Statement on Batley & Spen by-election

The statement from a ‘senior Labour source’ during the Batley & Spen by-election that Labour was “haemorrhaging” Muslims voters, because of “what Keir has been doing on antisemitism” implies that Muslims are antisemitic – when in fact many voters oppose Starmer’s Labour, because he is bowing to the Israeli government and refuses to support the Palestinian struggle. That is not antisemitism, it is anti-Zionism. 

That this statement was issued has not been denied by Angela Rayner and the suspicion must be that it emanates from Starmer’s office if not Starmer himself. In the forthcoming Batley & Spen by-election, we refuse to support the Labour candidate, an incredible apolitical and nondescript candidate who was chosen by Keir Starmer directly.

Stephen Sedley: Statement on IHRA

Former Lord Justice of Appeal and Judge ad hoc of the European Court of Human Rights; past visiting professor of law, Oxford University.
Stephen Sedley has sent us this statement for publication ahead of our meeting on ‘Palestine/Israel and academic freedom.

It is now five years since the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (the IHRA) published what it called “a non-legally binding working definition of anti-semitism”. It is a clumsy piece of drafting distinguished by two particular features: it fails the first test of any definition by being open-ended and indefinite; and it is accompanied by examples some of which are visibly designed to protect Israel from legitimate criticism. 

In spite of its self-description as “non-legally binding”, the supposed definition is rapidly acquiring the force of law by being used as a basis for witch-hunts within institutions and organisations against bona fide critics of Israel. Ignoring the Home Affairs Select Committee’s warning that the document, if unqualified, risked stifling free speech, government has set about enforcing its adoption by threatening to defund institutions which fail to adopt it.

It may therefore be relevant to say a word about the IHRA and the genesis of its “working definition”.  Although the IHRA is a publicly-funded intergovernmental body, based in Berlin, it publishes no minutes and does not reveal who attends its meetings. Among its first member-states were the US, the UK and Israel.

Recent research, however, has established that the “definition” adopted by the IHRA’s Bucharest plenary in 2016 consisted only of the two initial sentences, taken from an abandoned document produced by a European predecessor body. The first is:

“Anti-semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.”

The second sentence elaborates the possible reach of “rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism” but adds nothing by way of further definition.

How then has the supposed IHRA definition come to include such examples as

“the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour” ?

So far as can be ascertained, the grafting on of the list of examples was the work of representatives of two uncompromisingly pro-Israel organisations, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the American Jewish Committee. There appears to be no evidence that the list was ever adopted by a plenary meeting of the IHRA. None of this has prevented it from being weaponised.

Anti-semitism, like pornography, may be easier to recognise than to define, but a straightforward and hard-edged definition is that it is hostility towards Jews as Jews. It is neither something as subjective as a “perception” (to use one of the IHRA’s two inappropriate nouns) nor necessarily something as flagrant as hatred (to use the other). In neither instance is it coextensive with criticism (shared, incidentally, by many Jews worldwide) of Israel’s laws, policies and practices, or of Zionism itself.

Failure – or more realistically refusal – to recognise the legitimacy of such critiques is a gag upon freedom of thought and speech, a human right no less real than freedom from racial discrimination.

Stephen Sedley

5 June 2021

JUST SAY NO! to antisemitism training by the JLM

Joint statement by Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Left Alliance and Labour in Exile Network

Why you should NOT participate in the JLM ‘training sessions’ on antisemitism

A number of Labour Party members and role holders have been invited by general secretary David Evans to participate in online training sessions named “Understanding Antisemitism”.

Here are some reasons why we urge Labour Party members NOT to participate:

1) These sessions will be run exclusively by the Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel organisation that is affiliated to the World Zionist Organisation, whose stated mission is “settling the land”. JLM is the sister party of the racist Labor Party of Israel and was revived in 2015 – explicitly in order to battle Jeremy Corbyn. It has close links to the Israeli embassy (watch The Lobby for proof). It has been doing everything in its power to weaponise false and exaggerated charges of anti-Semitism in order to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. It was the key organisation that pushed for Labour to adopt the discredited IHRA fake definition of antisemitism, which purposefully conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and has been criticised by its principal drafter Kenneth Stern of having been misapplied in order to “chill free speech”. 

