It was inevitable that I would face criticism for standing up against the false accusations of anti-Semitism that were used to expel me from the Labour Party last week.
It’s not a bother; I get to explain and clarify why the allegations were wrong.
So, for example, here’s Bob Pitt on the Labour Against the Witchhunt – Unofficial Facebook page. After asking if I would be publishing a list of the accusations against me (I said I’d be going into my defence against all of them), he said he assumed one of these particulars related to my defence of Naz Shah and her tweeting of a satirical meme proposing that Israel should be relocated to the USA. He was right, although I do wonder if he had help zeroing in on it.
He wrote: “The problem was that in defending Naz you linked to an article on the Redress website, which you identified (mistakenly) as the source of the meme. You obviously didn’t bother to check the nature of the Redress site, which is notoriously antisemitic. Even the famously mild-mannered Tony Greenstein became annoyed at you over that. In the comments section he wrote:
“‘This is a stupid and ill-thought out post. Firstly it is wrong. It wasn’t posted first on Redress, it came from a far more illustrious source. It came from a Zionist source – the Jewish Virtual Library – a site where if you want to know anything about Judaism you go to. Secondly it’s a bloody good job that it didn’t come from Redress, because Redress is an anti-Semitic conspiracy site with holocaust deniers, including Gilad Atzmon posting. I suggest large dollops of humble pie and you take this idiotic post down quick.’
“To which you replied: ‘Whether it’s an anti-Semitic conspiracy site or not is really neither here nor there in this instance.’ Not only did you fail to remove the offending article, as Tony asked you to do, but you even republished it, unamended, in your pamphlet The Livingstone Presumption.
“So, if you were charged in connection with that, I would say there was some substance to the charge. You linked to an antisemitic website, and when the character of that site was brought to your attention, you said it didn’t matter and refused to retract.”
This is a false argument – guilt by association – coupled with false information. The image was not from the Jewish Virtual Library.
Here’s the image from the JVL:
Now here’s the image that originated with Redress Online:
And here’s the image Naz Shah tweeted:
Which two look most alike?
Next: The accusation against me by Labour’s NEC did not refer to my article in which I correctly placed the origin of the image with Redress, but to a previous article in which I reported that it had been used by Norman Finkelstein, described by that hideously inaccurate Wikipedia as “an American political scientist, activist, professor, and author. His primary fields of research are the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the politics of the Holocaust, an interest motivated by the experiences of his parents who were Jewish Holocaust survivors.”
My point was that, if this Jewish gentleman, the son of two Jewish Shoah survivors, considered the image to be acceptable, then perhaps the gentiles in the Labour Party needed to think again about their complaint. Fair point?
Another fair point is that Labour’s accusation did not refer to the image, but to the article’s headline: “Nobody bothered to check who created that ‘anti-Semitic’ image Naz Shah retweeted, did they?”
The claim was, “To put ‘antisemitism’ in quotation marks implies that Jews are using the term falsely which diminishes the term and denies Jewish people the language to describe their own oppression.”
I had put “anti-Semitic” in quotation marks because, as you can see from the above, the image isn’t actually anti-Semitic at all. It occurred to me that, to prove the accusation, Labour needed to show that it was, that Jewish people were exclusively responsible for the claim that it was, and that I was limiting my criticism exclusively to those people.
As part of Labour’s “investigation” into the claims against me, I was interviewed in October 2017. Here’s the relevant part of the interviewing officer’s report: “Even though Naz Shah admitted that the image and content she posted was anti-Semitic and went on a training and education programme to correct her views, MS did not acknowledge that there was a problem with him using quote marks in the title.
“He said he was searching for the truth, and wanted to clear up where the image that Naz Shah posted had come from. He said that because the picture, when first posted, was meant satirically. He did acknowledge that the intentions behind Naz Shah posting it may well have been anti-Semitic.
“He cited the fact that the original image was posted by a Jewish man as evidence that it was not anti-Semitic to post it and therefore didn’t accept that putting the word “anti-Semitism” in quote marks could be seen as dismissive.”
