Above: Gregson with Rabbi Aharon Cohen of Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group which is vehemently anti-Israel and argues that Jews "deserved" the Holocaust
Shop steward Peter Gregson’s appeal against expulsion from the GMB trade union was rejected last Wednesday (6 March).
Last year a GMB disciplinary hearing had concluded that Gregson had:
• Written and promoted antisemitic materials which were racist in nature, including claims that Israel “exaggerated” the Holocaust.
• Made “utterly unacceptable and frankly sinister attacks” on GMB organiser Rhea Wolfson, describing her as “a raving Zionist, an “ambitious Zionist zealot” and “a liability” (to the GMB).
• Targeted Wolfson for “deeply disturbing, sinister and antisemitic attacks … because she is Jewish”; these attacks “betrayed misogynistic intent” and were “evidence of misogyny on your part.”
• Accused the GMB of “totally supporting a racist regime” and “indirectly supporting apartheid” by adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and guidelines on antisemitism.
The findings of the disciplinary hearing also referred to a document which Gregson had written and circulated, entitled: “My GMB Grief: Rhea Wolfson.” According to the document:
“Wolfson and (Jon) Lansman together, within Momentum and the Labour Party, have set themselves the task of preventing a Corbyn-led government from ever imposing sanctions on Israel.”
“Their double act at the National Executive Committee forced Labour to adopt the full IHRA on 4 September. They brand all who oppose the racist nature of Israel as antisemites and thus far have been successful in getting Labour and the unions to do as they wish.”
“They work alongside Friends of Israel and the Zionist group Jewish Labour Movement to undermine democracy in the UK.”
“That Wolfson, an avowed Zionist, was allowed to chair the recent Labour Conference session debating the oppression of Palestinians shows us how strong a grip the Zionists have on Labour.”
In his 22-pages of grounds of appeal against the disciplinary hearing’s conclusions, Gregson spent much time arguing that the IHRA antisemitism definition was at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
He also dealt at length with the procedure whereby the GMB adopted the IHRA definition and disseminated (or failed to disseminate) it to branches.
In response to the finding about his statement that Israel “exaggerated” the Holocaust, Gregson wrote:
“I was not implying that Israel was inflating the numbers murdered but that it was over-exaggerating or overstating its importance in in relation to acts of genocide today (e.g. Rohinga). I used the less common definition of the word ‘exaggerate’.”
“Holocaust victims were people who were targeted by the government of Nazi Germany for various discriminatory practices. … Eleven million died as Holocaust victims, but it appears that Israel and its institutions care only about the six million who were Jews.”
“What I object to is the way Israel uses the Holocaust as a reason for its actions. It suits the Israeli government to couch everything it does in terms of the Holocaust. … The racism that Jews suffered during the war is now practised by Israeli Jews themselves. … But it’s wrong to transplant one Holocaust for another.”
Branching out into the origins of Israel, Gregson explained: “The founders of Israel were extremist Zionists who deliberately employed terrorism to achieve their aims. Israel and Judaism are diametrically opposed concepts.”
Gregson continued: “Our language around semitism has been hi-jacked by Nakba-deniers: a racist foreign power, in a distant land. … Netanyahu appears to have re-written the GMB Rulebook, along with everyone else’s.”
(In case any reader has forgotten: This is Gregson’s defence against accusations of antisemitism.)
Gregson concluded on this point: “Does the Central Executive Council really want the GMB to be known as the Zionist union? I assure you, there are precious few members to be found in those Zionist quarters. … There is no evidence that my comments are either antisemitic or racist.”
Moving on to his defence against the findings on his attacks on Rhea Wolfson, Gregson explained: “That the GMB continues to shelter and protect Zionists such as Wolfson should be a concern for all members.”
“Wolfson is a key player at the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), as she is happy to admit, and therefore a Zionist. She had fought alongside Lansman at the NEC to get the full IHRA definition adopted.”
“The whole stirring up of supposed antisemitism in Labour (which was actually just criticism of Israel) had been brilliantly orchestrated in order to get the IHRA into the Party rulebook. This was part of Israel’s efforts to destabilise Corbyn and prevent him becoming our next Prime Minister.”
