The Jewish Labour Movement is right – Labour IS acting too slowly on complaints of anti-Semitism

(Incidentally, this is the only definition of anti-Semitism anybody needs.)

Yes: This Writer agrees with the Jewish Labour Movement about something.

Of course, we split again over the details. Let’s look at the issue, as reported in The Observer:

The bitter Labour party controversy over antisemitism erupted again on Saturday night, as the main organisation representing its Jewish members accused the leadership of failing to deal with a “vast backlog” of complaints and of allowing a second inquiry into Ken Livingstone to get “stuck in limbo”.

The accusations from the national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Jeremy Newmark, came as party sources told the Observer that a group of members, including activists and councillors, was preparing legal action against the party for failing to act on complaints about antisemitic incidents, some of which date back more than six months.

Newmark said the delays in dealing with many cases raised serious questions about whether the party had learnt lessons after an inquiry last year by Labour peer and former head of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti.

Newmark said: “We remain seriously concerned about what is now a vast backlog of cases involving alleged antisemitism that appear to be stuck in the system, in some cases for over a year. That is not a good indicator of the party having embraced Shami Chakrabarti’s imperative to adopt a gold standard in dealing with antisemitism.”

Readers of This Site will be aware that I was suspended by the Labour Party at the beginning of May last year, based on a vexatious complaint of anti-Semitism that seems to have come from a so-called charity known as the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

It took a staggering eight months for this open-and-shut case to be heard by Labour’s disputes panel. We shall discuss the failings of the report to that panel momentarily. Let’s get back to Mr Newmark and some of the allegations to which he refers:

“We will be closely monitoring the outcomes of a number of high-profile cases due to be determined by the national constitutional committee over the weeks ahead. These include former Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker and [activist] Marc Wadsworth [who are to contest the accusations].

“The second investigation into Ken Livingstone appears to be stuck in limbo.”

Last April, Livingstone avoided expulsion from the party after an NCC disciplinary panel ruled he should be suspended for another year for bringing the party into disrepute over comments about antisemitism, Hitler and Zionism. He was censured after having suggested that Hitler at one point supported Zionism, and for defending the Labour MP Naz Shah over an antisemitic Facebook post for which she subsequently apologised.

Livingstone’s defiant reaction to the suspension caused further outrage among Labour MPs, many of whom were already dismayed at what they saw as a far too lenient ruling. Corbyn said that the former mayor’s comments after the ruling would be the subject of further investigations by the NEC after representations from party members.

Several Labour MPs and senior officials have also expressed private concerns that – despite promises by the leadership to show “zero tolerance” in cases where antisemitism had been alleged – the party had been slow to investigate. In some cases where complaints had been found to have had substance, the party had recommended surprisingly lenient punishment.

It should be pointed out that anything Jeremy Newmark says should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was found to have lied while giving evidence at an employment tribunal in 2013, and it seems he is too keen to see anti-Semitism where it isn’t actually present.

Okay – there’s a lot to address here.

The case of Jackie Walker will be interesting because it arises from a so-called ‘safe space’ session of ‘training’ run by – guess who? – the Jewish Labour Movement. The organisation had claimed that attendees would be able to discuss their concerns about issues related to Judaism without fear of being attacked for it – then either allowed Ms Walker’s words to be recorded, or the organisation itself recorded her and released her words to the news media in order to present her as an anti-Semite.

That is not reasonable behaviour. It is deceitful to take words that are presented as discussion points and use them out-of-context to support a false claim about a person’s character.

Mr Wadsworth’s case arises from the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, in June, 2016. Mr Wadsworth, a member of Jeremy Corbyn supporting organisation Momentum, attended and was handing out press releases from the organisation when he saw a reporter from the Daily Telegraph – a Conservative-supporting newspaper – handing a copy to Ruth Smeeth – a Labour MP who had resigned her position as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Scotland and Northern Ireland teams three days previously, in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the party, and who may therefore be said to have been an opponent of Mr Corbyn at the time.

He is quoted as having said: “I saw the Telegraph handed a copy of a press release to Ruth Smeeth MP; you can see who is working hand-in-hand.”

It seems clear that he was suggesting anti-Corbyn Labour MPs were working with the anti-Corbyn press to criticise him. Right?

In a statement released after the incident, Ms Smeeth tried to claim that: “I was verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional anti-Semitic slurs to attack me for being part of a ‘media conspiracy’. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories against Jewish people.”

“Media conspiracy”? When did Mr Wadsworth make that claim? He didn’t.

