I would have liked to have seen him develop the point near the end of the statement

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Recent far right demonstration in London

where he referred to the common threat to Blacks, Muslims, and Jews from the Far Right, here and in Europe. We urgently need to have strategy discussions on this among the threatened groups. Though if you saw how reluctant our “leaders” were to sit in a room with other Jews they don’t control politically, they would no doubt be even more nervous of groups outside the community.  I can think of many Jews from a number of organisations who would jump at the chance to take part with the Labour leadership in constructive anti-racist discussions with representatives of other minority groups.

So my plea to Jeremy and his supporters for how we go forward from here, is quite simple: Get back to discussing and promoting Labour’s core issues over which it is at war with the Tories, in public meetings and open air rallies around the country, and, in the meantime, start to meet with those Jews who are sincere and not playing power games or using diversionary tactics that seem designed only to help Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Stephen Pollard’s crocodile tears about the threats to Jews

The Jewish Chronicle editor, STEPHEN POLLARD, portrays himself as a great defender of the Jewish community against all antisemitism. He has shown a sharp eye  for any antisemitism that he can try to link in some way to the Labour Party and its twice elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. On Friday 27th July he was especially proud that three Jewish newspapers, of which his was the biggest partner (though with a significantly declining circulation), all published the same front page leader claiming that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country” in their print and online editions. I presume that as the senior partner in this venture, these words are his.

How would it look if an example came to light of a member of the Jewish community who faced a real existential threat from neo-Nazis, and the actions of Stephen Pollard increased the danger to him and his family, rather than acting to protect them?
What if the evidence showed that he had been privately asked by that family to take one small action that would mitigate this threat, and he refused point blank to do so?


I know of such a case. It happened to our family. It was one of our sons who faced death threats from neo-Nazis. We did not go public at the time because we were worried that doing so would place our son at greater risk. In the light of Pollard’s claims about an ‘existential threat to Jews”, our son has decided to make this public in the last few days.

This is his testimony

“Back in 2011 the Jewish Chronicle ran a piece on me, which also included mention of my parents and their politics, and my childhood and education, none of which had any bearing whatsoever on the story. One of the consequences of them running this piece is that my parents and I were profiled by far right racists and fascists. Some fascists got hold of my parents’ address, and some details about all of us were shared on extreme far right forums like Stormfront. I received death threats, while my parents had to find ways to secure their home. In all cases these threats were explicitly linked to us being identified as Jewish, by far-right antisemites. At the time my parents and I wrote to the editor, Stephen Pollard, and requested, given these grave antisemitic threats, that the article be removed from the Jewish Chronicle website (it had already gone out in a print edition.) He refused and the article remained online.
So excuse me when I can’t quite believe my ears, when you protest there is an ‘existential threat’ to Jews. The one time in my life I was profiled and violently threatened by known antisemites because I was Jewish, you refused to help. It turns out safety should only be guaranteed to the ‘right’ sort of Jews, and only when it serves your political agenda.”

Commentary: It was the Jewish Chronicle‘s editorial decision to report this case in such a way that it gratuitously provided details of other family members and their left-wing political views.  It was the decision of the editor, Stephen Pollard to leave the report online, after it became apparent that neo-Nazis were using it to make threats and incite acts of violence against us. In an email dated 14th August 2011 we wrote to Stephen Pollard, copied to two members of the Board of the Jewish Chronicle (Richard Burton and Jennifer Lipman), which said “under the circumstances we would request that you urgently remove the article from your website”. On neo-Nazi websites they had published photos of our son with the crosshairs of a target superimposed on his face. We had also pointed out factual inaccuracies in the Chronicle‘s report. Pollard fixed these and wrote an email back to us on 15th August saying: “You do not point to any other inaccuracies in our piece and I see no reason to remove it.” Neither of the Board members copied in responded to us.

