More antisemitism hysteria at Labour Party conference

Last weekend the hysteria over Labour antisemitism reached new heights with physical attacks on a pro-Palestinian banner displayed outside the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

The banner featured a cartoon by Brazilian artist Carlos Latuff that depicted the Israel lobby – personified by Benjamin Netanyahu at the controls of an Israeli fighter jet – attacking Jeremy Corbyn with false accusations of antisemitism because of his support for Palestinian rights.

The accompanying slogan “IHRA: Tell the NEC how you feel” referred to the decision by the Labour Party’s national executive committee to adopt a definition of antisemitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, along with a list of illustrative examples that have been widely criticised for blurring the distinction between racist hatred of Jews and political opposition to Zionism. (See for example my article “Israel as a ‘racist endeavour’ – how the IHRA is used to suppress free speech”.)

The decision to adopt the IHRA text was taken by Labour’s NEC a year ago, which is when the banner was made. The work of an anti-Zionist activist named Pete Gregson, it was originally displayed outside the 2018 Labour Party conference in Liverpool, resulting in Merseyside Police demanding its removal on the grounds that it was inflammatory and would cause offence.

Gregson’s banner generated even more controversy this time around. Jack Lubner, youth and students officer for the misnamed Jewish Labour Movement, complained: “Horrendous to see an antisemitic cartoon outside @UKLabour conference for the SECOND year running I feel sick and unwelcome, as a Jewish member, to have to walk past this racist bile on the way into conference.” Sussex Friends of Israel claimed that the banner was “clearly antisemitic in nature” and was displayed “purely to inflame and incite more hate”. Has-been soap star Tracy Ann Oberman urged direct action against the banner: “If someone doesn’t take this down I’m coming down to Brighton myself to rip it down. @UKLabour you disgust me.”

The cartoon itself dates from August 2018 and was produced by Latuff for the US-based Mondoweiss website in response to Netanyahu’s notorious Twitter attack on Jeremy Corbyn. Despite angrily insisting that the cartoon is “littered with antisemitic tropes”, none of the militant Zionists who so indignantly demanded the banner’s removal bothered to spell out what those tropes actually were. But that, frankly, is what we’ve come to expect from militant Zionists. They scream “antisemite” at their opponents at the least opportunity and arrogantly expect everyone to take their word for it. They feel under no obligation to present rational arguments to back up their accusations.

What particularly outraged the cartoon’s critics was presumably its reference to “the lobby”, a term which is held by Zionists to be by definition antisemitic. The Community Security Trust’s recent publication Engine of Hate: the online networks behind the Labour Party’s antisemitism crisis pushes that line. It claims that “assertions about the actions of lobby groups deliberately fabricating antisemitism accusations, described variously by the labels ‘Israel lobby’, ‘Jewish lobby’, ‘Zionist lobby’ or derivatives of those terms, can be indicative of narratives that combine the idea of a smear campaign against Labour, with echoes of older antisemitic conspiracy tropes about shadowy influence and political power”.

Here the antisemitic term “Jewish lobby” is used interchangeably with “Israel lobby” and “Zionist lobby” in order to suggest that there is no difference between them. But the Israel/Zionist lobby, which in the United States consists mainly of evangelical Christians rather than Jews, is a powerful political player there, as a recent Guardian report showed. Although the power of the lobby in the UK may fall short of that, its influence here was usefully examined by Peter Oborne a decade ago in his Dispatches documentary Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby and an accompanying pamphlet The Pro-Israel Lobby in Britain. As for a “smear campaign against Labour”, the 2017 Al Jazeera exposé The Lobby recorded Labour Friends of Israel concocting a false accusation of antisemitism against an innocent party member. The charge that such revelations echo “older antisemitic conspiracy tropes about shadowy influence and political power” amounts to a cynical attempt to dismiss inconvenient facts.

A sceptical Sussex Police took some convincing that the cartoon on Gregson’s banner was indeed antisemitic. Showing rather more respect for free speech than their Merseyside colleagues had done a year earlier, they at first refused to accede to furious Zionist demands that the banner should be taken down. Eventually, however, the police succumbed to pressure and confiscated it.

