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Attack on anti-Zionist Jewish leader exposes scale of UK Labour's anti-Palestine problem

A Labour Party logo during the Labour Party conference in Brighton, UK on September 29, 2021 [Hollie Adams/Bloomberg/Getty Images]
A Labour Party logo during the Labour Party conference in Brighton, UK on September 29, 2021 [Hollie Adams/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

The scale of Labour's anti-Palestine problem under the leadership of Keir Starmer was laid bare yesterday following the election of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi to the party's National Executive Committee (NEC). Wimborne-Idrissi, who is a co-founder of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) – the main grouping of left-wing Jews in the Labour party, known for their highly critical stance on Israel – was one of several prominent Jewish members previously suspended over her criticism of the suspension of other left-wing party members during the height of the anti-Semitism row within the party.

Wimborne-Idrissi was one of nine constituency Labour Party (CLP) candidates to be elected on to the ruling body following internal elections. The JVL official's elevation to a role on the powerful NEC will mean she now has input into decisions taken at the highest level by the party. She is one of five candidates belonging to the "Grassroots 5", a group that calls for empowering local members and greater democracy.

"Grassroots 5" has strong support from Labour members. It was backed by several Labour MPs, including former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, union members, various women's group, campaigners for social justice, anti-racist groups, film-makers and artists, as well as 13 different organisations that are part of the Labour Party. The following Labour groups backed Wimborne-Idrissi, who is a strong supporter of the Palestinians: Campaign for Socialism; Jewish Voice for Labour; Kashmiris for Labour; Labour Assembly Against Austerity; Labour Black Socialists; Labour Briefing (Co-op); Labour CND; Labour Representation Committee; Labour Women Leading; Northern England Labour Left; Red Labour; Welsh Labour Grassroots.

The need for greater representation was also the theme of Wimborne-Idrissi's campaign speech, in which she warned of the threat to grassroots democracy and the left, in general. "If elected I will work with comrades to re-energise embattled grassroots members, advocating against militarism; for international solidarity with the oppressed and for collective mobilisation in unions, CLPs and communities where resistance is building against racist threats, crumbling public services and attacks on working conditions," Wimborne-Idrissi said.

Despite being popularly endorsed for her progressive agenda, Wimborne-Idrissi has been targeted by pro-Israel groups over her stance against Israel. Confirming the view of prominent American Jewish commentator, Peter Beinart, that the fight against anti-Semitism has "lost its way", Britain's pro-Israel groups expressed outrage and alarm over Wimborne-Idrissi's victory. As a Jew, she has often spoken about her experience with anti-Semitism. One of her videos, where she speaks about the anti-Semitism she faced has been viewed over 1.6 million times. Nonetheless, Wimborne-Idrissi was one of several Jewish members suspended from the Party in what JVL labelled a "purging" of Jews.

READ: Labour 'witch-hunt' on pro-Palestine MP, Apsana Begum, takes ugly turn

Applying further pressure on Starmer, a joint statement by the anti-Palestinian groups, Community Security Trust, Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies was issued in response to Wimborne-Idrissi's election victory. They called it "a backwards step in tackling the toxic legacy of anti-Jewish racism." They added that the result "demonstrates the scale of the challenge still remaining for the party", remarks which further highlights the fact-free manner by which supporters of the Apartheid State accuse critics of Israel as anti-Semitic.

In what appears to be a veiled threat to the Labour leadership, the pro-Israel lobby group demanded that Wimborne-Idrisi "play no part in the disciplinary functions of the NEC and be kept off committees tackling anti-Semitism".  The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) called on Labour to "redouble its commitment to tackle anti-Semitism" and denounced Labour Party members for voting for Wimborne-Idrisi. The fact-free narrative about Labour members being anti-Semitic continued to be peddled by the JML, a strong advocate of the Apartheid State of Israel. "Despite the huge strides Labour has taken to tackle anti-Semitism, this result shows there is an extreme segment of Labour's membership who are determined to set back the progress the party has made," JLM said.

Needless to say, the statements by the pro-Israel lobby groups were greeted with outrage on social media. "Naomi is Jewish. Leave her alone," said one Twitter user. "Electing a Jewish woman is anti-Semitic now?" said another questioning the motive of the pro-Israel groups' attack on Wimborne-Idrisi, while others pointed to dangerous conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. "Anyone who supports equal rights for Palestinians is deemed anti-Semitic by some of those supporting apartheid Israel," said a supporter of Wimborne-Idrisi, while prominent Palestinian commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that how Labour "is so anti-Palestinian that non-Jews attack Jews just for not hating Palestinians."

It is too early to say how Starmer will react to the demands of the pro-Israel lobby groups. Over recent months, there has been a growing awareness of the way anti-Palestinian groups have used allegations of anti-Semitism to serve a political agenda. In July, for example, the controversial anti-Semitism campaign group Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), which spearheaded attacks on former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was slammed by critics of the former leader over its apparent politicisation of anti-Jewish racism.

Expressing their exasperation over CAAT's apparent politicisation of anti-Semitism, Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, said: "I'm fed up of CAA using anti-Semitism as a front to attack Labour. Time to call them out for what and who they really are." Suggesting that the anti-Semitism campaign group was politicising anti-Jewish racism to damage Labour, Hodge added: "More concerned with undermining Labour than rooting out anti-Semitism."

JVL was one of the many to comment on the double-standards. "You and @ruthsmeeth were perfectly happy with the CAA when they were writing pieces with far less substance to attack Corbyn," said JVL, in reply to Hodge's tweet. "Some of us always know [the CAA] were at heart anti-Labour but you ignored that for your factional ends. Those who ride tigers rarely enjoy it in the long run," said JVL, referring to former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, Ruth Smeeth.

Read: In the name of combating anti-Semitism, Labour ignored Islamophobia and established a 'hierarchy of racism'

The attack on Wimborne-Idrissi is part of an ongoing campaign to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and to silence anti-Zionist Jewish voices that oppose the policies of the Apartheid State.  For decades, Israeli lobby groups, backed by the Occupation State, have pushed the debunked idea of "new anti-Semitism".  This new form of anti-Jewish racism, they claim, is directed, not against individual Jews but against the Jewish State. Almost a half-century later, that premise now dominates mainstream organised American Jewish life.

Governments across the Western world have embraced the proposition, largely as a result of lobbying by pro-Israel organisations. The US State Department, along with others, including the Labour party, now employ a controversial definition of anti-Semitism, in which eleven of the thirteen examples mentioned conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism. British anti-Semitism specialist, Antony Lerman, spoke with MEMO recently where he debunked the idea of "new anti-Semitism" and exposed the way in which the campaign to codify the controversial theory by pro-Israel groups has not only led to a crackdown on pro-Palestine solidarity but also undermines the fight against anti-Jewish racism, a pernicious form of prejudice which displays hostility and prejudice against Jews as Jews.

Conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has not only empowered pro-Israel groups to demand ever-more radical concessions, it has also proven to be destructive to social cohesion, as the past four years clearly demonstrates. UK Labour has a long way to go if it wants to prove that it is not an anti-Palestine party. With a human rights lawyer as its leader, the least it can do is give more than mere lip service to defending international law and the global human rights community and get behind the growing campaign against Israel's apartheid regime.

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

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