2) Just as Israel claims to be the homeland of all Jews, so the JLM claims to be the homeland of all Jews in the Labour Party. Both claims are palpably untrue. You don’t have to be Jewish to join the JLM – you don’t even have to be a member of the Labour Party. JLM very much represents and organises pro-Zionists, but none of the many thousands of secular and anti-Zionist Jews. A balanced training session would have seen  trainers from Jewish Voice for Labour, for example. 

3) These sessions are unlikely to be run in a democratic manner. The chat is likely to be switched off. If members are allowed to speak – and speak critically – they are likely to not just be reprimanded in the session, but perhaps even be reported to the Governance and Legal Unit. This is what happened to Jackie Walker: She was secretly filmed at a JLM training session, her words were taken out of context and passed on to the disciplinary board, before she was expelled. 

We urge comrades instead to organise education sessions that discuss the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and to pass motions to replace the IHRA with the much better Jerusalem Declaration. It is our view that there should be no hierarchy of racism, and that members should be offered education events, discussions and debates on recognising and combating all forms of racism.

Palestine solidarity is NOT antisemitism

Supporters of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech handed out over 2,000 copies of our important leaflet at Saturday’s massive and inspiring Palestine demonstration in London, which made the hugely important point that ‘Palestine solidarity is NOT antisemitism’. “We were heartened that so many comrades recognised us and our campaign”, said Tony Greenstein.

The coverage of the demonstration in the mainstream press certainly shows how important this campaign is: The Sunday Times ran a huge piece condemning “anti-Jewish hatred” allegedly visible at the protest. This is the full evidence of the article – three posters featuring the following slogans (see article below):

  • ‘Israel the new Nazi state’
  • ‘One Holocaust does not justify another’ 
  • ‘Netanyahu surpasses Hitler in Barbarism’

“Even under the IHRA misdefinition, one would struggle to make this into anything antisemitic”, says Tina Werkmann of the LCFS steering committee. “But clearly, these posters express criticisms of Zionism, not Jews. I saw not a single expression of antisemitism at the demonstration.” 

The campaign to purposefully conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism is in full swing, as the efforts to outlaw the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as antisemitic – as outlined in the Queen’s Speech – show. Together with the ongoing campaign to force universities to impose the discredited IHRA misdefinition of antisemitism or face defunding, we are facing a serious campaign by the right against the right to free speech and academic freedom.

June 6, 5pm: Palestine/Israel and academic freedom

In a number of universities, academics and staff are under threat of suspension for daring to speak out on Israel and Zionism, for example Bristol Professor David Miller. In addition, the government is threatening to defund universities who do not impose IHRA. Join us to discuss how to fight back.

Speakers include: 

– Norman Finkelstein
– Salma Yaqoob
– Deepa Driver
– Moshe Machover
– Saladin Meckled-Garcia
– Ilan Pappe
– Tom Hickey (BRICUP)

Register here to participate.

Craig Murray’s prison sentence “has very worrying implications for free speech”

Press release, May 13 2021

Labour Campaign for Free Speech fears that Craig Murray is being made a scapegoat because of his support for Julian Assange and Alex Salmond

The Labour Campaign for Free Speech condemns the harsh eight months’ prison sentence imposed on former ambassador and torture whistleblower Craig Murrray. The contempt of court case against Craig poses a grave threat to press freedom, as independent scrutiny of the powers-that-be is vital to any democratic society. This ruling has important ramifications  for all those journalists wishing to deliver balanced reporting by covering the defence case. This is because the wide interpretation of the term ‘jigsaw identification’ present in the judgement can be misused to prevent public understanding of the entirety of a case. 

The campaign worries that Murray seems to have been singled out for prosecution, even though a range of other journalists provided more information than he did. It is also deeply troubling  that the sheer mechanics of the contempt of court hearings mean there is no jury trial, which means Craig is not being judged by a jury of his peers. 

“Craig is an outspoken and determined, independent journalist. Through his insightful writing and his documentation of a range of judicial cases and of political machinations, he has uncovered serious abuses of power”, said Dr Deepa Driver, a member of the campaign’s Steering Committee.  

The campaign is gravely concerned  that Craig Murray’s prosecution is convenient to those who wish to suppress his reporting because of the uncomfortable facts he has revealed about the inhuman and illegal treatment of Julian Assange. 