Just a few weeks before this incident, a Norwegian neo-Nazi, Anders Breivik had massacred 77 people, mostly children at a socialist summer camp, having been inspired by online hate material. Pollard’s argument for keeping the material there was that it was factually accurate. And yet by doing so once he was aware of the threats, he was increasing the danger to us.

As a left-wing Jewish family, we knew that we were definitely not at one with Pollard politically. In 2006 he had written that in the “battle to preserve western civilisation” , the “Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy” (https://archive.li/Vp7Sr). We were aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s he was a leader writer for the Daily Express and wrote sometimes for the Daily Mail at a time when both newspapers were being heavily criticised by anti-racists for repeated scaremongering stories against immigrants and refugees. Nevertheless we were and still are very shocked that the editor of the leading community newspaper could have behaved like this in response to a clear case of a murderous antisemitic threat against a member of the Jewish community.

Our terrifying experience tells us that Stephen Pollard, despite publicly claiming to be in the front line today of the fight against antisemitism, will only act to defend certain Jews, and he is prepared to leave others endangered. There are very few possible answers to the question of why he acted in this way towards members of his own community, and none of them are very edifying.

I really haven’t got the words to describe this cynical and inhumane attitude and his behaviour over this case, but perhaps those people who read this testimony will treat his utterances now with the contempt they deserve.

The “wrong” sort of survivor?

The controversies that emerged this week, over the  harsh words about Israel uttered by

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Marek Edelman

a Holocaust survivor at a meeting eight years ago, have made me think about Marek Edelman, the last surviving member of the command group who led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  He died in 2009. I was fortunate and privileged to meet him briefly at a conference in Warsaw in 1997. In the current “debates” I have no doubt that in some people’s warped minds he too would be derided and disdained as the “wrong kind of Holocaust survivor”.

Edelman was a Bundist (Jewish socialist) – a lifelong anti-nationalist and internationalist,

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Mustafa Barghouti

and opponent of Zionism. He remained in Poland – his homeland – after the war, fought against the post-war Stalinist regime from a left-wing and democratic position, and continued to struggle for a better and more humane world. His work in this regard included befriending Palestinian students in Poland, and making professional contacts (he trained as a cardiologist) through international conferences, with Palestinian doctors, especially Mustafa Barghouti, a founding member of the the secular left-wing Palestinian National Initiative. They corrersponded about the possiblity of intiating a joint civil society project towards Palestinian and Israeli coexistence with equality and justice.

During the post-war decades, Edelman suffered appalling treatment by Israeli leaders, spokespersons and media for daring to remain an opponent of Zionism, and criticise its increasigly brutal rule, and for daring to declare that in the ghetto he and his comrades had “fought for dignity and freedom, not for a territory nor for a national identity”.

In 1945, he wrote a gripping and astonishingly detailed account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Polish. It was published in Yiddish and English in 1946. It took another 55 years to be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publisher.md805326772 (1)

When Israel hosted the Eichmann trial in 1961, a key event in recording the horrors of the Holocaust, but in a manner that emphasised Israeli ownership of Holocaust history, many key witnesses were invited to Jerusalem. But not Edelman. Accounts of the Eichman trial were translated into more than 20 languages, but not Yiddish, the language of the people who were incarcerated with Edelman in the ghetto.  For several decades in Israeli schools students learned about Zionist resisters, and not of the more numerous non-and anti-Zionist resisters.

At various times he was nominated to receive honorary degrees from Israeli universities, but that was blocked by key people in Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance establishment. When Edelman came to Israel to visit fellow Holocaust survivors he had stayed in touch with, his presence in the country was often greeted with very hostile press campaigns.

Back in Poland his clashes with the Stalinist authorities often led him to boycott official ceremonies of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and he began a tradition of alternative ceremonies that continues today.

