On Monday, May 9th, 2016 in Voices.
Last week, prominent Momentum activist Jackie Walker was suspended from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism. (Momentum is a grassroots movement affiliated with the Labour Party, which currently supports the elected leadership of the socialist and veteran Palestine solidarity campaigner Jeremy Corbyn.)
There are five points to make about this.
The evidence against Walker consists of two Facebook comments. In the first, Walker dismissed claims that Labour has ‘a major problem with anti-semitism’:
The second disagreed with a claim, made by another Facebook commenter, that it is illegitimate to boycott Israel while European antisemitism is on the rise. Walker pushed back against a ‘Jewish particularism’ that privileges Jewish suffering and treats Jews as perpetual victims. ‘Jews do not have special status in the league of suffering’, she wrote, ‘and have as much potential to be perpetrators as the rest of humanity’. Walker stressed that ‘I will never back anti-Semitism’, but insisted that the ‘Jewish holocaust does not allow Zionists to do what they want’, such as building ‘illegal’ settlements. In response to a comment decrying ‘[any] action against’ Jews—i.e., boycotting Israel—as ‘shameful’ because of ‘[t]he holocaust’, Walker replied:
That is, Walker urged a principled and universalist compassion; a sense of perspective on the distribution of oppression today, and recognition that no group is purely perpetrator or victim, and exempt from accountability on that basis. As Walker put it, referring to genocidal campaigns against Africans and Jews, respectively: ‘[my] ancestors were involved in both—on all sides’.
How was this plea for historical perspective and ethical universalism rendered by the Jewish Chronicle? ‘Labour suspends Momentum supporter who claimed Jews caused “an African holocaust”’. In the league table of cynicism and deceit, the JC is giving Guido Fawkes a run for its money.
Walker’s Facebook comments were unearthed by the Israel Advocacy Movement (IAM). The IAM is a crude pro-Israel advocacy group which claims that ‘Zionism and Judaism are inseparable’ (haven’t many Labour members been suspended for implying just this?); denounces Palestine activists as ‘fascists’; and despises Corbyn for his defence of Palestinian rights. The IAM was founded by Joseph Cohen, who also co-founded the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). The CAA is a pop-up ‘antisemitism’ organisation established to discredit Palestine solidarity protests in the wake of Israel’s summer 2014 offensive against Gaza. In January 2015, the CAA released two polls suggesting that the UK was awash with rampant and virulent antisemitism. The polls were dismissed by all serious analysts as a sham, and a serious study by Pew exposed the CAA’s findings as worthless.
Jackie Walker was a tempting target for the antisemitism-mongers because of her public sympathy for the Palestinians and her prominent role in Momentum. But even setting these positions aside, her critique of ‘Jewish particularism’ was bound to ruffle some well-plumed feathers. The doctrine of unique Jewish victimhood—the Holocaust was uniquely evil, and so the State of Israel cannot be held to normal standards—is a central dogma of the antisemitism industry. In the hands of Israel’s apologists and many Jewish communal organisations, the Nazi holocaust has become an instrument, not to inspire compassion for the oppressed, but to trivialise the oppression of non-Jews, and—in the case of the Palestinians—to justify it.
Norman Finkelstein contrasts this particularist weaponisation of the Nazi holocaust with the universal ethical principles drawn from it by his late mother, who endured the Warsaw Ghetto and Maijdanek concentration camp:
Whereas many Jews now say, Never compare (Elie Wiesel’s refrain, ‘It’s bad, but it’s not The Holocaust’), my mother’s credo was, Always compare. She gladly and generously made the imaginative leap to those who were suffering, wrapping and shielding them in the embrace of her own suffering.
The attack on Jackie Walker illustrates these contrary traditions in action. On the one hand, we have Jackie Walker. Herself of Jewish heritage—her father was a Russian Jew—Walker is a prominent anti-racist activist and signatory to Jews for Justice for Palestinians. She is a founding member of the Kent Anti-Racism Network, which describes her as one of the labour movement’s ‘most committed anti-racist campaigners’. She was a key organiser of the campaign against UKIP in South Thanet, and has marched against neo-Nazis in defence of impoverished refugees in Dover.
