Asa Winstanley The Electronic Intifada 28 April 2016
Former London mayor and long-time Palestinian rights campaigner Ken Livingstone is the latest victim of the UK Labour Party’s witch hunt over alleged anti-Semitism. TLA WENN Photos
Last year, socialist stalwart Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the UK’s Labour Party by a landslide.
Since then, there has been a steady flow of claims by Israel’s supporters that Corbyn has not done enough to combat anti-Semitism.
This has only accelerated in the lead-up to a major test for Corbyn, the UK local elections on 5 May.
Even as this story was in preparation, two more victims were claimed in the war against his leadership.
Lawmaker Naz Shah and the former mayor of London, long-time Palestine campaigner Ken Livingstone, were also suspended from the party – within hours of being accused of anti-Semitism.
But an investigation by The Electronic Intifada has found that some of the most prominent stories about anti-Semitism in the party are falsified.
The Electronic Intifada can reveal that a key player in Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” covered up his involvement in the Israel lobby.
Most Labour members so accused are in reality being attacked for expressing opinions in favor of Palestinian human rights and particularly for supporting the boycott of Israel.
Labour activists, many of them Jews, have told The Electronic Intifada that false accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon against Corbyn by the party’s right-wing.
Corbyn has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement for more than three decades. In an interview with The Electronic Intifada last year, he endorsed key elements of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel. For example, he urged an end to weapons trading with Israel.
His election represented a radical shift in Labour, a popular revolt at the grassroots membership level.
Although Labour’s membership has grown since Corbyn’s victory, he has been under constant attack from right-leaning politicians within the party. In an attempt to weaken his position, some of his critics have manufactured a “crisis” about alleged anti-Semitism.
Attacks on Corbyn have escalated in the lead-up to next week’s local elections. Poor results would be seized upon by his enemies within the party.
Charley Allan, a Jewish member of the party, and a Morning Star columnist, has described the current atmosphere in the press and Labour Party as a “witch hunt.”
It has reached such an absurd volume that any usage of the word “Zionist” is deemed to be anti-Semitic – although tellingly not when used by self-described Zionists.
Where real instances of anti-Jewish bigotry have come to light, the leadership and party machine have taken robust action.
According to The Spectator, the party’s general secretary Iain McNicol told a recent meeting of Labour lawmakers that everyone who had been reported for anti-Semitism had either been suspended or excluded.
Corbyn has responded to the media storm by repeatedly condemning anti-Semitism and saying that anyone making an anti-Semitic remark is “auto-excluded from the party.”
John McDonnell, the shadow finance minister and a long-standing Corbyn ally, told The Independent that any party member found by an investigation to be expressing anti-Semitic views should be expelled for life. “If people express these views, full stop they’re out,” McDonnell said.
Smears of anti-Semitism against Corbyn started even before he was elected.
During his leadership campaign in the summer of 2015, the establishment media worked itself into a frenzy of anti-Corbyn hysteria, led more than any other paper by the liberal Guardian.
One of the recurring themes in this campaign was Corbyn’s long-standing support for Palestinian human rights.
Because of this, attempts were made to say outright, or to imply, that Corbyn was a secret anti-Semite, or that he associated with, or tolerated “notorious” anti-Semites.
Although these hit jobs gained some traction, they were soon debunked, and ultimately seemed to have little impact on the leadership election.
This dishonest theme is now being revisited. In February, the slow drip of anti-Semitism scare stories burst into a flood.
An “anti-Semitism scandal” erupted in the Oxford University Labour Club – an association of student supporters of the party.
But as evidence he cited the club’s decision, in a majority vote, to endorse Oxford’s Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual awareness-raising exercise by student groups which support Palestinian rights.
This connection was clearly designed to smear Palestine solidarity activists as anti-Semites – a standard tactic of the Israel lobby.
In fact, the similarity was no coincidence.
The Electronic Intifada can reveal for the first time evidence that Chalmers himself has been part of the UK’s Israel lobby.
Chalmers has worked for BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.
Funded by the billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, BICOM is a leading pro-Israel group in London.
Chalmers once listed an internship with BICOM on his LinkedIn profile, although the page was deleted some time in February.
But even were this key fact not known, Chalmers’ accusations were not credible.
No one specific was named in his Facebook posting. He claimed that shortening the word Zionist to “Zio” and expressing support for the Palestinian political party and resistance organization Hamas were enough to prove anti-Semitism.
Chalmers did not reply to an emailed request for comment. He set his Twitter profile to private the day after the email was sent by The Electronic Intifada.
One of his tweets from 2014 sought to smear The Electronic Intifada with “Islamism.”
Chalmers has also been accused of disseminating a false allegation that a left-wing Labour student at Oxford had organized people into a group to follow a Jewish student around campus calling her a “filthy Zionist,” and that he had been disciplined as a result.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the accused student said that he had reason to believe Chalmers may have been behind the dissemination of this smear.
Paul Di Felice, the current acting principal of the Oxford college in question, confirmed to The Electronic Intifada the authenticity of a statement from its late principal denying all the allegations. “I have found no evidence of any allegations being made to the college about” the student “involving anti-Semitism, or indeed anything else, during his time at the college,” the statement read.