Frustrated by the initial reluctance of the police to take action, some Zionist hoodlums decided to take matters into their own hands, resulting in a series of attacks on the banner. As one witness recounted: “I was there when the banner was slashed and torn down … on three occasions. Those who objected to the banner intimidated and physically harassed those of us who tried to defend it. They then complained to the police and had the banner confiscated. Sickening.” Who were the perpetrators of these attacks? Who could possibly have thought it was acceptable to intimidate and physically harass their political opponents and commit acts of criminal damage, and do this right outside Labour Party conference?

Well, we can identify one of the participants with some confidence. His name is Joshua Garfield. At 10.58am on Sunday, while on his way to Brighton, Garfield reacted aggressively to Jack Lubner’s report of the banner’s appearance outside the conference venue, tweeting threateningly: “If this is still up when I get down there it’ll be torn the fck down.” At 12.37pm Garfield announced triumphantly: “I did.”

Who, I hear you ask, is Joshua Garfield? A Labour councillor in Newham, Garfield is also a leading figure in the Labour-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement, serving on the JLM national executive committee as its local government officer. He was one of ten JLM activists who appeared in Panorama’s propaganda broadcast “Is Labour Antisemitic?” where they were presented as ordinary Labour members shocked by the supposed outbreak of antisemitism in their party.

You might have thought that Garfield’s fellow JLM officers would take steps to dissociate themselves from his celebration of political hooliganism. Not a bit of it. In an apparent endorsement of Garfield’s actions, his shameless admission that he had a hand in vandalising the banner was happily retweeted by Jack Lubner.

This is what we’ve come to. Officers of a Labour-affiliated organisation openly boasting about and supporting attacks on their political opponents outside party conference. If the Labour Party has any claim to uphold democratic principles or even basic civilised behaviour, both Garfield and Lubner should be suspended pending a disciplinary inquiry.

Unfortunately, instead of condemning Zionist hooliganism and defending freedom of expression, the Labour Party offered its official support to the frenzied campaign against the banner. The Labour Press Team stated: “As soon as we were made aware of this antisemitic banner, outside the conference centre, we asked the police to take it down and we’re pleased it was removed. This kind of hateful poster has no place near our conference or anywhere.” Jeremy Corbyn himself joined in the hysteria. “I’m disgusted that this banner was displayed near our #Lab19 conference centre”, he tweeted. “We asked the police to remove it and I’m glad they did. This kind of antisemitic poison has no place whatsoever in our society.”

Carlos Latuff was understandably resentful at this stab in the back by the man he had defended against Netanyahu’s slurs. In an angry tweet he accused Corbyn of having “bowed down to your detractors” and concluded “Shame on you!”.

Mondoweiss too expressed their regret at Corbyn’s decision to side with the witchhunters. They commented:

“We are disappointed by @jeremycorbyn’s statement regarding a cartoon by @LatuffCartoons we published last year. Once again, any reference to the Israel lobby is deemed to be outside the lines of legitimate discourse. We don’t accept those restrictions. We think the Israel lobby is an important factor in making foreign policy and we’re going to call it out…. At the same time, Mondoweiss vigorously opposes anti-Semitism and will call that out when we see it as well. There should be no place for racism and anti-Semitism in movements for social justice and liberation.”

Rather than take a stand against false accusations of antisemitism the Labour Party leadership prefers to endorse them, in a futile attempt to appease its persecutors — a failed strategy that has been pursued ever since Naz Shah was thrown under the bus in April 2016. Meanwhile Zionist thugs are allowed to harass their opponents and shut down free speech with apparent impunity, backed by the execrable Tom Watson, who declares that it is the victims of this campaign of harassment who are guilty of “sickening intimidation”. This is the state we’re in.

Update: Pete Gregson’s account, “The Rule of the Mob – banned slashed Labour Conference banner”, can be read here.