Friday, November 03, 2017

On Moshe Machover's Labour Party membership

Veteran Israeli-born Marxist and former member of the  Moshe Machover authored a leaflet on antisemitism, Zionism and Nazism circulated at Labour Party conference in Brighton in September 2017. The leaflet: alleged an Israeli-organised conspiracy to silence criticisms of Israel by using false allegations of antisemitism; selectively quoted unrepresentative German Zionists in the 1930s (when German Jews were in abject fear but did not yet know where Nazi antisemitism would lead) to portray Zionism in general as pro-Nazi; and selectively quoted a senior Nazi to portray the Nazis as pro-Zionist.

Machover was investigated for antisemitism, but in the course of the investigation it was noticed the leaflet was published by a group ("Labour Party Marxists" (LPM) - a brand used by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee), better known for their newspaper the Weekly Worker) deemed incompatible with Labour Party membership.

After four weeks, the party concluded that he did not support these organisations in a way that would lead to automatic suspension:
The Party remains of the view that any reasonable person looking at the evidence available in public (which includes at least one video of you speaking at an event sponsored by CPGB and LPM, 44 articles published with your permission by CPGB’s own publication and primary form of campaigning, the Weekly Worker and 17 videos of you speaking published on CPGB’s website as of 6 October 2017) would conclude that you have given support to at least one, if not both, of these organisations over a period of ten years including while you were a member of the Labour Party. Such support is incompatible with Labour Party membership, so thank you for clarifying that this was not your intention to provide such support.
And the Labour leader's office issued a statement saying they are "glad" that Machover's "auto-suspension" has been rescinded.

Below here I have embedded a Storify including my comments at the time of the suspension and links around the reinstatement. First, just briefly, a few thoughts on the case.


Grounds for expulsion?

At the time, the formal grounds for Machover's expulsion was his "involvement and support for both" LPM and the CPGB(PCC). (I think "expulsion" is the right term, by the way; the wording in the letter to him was "ineligible to remain a member.. and have been removed from the national membership system [and] no longer entitled to attend local Labour Party meetings".) The letter did not mention his involvement with the Communist Platform of Left Unity, which I think would fall into a similar category.

Here is Machover's response to his expulsion. Items 8-12 directly address the grounds for his automatic expulsion, and, in my view, are compelling. Machover says he is not a member of LPM or CPGB(PCC), and there is no reason to doubt this, and there is really no evidence that he has "supported" them in any substantive way that is contradictory to Labour Party membership.

The Labour Party has always had Marxist members, and has a strong tradition of political pluralism that has enabled Poale Zion (the forerunner of the Jewish Labour Movement) to sit alongside Marxists in the party. And that's a good thing, in my view. (Read this fascinating Labour Party Marxist article on that history.)

If the CPGB(PCC) and its paper the Weekly Worker are incompatible with party membership, why is there not equal concern with the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and its paper the Morning Star? Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is just one among many in Labour who has written - and fund-raised - for the Star. 

We know that key members of Corbyn's inner circle are very recent CPB members (see my previous post on Straight Left). Andrew Murray joined Labour from the CPB a year ago. Murray, who, months before that, was alleged to be meeting as part of Corbyn's inner circle to plot party policy. Murray who, in late 2015, on being asked whether he would join the Labour Party, said this:
“All my children are in the Labour party,” he says. “All four. One has been in the Labour party a long time; the other three are all there as a result of Jeremy’s surge. But, no: I’m a member of the Communist party. That’s where I am.”
And we could go on, and look at Socialist Action, leading members of which have had senior positions in team Corbyn, mainly after having run Ken Livingstone's mayoralty.

Interestingly, the letter saying Corbyn's office is "glad" about Machover's reinstatement was signed by the leader's "stakeholder manager" (!), Laura Murray - who is of course the 28 year old daughter of Andrew Murray. Laura Murray, true to her Stalinist family heritage, was only last year darkly muttering about the undue influence of "Trotskyists" in Momentum. 