By the time the 50th anniversary commemoration for the Warsaw Ghetto came around, though, in 1993, Poland was a liberal democracy under the presidency of former trade union leader, Lech Walesa, who knew Edelman very well. Under Walesa’s premiership there was no need for Edelman to hold an alternative ceremony, but Walesa knew Edelman principally in the Polish context and hadn’t realised he had stepped into a minefield when he invited a delegation from Israel led by then Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the commemoration.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial

Ghetto resisters’ monument, Warsaw

The Israeli delegation told Walesa they would refuse to participate if they had to stand alongside and meet the anti-Zionist Marek Edelman. This was the attitude of Labour Zionists to a hero of the Jewish reistance to Nazism. Walesa was astonished but didn’t want to get embroiled in an internecine Jewish quarrel so he sought a diplomatic solution. Before the platform speeches took place, he performed a very public wreath-laying ceremony at Warsaw’s striking stone memorial to the ghetto fighters. He walked towards the memorial with arms linked on the one side to Marek Edelman and on the other side to Edelman’s grandchild. It was a very powerful moment. And then Rabin, without having to meet or shake any anti-Zionist hands, took his place among the platform speakers.

The Israeli delegates included left-winger Shulamit Aloni, who had a less jaundiced view

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Yitzhak Rabin

of Edelman. During the visit she persuaded Rabin to have a private meeting with Edelman – which he did – and, according to Aloni, he emerged very struck by Edelman’s personality. Before he left Warsaw, Rabin had met Edelman again, over breakfast with Walesa. In the conversation Edelman reminded Rabin that, from his reading, he knew that Rabin himself had a Bundist uncle from Vilna. Rabin looked a little uncomfortable. He then urged Rabin to make a proper peace with the Palestinians. Edelman recounted later that Rabin gave an embarrassed smile.

The threat that Edelman posed in the eyes of Zionists like Rabin was a challenge about how the past might more authentically be read, after it had endured a Zionist makeover, but it was even more so a challenge in the present. He legitimised the continuity and integrity of an anti-Zionist perspective, which he emphasised in a memorable interview when he said that to be a Jew means “always  being with the oppressed never with the oppressors”.

Zionist ideologues, and the crass “Israel right or wrong ” brigade here, who dominate the political institutions of the Jewish community in Britain have chosen to defend the indefensible. They have chosen the side of the oppressors. That they also seek to use their narrow nationalist reading of the Holocaust to deny the struggles for Palestinian human rights in the present, is beneath contempt. Small wonder that they face a growing challenge from dissident Jews in many countries, committed to social justice and their counterparts within Israel itself.

Thoughts on the latest episode of “Storm in a Teacup – our everyday summer saga of antisemitism allegations.” Tonight’s special guest: Pete Willsman

In Yiddish there are two words for a question: “frage’ (fra-geh) and “shayle” (shy-leh). But there is an important difference. you can ask anyone a “frage”. But a “shayle” is what you ask a rabbi. Rabbis welcome questions and are supposed to be good at answering them.

Actually I want to ask 68 rabbis a couple of questions:

1. Why did you sign that letter absolutely defending every word of the IHRA (working) definition of antisemitism and its accompanying examples (for guidance) as if they were carved in stone and handed to Moses on Mount Sinai?

2. What was your evidence for saying that the Labour Party had a “widespread and severe” problem of antisemitism?

Now my name is Rosenberg, and I spent my teenage years in Ilford. I reckon I’ve got a good chance of getting an answer.

If my name was Pete Willsman though, and I asked the questions in an intemperate, frustrated and pissed-off manner, I reckon that in today’s wild and febrile political atmosphere I might risk getting called an “antisemite”.

Willsman asked the second question. And speculated in a closed meeting – in what was supposed to be an open discussion where people speak their mind and might change their mind too – that the rabbis might be wrong, that a few Jewish Trump supporters are pulling the wool over people’s eyes, and that a number of the allegations relate to comments on fake social media accounts.