On the other hand, we have the revolting spectacle of well-heeled representatives of a prosperous and thriving constituency, carrying on like beleaguered champions of the oppressed. As millions die each year from poverty and preventable disease, and millions more are terrorised and displaced by war, Baroness Deech, Baroness Neuberger and Lord Levy use their connections to direct the spotlight of public attention towards a handful of suspect tweets. It is not difficult to imagine how members of genuinely oppressed groups must feel about this nauseating display of narcissism and privilege; nor is it hard to see that, far from combating antisemitism, these repulsive (and in most cases, self-appointed) ambassadors for British Jews if anything foment it.
The Labour leadership has been widely criticised for its ‘tardy and tentative’ response to allegations of antisemitism. This criticism was always a fantasy: as of last week (the last time I checked), every Labour member publicly accused of antisemitism had been suspended within 48 hours. The reality is, the Labour Party has responded to allegations of antisemitism with excessive credulity and haste, excluding members in good standing with no prima facie evidence of wrongdoing, and with nary a hint of due process. For example, Tony Greenstein—a veteran Jewish anti-fascist who was suspended for alleged antisemitism in April—was forced to discover the substance of the claims against him from the press. In the case of Jackie Walker, a committed and highly respected anti-racist activist, herself of Jewish heritage, who has exerted herself time and again in defence of the vulnerable and oppressed, has been effectively smeared as a Jew-hater by paid and unpaid apologists for a systematically racist military occupation. Lamentably, instead of rushing to her defence, her party rushed to have her suspended.
Intoxicated by their own success, the antisemitism-mongers have now targeted a prominent anti-racist activist of Jewish heritage. This is an opportunity as well as a scandal. The Labour leadership, for understandable political reasons, has so far responded to the dishonest, divisive and cynical smear campaign with cringing defensiveness. But the truth is, it is not Corbyn who needs to answer for his conduct, but rather his reckless and unprincipled opponents. It is time for supporters of truth and justice to take the offensive. Please sign the petition for Jackie Walker’s reinstatement, and demand that your local and national Labour representatives stand firm amidst and against this cynically contrived hysteria.
 The CAA has other ties to Israel lobby groups. CAA spokesperson Jonathan Sacerdoti was formerly director of public affairs for the Zionist Federation. A professional pro-Israel publicist, Sacerdoti had sought to rebrand himself a neutral expert on the Middle East as director of the impressively-titled ‘Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy’. In this guise, Sacerdoti was a go-to pundit for the BBC during Israel’s November 2012 assault on Gaza. When his Israel lobbyist background was exposed, Sacerdoti rushed to conceal evidence of those associations, scrubbing his LinkedIn profile, and deleting an image of his meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres and videos and blog posts documenting his long background in pro-Israel advocacy. Fortunately, Hilary Aked of Spinwatch had made copies. Following a complaint by Aked, the BBC Trust found that Sacerdoti had been ‘introduced without sufficient context’, which constituted a ‘breach of Impartiality’. Sacerdoti has been rehabilitated in recent weeks, being respectfully quoted in the press denouncing Labour antisemitism as if he were a legitimate expert, rather than an authoritatively and just-recently discredited pro-Israel hack.
 Thoroughly discredited, the CAA was nevertheless successful in pressuring the Board of Deputies to take a harder line on Israel and antisemitism, which may be partly responsible for the Board’s enthusiastic participation in the current Labour witch-hunt. Another reason for this may be the Conservative partisanship of Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush. While campaigning for Board president, Arkush attacked Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Leadership Council for his involvement in the Labour Party, which under Ed Miliband had criticised aspects of Israel’s 2014 massacre in Gaza and supported recognition of Palestinian statehood. ‘Meanwhile’, Arkush wrote, ‘we have a [Tory] PM and Government who gets it on Israel. Whether or not you are a Conservative supporter, isn’t the communal interest best served by them getting re-elected?’