And here’s my defence, as submitted to the NCC:
The image is not anti-Semitic. Claims that the image was anti-Semitic were, and are, entirely false, dishonest and deceitful. The definition of anti-Semitism to which the Labour Party subscribes agrees that criticism of the actions of the state of Israel may not be described as anti-Semitic unless certain features are present – and they are not, in this case. I put quotation marks around “anti-Semitic” in the headline to show that people had said it was, but in fact it was not.
The IO [interviewing officer] is mistaken in suggesting that I did not accept that putting the word “anti-Semitism” in quotation marks could be seen as dismissive because a Jewish man had posted the original image. I do not know how he came to that conclusion.
The IO seems to have been labouring under the false impression that the image was anti-Semitic in its own right, independent of Ms Shah’s use of it. She may have admitted anti-Semitic intent in using it – as I said in the interview, her intention in tweeting it was her own business and I could not comment on that. But she had no right to suggest that it was inherently anti-Semitic. The only person who could confirm or deny that would be its creator – and Ms Shah did not create it. The article reported on my attempts to find that person – and came to a mistaken conclusion. When I contacted Norman Finkelstein, the person named in the piece, he said he had not created the image, but had taken it from another website. It took more digging for me to discover that the origin was a website called Redress Online. Mr Finkelstein, who is indeed Jewish, made his own opinion on the matter perfectly clear: the image was satirical and was not anti-Semitic. When I visited Redress Online, I found that he was correct. I made the point (but elsewhere in the interview) that these articles were part of an investigation and my opinions changed as evidence came to light. So the image wasn’t created by Norman Finkelstein but by the Redress Online website which, although accused of anti-Semitism, was not displaying such traits in the production of the image.
As the Labour Party is insisting that the image comes from anti-Semites, I would like to know when the Party changed its position to support the forced removal of Palestinian people from their homes to foreign countries, which is the policy that was being promoted to the Israeli government at the time the image was created, and the policy that the image was attacking. My understanding was that the Party supports the right of every people to self-determination, not just the Jewish people. Note, by the way, that the image was attacking a policy, not a people.
It was a genuine – if satirical – response to a plan that was submitted to Israeli leaders, to transport all Palestinians still living within Israel’s borders to neighbouring countries. I understand that this plan is often discussed – and the new “Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people” Act relegates all citizens of that country other than Jews to second-class status, provoking comparisons with apartheid, and permits the expulsion of non-Jewish people from settlements within that country. It also states that Jews are the only people with a right to self-determination in Israel, contrary to article 1(2) of the 1948 United Nations charter – and the Labour Party’s own code of conduct on anti-Semitism. Both make it clear that all people have the right to self-determination.
I do not state, anywhere in the article, that Jews were using the word “anti-Semitic” to describe the image, and were doing so in order to create a false impression, as my accuser claims. I do not discuss the ethnic origin, race or religion of anybody making such a claim in the piece. My accuser makes no effort to provide evidence that I have suggested this of Jews, either exclusively or in conjunction with gentiles. As it is for my accuser to prove my guilt, not for me to prove my innocence, the accusation against me can only be ruled false.
I discussed the image in my book, The Livingstone Presumption, and it is appropriate to reproduce that passage here, as follows:
“It was created as a reaction against proposals to forcibly relocate Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, Gaza, or anywhere else claimed by the Israeli state, moving them into Jordan or even Saudi Arabia.
“It does not say that Israelis should be moved to the US. It suggests a situation in which Israel the country, lock stock and barrel, could be moved to the US. The former could conceivably be a serious recommendation, but the latter cannot. Actually imposing another country on the USA is absurd. It isn’t a serious proposal and there is no movement to do so.
“This image is not anti-Semitic; it is satirical.
“The intention is to point out to certain people that they would not themselves accept something they have no qualms about forcing on Palestinians. People who push the “anti-Semitic” interpretation of the image are either ignorant of its origins or are trying to hoodwink the rest of us.