I don’t know Pete Willsman except as a name on the Labour left, an anti-racist Petes-Conference-Guide-e1346280445633campaigner, and activist in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

But I do know that there has been an all-out War against Corbyn-led labour, and one of the battalions, alongside the Tory Party and the Pro-Tory press, and pro-Israel lobbyists, has been a narrow group of right-wing pro-Zionist Jews, some of whom are absolutely  open in their support and admiration for Trump. And I do know that antisemitic posts have been outed as being from fake accounts pretending to be Labour members/supporters, so I don’t think it is at all outlandish to contribute that to the debate with those thoughts. It is not how I would do it, and his badgering question to his fellow NEC members: “How many people have seen antisemitism in the Labour Party?” was not so clever,  but we are getting to the point where certain quite reasonable questions are being dismissed as “antisemitic” in themselves.

I absolutely understand the desire to suppress hate speech but what has happened to ordinary free speech and the right to ask questions in our Party? And why on Earth should we allow free speech to be inhibited because a member of that NEC is disgracefully making secret recordings of private discussions and then leaking them to hostile anti-Labour papers.

We don’t know who was responsible for the leak but I would hope that those responsible for disciplinary procedures will declare their intention to come down very heavily on them when they are discovered.

Meanwhile the heat is on any dissident Jews who stray from complete obedience to the Thought Police of the Jewish establishment organisations and complete agreement with the very flawed IHRA document, that 40 Jewish organisations from 15 countries have heavily criticised.

This is so unlike the Jewish culture I grew up in. A friend posted on a discussion the other day: “Whatever happened to two Jews, three opinions.” I replied: “In a cost-cutting exercise they have reduced it to one opinion.” A joke – only it isn’t. We are letting people impose a form of totalitarianism.

But let’s come back to those rabbis. How do they know what goes on in the Labour Party apart from encountering very biased news reports. I looked down the list and I recognised several names of rabbis I knew had very right wing/Conservative/pro-Zionist political views – so I understood them putting the boot into the Labour Party (though a bit of an unrabbi-like thing to do). I saw a few names of people I was surprised went along with this, but what I didn’t see were many rabbis I knew to be Labour Party members. Maybe a small proportion of them were.

I know what happens in the Labour Party because I go to meetings, at ward level, at General Committee level, at local Executive Committee level; I participate in online forums of Labour members and supporters. I canvass with other members, go to the pub after meetings, have lots of conversations with them. Since I rejoined the party in 2015 I have only encountered one (borderline) incident – a comment made by a member in a discussion in the pub. And though I accept that people who are not Jewish may not have as sharp a sensitivity to subtle antisemitism as Jews, I actually believe the members (non-Jews and Jews) I have interacted with around the country who tell me they haven’t seen it or heard it in their local party.

I’m sure it does exist in pockets. It would be surprising given how deeply embedded antisemitism has been in British history and culture, if it didn’t surface somewhere consciously or unconsciously, out of the mouths of some Labour Party members, and I hope when it does that it gets challenged in an effective educational way.

But how would those rabbis know unless they are telepathic? Is it that unreasonable to ask them for evidence? And just because they are rabbis does that make them amazing intellectuals? I think about my late mother-in-law, Zelda, who used to sometimes go to synagogue on the Sabbath. When it came to the rabbi’s sermon, she used to take her hearing-aid out and was lost in her own thoughts. She got her intellectual nourishment elsewhere.

Theresa-May-and-Ephraim-MirvisA quiz question: Where were Theresa May and her husband the night before she became Prime Minister?
Answer: at dinner with the Chief Rabbi at his house. He mentioned to her how friendly he had been with David Cameron. Politically neutral? No, I don’t think so.