So her claim that Mr Wadsworth was making an accusation that Jewish people control the media – which is certainly an anti-Semitic trope – is, as journalist Craig Murray described it, “untenable”. He added that, considering the subject matter of the meeting and her own Jewish ethnicity, Ms Smeeth’s reaction may have been genuine, and “she read into the remark something not intended”.

Ken Livingstone’s words have been discussed exhaustively on This Site. His Labour Party membership was suspended by the party’s National Constitutional Committee on grounds that the controversy over his defence of Labour MP Naz Shah had brought the party into dispute. He had been accused of anti-Semitism, but it had been proved that he had not said anything anti-Semitic. The Guardian‘s report, that he was “censured after having suggested that Hitler at one point supported Zionism” tells only part of the story. The claim against him was initially that he was an anti-Semite because he had claimed Hitler was a Zionist – something he never did. Labour MP John Mann, oddly accompanied by a TV camera crew, claimed he said it in an incendiary confrontation on a stairwell but the facts proved otherwise. The grounds for his suspension were that he had upset the UK’s Jewish population – and this, too, is questionable as many British Jews came forward to support him.

The Guardian states that Mr Livingstone was also censured “for defending the Labour MP Naz Shah over an antisemitic Facebook post for which she subsequently apologised”. In fact, it was a tweet, stating that “The Jews are rallying” to vote in an online poll by John Prescott on the appropriateness of Israeli military action against Palestinians in 2014. The message was indeed anti-Semitic and Ms Shah was right to apologise for it. If she had said “supporters of Israel are rallying”, she would have been in the clear. According to legal opinion, criticism of Israel that alleges ill treatment of Palestinians (the subject of the discussion at the time) cannot be taken as evidence of anti-Semitism.

Mr Livingstone also defended Ms Shah for retweeting two images. One was controversial as it was a response to a plan propossed to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, to forcibly move Palestinians from the land that has been theirs for centuries, relocating them in neighbouring countries. The image proposed moving Israel – the whole country, physically – to within the borders of the United States (on the assumption that the US was Israel’s greatest ally). The idea is of course ridiculous and it would be inappropriate to take it seriously. The accompanying text drew flak for referring to the “Jews-only state”, but consider this: certain so-called representatives of Jewish people (including current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, come to think of it) like to conflate Israel with Judaism. It seems strange that certain organisations that demand the two should be intermingled should then complain about it.

The other image was of a man posing for a police ‘mug’ shot, above the words, “Everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”. Mr Livingstone was taken to task by Vanessa Feltz on her radio show over this image, which she claimed was an attempt to justify Hitler’s anti-Semitism. This was a huge mistake: The man in the image was Martin Luther King, and the point he was making was that actions that are entirely legal can still be entirely wrong.

Isn’t it curious that nobody has tackled Ms Feltz over her gross misinterpretation of the image? Has anybody even bothered to ask her, or is it only permitted to question the accused, and not the accusers?

The Guardian goes on to report Labour MPs and officials’ concerns that “despite promises by the leadership to show ‘zero tolerance’ in cases where antisemitism had been alleged – the party had been slow to investigate. In some cases where complaints had been found to have had substance, the party had recommended surprisingly lenient punishment.”

“Zero tolerance” with allegations? This implies that guilt is assumed, no matter what the evidence may be – which brings me to my own case.

Here‘s a site called The Red Roar, reporting my refusal to accept the disputes panel’s decision to give me a warning and send me for “training” with the JLM. It is inaccurate, or at least misleading by omission, in several places:

A Labour member accused of anti-semitism could face expulsion from the party after publicly refusing to take part in a training programme because it is run by the Jewish Labour Movement.

Mike Sivier was defended by Jon Lansman at a hearing of Labour’s Disputes Panel on Tuesday after being suspended for blog posts described as anti-Semitic. The Momentum founder helped to broker a compromise agreement that was endorsed by the Panel by the narrowest of margins, which Sivier has now effectively broken.

Party officials had recommended Sivier should be referred to the National Constitutional Committee, which has the final say on disciplinary matters. But several NEC members argued on Tuesday he should be given a second chance if he agreed to take part in training. It is unusual for the Disputes Panel to ignore the advice of Party officials, but it voted by 12 votes to 10 in favour of the compromise agreement.

Readers of This Site will know that I am not an anti-Semite. The allegations against me were entirely false.

If you’ve come late to the debate, or have only seen the other side of it, I recommend a quick trip here and here.

I’ve already mentioned the fact that it has taken Labour eight months to bring my case before the NEC’s disputes panel.

For nearly five of those months, I heard nothing from Labour at all. Then I was invited to an interview, to discuss the matter, and encouraged to bring evidence supporting my side of the issue, details of other people who could be contacted for supporting evidence, and a witness – who may not speak but may ensure that proceedings take place equitably.