So, it seems to me that Machover's expulsion for his LPM connections was a bureaucratic tactic, and should never have happened in this way. I think the AWL statement on the case was basically right:
We restate our opposition to the existence of this rulebook clause, and its usage to justify summary expulsions, including in this case. But we have no sympathy with the leaflet stunt, and no desire to defend it as an exercise of democratic rights.
However, I also suspect this bureaucratic approach was used in this case precisely to avoid having to deal with the real accusation: of antisemitism.  

Is the antisemitism still being investigated?

So, Machover was expelled in the course of being investigated for antisemitism, but the investigation didn't continue as he was expelled. This was confirmed in a 5 October letter to Machover quoted here:
These allegations are not subject to an investigation, as you are not currently a member of the Labour Party.
My question now, then, now Machover is allowed back in, will the investigation resume?

But was it antisemitic?

In my Storify (below), I set out what was wrong with Machover's article: (a) the dishonest way it deals with historical sources in order to portray "Zionism" (conceived as a monolithic entity) and Nazism as bedfellows, and (b) the conspiracist claim that "The whole campaign of equating opposition to Zionism with antiSemitism has, in fact, been carefully orchestrated with the help of the Israeli government and the far right in the United States." Marlon Solomon adds more in this thread, but these are the key ones.

The Nazi/Zionist thing. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, mentioned in the expulsion letter, states that: "Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could... include, but are not limited to:... Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." But that isn't what Machover did.

David Hirsh points out that
Even the rather hollow Chakrabarti Inquiry report makes clear that Nazi analogies and talk about Hitler in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict are ‘incendiary’, ‘intended to be incendiary’, ‘bring the Party into disrepute’ and ‘undermine the cause of peace’.
I agree Machover is veering into that territory, but I don't think Machover is a straightforward case of equating Zionism with Nazism. As the IHRA working definition makes clear, "taking into account the overall context" is vital in determining if a statement like this is antisemitic. I don't think the IHRA definition is sufficient for ruling this antisemitic.

The conspiracy thing is also in a grey area. It violates the basic principles of anti-racism to say that charges of racism are orchestrated and in bad faith. But Machover avoids explicitly saying that all charges are false, and limits his claim to the supposed campaign of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Jewish racism. He also avoids putting Israel at the centre of the conspiracy: he says "orchestrated with the help of".

My conclusion, then, is that really there are no clearcut grounds for expelling Machover for antisemitism. But watching out antisemites on social media clamouring for his reinstatement and using the case to push more blatantly antisemitic forms of historical revisionism and conspiracy theory, I cannot, unlike the leader's office,  feel glad that he is back in the party. In short, the party has probably made the right decision, but Machover is a poor choice for our solidarity.

Postscript: on witch-hunts and definitions

The invocation by the Labour apparatchiks of the IHRA definition in investigating Machover will be grist for the mill for those, such as "Jewish Voice for Labour", who see the IHRA definition as a dangerous Zionist tool to censor criticism of Israel. Using the definition sloppily in expelling someone like Machover would, I think, be a gift to these people.

However, the opponents of the definition tend to selectively avoid quoting the definition's key words "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic" and "taking into account the overall context", which stop it from being used to blanket ban anti-Israel comment. I am not a fan of the IHRA definition, but the tendentious description of it as part of a Zionist conspiracy has the effect of creating a protective wall for antisemites. It is part of a strategy on the behalf of some anti-Zionists to render all charges of antisemitism prima facie suspect (see David Hirsh on the Livingstone formulation), and I think anti-racists need to resist that.

The "Labour Against the Witchunt" campaign, led by the CPGB(PCC)'s Stan Keable, as well as Peter Fermin (Labour Representation Committee, previouslWorkers Action), Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (Labour Briefing), has three planks, including this one:
We demand that the Labour Party reject the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHMA) definition of anti-Semitism, which conflates anti-Semitism with support for the rights of the Palestinian people and with criticism of the state of Israel and its racist and apartheid policies and practices.

