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On Monday the 17th of Aug 2020 Dr. Malcolm Segall wrote a letter addressed to Sir Keir Starmer that was printed in the Jewish Voice for Labour and is copied in its entirety here. The JVL presentation of this letter doesn’t just express the frustration of a British Jew who naively voted for Starmer in the hope of securing Labour Party unity, he is among the tens of thousands, deeply frustrated and dismayed by the subsequent actions of Keir Starmer now he is in office as Leader of the Opposition. No one feels reassure by his myopic preoccupation with an issue that has already achieved its primary goal of removing Jeremy Corbyn and crippling the progressive Labour Left. Just like playground bullies, no amount of appeasement or grovelling apologies will ever be sufficient to end the attacks. Starmer’s cowardly capitulation in the Ware Court case has presented an open invitation to liars and fraudsters to go after the weakened Labour Party in the hope of a massive payout: this is a brutally destructive storm of Starmer’s own making!
Jewish Voice for Labour introduce us to the letter’s author by saying of him, “Malcolm Segall trained as a paediatrician in UK and became Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health in the new University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He became Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, from where he researched health systems in low income countries, and worked with governments and international agencies to develop public health services in Africa (including newly-liberated Mozambique, newly-liberated Zimbabwe and post-apartheid South Africa) as well as in Vietnam and China. He is now retired.” This is his open letter to Keir Starmer.
“Dear Keir, I’m sorry for the delay in sending you this letter, but I have been poorly. Still belatedly I am writing because I want you to know that I, as a Jewish member of the Labour Party, characterise Israel as an expansionist, settler-colonial, ethnocratic, apartheid State, which has occupied, illegally expropriated, and may be on the point of formally annexing land belonging to the indigenous Palestinian people, who are deprived of their political rights. Do you think this characterisation of the Israeli State makes me antisemitic? I don’t. And I’d like to tell you why.
First then: what does the word antisemitism means? The Oxford English Dictionary defines antisemitism as ‘prejudice, hostility or discrimination toward Jewish people on religious, cultural or ethnic grounds.’ That sounds pretty good to me. How about you? So the reason I think my characterisation of the Israeli State is not antisemitic is because it says nothing whatsoever about the Jewishness of the State’s leadership nor of the now majority population of the country. It is based entirely on objective and observable facts of the policies and actions of the State involved. In other words, we (and I mean we) should not conflate Jewish ethnicity with the political behaviour of a foreign country.
Why am I going on about this now? Because it seems to me (and believe me to many members of our party) that this conflation must be the explanation for your extraordinary reaction to a passing comment made by Maxine Peake in a newspaper interview. This is not only important in its own right, but is the very conflation that has also mischaracterised our party as being riddled with institutional antisemitism, that has led to good party members being unjustifyingly accused, suspended or expelled, and that was so damaging to us in the recent general election. You have the deserved reputation for forensic dissection of arguments. So I’m going to a take a leaf out of your book and tease apart the different issues that are at stake here.
Let’s start then with the Maxine Peake incident. This has well been publicised and I need only summarise it here. Maxine made the comment that Israeli secret services have trained US police in the kneeling technique that led to the death of George Floyd and you said that this constituted an ‘antisemitic conspiracy theory’. It is widely acknowledged that Israeli forces have trained the security forces of a number of countries, including the US in, among other things, restraining techniques and it is also documented that Israeli forces have employed the kneeling technique to restrain Palestinians. What is not known is that Israeli forces taught that particular technique to US police, so Maxine’s wording was loose and she has withdrawn the comment. But the issue for us here is that, even as the comment stood, there is no way that this criticism of Israeli forces could remotely be construed as antisemitic (let alone a conspiracy theory) since there was no suggestion at all that the criticism was because the people doing the training forces were Jewish.
