Owen Smith slanders AWL with antisemitism charge

Submitted by Matthew on 21 September, 2016 - 11:57 Author: Ross Bradshaw, Yoni Higgsmith, Barry Finger, Eric Lee and Jason Schulman

During a recent televised debate Owen Smith linked the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty to left antisemitism. This claim has gained some currency, despite Workers’ Liberty’s thirty-year record of fighting left (and other forms of) antisemitism.

For instance, when Nottingham Labour activist Pete Radcliff was recently expelled, because Labour’s bureaucracy wanted to make something of Pete’s association with Workers’ Liberty, the local paper covered the expulsion by linking it to the claim of antisemitism. Below Nottingham leftist Ross Bradshaw defends Pete, and three other non-Workers’ Liberty leftists refute Smith’s slur.

Patently false accusations

While I was on holiday, my friend Pete Radcliff was expelled from the Labour Party, a story covered in the Nottingham Post under the headline, “Labour veteran kicked out of party in antisemitism row” in its print edition.

This follows a statement by Labour Party leadership contender Owen Smith linking the group Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) with antisemitism, a group which Pete is known to favour.

I should make it clear that I am not and never have been a supporter of the AWL (not least for its rather awkward name!). Pete and I have been arguing off and on about politics for decades, but one thing we consistently agree on is that antisemitism has no place in the labour movement, and that any peaceful settlement to the Israel/Palestinian conflict must involve a political settlement involving two states for two people.

Pete has consistently reached out to the Jewish peace movement in Israel and has organised speaking tours by Israeli dissidents. Of course he is critical of the occupation, so is the Labour Party, so is the previous leader Ed Miliband. Pete has directly campaigned against antisemitic groups of the right. We worked together in Notts Anti-Fascist Alliance. Indeed, as far as I can remember, I met him for the first time in 1978 at a lively demonstration which aimed to close down the National Front office just opposite what is now Nottingham Contemporary. I’ve also been pleased to join him in demonstrations in support of the Kurdish people, and in support of the Saudi dissident Raif Badawi.

I mention these last points to refute any suggestion that Pete “singles out” the one Jewish state, an issue that many on the right use to try to attack those hostile to the occupation. I do know a little about antisemitism. In 1989, I joined the initiative of the Nottingham Jewish Lesbian group to run a large anti-racist festival linking the Anne Frank Exhibition to Black History Month. (This was funded by the local Labour councils and opposed by the Conservatives, by the way.) In 2004, I was one of a handful of people organising the Anne Frank Exhibition at Southwell Minster (I was responsible for the arts programme) — an event that involved 15,000 people over a month and which focussed almost entirely on antisemitism. I also organised the first Holocaust Memorial Day event in Nottinghamshire on behalf of the County Council. The bookshop I work in has received anti-semitic social media postings, which is at least better than the antisemitic phonecalls and hate mail a previous bookshop I worked in would receive, which culminated in Nazis smashing up the shop in 1994.

The issue of antisemitism matters to me. It should be opposed whenever and wherever it arises. As should patently false accusations of antisemitism. As I mentioned, I am not a supporter of the AWL, but I resent the headline which would lead people to think Pete Radcliff is an antisemite and I resent the comments that could lead people to think that the AWL (which, by the way, includes Jewish members like Daniel Randall, formerly of Nottingham, whose family I know well) is anti-Semitic.

Misdirection for factional gain

Yoni Higgsmith, Jewish Voice

Claiming the AWL is antisemitic is deeply untrue, and dangerous for our Jewish community.

Antisemitism is a serious issue and shouldn’t be used to attack groups on the left. Owen Smith is either acting on bad advice, and should be admonished for not checking his facts, or he is aware of his misdirection for factional gain. Either way, he is no friend to Jews via this action.

Consistent anti-racism

Barry Finger, New Politics (US)

The AWL is uncompromising in its defence of Palestinian democratic rights, including the right to self-determination. But it does so without demonising the Israeli people and Jewish communities abroad for their alleged complicity in the crimes of the Israeli ruling class, nor by engaging in campaigns to delegitimise the Israeli state.

It alone, to the lasting disgrace of the far left in general, admirably rejects the all-too-prevalent, totalising expressions of BDS politics, which, in its most extreme form, seeks to advance the cause of justice for the Palestinians at the expense of the democratic rights of a national group comprised largely of victims and descendants of victims, survivors and refugees of the European Judeocide and of successive waves of Middle Eastern and North African scapegoating and ethnic cleansing.

It insists that the fight against anti-Muslim racism and antisemitism must be indivisible, seamless, and consistent.

Part of the solution

Eric Lee, LabourStart

The Labour Party — and the Left more broadly — does have a problem with antisemitism.

In addition to traditional right-wing antisemitism, there is a specific left-wing version which uses anti-Zionism as a cover for spreading traditional anti-Jewish tropes.

The Alliance for Workers Liberty, which I have worked with for more than 17 years, is not part of that problem; it is part of the solution. The AWL has campaigned for a two-state solution, publicly defended Israel’s right to exist, brought Israeli speakers over to the UK, condemned various left anti-Semites, and taken a beating from hard-left groups that consider them to be “Zionists”.

They have often provided platforms, both in print and at their conferences, for actual Zionists, myself included. To consider the AWL to be a source of antisemitism in the labour movement is staggeringly ignorant.

Self-determination for both nations

Jason Schulman, coeditor, New Politics magazine, New York

It is genuinely ludicrous for anyone to accuse the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (AWL) of antisemitism. As anyone with a knowledge of contemporary British Marxism knows, the AWL is one of the few avowedly Marxist organisations in the UK that recognises that there is a nation of Hebrew-speakers that has come to exist in what is now Israel, and that "Hebrew nation" has the right to self-determination just as Palestinian Arabs do. What kind of "antisemitic" organisation would say such a thing?

There is simply no good reason to bar the AWL or its individual members from the Labour Party. The AWL is not performing "entrism"; it isn't acting in secret or attempting to win Labour members to itself with the intention of fomenting a split.

It is acting as a political trend within the labour movement in what is, after all, supposed to be the party of the labour movement. All those who have been kicked out of the Labour Party for their AWL associations should be immediately reinstated.