“This judgement means that the court has denied Mr Murray the right to appear in-person as a witness in a prosecution in Spain against a company that systematically breached Julian Assange’s rights to privacy for legally privileged conversations with his lawyers. The company was used by the CIA to spy on Julian Assange, and elements of that trial are vital to Mr Assange’s ongoing defence. Mr Assange remains in Belmarsh prison without charge, despite winning the battle against extradition”, Dr Driver said. 

This seems to be “the first instance in Scottish legal history where ‘jigsaw identification’ has led to an individual being imprisoned,” a statement released on behalf of Murray’s family stated.

This harsh sentence also seems to be politically motivated as a result of Craig Murray’s support for Alex Salmond, who, we should remember, was acquitted by a jury on all 14 counts of sexual harassment and assault brought against him.

The Labour Campaign for Free Speech supports Craig Murray’s campaign to raise legal funds and has made a donation of £250, urging its supporters to follow suit: 

Press release: “Boris Johnson’s ‘free speech legislation’ is nothing but a fraud”

Press release May 12 2021
“Boris Johnson’s ‘free speech legislation’ is nothing but a fraud”

Amidst Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestinians, Labour Campaign for Free Speech condemns the government as it continues to “chill free speech” by threatening universities with defunding if they don’t adopt IHRA.  

The government’s proposed free speech legislation has been “roundly condemned as a thinly-disguised fraud” by the Labour Campaign For Free Speech, which was set up in February 2021 at a conference with over 300 participants. The legislation will allow ‘gagged’ speakers to claim compensation if they have been no-platformed by a student union or a university. 

“This legislation is clearly an attack on the left. While we argue in favour of open debate and against no-platforming of speakers, which has affected me personally in the past, this law has to be seen firmly in context of the reality of continuing attacks by this government on free speech when it comes to issues of Israel and Palestine. Free Speech is vital for democracy, but it must be even-handed and not a one-sided free speech only when suits a government’s agenda”, warns Jackie Walker, a member of the campaign’s steering committee

Tina Werkmann, also a member of the campaign’s steering committee, said that, “Education secretary Gavin Williamson claims the legislation will counter the ‘chilling effect of censorship on campus’ – all the while he is continuing to threaten universities with defunding if they don’t accept the highly disputed so-called ‘working definition of antisemitism’ published by the International Holocaus Remembrance Alliance. The government is clearly attacking academic freedom and free speech, not defending it.”

The IHRA has been rejected by numerous legal practitioners and academic scholars, because it conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Among the many critics of the IHRA are its principal author Kenneth Stern who explained that: “The definition was not drafted, and was never intended, as a tool to target or chill speech on a college campus. In fact, at a conference in 2010 about the impact of the definition, I highlighted this misuse, and the damage it could do.”

“This is particularly disgusting in the context of the current brutal attacks of the Israeli government, which is attempting to ethnically cleanse Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied Jerusalem”, Tina Werkmann said. 

Following justified protests from Palestinians, the Israeli government has responded with increasing brutality, including an assault on worshippers at Al Aqsa Mosque that has wounded hundreds. Israel has now started bombarding the population of besieged Gaza, many refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have already been killed, including children. 

“Rather than hold the Israeli government accountable for its crimes, the Tory government continues to seek to punish all those who dare to speak out in solidarity with the Palestinians. Trying to enforce IHRA on campus is part and parcel of a campaign to attack academic freedom and free speech particularly on the issue of Israel and Palestine”, said Tony Greenstein, another member of the campaign’s steering committee. 

— Ends —

For editors:

Some of the legal practitioners and academic scholars critical of IHRA are:

  • Professor David Feldman (vice-chair of the Chakrabarti Inquiry and director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism) who has described the definition as “bewilderingly imprecise”.
  • Sir Stephen Sedley, the Jewish former Court of Appeal judge, who has written thatthe IHRA “fails the first test of any definition: it is indefinite”.
  • Hugh Tomlinson QC who has warned that the IHRA definition had a “chilling effect on public bodies”.
  • Geoffrey Robertson QC who has explained that, “The definition does not cover the most insidious forms of hostility to Jewish people and the looseness of the definition is liable to chill legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel and coverage of human rights abuses against Palestinians.” Robertson, a prominent human rights barrister, also wrote that the definition was ‘not fit for purpose’.
  • Tony Lerman, the founder of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, wrote 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.”