That comment of yours, conflating Israeli actions with Jewishness was completely illegitimate, for reasons I have pointed out above. So what were you thinking of? Was it a momentary aberration of muddled thinking or was it deliberate to send out an underlying message and, if so, to whom? You said you made the comment in order to reassure the ‘Jewish community’. What ‘Jewish community’ is that? Could it be the ‘Jewish community’ that the Board of Deputies (BoD)) of British Jews claims to represent? The deputies are elected by synagogues and other communal organisations, but some half of the roughly 300,000 British Jews do not have synagogue membership and a quarter of them self-describe as secular. So any implication that the BoD represents the collective views of Jews in Britain is far from the truth.
Could it be that you are trying to placate the BoD and related pro-Israeli lobby groups such as their affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM)? The JLM has been affiliated also to the Labour Party for 100 years, though for most of that time it was known as – what it actually is – as Poale Zion (Labour Zionist Movement). Its remit includes the promotion of self-determination of the Jewish people within the State of Israel and promotion of the centrality of Israel in Jewish life. These and related groups ran a relentless campaign, ably supported by the right wing press, of disinformation and lies about Jeremy’ Corbyn’s alleged tolerance of antisemitism in the Labour Party and even his being guilty of antisemitic acts himself. So is it that you are trying to earn relief from such relentless pressure?
The problem is that if you give into playground bullies, they only bully you more. There’s no better example than the BoD’s demand that the then Labour leadership contenders must sign up to its 10 pledges, which include (I paraphrase): that Labour should only relate to the ‘Jewish community’ though its ‘main representatives’ (meaning principally themselves), that these representatives should have effective supervision of the handling of complaints of antisemitism, and that JLM should be engaged to teach party members what antisemitism means – can you imagine what their curriculum will be?! Well, the answer to that rhetorical question is to be found in Pledge 6. I quote this in full because it is central to the purpose of this letter: “The IHRA definition of antisemitism, with all its examples and clauses, and without any caveats, will be fully adopted by the party and used as the basis for considering antisemitism disciplinary cases.” What an absolute chutzpah this all is! Is the Labour Party to become a vassal of a self-interested pressure groups? And what is worse is that you signed up to this.
So we’d better examine what exactly is this IHRA document defining antisemitism? I’m sure you studied this in forensic detail before you signed up to it but, if I may, I’ll just refresh your memory. The document has quite a long history. Essentially the same text was considered as long ago as 2005 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia and later inherited by the Centre’s successor, the Fundamental Rights Agency, but no decision was ever made to adopt it. It was then finally adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016. So what is the IHRA? It is effectively an intergovernmental task force, with at the time just 33 participating governments. The antisemitism document produced by the task force was actually adopted by only 8 of the 33 participating governments and 2 of 9 observer governments – which is not exactly a ringing endorsement.
What of the IHRA document itself? It comprises a definition of antisemitism and 11 illustrative examples. The definition is described as a “working definition” which is “non-legally binding” and the examples could be considered antisemitic but only in certain contexts, which are unspecified. It certainly reads like a working document because a lot of the writing is unclear and confusing, leaving much room for interpretation. But despite the apparently unfinalised nature of the document, it has been seized upon cynically by people wishing to extend the definition of antisemitism to include anything other t¬¬han trivial criticism of Israel. Let’s see that now.
The preoccupation of the IHRA document with Israel is shown by the fact that 7 of the 11 examples relate to the State of Israel. The most contentious of the examples is that it would be antisemitic to claim that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. This example was resisted initially by the Labour Party, which finally caved in to persistent bullying. The wording “a State of Israel” in the example is very strange. It might have made some sense before 1948 as a kind of exercise of hypothetical model building. But now there is only one State of Israel. So is it racist? Ask the Palestinians.
Twenty percent of the population of Israel proper are Palestinian citizens. Putting aside for this purpose the situation of the occupied territories (including the siege of Gaza and the illegal expansions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), since 1948 Israeli Palestinians have been subject to the political control of the Jewish majority. This de facto control changed to de jure in July 2018 when the Knesset passed the Nation State Law, which embedded Jewish hegemony structurally into the constitution of the country. The law established officially that Israel is the Nation State of the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone. This meant that, while Palestinian citizens have equal individual civil and human rights, they have no political rights as a people.
