Momentum activists accused of 'anti-Zionist ranting' in Labour antisemitism row

Exclusive: Activists claimed security guards outside synagogues were 'generating an atmosphere of insecurity' and said some Labour members 'have allegiances to a foreign government'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Monday 06 August 2018 14:49 BST
John McDonnell: Antisemitism affected the vote in Barnet

Left-wing Labour activists in a constituency with one of Britain's largest Jewish communities made a series of provocative claims about Jews and antisemitism, emails seen by The Independent reveal.

Leaked conversations show members of the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting Momentum group in Barnet, north London, claimed security guards were stationed outside synagogues to “generate an atmosphere of insecurity” because “Zionists” want to “exploit and generate the fear of antisemitism”.

They alleged that some antisemitism was “manufactured” to scare British Jews into moving to Israel and argued it was legitimate to suggest the row over the issue was part of a “conspiracy” involving Jewish groups.

One participant claimed there were people in the Labour Party “whose allegiances lie with a foreign government”, while another suggested attempts to dispel the row over antisemitism in Labour and win back the support of Jewish voters amounted to “appeasement”.

Several also spoke in defence of a local activist who had written about the “over-representation of Jews in the capitalist ruling class” and plotted how to block efforts, led by a Jewish councillor, to have the person's application for Labour membership rejected.

The comments were exposed as Labour is engulfed in a spiralling row over antisemitism in its ranks, which reignited when the party refused to fully adopt an internationally-recognised definition of antisemitism in its new code of conduct.

Jeremy Corbyn was forced to apologise after it emerged he had attended a 2010 event where Israel was compared to the Nazis, while an ally of the Labour leader on the party’s ruling executive faced calls to quit having been recorded earlier this month blaming Jewish "Trump fanatics" for the antisemitism dispute.

The emails, dating from 2017, are from an online discussion group titled "Barnet Momentum discussion".

Barnet was Labour’s top London target in May’s local elections but the party lost key seats in heavily Jewish areas, handing the local Conservatives a significantly increased majority. Local Labour leaders said fears about antisemitism, and the party leadership's response to it, had cost them control of the borough.

Almost all of the participants in the conversations seen by The Independent hold committee positions in the local Labour Party. Some members are understood to be Jewish.

One member of the group, who is understood to have previously been suspended by Labour over allegations of antisemitism, wrote: “People are leaving Israel in large numbers. Antisemitism is necessary, either real or manufactured, in order to persuade Jews they are safer in Israel and so to move there.”

She suggested this was a result of “floods of Israelis leaving and Palestinians having lots of beautiful babies” posing a “demographic threat” to the Jewish state.

And she implied attempts to dispel the antisemitism row and win back the support of Jewish voters amounted to “appeasement’, arguing that Momentum should focus its efforts elsewhere.

“Surely there are many more non-Jewish voters we can attract?”, she wrote. "I personally don't believe appeasement ever works.”

Another member of the group agreed that antisemitism was being “generated” by “Zionists”, writing: “Of course Zionists will exploit and generate the fear of antisemitism to promote their own agenda. Do people really think all these security guards outside Jewish and other centres are protecting anybody rather than just generating an atmosphere of insecurity?”

In another discussion, the same person wrote: “Those most fixated on stereotypes are JLM [the Jewish Labour Movement], [antisemitism campaign group] Engage and their ilk who scream (often literally) 'antisemitism' every time money or conspiracy are mentioned in a Jewish context.

“Is it really antisemitism to suggest that [Jewish charity] the JNF (Jewish National Fund) is well funded or that there is a conspiracy involving JLM, CAA [the Campaign against Antisemitism] and some [pro-Israel] hasbara agencies to discredit Corbyn and the left in general?”

Jeremy Corbyn ally, Peter Willsman, blamed 'Jewish Trump fanatics' for inventing Labour antisemitism

Another activist criticised Momentum’s support for a Labour Party rule change on antisemitism, writing: “Although I see the need to bring as much of the party along with us as possible, there are those in the party whose allegiances lie with a foreign government.”

