Monday, 13 January 2020

Leadership Contenders Cave In To The Board Of Deputies

The Israel lobby must be delighted with the events of the last 48 hours. With the exception of Clive Lewis, all the Labour leadership candidates have signed up to the BoD's (Board of Deputies') ten point pledge. And Lewis, struggling to secure the PLP signatures he needs to progress, will now be under immense pressure to follow suit. This signals the collapse of the finest achievement of Corbyn's leadership - the commitment to an ethical foreign policy.

Labour conference last year made a significant break from its long tradition of support for Israel. That break wasn't as radical as some of us would have liked, but - as I wrote on here recently - it adopted a policy that gave us something worth fighting for. Conference stopped short of openly endorsing the BDS campaign, but like the previous year it was crystal clear where the majority of Party delegates stood on the question of Israel-Palestine. It was a huge step forward.

How different things look just a few months on. Now it seems that the gains we made will be rolled back by a new leadership that is running scared of the Israel lobby. The machers at the top table seem to have decided that the damage done to the Party by constant bogus allegations of antisemitism can only be put right by ditching criticism of Israel. Caving in to the BoD is apparently a price worth paying for an end to the attacks, not just in the eyes of right wingers and 'centrists' like Jess Phillips and Keir Starmer, but for Corbyn loyalists like Rebecca Long-Bailey too.

The leadership contenders appear to have learned nothing from Jeremy's experience. A peacemaker at heart, he made one concession after another to the Israel lobby, only to find that every retreat was met by demands for another, and yet another. None of Corbyn's attempts to find a reasonable compromise bore fruit. For those of us coming from a Zionist background, that was no surprise. Zionism does not take prisoners - either literally or metaphorically - and every inch of ground given is the prelude to calls for more.

Some of the BoD's demands are particularly toxic.

Outsourcing of disciplinary processes
The BoD states that the Party must outsource 'all complaints' to 'an independent provider'. Presumably this 'independent provider' will have to meet with the approval of the BoD. It is hard to imagine any political party handing its internal disciplinary processes over to an outside body, yet this is what the leadership candidates have enthusiastically signed up to. We can imagine the media storm had the Tory Party agreed to outsource its handling of Islamophobia complaints to the Muslim Council of Britain - yet the media are predictably sanguine about the BoD's proposal.

BoD oversight of disciplinary cases

Following on from the above, the BoD is demanding that 'Jewish representative bodies' - including, one assumes, the BoD - should be 'given the right to regular, detailed case updates'. Again, this is unprecedented; breaking every principle of confidentiality and natural justice. It would secure, as a principle, ongoing outside interference in an independent political party. No socialist or labour movement organisation can or should brook such meddling.

No readmittance of 'prominent offenders'

The BoD insist that what they term 'prominent offenders' - and they specifically name Jewish socialist Jackie Walker alongside Ken Livingtone as examples- should never be readmitted to the Party. Once expelled, in a process controlled by a non-labour movement body, there would be no possibility of rejoining, or - presumably - of having one's case reviewed. Again, this proposal breaches every principle of common sense, as well as running counter to the demands of natural justice.

The pro-Israel JLM must oversee education on antisemitism

In another telling demand, the BoD insists that the aggresively pro-Israel JLM (Jewish Labour Movement) must be given the franchise for the Party's internal education on antisemitism. JLM places Israel and Zionism at the core of its work, and enshrines Zionism in its statement of principles. It does not, however, require that its members are either (a) Jewish, or indeed (b) members of the Labour Party. Handing antisemitism education over to them would mean finally accepting the conflation of antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli state.

Labour must engage with the Jewish community via 'mainstream' bodies

This is shorthand for arguing that dissenting voices from the Jewish community must be sidelined. The BoD is clearly determined to silence JVL and other pro-Corbyn organisations and individuals, both inside and outside the Labour Party. Their demand reveals the BoD's underlying agenda - that only Jews wedded to Zionist ideology will be considered legitimate from now on. Any Jews failing to dance to the BoD's tune will be placed firmly beyond the pale.


The BoD's ten demands represent a wholly unprecedented abrogation of the democratic prerogatives of an independent political party by a lobby group that sees its interests as ineluctably tied to those of a foreign state. 

It is worth remembering that the BoD, if it represents anything at all aside from a self-selecting 'Jewish establishment', actually represents far less than half of all Jews in the UK. But it does represent - effectively, aggressively and remorselessly - that section of the Jewish community which identifies more or less uncritically with the Israeli state.

The BoD certainly doesn't have anything to do with socialism. While foregrounding the issue of antisemitism, it has been remarkably coy when it comes to flagging up other forms of racism, let alone the social injustices of Tory Britain. That this hostile body should be given a prominent - if not dominant - voice in the internal affairs of the Labour Party beggars belief.

The fact that the main leadership contenders have caved in so swiftly to the BoD's demands is a sobering reminder of how great a struggle we face, both inside and outside the Labour Party, when it comes to resisting the agenda of the Israel lobby and the conservative establishment.

In the past, Labour leaders have waited till they're in office to betray the principles of the people they claim to represent. This time they've got their betrayal in early. At least we know where we stand.