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What are the Jewish Labour Movement's links to Israel?

October 1, 2016 at 5:20 pm

For more than a year, leftist Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been the target of an extreme media campaign of vilification and smears. His socialist politics and his traditional anti-imperialist approach to international affairs are anathema to the political and media establishment.

At the forefront of this campaign has been the issue of anti-Semitism, and an ongoing narrative that the Labour Party under Corbyn has become a cesspit of anti-Jewish hatred. This narrative is a false one, as anyone reading my reporting over the least year will know.

The left is not immune from the charge of anti-Semitism, and there have been instances of such hatred by Labour members. But, contrary to what much of the press would have you believe, all the available empirical evidence shows that it is far lower in the Labour Party than in society at large. The level of anti-Semitism has been exaggerated as a weapon against the left and against the Palestine solidarity movement. In some cases, anti-Semitism has been totally fabricated.

When Corbyn spoke to the Home Affairs Select Committee in July he testified that there had been “less than 20” allegations of anti-Semitism that the party had had to take action over. Now clearly, twenty is twenty too many, but it hardly constitutes a crisis.

The media narrative about a “crisis” bares no comparison to reality.

The campaign has led to a witch hunt against supporters of the Palestinian cause – what informed commentators have described as a “moral panic,” which has led to the suspension of as many Palestine activists and left wingers from Labour as possible.

All this is aimed at undermining the campaign for Palestinian human rights, which has made significant gains in recent years. The huge upsurge in such unfounded attacks on Labour since last year is explained by Jeremy Corbyn’s historical support for the Palestine solidarity movement.

The “anti-Semitism crisis” story has been promoted by the right wing of Labour and by organisations that promote the interests of the Israeli state in the UK. These two political forces often cross over.

One such pro-Israel organisation is JLM, the Jewish Labour Movement. It has been heavily involved in the campaign to portray Corbyn and the movement behind him as anti-Semites. Significantly, it also has links to the Israeli state.

The JLM says on its website that it is almost 100 years old, with ties being made to the older left wing Zionist group Poale Zion, which affiliated to the Labour Party in 1920. But until quite recently, the JLM’s website stated that the JLM had been founded in 2004.

But more to the point, the JLM only seems to have rose to prominence in February 2016 when it appointed as chair – Jeremy Newmark.

Newmark has been a fixture of the UK’s pro-Israel lobby in recent years. As part of his previous role at the Jewish Leadership Council (another pro-Israel organisation), he took part in a failed attempt to sue the University and College Union.

What was the UCU’s alleged crime according to Newmark? It had debated the Palestinian-led academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Debated – not even implemented, mind you.

In 2013, an employment tribunal threw the case out on all counts. It described the suit as “devoid of any merit” and “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.” It also clarified that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under UK equalities law.

The ruling was a significant blow to the UK’s Israel lobby, which habitually conflates anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Significantly, Newmark himself was criticiced in extraordinary terms by the tribunal’s leading judge Anthony Snelson. He essentially called Newmark a liar, by describing parts of his testimony to the tribunal as “preposterous” and “untrue.” Newmark had said the union was “no longer a fit arena for free speech,” comments Snelson criticiced as “extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

In an interview I conducted with him at Labour Party conference this week, Newmark insisted JLM was 100 years old. When asked about the 2004 launch of JLM, he contested this event was actually a “rebrand.” Newmark also denied that the JLM had been a dormant group before he joined in February, saying that it had still been active at the local party level.

Writing for The Electronic Intifada last week, I revealed that the JLM’s new director Ella Rose worked over the course of the previous year as an officer at the Israeli embassy.

Speaking to me at conference, Newmark denied that the JLM is being funded by the Israeli government. But he had previously claimed it would be “rather odd” to suggest that JLM should not have contacts with the embassy.

The JLM does have some genuine support within the Labour Party. With all the alarming headlines about anti-Semitism, who wouldn’t want to support an organisation which speaks in the name of all Labour Jews?

But many non-Zionist Jews in Labour have insisted that JLM does not represent all views within Labour’s Jewish membership base. Furthermore, the JLM’s apparent links to a human rights abusing state like Israel should be a concern for us all.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.