So, there have been calls from the usual Blairite quarters for Willsman to step down from the NEC slate for the election, to step down from the NEC, to be expelled from the party… he must wonder what he has achieved all these years with the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. I note that he has issued an apology for aspects of his behaviour at the NEC, clarified his stance towards antisemitism, and referred himself to equalities training by the Party. Good. But he is not stepping down, and that is also good. The release of the tape a week after the meeting but after the NEC elections has begun, was meant to result in one less seat for the pro-Corbyn slate and too late to put in someone else. At least that failed. I have every intention of voting for the full #JC9 slate, and hope you will too if you have a vote..

 

 

Speech: at Arise Festival workshop on uniting against racism and fascism 28.7.18

Last November I helped to lead an educational visit to Krakow for 50 anti-racists and trade unionists, through Unite Against Fascism, which included a day at Auschwitz. We were trying to understand what happened in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s to bring that awareness into the present.

Just days before we landed, 60,000 ultra nationalists had a riotous Independence Day rts1jhv4-e1510599172201march through Warsaw. Marchers on this day have largely been right wing conservatives but more recently the fascist presence has grown substantially. Last November fascist groups were the most active mobilisers, with flags, banners, flares, chanting slogans. One banner said “Pray for Islamic Holocaust”.  Groups were chanting “Jew-free Poland”. The fascists welcomed  overseas visitors including Tommy Robinson.

A taste of things to come here, in Britain, where fascist groups have risen then fallen, beaten back by strong anti-fascists resistance, aided by the incompetence of the fascists groups themselves. For several years now they have mustered little more than a few hundred on the streets, but last month that changed.

5b1c05fbdda4c8915e8b457915,000 marched and rioted through central London in support of Tommy Robinson, vastly outnumbering less than 300 anti-fascists. Remnants of every small deeply ideological Nazi group from the last 30 years were there, joined by large groups of Islamophobic football thugs,  Polish fascists and UKIP. UKIP’s temporary leader Gerard Batten makes speeches indistinguishable from the BNP – weaving together crude Islamophobia, anti-refugee sentiment with more subtle antisemitism.

They had hi-tech equipment – flash screens, powerful PA systems. Among the bonehead thugs were sharply-dressed, educated young men from the European-based Generation Identity movement and the American Alt-Right who were bankrolling it. Far right politicians were there from Holland and Belgium and a speech from American white supremacist Steve Bannon conveyed on screen.

A real step change – a new, threatening coming together of the far right in bigger numbers than anything we faced in the NF marches in the 1970s.

What has changed to help bring this about? The election of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of populist far-right movements and parties in several central and East European countries. Events in Britain are ripples from that wider international movement plus austerity and neglect.

Such movements normally arise during an economic crisis, although in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland there is no economic crisis; quite the opposite. Those movements have considerable working class support. There is something more deeply ideological happening. Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-Roma racism are rife. So are homophobia, attacks on women’s rights, and defence of the Christian family. Fascists are increasingly versatile. They can switching their main targets, or attack several targets at once. We have to be just as versatile in the forces we bring in and unite together

We need to improve our our analysis and rethink our strategies.

Back in the 1980s I worked in the East End with Revd Ken Leech an Anglo-Catholic priest on the Marxist/anarchist spectrum and a great anti-racist activist. He wrote:

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Ken Leech

“The battle against racism and fascism cannot be won by outsiders who march into an area, chant slogans, and then march out again; it can only be won by the most dedicated, rooted and persistent commitment to undermine and destroy the injustice and neglect on which such movements thrive.”

Which is where Labour comes in. Only Labour is organised in every locality, can change people’s lives around, and combat injustice and neglect. It is not enough to moralise and say racism is evil. We need to embed the fight against racism in our struggles for better housing, health, employment, education for all. We also need to mix politics and culture. The most successful anti-fascist initiatives of the 1970s and ’80s mixed politics with culture.

We were taken by surprise in June partly because of another situation that emerged in April/May this year around the scandalously treated Windrush generation, victims of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile environment. They had also been neglected by the anti-racist movement who took more notice of the frequent attacks on Muslim communities. We have to be sensitive to how each group experiences racism but always keep the big picture in mind. Alongside Islamophobia, deep racism against communities of Caribbean heritage continues.