“Let us examine the image’s origins:
“It was created for an article on a website called Redress Online, dated August 4, 2014 (http://www.redressonline.com/2014/08/clash-of-civilizations-and-a-possible-solution-to-the-palestine-israel-conflict/). The site describes itself as “an independent, privately-funded, non-profit-making website dedicated to exposing injustice, disinformation and bigotry, and to providing thought-provoking interpretations of current affairs… Our scope is global. Owing to the gross injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel and its allies, much of the material currently posted on our website concerns the Middle East. However, our aim is to fulfil our mission as described above wherever it is warranted anywhere in the world.”
“The article itself states: “Israelis and other Zionists often call for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, namely, their ‘transfer’ to Jordan or even Saudi Arabia.
““In the light of the total lack of humanity shown by Israelis in Gaza in particular and towards the Palestinians in general, we believe that a logical counter-proposal would be to transfer the Jews-only state to the belly of its best friend, the United States.”
“Of course, the point being made is that neither proposal is logical at all. It simply asks those who would uproot Palestinians against the will of those people, whether they would want the same thing to happen to them.
“There is a wealth of material online showing that there have been calls for Palestinians to be forcibly removed from their homes. The article reports on the killing of up to 130 Palestinian civilians in Rafah on August 1, 2014 “just to make sure that one Israeli soldier … didn’t fall into Hamas’s hands alive,” so the reference to a “total lack of humanity” is entirely understandable.”
[I should clarify that the phrase “Jews-only state” is justified as the discussion was of a plan to remove members of all other races – leaving only Jewish people. Some have objected to it as anti-Semitic but in this context it is clearly not.]
“In the context of the above, it is clear that the image is not, and never was, a serious suggestion. It’s a simple tit-for-tat: “If you think moving Palestinians to Jordan or Saudi Arabia is a good idea, what’s wrong with moving Israelis to the USA?”
“The absurdity becomes clear if we start asking practical questions: Where would the current residents of that part of the US go? Would they become refugees, like the Palestinians?
“That was also part of the point of the map – to get citizens of Israel and the United States to put themselves in the shoes of the Palestinians.
“What about imposing Palestine on Jordan or Saudi Arabia, or both? Wouldn’t that create huge resentment in the displaced populations of those countries? Or are we only bothered about the USA and Israel? Where would the current residents of those parts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia go? Would they become refugees?
“People weren’t asking these questions – until an image was created that brought the issue much closer to home.
“One point that was made to me is that we rarely hear criticism of the USA over the way that nation has treated native Americans so this image, which superimposes one country where the government wants to displace the native people onto another country where the government has already done so, is to be welcomed – from a certain point of view.
“A commenter on Vox Political tried to take issue with the image due to the language it uses: “The title said: ‘Solution for…’ I can imagine that you know who used that word in reference to Jewish people. If not, google ‘final solution’. Another one: ‘The transportation cost will be…’ Is necessary to remember what meant ‘transportation’ for Jewish people during WWII?”
“But this person was proving the point of those of us who say the image is not to be taken seriously. Those keywords should make it clear to anybody with knowledge about such matters that it is not a practical suggestion but a response to one that is outrageous. Are those Israelis who propose packing Palestinians off to Jordan or Saudi Arabia not suggesting a solution of their own? What would the transportation costs be in that case?
“Another commenter also noted the use of the word “transportation”. He wrote: “On the picture Naz posted about moving Israel to the US one of the bullet points it makes for why it’s such a good idea is that ‘The transportation costs will be less than three years of defence spending’. It’s a joke about how much the US spends on Israeli defence.”
“I found out the origin of the image on a website called Jews For Justice For Palestinians, which has been running a fascinating series of articles on the “anti-Semitism” controversy here in the UK, under the headline Carnival of Ignorance.
“In summary: The sentiments expressed by the image may be interpreted as criticisms of Israeli and US foreign policy.
“We have proof that it was a satirical response to an Israeli plan to force-deport Palestinians into Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Ms Shah’s comment – “Problem solved!” may be considered to be sarcastic in this context. So people who said it was outrageous for Ms Shah to suggest the forced deportation of Israelis from their home country, it seems, had drawn the wrong conclusion. It would be appropriate to ask them if they also consider it to be outrageous for the Israeli government to suggest the forced-deportation of Palestinians.