Much of the discussion seen by The Independent related to the case of a local activist whose application for Labour membership had been challenged after he claimed "it's the over-representation of Jews in the capitalist ruling class that gives the Israel-Zionist lobby its power".

In a lengthy blog post, Daniel Margrain also said he would not be able to vote for Labour’s local parliamentary candidate, who was Jewish and then the chair of JLM, because he believed the organisation and “the Israel lobby” were trying to “undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership with a view to his eventual toppling using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it”.

Momentum activists suggested Mr Margrain's comments should not disqualify him from joining Labour and voiced opposition to a motion that had been tabled calling for his membership application to be rejected. They instead suggested he could be admitted to the party after “a talking to". Jenny Manson, the chair of the controversial Jewish Voice for Labour group that has insisted there is no problem with widespread antisemitism in Labour, was part of the discussion and proposed an amendment to this end.

One participant said "we need everyone who is on board who is a supporter", while another argued: “I think we need to move away from the idea that someone should be condemned as necessarily an antisemitic person for saying or believing something deemed to be antisemitism.”

A third responded to the article by suggesting the Momentum branch could hold "an interesting discussion about the historic and current economic position of UK Jews", before accusing Mr Margrain of having repeated an antisemitic trope.

Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

A spokesperson for Barnet Momentum told The Independent: “At Barnet Momentum we support the work and efforts that the leadership of the Labour Party has uniquely done in drafting a code of conduct that no other British political party has in place, and that deals specifically with antisemitism. We are currently using and applying this code of conduct.

“Our private discussion email group is a political discussion forum. Its members are from varied communities and many are Jewish. If anyone was perceived to have made an inappropriate or objectionable comment, or one that could be perceived as racist, they would be challenged immediately and action would be taken if what has been shared has broken Momentum or Labour Party rules.”

But responding to the leaks, Barry Rawlings, the leader of Barnet Labour, said: "These are antisemitic tropes and these people need to be reported to both the Labour Party and to Momentum. I doubt many of these people have knocked on doors in Barnet and talked to local residents. The mixture of fear and disgust with the Labour Party, not just among the Jewish community but among their friends and neighbours, is worrying and it needs to be dealt with.

"To have their loyalties questioned when other loyalties aren't questioned, to deny that there has been antisemitism and that security guards outside synagogues are necessary to protect children is not just ridiculous but actually quite nasty.

Describing the comments as "antisemitic, anti-Zionist ranting", he added: "I have no doubt that antisemitism was the main reason the Conservatives still run Barnet. It's an issue that's not going away and it does affect the vote, but it's also a moral issue. Antisemitism is wrong, it's a hate crime, it's racism and a party with the values of the Labour Party has to live by those values.

"I've heard a lot of good words but I've not seen much action from the party leadership. It's a shame that Jeremy seems to have this blind spot over antisemitism but I'm confident that if we fall back on our basic values, people will realise that antisemitism is a moral wrong."

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously.

"Jeremy Corbyn has made clear he is a militant opponent of anti-Semitism and is absolutely committed to tackling it.

"Jeremy Corbyn asked Labour’s new General Secretary Jennie Formby to make speeding up and strengthening our disciplinary procedures against anti-Semitism her top priority and to develop a comprehensive programme of political education to increase understanding of anti-Semitism and drive it out of our movement.

"Complaints about antisemitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

The revelations come after John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, suggested that the Labour Party had failed to get to grips with antisemitism as he vowed to resolve the issue.

“The issue for me is that it’s upsetting but partly because you think how have we got ourselves in this situation?

“We’ve got to get this sorted it out but also in the life experiences of members of the Jewish community, while we have these disputes going on in the media and elsewhere, there isn’t sufficient campaigning on the ground to tackle those."

He added: "I thought we had got to a position where we are able to move on – we’re not – we’ve got to resolve that by September."

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