Diary of a delegate
As with many things at Labour conference, the setup for debates is at best strange and at worst actively unhelpful. The session on “International issues and Security” covered discussion on the Brexit motion, a motion on Windrush and a motion that dominated the debate on Israel/Palestine.
Prior to the debate Workers’ Liberty activists ran a stall outside the conference centre and The World Transformed to highlight the issues. We argued to back Corbyn’s position for two states in Israel-Palestine, against Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaigning, for direct links and solidarity, and called on people to acknowledge that antisemitism is a real issue in Labour.
At least 50 copies of our new pamphlet, Left antisemitism and how to to fight it were sold to conference and TWT attendees. We got a largely positive reception and willingness to discuss the issues quite out of line from what you’d expect from social media noise.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Labour Against the Witch hunt had given away a lot of Palestinian flags. When the delegate from Harlow got up to move the composite (denouncing US stopping of aid to UNRWA and UK arms sales to Israel), they were greeted with enthusiastic flag waving. The formal ban on delegates waving flags was apparently dropped for this session, although, in fairness, it would have been difficult to stop.
The delegate’s speech was largely unobjectionable except for what he didn’t say, rather than what he did say. He followed Emily Thornberry in championing Labour’s role in Cable Street (actually it was the ILP which did most of the work) and missed out the role played by the Jewish community. When he ran out of time he told the Chair, Rhea Wolfson, that he would continue as he was speaking on behalf of the Palestinians. This provoked chants of “Free Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!” Whatever others though, those who started the chant are well aware that mean Israel being wiped off the map by a conquering army moving from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea.
To my mind and a minority of delegates, the atmosphere changed quite dramatically at this point. Subsequenct speeches supported the motion. Most were unobjectionable (as was the motion itself), but they were all followed by the same mass flag waving. When one delegate, Stephen Lapsley from Derby South, called out the hypocrisy of much of the left in only focusing their solidarity efforts on Palestine rather than on what is happening in Idlib, and called for more to be done about antisemitism in the Party, he was met with bemusement.
Eve Wise, however, decided to use her speech to discuss the “false antisemitism witch hunt” and advised people to watch Al Jazeera’s The Lobby (see critical review here). Corbyn was present for the motion being moved not for the debate, but he did catch all of Emily Thornberry’s speech just before it.
Thornberry’s speech was rambling but she said; “There are sickening individuals on the fringes of our movement, who use our legitimate support for Palestine as a cloak and a cover for their despicable hatred of Jewish people, and their desire to see Israel destroyed. These people stand for everything that we have always stood against and they must be kicked out of our party.”
These people are not just on the fringes of our movement. I sat just behind the honorable member for Derby North — a man who is happy to peddle the idea that the whole antisemitism issue is really a matter of it being “weaponised” by the right to harm Jeremy Corbyn. Extreme Holocaust denial may be on the fringes, but antisemitism in the form of wanting to see Israel destroyed, as shown by the chanting at Labour conference, is not.
In a disgusting attack “Labour Party Marxists” in their Red Pages bulletin took exception with Rhea Wolfson being allowed to chair the session on Palestine! She has pro-Palestinian views? Ah, she is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement and a Zionist! They raised no objections to anyone else chairing sessions.
That sort of dog-whistle antisemitism from LPM coupled with the glowing reception two members of Neturei Karta got when leafleting shows that some Labour members have a long way to go on managing to make solidarity with Palestinians without falling into the trap of antisemitic actions and views.
I don't know how you can call yourself on the Left since your position on 'antisemitism' i.e. support for the Palestinians and opposition to Zionism is no different from Progress. The irony is that all those years of you talking about 'left antisemitism' have not been wasted. The Labour Right has now taken them up.
From the river to the sea means an end to the Israeli apartheid state and one secular democratic state as opposed to the present ethno-nationalist state. That any socialist can oppose this speaks volumes about the chauvinist and frankly racist nature of the AWL politics.
I have, for many years had a great deal of respect for comrades in the AWL. As principled rank-and-file trade unionists, in organisations like PCS Independent Left, their approach to fighting for democratic member control of unions and a militant class struggle trade unionism knocked into a cocked hat the approach of seeking deals with left bureaucrats (and becoming left bureaucrats themselves, often on very handsome remuneration packages) that was pursued by other groups that called themselves Trotskyists, such as the SP and SWP.
The work of AWL members in campaigns like 'No Sweat' was exemplary and, in my view, it played a substantial role in laying the foundations for the growth in militant trade union organisation in the fast food industry that we are now seeing.
In solidarity work with victimised trade unionists too, AWL comrades played roles that I held in very high regard. I personally received magnificent support in my fight against the betrayal perpetrated by the leadership of the PCS union (with the full support of SP and SWP NEC members) when I was sacked for union activities by Hewlett Packard.
I of course had seen the Zionism of Sean Matgamna given full flight on AWL platforms. I remember a public meeting in Manchester and the sight of local AWL members holding their heads in their hands when Matgamna expressed his opinion that, "Islam is a particularly violent religion". But then again, I had previously seen Matgamna cuddling up to Ulster unionists. I thought for some years after that the AWL tolerated the wacky views of an old man through emotional attachment.
I now realise that I was wrong. I am not a Labour Party member but I do grasp the need for solidarity with socialists who are LP members and who come under attack by that organisation's well oiled witchhunting machine. When the AWL attacks Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson MP, this is anathema.
The final straw for me however is the confirmation, in this article that AWL actively organises against the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. There can be no rational explanation for this than support for the racist, apartheid state of Israel.
Any political respect I had for the AWL as an organisation has ended.