In hindsight, I have no idea why I was invited to that interview; I might as well have stayed at home. My evidence was ignored; my documents went unexamined; my supporters uncontacted. And what’s the point of having a witness if she isn’t allowed to review the report to dispute panel members for accuracy?

The report delivered to the panel, as I understand it, dismissed nearly two hours worth of verbal evidence as “unclear”, and claimed that I did not understand why Jewish people might take offence at what I had said.

The reason they chose to take offence is perfectly clear: For political gain. My accusers did not want me to do well in the local government elections last May, so they released the article making their claim about me in the week before – to ruin my chances. This is against the law.

None of this information was provided to the disputes panel – and it seems that some of its members seem to assume guilt, simply from the fact that a complaint has been made. It can hardly be a surprise that they were not prepared to accept Mr Lansman’s argument – and that of others who were there – that I am innocent.

Indeed, it seems that some of the panel even took offence at attempts to introduce evidence I had given at my interview into their deliberations, as it had not been mentioned in the one-sided report they’d had from the officer.

Oh, and Mr Lansman didn’t put forward the proposal to give me a warning and send me for training – that was someone else.

Sivier has since written that he will not take part in the training because it is run by JLM “of all people”. That is an apparent reference to the fact that it was his controversial online statements about JLM that prompted his suspension from the party in the first place.

No, it’s a reference to the evidence that JLM uses its “training” events to smear innocent people with fake anti-Semitism accusations (as Jackie Walker discovered).

Also, it is surprising that whoever wrote the Red Roar article apparently hasn’t read the allegations against me. That’s poor journalism. My statements about the JLM cannot be described as anti-Semitism as they do not fit any of the definitions; they are criticism of the JLM as an organisation, not Jews.

Sivier now faces being referred to the NCC, as recommended by party officials.

Yes indeed. Hopefully I’ll be able to inject some much-needed factual accuracy into this sorry saga. I am already calling for reform of the disciplinary procedure as it clearly causes injustice.

His refusal to undergo training will embarrass Lansman and other Momentum NEC members who argued on his behalf earlier this week. Lansman has publicly conceded that Labour has a problem with anti-semitism which is has so far failed to address.

Those who spoke in my favour “understand” my decision and “applaud” my “strong principles”.

As for Mr Lansman’s agreement that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism – he said it is on the rise nationally, and “it would be extremely surprising if it wasn’t also present in the Labour Party”. He didn’t say Labour had failed to address the problem, but did say “it has to be dealt with”.

He’s right – but not by automatically penalising anybody who has been accused. That merely encourages mischief-makers to make vexatious complaints in order to discredit people they don’t like – and that’s not acceptable.

Don’t forget that cases of apparently genuine anti-Semitism were discussed by the disputes panel and sent on to the Natonal Constitutional Committee last week. Where the party’s rules are clearly breached, it acts appropriately.

It is only in cases where the innocent are accused that Labour seems to tie itself in knots.

So, yes, I agree that Labour takes far too long dealing with these complaints. But Labour needs to reform its procedures to ensure that everybody who is accused can ensure that their case is heard fairly and that justice is served. That is not happening at the moment.

And that’s why I’m telling the disputes panel to think again.

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  1. G Millward January 21, 2018 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Excellent article Mike

  2. Jill Phillips January 21, 2018 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    All this needed to be said, loud and clear. I very much hope it is also widely read – and taken on board.
    The Jewish Labour Party (now known as JL ‘Movement’) continues to do far more harm to itself by its appalling behaviour.

    Has the excellent and well-appreciated Jewish Voice for Labour not been involved in helping to stop these totally unnecessary ructions? If not, why not?

    The UK Labour Party wants to work alongside all people of good will, intention and action; as the Jewish Voice of Labour (JVL) has proved itself to be. Their Voice is a pleasant one; well-informed and just. The JLP would do itself a favour by making way for them.

    (By the way, ‘anti-semitism’ – as depicted in the in the yellow & black cartoon at the top of this article- is a thousand times more widely practised against Palestinians than it is against Jews.)

  3. MerryMichaelW January 21, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Your headline is a bit crap, Mike – please try to be a bit more thoughtful about this?

    • MerryMichaelW January 21, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      – brilliant article, but.

      • Mike Sivier January 21, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply


    • Mike Sivier January 21, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

      It’ll do. The shock value is that I’m agreeing with the JLM, after all.

  4. Dr Marius Oshea January 21, 2018 at 11:04 pm - Reply

    I support you on this. The JLM needs to be careful about crying “Wolf!” on every occasion, especially where evidence of anti-semitism is tenuous or even nonexistent. There needs to be a vigorous debate within the Party about the difference between Judaism, Zionism and Israel. And on the penultimate and latter, is it time to revisit the use of ‘antisemitism’? Both Jews and Arabs are Semitic. When we see the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, the term ‘antisemitism’ becomes very much a two-edged sword.