“Given Ms Wolfson’s Zionist politics I have no regrets in naming and shaming her. I believe she was abusing her position of influence at the GMB to get me expelled as an antisemite for criticising Israel and her precious racist JLM organisation.”
This is textbook antisemitism, replete with traditional antisemitic tropes, "enriched" by misogyny, and targeted not ‘just’ at Zionist ideologues, but at Jews as well (“… the racism that Jews suffered during the war is now practised by Israeli Jews themselves …”)
But Gregson’s campaign literature has dishonestly claimed: “Tens of millions of UK citizens could face disciplinary action under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (definition of antisemitism). GMB shop steward Pete Gregson faces expulsion for criticising Israel.”
The usual this-is-not-antisemitism-but-only-legitimate-criticism-of-Israel apologists for left (and not particularly left) antisemitism have rallied to his defence.
According to Labour Against the Witch-hunt (LAW): “Peter is clearly not antisemitic. … We understand from his statement that his suspension was motivated by former Labour NEC member and GMB official Rhea Wolfson – an open Zionist, a member of the JLM, and a supporter of Israel as a Jewish state.”
But LAW did concede that some of Gregson’s formulations might be less than perfect, such as: “The Jews have so much leverage here (in the UK).” But this was only because he had “internalised the racism of Zionist ideology.”
According to Scottish Friends of Palestine: “We have looked at the situation now facing GMB member Peter Gregson, and, quite frankly, he has no case to answer. … We would urge you to reconsider your position against Mr Gregson. Particularly in the light of Israel's own admissions, it is unsustainable.”
According to Scottish Jews Against Zionism: “In support of Peter Gregson, who is charged with antisemitism for defying the IHRA definition examples: … Confronting the definition examples, as Pete Gregson has done, isn’t antisemitic because these are fundamentally flawed.”
According to Weekly Worker: “What is equally disturbing is that the GMB union, which is notoriously right-wing and corrupt, has suspended Edinburgh shop steward Peter Gregson, who has put up on the web a petition stating that Israel is a racist state.”
According to Ken Loach: “Your case is made very clearly and is unanswerable. Pete, your position is justified and has to be defended. Solidarity!”
According to the Scottish “The National” newspaper: “Gregson, who really does have a Jewish best friend, wants to be free to criticise the state of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. If Gregson can prove that those (GMB) rules were adopted illegally and wins his case, there will be turmoil for Labour in particular.”
According to a long, tedious and irrelevant statement by Free Speech on Israel (FSI): “At no point has the union made any effort to explain how Gregson’s actions are antisemitic. … The charges against Gregson are oppressive. … The union officials bringing them are damaging the good standing of the union.”
The statement was signed off by Mike Cushman. Cushman was due to give evidence in defence of Gregson at his appeal hearing last week but, for whatever reason, failed to show up.
Inevitably, the longest, most tedious and most irrelevant statement of support for Gregson has come from Tony Greenstein, who not only submitted a seven-page statement of support for Gregson but also turned up to give evidence in person at his appeal.
In reality, Gregson had little or no chance of success on appeal. But with Greenstein as his star witness, his fate was sealed.
What all such statements of support have in common is their failure to confront the charge and subsequent finding of misogyny against Gregson, and their equally striking avoidance of confronting what Gregson has actually written.
Instead, their focus is the definition and examples of antisemitism given by the IHRA. Since that definition and those examples are, supposedly, wrong (and a covert Zionist tool to stifle criticism of Israel), Gregson must be innocent.
The argument is as irrelevant as it is illogical. It can be summed up as:
The IHRA definition is a tool to stifle criticism of Israel; anyone alleged to have breached it must therefore be a victim of Zionist targeting; that person must be defended against ‘the Zionists’; what that person said or did is irrelevant in the light of the greater goal of defeating the IHRA.
For those who share Gregson’s politics, this self-serving incoherence has an obvious attraction: it provides them with a licence to defend, and to promote, the indefensible in the name of "anti-Zionism".