Any state which defines political rights on the basis of ethnicity, as distinct from citizenship, is – in and of itself – racist. This is not a matter of opinion. The Nation State Law applies not only to Jews in Israel. Jews worldwide have the ‘right of return’ to Israel and the right to gain citizenship, while no such rights are afforded to the 700,000 Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) who fled or were expelled from the country in 1948, leaving behind their land and possessions. So, Keir, are you really going along with such a distorted, politically tendentious ‘definition’ of antisemitism. If so, you will be selling the Palestinian people down the river. What happened to Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy?
Now finally, what about your peremptory sacking of Rebecca from the opposition front bench for not instantly withdrawing her tweet of her constituent Maxine’s published interview and before she had a chance to speak to you? To draw on Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony: Oh, what a fall was there, my fellow party members! Rebecca was a first class Shadow Business Secretary with her Green New Deal. She gave a very creditable speech in Parliament as your Shadow Education Secretary laying out what needed to be done for schools to reopen safely. Don’t you see your sacking Rebecca on such flimsy grounds has driven a coach and horses through your claim to want to unite the party? Or is it that you actually just don’t care? Keir, I voted for you in the recent leadership election. So, please, now be a mensch, do the right thing: reconsider your current acceptance of conflation of antisemitism with any telling criticism of Israel, and reinstate Rebecca to a role on the front bench.” The letter is signed “In solidarity Malcolm.”
The boy who cried wolf was ultimately devoured by that hungry wolf predator when, due to his prior deception, his cries were no longer heeded. False protestations of anti-Semitism do absolutely nothing to protect members of the Jewish community from any genuine threats of anti-Semitism or ethnic targeting and they might be making this community a lot more vulnerable to attack. In reality people with unsavoury views might have gained the false impression that they were welcome to become members of the Labour Party while the management team have been forced to battle against a fake enemy detracting from more important goals. As one observer cynically remarked that, within an allegedly institutionally racist party declared systemically anti-Semitic, it was not exactly a resounding policy success to have been compelled, in the previous Labour Party Leadership contest, to choose between two of the Jewish sons of Jewish immigrants who fled the holocaust!
Malcolm Segall’s heartfelt letter to Keir Starmer is far more than just a simple request to reinstate the Labour Shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, as it so accurately dissects the ludicrous premise under which so many loyal Labour Party members have been falsely demonized none more so than former Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer has embraced the ultra-extremist Israeli lobby Zionist cause with avengeance; ramping-up the fabricated anti-Semitism witch-hunt with the fervour of a truly obsessed zealot. With his ruthless ‘my way or the highway’ attitude there is now an attempt to shut down debate over this ongoing controversy in Constituency Labour Party meetings, but this effort to gag party members is destined to fail because there is strong support for the plight of Palestinians. Starmer cannot claim to be eliminated racism within the Labour Party while actively promoting the BoD’s agenda that wholeheartedly endorses state subjugation and persecution of 20% of Israel’s citizens on ethnic grounds.
In the Open Democracy Article entitled, “Labour should ditch the IHRA working definition of antisemitism altogether,” Anthony Lerman discusses, “We need to understand the history of this attempt to define antisemitism.” He elaborates that , “In politics, neutralising a toxic controversy and moving on by taking a strategic decision to retreat, withdraw or compromise, may be a prudent course of action. But if this is what members of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) are planning to do today by ditching the amendments it made to some examples of antisemitism in the guidance notes of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) ‘working definition’ of antisemitism, and embracing the entire text lock, stock and barrel, they would be party to a travesty of justice.” In his opinion, “The more the definition is held up to the light and subject to public scrutiny, the more we see holes and cracks in its flimsy fabric.”