The Labour Campaign for Free Speech was set up on February 13 2021 at a conference with over over 300 people, which also agreed the organisation’s campaigning priorities:

  • Defend the right to free speech and publication. 
  • Reject the IHRA so-called definition of antisemitism, whose sole use has been to chill free speech on Israel/Palestine. 
  • End the antisemitism smear campaign conducted against Jeremy Corbyn and the left, which has spread into wider society.
  • Oppose the threat of defunding of universities if they do not adopt IHRA and the targeting of academics who speak out on Israel/Palestine.
  • Stop the labelling of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) as ‘antisemitic’.
  • Oppose the interference of the state in the running of political parties.
  • End the Prevent programme.
  • Stop the prosecution of whistleblowers and journalists.

IHRA vs Jerusalem Declaration

Public meeting, April 21, 6.30pm

with introductions by Moshe Machover and Tony Greenstein

The widely discredited IHRA misdefinition has been used to purge thousands of left-wingers from the Labour Party and continues to “chill free speech” across the globe. But is the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’ better? And should we campaign for it to be adopted by the Labour Party, universities etc?

Join this important debate – register here

  • Jerusalem Declaration here
  • IHRA working definition of antisemitism here
  • Labour Against the Witchhunt: Why we oppose the IHRA misdefinition of antisemitism here

Fantastic lobby in support of Professor David Miller and Free Speech

Labour Campaign for Free Speech
info@labourfreespeech.org.uk, www.labourfreespeech.org.uk 

Press release
March 31 2021

A coalition of Labour Left organisations and speakers came together outside Bristol University on March 31 for a ‘lobby in defence of academic freedom and Professor David Miller’. Around 50 protesters assembled at 2pm outside the Wills Memorial Building to express “solidarity and support for Professor Miller”.

Some of those present then moved on to Senate House to present the vice chancellor of the university with a petition in support of David Miller. Bristol University is currently investigating Professor David Miller, teacher of political sociology, for alleged antisemitism. 

Esther Giles of the Labour Campaign for Free Speech, which organised the event, reminded the audience that, “You don’t have to agree with Professor Miller. The point is that we want to defend Academic Freedom. These attacks on academic freedom are part of a pattern of restrictions advancing in society including attacks on freedom of speech and freedom to assemble and to protest. David Miller is under threat of suspension from his University job because he has expressed views with which some people disagree. Those who seek to get David fired from his job won’t stop there. Other academics will be targeted and possibly fired. And it won’t take much of this to persuade academics to stop speaking out for fear of losing their careers.” 

ESTHER GILES ©Simon Chapman 2021

Tina Werkmann from Labour Against the Witchhunt said: “David Miller merely stated the very unexciting fact that Jewish student societies (J-Socs) and the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) are acting in support of the Israeli government. Surely that’s one of the main reasons why they exist. The UJS constitution states that the organisation’s core values include “inspiring” Jewish students to make an “enduring commitment” to Israel. The Al-Jazeera documentary ‘The Lobby’ showed that the Israeli government helps to fund the Union of Jewish Students.” 

Tina Werkmann ©Simon Chapman 2021

She further explained that “the Union of Jewish Students does not represent all Jewish Students, probably not even a majority. There are thousands of secular and non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish students who are outraged by the crimes committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Just like the Board of Deputies represents only a small percentage of all Jews in Britain, the UJS only represents a percentage of Jewish students. Many supporters of David Miller and the campaign for free speech are indeed Jewish.”

Dr. ELDIN FAHMY ©Simon Chapman 2021

Dr. Eldin Fahmy, Senior Lecturer of Policy Studies at University of Bristol and a colleague of Professor Miller, pointed out that “David Miller is a highly regarded expert on Islamophobia. He has been given pretty much the same lecture for many many years. There have never been any complaints. He has only come recently under fire, because the university has come under pressure and has been forced to adopt the working definition of antisemitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This conflates anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel with antisemitism. This is an important test case – should David Miller be sacked, this will result in even more attacks on academic freedom.”

Former Bristol graduate and member of Brighton Palestinian Solidarity Campaign Dr. SANDY KENNEDY ©Simon Chapman 2021

Sandy Kennedy, a former graduate from Bristol University, who has worked in an Israeli Kibbutz, made a very moving contribution: “The checkpoints in Israel are not there to check anything. They are there to dehumanise and oppress a whole people. I find it hard to believe that students in Bristol live in fear because of what David Miller has said. Real fear is the little boy, standing in front of one of these checkpoints, clutching the hand of his little sister, while a soldier shoves a gun in his face.”