As we organised with, and in support of the Windrush generation, we found enormous sympathy across society. Minorities instinctively support each other but suddenly it felt like the majority were on our side.

So the opposite movement around Tommy Robinson was a serious reality check.

Another reality check for anti-racists: problems we thought had disappeared but haven’t: I became active in the mid-1970s, animated by slogans such as “black and white unite and fight”, “self-defence is no offence”, “here to stay here to fight”, but one slogan bothered me then: “Yesterday the Jews today the Blacks’, because I instinctively knew then what I am much surer about today– that antisemitism is a very light sleeper. Every so often it awakes with a real jolt. The idea of world Jewish conspiracy that explains the economic system and politics remains crucial to the ideology of fascist groups today.

All the ridiculous mainstream media headlines about antisemitism try bizarrely to pin it on the left and Jeremy Corbyn. Make no mistake, antisemitism is alive and kicking – on the far right of politics. The far right have flooded the internet with Jewish conspiracy material (some of it thinly disguised as opposition to bankers, some of it thinly disguised as pro-Palestine). Unfortunately some on the left are sharing it. We cannot allow any space for antisemitism, we cannot allow antisemites to taint the Palestinians’ cause

When the Tories goad Corbyn about antisemitism in the Labour Party and paint themselves as friends of the Jews, we need to hit back hard and show how the Tory Party is directly linked through the Conservative and Reformists groups in the European Parliament to openly antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Roma, anti-refugee , homophobic parties in Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria, Denmark and others.

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Jacob Rees Mogg at a TBG dinner

We need to expose Tory-led groups here like the Traditional Britain Group – thoroughly racist, friendly to Holocaust deniers, and recommending Mosley’s books.

I want to finish where I started – with the group of anti-racists and trade unionists visiting Poland. In those few days we uncovered the processes through which the situation of minorities worsened until anything could be done to them: labelling, scapegoating, discriminating, dehumanising, isolating… and so on. We can recognise aspects of these in our society today against different minorities.

But these stages are not inevitable. They can be challenged and interrupted. In the 1930s many people enthusiastically joined the oppressors, others just went along with it –  as by-standers. Too few resisted. Don’t be a by-stander, be an up-stander!

 

Chief labeller and libeller

When will the mainstream media stop treating Britain’s Chief Rabbi (Ephriam Mirvis) as a neutral political commentator in the argument about the Labour Party, antisemitism and the controversial IHRA document?

He nailed his political colours to the mast, and simultaneously displayed an appallingly narrow and selective attitude to anti-racism, back in May 2016, just before the London Mayoral election.

ShowImageThe story about that election for anyone concerned with racism was the disgraceful dog-whistle Islamophobic campaign run by the Tories for Zac Goldsmith against Sadiq Khan. It included repeated inferences about Khan’s alleged links to Islamic terrorists and extremists, and leaflets were distributed by Goldsmith’s campaign targeting Hindu voters warning of a plan by Khan to tax jewellery. Some mainstream commentators even compared it to the infamous  racist Tory campaign of the 1960s, scaremongering about “coloured neigbours”, that unexpectedly unseated Patrick Gordon Walker.

On the day before the mayoral vote, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was handed space on the front page of the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph. He penned an unbridled assault on Labour under Corbyn, attacking the left in general for opposition to Zionism and criticism of Israel. Mirvis made the fatuous claim that Zionism (a political ideology)  was an intrinsic part of Judaism, and managed to label and libel all opponents of Zionism as antisemites. Of the Tories’ racist innuendo against Sadiq Khan in the mayoral race, the Chief Rabbi uttered not one single word.