The Electronic Intifada put all this to Alex Chalmers in an email, but he failed to reply.
The Oxford University Labour Club responded with a statement saying it was “horrified” at the accusations and would fully cooperate with an investigation launched by the party organization Labour Students.
It did not take long, however, for someone to leak names to the right-wing press.
Citing an anonymous “source at the club,” The Telegraph named two left-wingers at Oxford who were supposedly “being investigated over alleged anti-Semitism at Oxford University.”
Again, there were no further details. Chalmers’ dubious and obviously politicized accusations were raised in general terms.
One of the two, James Elliott, was a vocal advocate at Oxford University of BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, and was photographed in the Telegraph article sitting next to Corbyn.
But in an email to a Daily Mail journalist, seen by The Electronic Intifada, Chalmers privately admitted that Elliott wasn’t involved. “I haven’t heard any allegations relating to him,” Chalmers wrote.
Both activists named by The Telegraph are part of Momentum, the grouping founded by Labour left-wingers in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory to support his leadership.
The Electronic Intifada has seen evidence of a whispering campaign against the activists at Oxford. A dossier of allegations against the student Labour club is said to have been filed with the union’s Jewish society.
That society has posted a summary of the dossier on Facebook.
Asked in an email if he had been behind the dossier or the press leaks, Chalmers did not reply.
Alex Chalmers’ Facebook post resigning from the Oxford University Labour Club was seized on by anti-Corbyn forces aiming to influence key internal elections to the Labour Party’s youth wing, in which the Momentum pair were both candidates.
On 19 February, the Guardian reported that Momentum candidates had swept the board in Young Labour’s elections, conducted by online ballot.
The Telegraph published its highly dubious hit piece four days later.
At the Young Labour conference the following weekend, several other positions remained to be elected. Elliott stood for the youth representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC).
After the smear campaign against him, Momentum candidate Elliott lost to right-wing Labour First candidate Jasmin Beckett – by only a tenth of a percentage point.
But Beckett was caught carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against Elliot.
As a result, a formal complaint has been submitted calling for her to be disqualified from the NEC.
The smear campaign drew on right-wing media insinuations against the Momentum pair at Oxford.
Beckett did not reply to an emailed request for comment.
As first revealed by Morning Star, Beckett urged supporters to “get a few people tweeting” allegations against Elliot.
But because such negative campaigning is against Labour rules, Beckett cautioned supporters to distance themselves from her. She asked her supporters to remove “twibbons” – promotional badges for her election campaign – from their social media accounts before making allegations against Elliot.
One supporter, Josh Woolas – son of former Labour MP Phil Woolas – cautioned it “needs to look like a genuine complaint about racism and not a smear campaign!”
In a Facebook group chat titled #TeamJB (viewable in full on the Labour blog Left Futures, edited by the chair of Momentum), Beckett encouraged other young Labour members to share unsubstantiated hit pieces on Elliott from right-wing media.
She asked “do you actually want an anti-Semite as NEC rep?” She suggested her friends “get a few people tweeting saying ‘shocked my union GMB are supporting James Elliott who is anti-Semitic’ or something.”
“Let’s just get it out there,” agreed Labour activist Tom Jennings. “We’ve got a huge opportunity … thus shaving off votes for him at [the Young Labour] conference.”
The complaint against Beckett was subsequently rolled into another investigation into Chalmers’ allegations of anti-Semitism at Oxford, one ultimately taken over by Janet Royall, the Labour leader in the House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber of the UK parliament.
Labour Students conducted a hasty investigation into the Oxford allegations. But, Labour activists told The Electronic Intifada, it was so obviously botched that it was not credible.
That investigation was led by Michael Rubin, Labour Students’ national chairperson – who happened to be the boyfriend of one of Beckett’s allies, Rachel Holland. Holland was part of Beckett’s dirty tricks campaign, expressing support for it in the #TeamJB group chat.
Elliott told The Electronic Intifada he could not comment until the Royall investigation is concluded.
That seems unlikely to happen until after the crucial local elections at the earliest, and probably not until the summer, the BBC says, when Beckett is due to take her seat on the NEC.
The witch hunt expanded.
In March, Huffington Post talked up a “fresh row over Labour anti-Semitism.”
The website referred to how union official Jennie Formby had allegedly pointed out at a meeting of Labour’s NEC that Royall once took part in a sponsored trip to the Middle East organized by Labour Friends of Israel, a pressure group within the party.
Formby has successfully pushed at the NEC to have private security firm G4S banned from Labour conferences, due to its supply of equipment to Israeli prisons that practice torture against Palestinians.
The Jewish Chronicle claimed Unison’s Jennie Formby was “to be moved from her role partly as a result of her anti-Israel activism.” It cited no evidence.
The paper claimed the move represented a demotion by the union, the UK’s largest.
But the report was instantly denied by Formby and her union.
Formby said she never questioned Royall’s ability to conduct the investigation.
In fact, Formby said, she was appointed to the new job long before Chalmers made his allegations on Facebook.