As well as getting the name of the IHRA wrong, this is a wildly inaccurate summary of the definition, which as noted above explicitly says criticism of Israel is not in itself antisemitic and makes no comment about the rights of Palestinian people. While we should oppose bureaucratic maneuvers to exclude people from the party, rethink the policy on proscriptions and press for greater transparency in the process, this is a dangerous way to do it.

Footnote: On the myth of AWL's proscription

In my first draft of this post I had this paragraph in the first section:
Moreover, I believe, these organisations [LPM/CPGB(PCC)] are not proscribed organisations. As far as I know, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and the Socialist Party (the former wrongly in my view, as they have consistently advocated support for Labour for some time; the latter rightly, as they consistently oppose support for Labour) are the only two formally proscribed organisations still in existence - the original Communist Party of Great Britain used to be as well. In general, though,  Labour Party members cannot be members of other parties incompatible with its values and aims, and I there is no prima facie case that LPM would be such an organisation, and no conclusive case has been made that CPGB(PCC) should be considered such.
I'm told this is not exactly accurate. The newspapers of AWL's forerunner Socialist Organiser, along with the Socialist Party's forerunner Militant, were proscribed under Kinnock - Socialist Organiser in 1990. When the paper was banned, the group Socialist Organiser Alliance dissolved and later its members launched the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. It has never been proscribed, has generally backed Labour candidates since the 1990s (with a couple of specific exceptions), and de-registered as a party with the electoral commission in 2015. The AWL members automatically expelled from the party (e.g. Jill Mountford) have been so under the general rule prohibiting support for a rival  any party rather than any specific prohibition on AWL.

My Storify



Also read

David Hirsh on the "gladness" of Corbyn's office; Dave Rich on MatzpenDave Rich on Loach, Livingstone and the HolocaustPaul Anderson and Kevin Davey on the left in the Labour PartyRainer Schulze on Nazis and Zionists; OHPI on why the Nazi-Zionist analogy is offensive.

Previous posts
Straight Left (2017);Free advice to Jeremy, Trots! , Undigested thoughts on Labour's antisemitism problem (2016); Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers (2015). Did Machover support Atzmon? (2005)

8 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

When Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker talk about the rights of Palestinians they mean rights that supersede any rights Jews might have or claim to have in the geographical region historically known as "Palestine". In Walker's own words:

1. "Opposition to a Jewish state is, and remains, a legitimate, honourable political position and one that many, including many Jews, have stood by for decades"

2. "Zionism is part of the political lexicon, essential to challenging the concept of a Jewish state"

As I understand it, she is opposed to the very idea that Jews should have their own statehood. She regards Judaism as a religion and not a nationality. Since self-determination is human right, Walker objects to this right being exercised by Jews. She relegates them to a lower rung in the order of humanity as something that is self-evident and unquestionable. To attack Zionism, then, is to take the next logical step: Since Jews have no right for self-determination, it follows that those Jews who seek such a right are legitimate target for criminalization.

The antisemitic elements in her argument are clear enough: She denies Jews a human right and in order to do so, she defines Jews as people of a certain religion but not a people. She is quite right that many Jews have clung to this formulation. Many European Jews identified themselves in this way until realities proved them wrong. The fact that some Jews do not feel the appeal of Zion is totally their prerogative. However they are a negligible minority of Jewish people so why should their personal identity preferences apply to the rest of the Jewish people? By what right is Walker denying the essence of Jewish identity? Does she question the essence of Palestinian identity? British identity? German? French?

Of all the nationalities in the universe she singles out Jews, defines their identity, condemns all those Jews who do not conform to her definition, and actively seeks to strip them of their political rights (I refer to Israeli Jews here).

She is the very exemplification of a Leftist antisemite:

What’s the difference between Far-Right antisemitism and Far-Left antisemitism?