The Telegraph received a letter signed by more than 50 Jews (at very short notice) condemning the Chief Rabbi’s “party political intervention”, which was “selective in its anti-racism”. It accused him of adding to the “sensationalist allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party, where the headlines’ decibel level is in inverse proportion to the evidence to back them up”, and utterly condemned his silence both about “the disgusting dog-whistle campaign by Zac Goldsmith’s Tory team against a Labour candidate of Asian Muslim background” and recalled the “callous, racist and bigoted comments of Tory politicians, calling refugees ‘a swarm’ and ‘a bunch of migrants’”.

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Bundist slogan

It concluded with a pertinent piece of history, reminding the Chief Rabbi that, “The vast majority of Jews who perished in the Holocaust were indifferent to Zionism and many opposed it. In the last municipal elections in Europe’s largest Jewish community, in Poland, just before World War 2, Poland’s Jews voted overwhelmingly for the secular, anti-Zionist, socialists of the Bund, while Zionist parties got derisory votes.” (The religious parties’ vote also declined significantly from previous elections). The letter concluded by asking: “Is Rabbi Mirvis recasting those victims of the Holocaust posthumously as enemies of Judaism and therefore as antisemites?”

I don’t know if Chief Rabbi Mirvis ever read it. He never responded. The Telegraph refused to publish it, though the Guardian printed a version of the letter a few days later (signed by even more Jews – though no doubt the “wrong” kind of Jews).  The specious claim that opposition to Zionism was antisemitic, effectively libelled all Palestinians dispossessed by Zionism as antisemites, simply for seeking redress for their injustice. That point was made succinctly by the respected Palestinian academic Dr Kamel Hawwash. The Telegraph refused to print his letter too.

The current attack on the Labour Code of Conduct, made simultaneously today, by three Jewish newspapers makes the same fatuous claim that anti-Zionism is “political antisemitism”, that Rabbi Mirvis made two years ago. It was wrong then. It is still wrong today.

 

 

Stand down Margaret

Not content with calling Jeremy Corbyn a “fucking antisemite and racist”, and treating herself as the victim when the Labour Party threatened to act on a third party complaint about her use of outrageous and abusive language against a fellow Labour MP whom she has known for several decades, and is the leader of the Labour Party, Margaret Hodge has had the chutzpah to compare her fight against Corbyn’s alleged antisemitism with her fight in her Barking constituency against the British National Party (BNP). She has cynically drawn on her family’s direct experience of the Holocaust to bolster her special right to pronounce on the subject.Strategic Framework for English Tourism launch

The usual suspects who regularly target their venom at Corbyn instead of the Tory Party, (and happen, coincidentally, to be members of Labour Friends of Israel), Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Jess Philips, Chuka Umunna and others, have all lined up to defend Hodge’s comments and have praised to the hilt her proclaimed brave and courageous fight against the BNP.

Let’s unpick this a little. In 2006, the BNP certainly pulled off a political surprise in the council elections when they won 12 seats in Barking and Dagenham, where the local MPs were Jon Cruddas and Margaret Hodge. Labour paid the price of taking votes for granted and not doing the work on the ground to counter the narratives of the BNP. The BNP replaced Labour councillors and former Labour voters provided most of the new voting strength of the BNP. Nine out of those twelve new councillors were in the brave and courageous and effective anti-racist, Margaret Hodge’s constituency. It was certainly a failure of that Labour council but equally her failure. Maybe even more her personal failure. The singer and writer, Billy Bragg, who grew up in Barking, and still has family there, pointed out that she didn’t even have an office in the constituency until after those 12 BNP councillors were elected. She had effectively made a deal with the local Labour councillors that they look after the constituency and she will concentrate on her role at Westminster.

But it gets worse the more you dig. In the run-up to the elections of 2006 Hodge claimed that eight out of ten white working class people were thinking of voting BNP. For the BNP activists this was manna from heaven. Those who were leaning towards the BNP’s policies but couldn’t necessarily see the point in voting, as Labour always got in, were suddenly very motivated to vote. Small wonder that the BNP sent Margaret Hodge a bunch of flowers to thank her.

