Did the Jewish Labour Movement get its way over Labour Party rule changes?

JLM’s Jeremy Newmark (right) with Israeli embassy official Shai Masot, star of Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby

The Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion) proudly state on their website that they “organise within the World Zionist Organisation alongside our sister party in Israel, Havodah — the Israeli Labor Party”. So it’s hardly news that JLM are enthusiastic supporters of the apartheid state of Israel and fiercely opposed to anti-Zionism (and for that matter to anyone who criticises Israel in anything other than the mildest and most inoffensive terms).

In line with that approach, JLM have played a central role in whipping up hysteria over alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party, with the evident aim of discrediting and marginalising the Corbyn-supporting Left generally and supporters of the Palestinian cause in particular. Last year JLM began pushing for changes in the party’s rules which, under cover of combating antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, would assist them in pursuing their witch-hunt against opponents of the state of Israel. Yesterday JLM triumphantly announced that the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee had “adopted our rule change proposals and will be taking them forward to Party Conference next week”.

This claim has been disputed. Darren Williams, a constituency party representative on the NEC, reported that the committee had “approved an NEC rule change on dealing with prejudiced views and behaviour that avoided the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”. Darren’s comments provoked the following response from JLM national chair Jeremy Newmark: “Sad that an NEC member describes the approach of the democratic legitimate Jewish party affiliate on zero-tolerance for racism as ‘draconian’. And equally disappointing that his update is misleading. The antisemitism/racism rule change text passed by the NEC was the precise text that JLM promoted and asked for. Why would he misrepresent the reality in this way, other than to incite bad feeling towards the Party’s only Jewish affiliate?”

So, in addition to insinuating that Darren Williams’ criticism of JLM’s proposed rule changes was motivated by hostility towards Jews, Newmark asserted that the NEC had adopted “the precise text that JLM promoted and asked for”. There are of course grounds for scepticism about any claim made by Newmark. This is after all the man who was described by a judge at an employment tribunal as providing evidence that was both “preposterous” and “untrue”. But was Newmark’s evidence reliable in this particular case?

Apparently not. The reality is that the original rule changes promoted by JLM did, as Darren Williams correctly states, adopt a highly draconian approach — specifically by proposing the following addition to the Labour Party rule book: “Where a member is responsible for a hate incident, being defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, transgender identity, or sexual orientation, the NEC may have the right to impose the appropriate disciplinary options….”

So, according to JLM, a hate incident would be “defined as something where the victim or anyone else think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice” (emphasis added). This formulation is lifted from the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, but distorts its original intention. What Macpherson recommended was that, when someone reports to the police that they have been the victim of a crime they believe to be racially motivated, the police should record the incident on that basis for the purpose of investigation. Macpherson wasn’t arguing that the alleged perpetrator should be charged with a racially aggravated offence based solely on the alleged victim’s perception of the incident and in the absence of any supporting evidence.

The Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism in the UK, is no less committed to Zionism than JLM. Yet CST has stated clearly that it “ultimately defines incidents against Jews as being antisemitic only where it can be objectively shown to be the case, and this may not always match the victim’s perception”. Last year CST recorded 1,309 antisemitic incidents, but a further 791 incidents reported to CST were excluded from the total because they were “not deemed to be antisemitic”.

In the JLM’s proposed rule change, by contrast, there would be no need for an accusation to be backed up by objective evidence. If a Zionist accuses a fellow Labour Party member of expressing hostility towards Israel which they think is motivated by antisemitism, the NEC should automatically accept that the accused member is “responsible for a hate incident”, based on the perception of the “victim”, and take disciplinary action accordingly. There is no specification that the NEC should be required to establish whether the accusation is accurate or not before taking such action. If adopted, this rule change would give the green light to those who want to witch-hunt opponents of the state of Israel by falsely accusing them of antisemitism. Which may just possibly be why JLM proposed it.

The relevant section of the rule change as endorsed by the NEC yesterday reads as follows:

“The NEC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation as conduct prejudicial to the Party. These shall include but not be limited to incidents motivated by racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or otherwise racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, sexual harassment, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person on the basis of a protected characteristic as determined by the NEC, wherever it occurs, as conduct prejudicial to the Party.”

According that formulation, when the NEC takes disciplinary action in response to a complaint about the alleged behaviour of a party member, this must be based upon objective criteria. It will be necessary for the NEC to establish that the behaviour “might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice” before any disciplinary sanction is imposed. This runs counter to the JLM proposal. Yet Jeremy Newmark insists that “the antisemitism/racism rule change text passed by the NEC was the precise text that JLM promoted and asked for”.

What would appear to have happened is that the leader’s office drew up an alternative rule change, drafted by shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti, which avoided the flaws in the JLM proposals. It was presented to the July meeting of the NEC but not voted on. After negotiations with Chakrabarti, JLM agreed to support this text subject to amendment. (Credit is due to the Skwawkbox — about which I’ve admittedly been a bit rude in the past — for posting the details.)

Whereas the July version of the rule change ended with the provision that the National Constitutional Committee (which conducts disciplinary hearings) “shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions”, in the amended version this commitment is qualified by adding “except in any instance inconsistent with the Party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic”. This was a concession to JLM (who had proposed the addition of the words “except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism”) and is obviously unacceptable. By subjecting “the mere holding … of beliefs and opinions” to possible disciplinary action, it introduces the Orwellian principle of thoughtcrime into the Labour Party and raises the worrying prospect of members being hauled in front of the NCC and interrogated about what they think, rather than being investigated on the basis of what they’ve said and done.

Crucially, however, the requirement that hate incidents should be defined exclusively by reference to the perception of the alleged victim, which had been at the centre of the rule changes promoted by JLM, finds no place in the rule change endorsed by the NEC. We can only assume that JLM agreed to remit their proposal. Although JLM and their Zionist cheerleaders are now spinning this to suggest that JLM got their way entirely, it seems that in reality they were forced to accept a compromise which fell short of conceding their most dangerous and objectionable demand. If so, the NEC did indeed avoid “the more draconian approach favoured by the Jewish Labour Movement”, just as Darren Williams reported.