Far-Right antisemitism is hatred and fear of Jews qua Jews, all Jews.

Far-Left antisemitism is hatred of what they call Zionists, those 98% of world Jews who either live in Israel or support Israel, or have no problem with the idea and existence of a Jewish state.

What makes it possible for Far Left Antisemitism to claim they are not antisemitic is the (possibly) 2%* of Jews who don’t support the Jewish state.

If there are 13M Jews in the world, Far Right antisemites hate all 13M of them.

Far Left antisemites hate “only” 12,740,000 of them.

So what is the difference between Far-Right antisemitism and Far-Left antisemitism?

Far Left antisemites believe they have a really good reason to hate most of the Jews, unlike Far Right antisemites who are much less bothered to look for good reasons to hate Jews.





Jim Denham said...

Mochover's expulsion, and his subsequent re-instatement, had little or nothing to do with allegations op anti-Semitism: the issue was his relationship with "Labour Party Marxists" and the so-called "CPGB" and their paper the Weekly Worker.

Given Corbyn's relationship with the CPB and their paper the Morning Star, the decision could hardly have been anything else.

But Machover's disgusting and ignorant attempt to draw an equivalence between Zionism and Nazism (by quoting a Nazi!)has not been vindicated - and neither should it be. Machover and his anti-Semitic friends in the CPGB can never be forgiven foe their racist outrage.

bob said...

Contentious Centrist-
I don't follow your argument. Or, specifically, I don't see where you are getting your inference that Jackie Walker regards Judaism as a religion and not a nationality, or that she does not recognise Jewish self-determination. She identifies as Jewish on the basis of ancestry and DNA - i.e. genealogically or, more precisely, racially - and not theologically. (It is through her father that she claims Jewishness.)

The Contentious Centrist said...

"I don't see where you are getting your inference that Jackie Walker regards Judaism
as a religion and not a nationality"

She doesn't state it explicitly but it is the logical conclusion of her statements that opposing Jewish statehood is a moral imperative + her defense of the use of "Zionism" as a way of attacking the idea of Jewish statehood.

I see her underhanded attempt to say that Zionism is like fascism, based on a criminal assumption that Jews have a right to create their own Jewish state. It is therefore mandatory to use the term in the same way one uses "fascism" as a weapon against the very idea that Jews have political rights and can have a state.

She claims being descendant from Portuguese Jews who were in the slave trade (and therefore in her mind complicit in African genocide). As far as I know there were two Dutch families in the 16th century who were in slave trading. Both families were descendants of CONVERSOS. That is, there had been no Jews in those families for at least 100 years. Yet for Walker this fact doesn't seem to register.

For the purpose of demonizing Jews she is willing to adopt Nazi racial definitions of what a Jew is. For the purpose of demonizing the idea of a Jewish state she adopts Islamic position that Jews don't deserve a state because they are not a people.

Why else would she take such a fierce opposition to the concept of a JEWISH STATE? She is not shy about her singling out the Jews for the denial of statehood. Has she ever opposed statehood for any other people? For First nation Canadians, for examples? Or Pakistanis? Or Sikhs? or Palestinians? No. I'm guessing she considers each of these people as self evidently a people with political rights.

If she grew up in a Jewish family she would have known that Zion is at the core of Jewish identity. You can no more have a Jewish identity without the yearning for Zion than you can be a good Catholic without believing in the Holy spirit, Mary and confession. If you excise Zion from Judaism you don't have Judaism but something else. You can't even call the remaining thing Judaism.

She is very confused about her primary assumptions. But very confident, too. Fanatics usually sound very confident and it misleads people into thinking they really have something where there is in fact nothing but blind faith in them.

Jessica Goldfinch said...

Couldn't have expressed it better.

bob said...

CC-

Apologies for losing your comment in moderation, and for slow reply.