A year later, what do we find this brave and courageous anti-racist doing? She is busy advocating a housing policy which explicitly talks of privileging “the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by indigenous families” over the “legitimate needs demonstrated by new migrants.” Not exactly the words of an anti-racist champion who is entitled to casually throw accusations of racism at others.

She was widely accused, not least by the Refugee Council and several other anti-racist bodies, of legitimising the BNP’s arguments, competing with the BNP on the territory they were establishing by absolutely conceding to their arguments. Not surprisingly the BNP’s then-leader, Nick Griffin, saw Margaret Hodge’s seat as vulnerable to a far right challenge at the next General Election. It is just a tad embarrassing and tasteless even that a politician who wields her family’s Holocaust history as a weapon to give her license to say what she likes in arguments with fellow Labour MPs, was being criticised then by leading refugee bodies for bolstering the racism of a party whose roots were in classical Nazism.

Britain Refugee MarchWhat was Jeremy Corbyn in the same period? The same as he has always done – taking on the racists and fascists within his own and other constituencies, in tireless door to door work, on public platforms and on the streets, supporting grassroots anti-racist and anti-fascist activists and always advocating principled arguments that gave no ground at all to racism, and helping to make Islington a borough that was proud to welcome refugees.

Hodge’s close pals on the right wing of the Labour Party talk of her “crushing the BNP in Barking”. Thankfully the fascists were defeated, but Hodge was part of the problem not the solution. It was the round the clock efforts of local left-wing Labour activists, trade unionists, and local and national anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations who were responsible for seeing off the BNP councillors and Nick Griffin’s parliamentary challenge in 2010.

IMG_5737.jpgIt was an extraordinary effort. In every council seat the total number of voters went up, but the BNP vote went down. I did the easy bit with my fellow trade unionists – we put anti-racist and anti-fascist literature through the letter boxes of every home in Barking and Dagenham. Billy Bragg, though, returned to Barking and spent a month knocking on doors to have the face-to-face arguments with first time BNP voters, and to try to convince them to see things from a different perspective. We did a bit of joint personal work. I interviewed Bragg for the West Ham football fanzine. it was published about six  weeks before the election. We discussed football and his feelings about the area he grew up in and its current social and economic problems, knowing that the cross section of people buying that fanzine would have included a significant number of first time BNP voters. He gave sophisticated arguments for them not to vote BNP, without talking down to the voters or dismissing their sense of disenfranchisement and neglect.

In this, and in his work on the doorstep I am sure Billy Bragg was much more effective than Hodge who had simply ended up boosting the BNP’s arguments in a typically unprincipled right-wing Blairite attempt at triangulation.

Billy Bragg who, like Corbyn, has impeccable anti-racist credentials, has also commented in recent days on the controversy around the IHRA definition of antisemitism. He is very supportive of those who have raised perfectly legitimate criticisms of it and in particular has praised and promoted the arguments of the Jewish academic Brian Klug, who in turn argued that what Corbyn and the NEC have done is a significant attempt at improving the IHRA document and making it fit to challenge antisemitism and protect free speech and comment about Israel, Palestine and Zionism. If Hodge was consistent she would have a go at Billy Bragg, but she sees Corbyn as a more suitable target because this is not really about antisemitism but is a battle to defeat the left of the Labour Party and defend Israel from criticism.

5300If Hodge and her sisters in struggle, Smeeth and Berger, were not craven opportunists and selective anti-racists and defenders of human rights, they might have been speaking out more, or even at all, about the disgusting and openly racist Nation-State bill that the Israeli  government has just approved while Netanyahu was simultaneously hosting a visit from the Hungarian PM Victor Orban – a political leader who is pushing antisemitic, anti-Roma and Islamophobic themes at every opportunity.

You have chosen a side Margaret. It is the wrong one. As The Beat sang about another Margaret, “Stand Down Margaret, Stand Down Please!”