Unite, Len McCluskey and Jewish Voice for Labour

Submitted by cathy n on 24 November, 2017 - 12:26 Author: Jim Denham
Unite logo

″I‘ve never recognised [that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism]. I believe it was mood music that was created by people trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

“In 47 years of membership of the Labour Party, I’ve never been at a meeting where there was any anti-Semitic language or any attacks on the Jews. They would have had short shrift in any meeting I was at.

″Unfortunately, at the time there were lots of people playing games. Everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had become misogynistic and antisemitic because they wanted to bring Jeremy Corbyn down.” Len McCluskey (BBC Newsnight 26/9/2017)

Shami Chakrabarti replied: ″With the greatest of respect to Len, I was the person charged with investigating this. It wasn‘t Len... I have seen things which Len hasn’t seen. I would ask Len to read my report.

″There are real reasons why someone like Len may not have experienced racism and antisemitism. There is an obvious reason why he may not have experienced it. I was charged with investigating by Jeremy and the National Executive and I set out my findings, warts and all.”

In the same week as making those ill-advised comments on antisemitism, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey attended the launch meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) at this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Describing itself as a “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party,” JVL already had the backing of such absolute anti-Zionist outfits as the ″Free Speech on Israel″ campaign and the ″Electronic Intifada″ website. At the meeting, McCluskey and Aslef general secretary Tosh McDonald seemed to affiliate their unions to JVL.

JVL chair is Jenny Manson, described in a JVL press release as “a retired tax inspector”, the Garden Suburb branch chair in Finchley and Golders Green CLP, an active supporter of Jews for Palestine, and editor of two books (one of them on consciousness: What It Feels Like To Be Me).

Manson was one of the five Jewish Labour Party members who submitted statements in support of Ken Livingstone in March of this year. According to her statement: ″… These actions by Ken were not offensive, nor anti-Semitic in any way, in my view… In my working life as a Tax Inspector I saw a (very) few instances of antisemitism, such as the characterisation of ’Jewish accountants’ as accountants who skated close to the edge. I have never witnessed any instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

″Antisemitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism.”

The JVL’s brief ″Statement of Principles” includes the following:

“We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.”

A JVL press release likewise states that the new organisation:

″Rejects attempts to extend the scope of the term ′antisemitism’ beyond its meaning of bigotry towards Jews, particularly when directed at activities in solidarity with Palestinians such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

In other words, this ″network for Jewish members of the Labour Party” will be campaigning in support of the ″right″ to boycott the people of the only Jewish-majority state, and by implication to stigmatise all Jews keeping contact (however critical) with those people. It will campaign in favour of restricting the definition of antisemitism so as to exclude the most common forms in which contemporary antisemitism manifests itself.

Perhaps this is why McCluskey felt it appropriate to affiliate Unite without having consulted the Executive of the union — supposedly the highest decision-making body of the union.

The JVL website (well worth visiting if you want an insight into the true politics of this organisation), hailed McCluskey’s support as a major breakthrough. When I commented “Did Len consult anyone (even the Exec) before stating that Unite supported JVL?″ I was admonished by the “JVL’s webperson” thus “No need to be snide, Jim. Len knew that it would have to go to Unite approval [sic]. That process is in train”. Which would seem to suggest that McCluskey and JVL had done a deal in advance, without consulting the Unite Exec, or any other Unite body.

McCluskey no doubt thought he was doing Jeremy Corbyn a favour by backing an organisation whose main objective seems to be to deny that Labour has any kind of problem with antisemitism, beyond that of false accusations cooked up by right wingers and agents of the Israeli embassy.

Unfortunately, as Chakrabarti’s response to his foolish Newsnigh′ comments, demonstrates, McCluskey’s hasty and undemocratic backing of JVL is likely to cause Corbyn a lot of embarrassment.

• Originally published online here


Submitted by Jason Schulman on Tue, 28/11/2017 - 00:16

'In other words, this ″network for Jewish members of the Labour Party” will be campaigning in support of the ″right″ to boycott the people of the only Jewish-majority state, and by implication to stigmatise all Jews keeping contact (however critical) with those people.'

Hyperbole, Jim. And I wish the AWL would overcome this consistent hyperbole. The point is less to boycott people but institutions that, in one way or another, benefit from the occupation of the West Bank and/or the strangling of Gaza or try to present Israel as something other than the colonial power that it is, as a liberal democracy that treats all people in Israel equally, etc. At least that's what BDS means over here in the States.

Submitted by peewee29 on Wed, 29/11/2017 - 20:27

Jason,: I've heard the argument that the BDS / academic boycott campaign is against "institutions" and not "people" many, many times. But it simply doesn't stand up, if you give it a moment's thought. The nonsense of this distinction was explained by Ari Y Kelman in a piece for The Nation in 2013:

I recognize that the language of the American Studies Association resolution (as with most language from the broader BDS movement), focuses on institutions, not on individuals. This is, I think, a distinction without a difference. Judith Butler, in her response to Michelle Goldberg in the pages of The Nation carefully parses his distinction, but even she falls prey to its murky logic when she writes:

"Concretely, that means that US or other institutions can offer to pay for an Israeli citizen who usually relies on institutional support from his or her own country, that non-profit organizations can be solicited to cover travel costs, as they would for others who do not have the means to come to conferences, or that Israelis might pay from their own personal funds, as some already have elected to do. It also means that when Israeli scholars invite those of us who support the boycott to Israeli institutions, we decline, explaining that until those institutions minimally take a public stand against the occupation, we cannot come and support that silence, that status quo."

Her defense is eloquent, but slips a little too easily back and forth between individuals and the institutions that support their work. The hypothetical invitation in Butler’s explication is extended by one scholar to another, both of whom, presumably, are housed in academic institutions (and supported by them). The work of academics is the work of individuals and (more or less) cooperative teams. Our intellectual labor, though supported by our universities, belongs to us, as individual scholars. This, again, is one of the fundamental tenets of academic freedom. For better or for worse, we work as individuals, not as institutions. Her proposal that Israeli academics “might pay from their own personal funds” is sheer folly if they are employed by a University. At what point in the exchange of funds does the money stop belonging to the university and start belonging to the individual payee? Does that same logic apply to research or travel grants?

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