“As another commenter wrote: “The true worry is the way in which any criticism of the Israeli Government, its policies and its support of the illegal settlements in Palestinian territory (as defined by the UN) attracts screams of anti semitism from the apologists and supporters of the Israeli Government etc.
““Immoderate, screamed accusations are a determined attempt to shut down any reasoned argument critical of Israeli Government policies. They are not anti Semitic but many people feel constrained and choose to mute their criticism for fear of unjustified accusation of anti semitism.
““Anti semitism is wrong and bigoted and aimed at people based on their racial origins. It is undemocratic and unsocialist and I condemn it entirely. Criticism of a government policy is legitimate political argument and I encourage it wholeheartedly.
““This idea that Israel should be immune from criticism from any source including from Jews in Israel who take a different view and vote for opposition parties is patently absurd. Whenever any attempt is made to discuss what is happening in either Israel or the occupied Palestinian Territories then a blizzard of attacks are made claiming the criticism comes from an antisemite.
““This determined attempt to shut down critical debate debases the legitimacy of any real claim of anti semitism. Those supporters of the Israel Government really must understand that political commentary about real world actions such as the illegal settlements or the fence that has been erected, for example, is not anti-Semitic. Similar criticism is being made by the same people of human rights abuses by many other states of differing political make up. Eg Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Russia, Liberia etc etc. This doesn’t make the authors anti-Muslim, anti-communist, anti-African.
““All governments must be open to public criticism and trolls who are attempting to shut down debate are doing everyone a disservice.””
In my questions during the hearing, I pointed out that the NEC had put forward no evidence in support of any claim that the image was anti-Semitic in its nature, and tried to get an admission that – without such proof – the NCC must accept that the image is not anti-Semitic.
I also wanted to run through every example of anti-Semitism provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance alongside its definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted in full by the Labour Party – but Maggie Cousins, chairing the panel, blocked me from asking these questions. Apparently she had a train to catch at 4pm and this was more important than justice.
I also asked if it was accepted that the article makes no mention of Jews using the term “anti-Semitic” falsely, but I was told this was not relevant as the issue was about whether a right-thinking person might perceive the headline as doing that. This is not true – the charge against me was that I “repeatedly posted content propogating the conspiracy that secretive networks of Jews control and have undue influence over government and other societal institutions” and use “language that is dismissive of antisemitism and that denies Jews the right to self identify as they wish”. There is no mention in the charge of me being guilty of allowing people to perceive my articles, their headlines or the images they contain in any way at all and to be honest it would be entirely unfair of Labour to suggest such a thing as I cannot help what people say about my articles after they have been published. No writer can.
Yet that is what Labour has done.
I was right about the origin of the image and the intentions behind it.
I was right to say it is not anti-Semitic and had the support of an authoritative Jewish academic.
The Labour Party’s accusation did not refer to the image but to a headline describing it – and I was right to describe that headline in the way I had.
It is worth going back and adding one more point about Redress Online: It may be true that that website is populated with anti-Semitic articles, written by anti-Semites. That does not mean investigators seeking facts should ignore it when it is the location of those facts. My argument is that the police would not ignore valuable information in a criminal investigation, just because it came from other criminals. If it is important, verifiable information, then it should be used – otherwise the investigation is likely to reach a false conclusion and the course of justice is likely to be perverted.
In trying to discredit the evidence, is that what my critics want?
Such behaviour would be utterly reprehensible.
But I wasn’t charged in relation to that, so in any case there is no substance to the charge.
The reference to Redress Online was an attempt at guilt through association, which is a false argument. Just because I found the evidence I needed there doesn’t mean I approve of the site as a whole or any of its writers. I traced the image to that site and, checking its context, found no anti-Semitic content. My opinion is corroborated by Norman Finkelstein, who is Jewish and therefore should know.
So Mr Pitt’s argument falls.
And the particular (as it was described) of the charge against me should also have fallen, as it was not proved that I had “used language that is dismissive of antisemitism and that denies Jews the right to self-identify as they wish”.
But Labour’s NCC panel still said the claim was proved.
That was a common failing.
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