Other speakers at the event included 

  • Rita Cangialosi, co-founder of Bristol’s Museum for Palestine
  • Dr.  Ron Mendel
  • Dr Rowland Dye
  • Pete Firmin of the Labour Representation Committee
  • Dr. Joseph O’Neill from Interfaith for Palestine
  • Hedley Bashforth, retired academic and chair (suspended) of Bristol North West CLP
  • Tony Gosling, Investigative Journalist from Bristol

Jewish Voice for Labour sent a message of support, which was read out at the lobby:  “The University of Bristol has come under huge pressure to sack one of its senior academics, Professor David Miller. The attack has concentrated on his public statements, which reiterate forcefully his analysis of the role and influence of Israel and of Zionism, its supporting political ideology. The demand for David Miller’s sacking has been substantially based on the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, a widely criticised document that should have no role in university governance. Undoubtedly there are people who have been offended by what he has said. But, in our view there is no supporting evidence to suggest that Miller’s views are motivated by antisemitism. And of course, there is no right not to be offended. Indeed, the freedom of expression of staff, of students and of visiting speakers is expressly protected by law. For the university to “cancel” his job would be a truly extreme case of no platforming. Jewish Voice for Labour calls on the University of Bristol to resist calls to sack David Miller.”

Film director Ken Loach sent a message of solidarity, which was read out: “Universities depend on the freedom within the law to challenge all ideologies and political movements. Professor Miller is renowned and respected for his rigorous analysis and considered judgements. His voice is important.  All are free to challenge his opinions but none should advocate their suppression. Everyone who cherishes free speech should stand with David Miller.”

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters also supports David Miller: “The Israeli Lobby and its supporters in certain factions of Keir Starmer’s “Blairite” apology for a Labour Party, use of false accusations of anti semitism, as its only defense of Israel’s illegal, racist, apartheid policies. That would be laughable were it not so insidious and effective. David Miller, like many other good men and women, who Keir Starmer has purged from the Labour Party, are the life blood of a real labour movement that believes in human rights, a party that must be free from censorship and foreign influence. Support David Miller and the rest of the good and true – the Labour movement depends on it”

For editors:

– Organisations in support of the March 31 action include Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network, Support David Miller Campaign, Labour Representation Committee, Labour International Left Alliance, Bristol and West Labour Left Alliance and a number of local left groups.

– David Miller is also supported by the rapper Low Key, comedian Alexei Sayle, former Labour MP Chris Williamson and Middle Eastern expert, Professor Moshe Machover and messages of support from them were read out – they are available here: https://www.labourfreespeech.org.uk

– Hundreds of academics and Jewish supporters have signed two open letters in support of Miller, which are available on the website here: https://supportmiller.org

– More information about the day of action here:
https://www.labourfreespeech.org.uk/we-will-not-be-silenced-march-31-national-day-of-action-to-defend-academic-freedom-free-speech-and-the-right-to-protest-defend-david-miller/

We will not be silenced! March 31: National day of action to defend academic freedom and free speech! Defend David Miller!

Download the leaflet here in PDF format

The right to free speech and the right to protest are coming under increasingly brutal attack. Professor David Miller’s job at Bristol University is at stake, because he dared to speak out on Zionism. This is an important test case – should he be sacked, this will result in even more attacks on academic freedom.

Organisations in support include Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Campaign for Free Speech, Labour Left Alliance, Labour in Exile Network, Support David Miller Campaign, Labour Representation Committee, Labour International Left Alliance, Bristol and West Labour Left Alliance and a number of local left groups.

The government is already threatening to defund universities who do not adopt the IHRA mis-definition of antisemitism, which even its author Kenneth Stern has described as having been abused to “chill free speech”.

The proposed policing bill would make it illegal to cause “serious annoyance” – with punishment of up to 10 years in jail. Worse than that, the law is to be applied even if “somebody is put at risk” of so-called “serious harm” (like ‘annoying’ somebody) – ie, if no action has taken place. The bill would make it an offence if just one person complains about feeling “serious distress…annoyance…[or even] inconvenience”.

Wednesday March 31
2pm: Lobby outside Wills Memorial Building, Bristol University, Queens Rd, Bristol BS8 1QE