On Walker and the Jews of the slave trade, the more carefully articulated version of her position is here: http://jfjfp.com/?p=86378

I don't know who/where Walker actually says her ancestors were. There were more than two Sephardic and Converso families involved in the Caribbean slave trade, in particular in Suriname, and even in Jamaica where Walker's mother is from. Of course, historiography shows their role was significant at particular times and places, but never dominant. Portuguese Jews in early modern England had a tiny part in financing the slave trade. There were Marranos in Jamaica (which was colonised by Spain at the time of the Expulsion) before the British took it over, and many returned to open Jewish practice after two centuries of secret practice. They were second class citizens in British Jamaica, with limits on their civil rights, although they did have the right to own domestic slaves. The Lindo family in particular, originally from the Spanish/Portuguese borders, and Marranos until arrival in London is 1670 when they returned to open practice, played a not insignificant role in the slave trade in Jamaica. On the other hand, Quakers and other Protestant denominations were over-represented in the trade, and Jews played a minimal role in the plantation system, and there is no doubt that British colonialism was the chief force behind slavery and not the Jews.

In correction to my earlier comment, my understanding is that Walker believes her father to be an American Ashkenazi Jew, but that she also has Portuguese Sephardic Jewish roots through her Jamaican mother. I should stress that I find it offensive that many of her enemies on social media are so keen to rule on the validity of her Jewish identity claim and am not going to engage in that here. Most Jews, to some extent, draw on genealogy in defining who is Jewish; for Orthodox Jews, matrilineal descent is primary. Does this mean they "adopt Nazi racial definitions"?

On the other hand, reducing Jewishness to Judaism, which you describe (oddly, to me) as "Islamic" (I would say it is more of a Protestant idea), is clearly also inadequate for thinking of what being Jewish means, because the ethnic and religious dimensions - Judaism and Jewishness - are so tightly interwoven. In short, it is hard not to be confused on this topic.

On this I agree: if Walker rejects the concept of a Jewish state, but does not reject the right of other nations to states - a common position across the left, which would be by no means unique to her - then that is a case of double standards. The internationalist left should work towards the dismantling of all nation-states or none.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Muslims regard Judaism as just a religion, not a nation. As such they are to be tolerated but not allowed to prosper. Other than being allowed the status of dhimmis, a protected minority that have to pay for their protection and to behave in a manner suitable to their lowly legal stature, they have no rights.

Volatire's position about the Jews was similar: Jews have no national rights. only civil rights. It was however a marked improvement on the Islamic concept which rejected any possibility of equality between Jew and Muslim. For the Muslim therefore it is unthinkable that Jews should have any rights for self-determination as a group, a people. But they cannot have any civil rights.

Walker's rejection of rights for Jews puts her on the same level as Muslims, not Voltaire. The latter was concerned about Jewish demanding autonomy in France. She is concerned about making Jews in their own state a persecuted minority, as of course they will be if such a revolution ever came to pass.

Thank you for the education about Sephardic Jews. It seems you have accepted Walker's notion that conversos or as you call them marranos, who had been converted in Spain in the 14th century, are still to be called Jewish in the 16th and 17th century because it fits in with her Farrakhanian narrative about how Jews figure in the Slave Trade. In this her, and your, reading are commensurate with the Spanish principle of "limpieza de sangre" going back 20 generations. It's all about blood, not ethos.

Walker's palpable disgust with Jews should not be defended. You defend it by minimizing her moral crime, her playing fast and loose with history, language, terminology, to that of a mere double standard, a subcategory of hypocrisy. She can reach millions of gullible and eager young people both black and white, who don't have a clue about history. Her teachings pervert not only records but also correct thinking.

The Contentious Centrist said...


"I don't know who/where Walker actually says her ancestors were. "

"Jews - notably my own Portuguese Jewish ancestors whose history I had researched - had been involved in the sugar and slave trade."

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/01/opposition-jewish-state-legitimate-position-170114091600833.html