  5. Robert Jenkins January 21, 2018 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    I am a relatively new follower of yours. I find your writings generally very interesting, but especially fascinating to me was your account of the ramifications of your suspension from Labour Party membership back in 2016.

    As far as I can tell, this was one of many similar stories of suspension dating from that time. It seems to have much in common with the case of a local Labour (now independent) councillor from my neck of the woods, Keighley. I refer to a Mr Khadim Hussein, who was accused of “anti-semitism” for ‘liking’ something deemed “anti-semitic” on Facebook. The suspension was made by Yorkshire regional organiser Ciaran Tully and communicated to members of the relevant Bradford Council constituency branch, Keighley Central on 23rd March 2016, in other words only six weeks prior to the local council elections in which he was due to defend his seat.

    This was only the second communication I had ever received from the Labour Party, having only been a member for one month at the time, so it was pretty mystifying. Duly intrigued, I tried my best to discover by email communication with local party officials what this was all about. Answer was there none.

    Our local paper, Keighley News, reported that Khadim Hussein had asked the regional organiser for an explanation for his suspension and an opportunity to plead his case. That being refused, he opted to resign from the party and stand in the Bradford Council elections as an independent. Keighley Central meanwhile adopted another candidate. As a member I believe I had a right to observe at a selection meeting for this person, but there was no notification of such a meeting, only of the ‘successful’ outcome. I did receive many nagging emails begging me to knock on doors for her, however.

    Result: Khadim Hussein won with 21000 votes to the Labour candidate’s 2000. Labour lost a Council seat to an independent. I myself, despite having become a party member, voted for Khadim as the person most likely to keep the Tory out, which he duly did.

    Of course, Khadim’s suspension will never now be reconsidered. I surmised at the time, and your own experience around that time adds weight to this, that it had **** all to do with “antisemitism” and a great deal to do with the Labour Party “moderates” sabotaging a possible surge in the Labour vote at local elections, blame for which they could subsequently pin on the ‘Corbyn Effect’.

    The first opportunity I got to attend a branch meeting and perhaps find out more from other members was one month after said election. The election result was not on the agenda so I asked prior to the meeting what point there would be a post mortem into what was a dreadful result. No reply. At the meeting itself I asked again, only to be stonewalled by the information that Keighley Central branch’s affairs had been taken over by the Keighley Constituency Branch Management Committee and no further information was forthcoming – not even informally.

    I regret that it was soon after this that I decided that Labour Party membership was not for me. I had been encouraged by the Corbyn surge to turn my 50 years of tactical voting (ie always for the party most likely to chuck or keep out the Tory) into something more positive, only to find that, even as a member, I was still resorting to my old habit of voting for the ‘least worst’ option!

    As you may imagine, there is loads more to this story. I had to admit that I had neither the stamina nor forbearance required to pussy-foot around with the sort of officialdom that was so determined to stymie my honest (and I now recognise, naive) enquiries into it, and I duly gave up. I look back on my 6 month membership of Labour as the blip it was probably meant to be. I’m happy to have returned to my trusty default position of healthy cynicism, from which I can at least express myself freely.

    Over the last few months of reading new left media, I have been endlessly entertained by a rich seam of inside stories of the manouevrings of various factions within the Labour party on “anti-semitism” and numerous other topics. I always knew things were rotten in the party, so none of it surprised me.

    The “anti-semitism” business however has a vibe all its own, which is going to be very difficult to untangle, as no doubt Shami Chakrabati found to her cost in producing her ineffectual whitewash of it. My impression is that it will run and run for a good while yet. I do think, however, that any investigation must get to the bottom of the underlying motives of the people involved. But as your account so eloquently argues, such an outcome is unlikely for as long as those responsible for causing the misunderstandings in the first place are the same people charged with investigating them or, worse, “correcting” them.

    In these circumstances, I heartily applaud your stance, Mike, to escalate your case to a higher authority, and I look forward to further accounts in due course.

  6. Martin Odoni January 22, 2018 at 9:10 am - Reply

    Just to add for the record, I was one of the people Mike told the disputes panel to contact about the row from last year. I can confirm that I have heard not a peep out of them.

  7. Brenda Addison January 24, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    I found this recent article useful. It could perhaps be circulated to the appropriate people.
    The true target is the Palestinian people and their rightful cause. Why is this not made clear more often?
    The idea of being subjected to training by the JLM! Of course you couldn’t accept that.

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