Furthermore Lerman claims that, “Not only is there now overwhelming evidence that it’s not fit for purpose, but it also has the effect of making Jews more vulnerable to antisemitism, not less, and exacerbating the bitter arguments Jews have been having over the nature of contemporary antisemitism for the last 20 to 25 years. Arguments that are inextricably linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict and generated by two questions: Are there forms of criticism of Israel which equate to antisemitism? If so, where is the line between ‘legitimate’ criticism and criticism that spills over into antisemitic hate speech? We should no longer be quibbling over the dodgy nature of some of the examples in the counterproductive explanatory text that follows the IHRA definition, in a futile attempt to reconcile adoption of the definition with protecting the last vestiges of freedom of speech about Israel-Palestine.”
Lerman says, “We should rather be telling the unvarnished truth: no definition ever saved a Jew from experiencing antisemitism. It’s time to abandon this tainted and deeply flawed text and instead seek to codify and implement far more widely, commensurate with the danger racism poses today, the tried and tested methods of combating racism developed by anti-racist groups on the front lines of this struggle. And yet, a misguided or misapplied prudence looks certain to hold sway. Relentless pressure from inside and outside the party to get the NEC to abandon its amendments to the examples, coupled with a constant stream of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn for allegedly associating with antisemites and even allegedly being an antisemite himself, are now paying off. It’s widely expected, that today, the NEC will reverse its decision, making the entire, un-amended IHRA definition and examples an integral part of its code of conduct on antisemitism.”
Lerman reports that, “A barrage of criticism greeted the NEC’s announcement on 5 July that it had agreed on those amendments. It stood accused of legitimising antisemitic hate-speech within the party and not allowing Jews to determine for themselves what antisemitism is. No matter that the code formally embraced the 38-word IHRA ‘working definition’ of antisemitism as well as all but 4 of the 11 examples of discourse that ‘could’ be considered antisemitic, added 2 more and, in discussing the 4 that were omitted, endorsed their content and strengthened their language with the aim of protecting freedom of speech on Israel-Palestine and simplifying the process for Labour officials conducting disciplinary hearings reaching judgements as to whether or not the code had been breached.” Lerman references a earlier Open Democracy Article where he says, “This was convincingly argued by Dr Brian Klug.”
In the Open Democracy Article entitled, “The Code of Conduct for Antisemitism: a tale of two texts,” Klug remarks that, “Ironically, it is the drafters of the Labour party’s NEC Code, not their critics, who have grasped the meaning of ‘working definition’.” In it Klug reports: “I have not yet come across a critic of the NEC Code – I mean a critic who places a premium on combating antisemitism – who acknowledges [the points that significantly enhance the IHRA text], let alone welcomes them as the enhancements that they are. They are passed over in silence, as if the IHRA document were a sacred text whose words may not be tampered with – not even if the text can be improved.” Lerman says that, “Having followed a very great deal of the subsequent comment on IHRA, the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, I would say that Klug’s observation still applies.” These articles contain vital insight and an interesting timeline explaining the evolution of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and its progression to a point where this shaky guidance appears written in stone.
The Lerman article was published in September 2018 and like a prophesy of worse to come the relentless accusations of anti-Semitism were weaponized to strengthen the targeted assaults on Corbyn seeking his removal. The entire progressive socialist project was sabotaged from within the Labour Party, but I doubt it was sufficient to account for the fake Tory ‘landslide victory’ of the Covert 2019 Rigged Election. The Tory Party use of state funds to generate fake news targeting Corbyn was an egregious abuse of power and its illegality will be exposed when legal arguments blow the whole anti-Semitism scam wide open in Court. Corbyn’s defence unexpectedly well funded with £332,000 raised he must be persuaded to countersue if Ware backs down; Chris Williamson has raised £24,000 is determined to take EHRC to Court and Ware v French is already scheduled. We’re on the brink of exposing the truth that will justify a full Investigation as well as the removal of this corrupt Tory Government from office. DO NOT MOVE ON!