JULIA BARD says Labour members must hold the party's disciplinary chiefs to account when they abuse their power
LABOUR campaigners won an important victory this week when, in a grudging letter, the party’s head of disputes rescinded the expulsion of a lifelong campaigner for human rights and social justice.
Just a week after the Labour Party conference, professor Moshé Machover was summarily expelled for allegedly breaching party rules by supporting two organisations whose “aims and principles are incompatible with those of the Labour Party.” The letter of expulsion also contained an allegation that he had written “an apparently anti-semitic article,” with the warning that, anyone suspected of anti-semitism “would be placed under formal notice of investigation”.
The two organisations in question are Labour Party Marxists and the Communist Party of Great Britain (provisional central committee), the group running the Weekly Worker publication.
Machover responded in kind to this McCarthyite accusation, insisting that he is not and never has been a member of either group, and could neither confirm or deny the accusation that he “supported” them because “support” had not been not defined.
These organisations had published his articles and invited him to speak at their seminars.
This is not a punishable offence. If it were, the party would surely have gone after members who have written for the Sun or aired their views on Nick Ferrari’s radio show.
The article under investigation was actually a carefully written analysis of the campaign to label critics of Israel as Jew-haters, entitled “Anti-zionism Does Not Equal Anti-semitism.” It is clearly a political critique of the ideology of zionism, not of Jews.
Three days after notifying Machover that he had been expelled and was being investigated, the anti-semitism allegation was dropped.
I’d like to think this was because they had reread Machover’s article and realised that, far from being anti-semitic, it was actually challenging anti-semitism.
It’s more likely, though, that they reread their own letter and realised that, having expelled him, they no longer had the power to investigate him.
Or maybe they had discovered just who they were targeting. Machover is a Jewish Israeli who has campaigned for justice for the Palestinians for his entire adult life.
He was a founder member of Matzpen, a dissident socialist group founded in 1962. After the Six Day War in 1967, Machover says, “we became notorious… because we opposed the war and the annexation, and called for immediate withdrawal from the occupied territory. We were very isolated. The atmosphere was absolutely hysterical.”
A mathematician and logistician, he was working at the University of Jerusalem. He plays down the death threats he and his comrades received in that period, and says that when he came to London in 1968 he came “for professional reasons,” intending to return to Israel.
But he and his wife and children settled in Britain, and he became a renowned professor of philosophy at the University of London.
He has also remained absolutely committed to the principles of social and political justice for the Palestinians that he developed in the early 1960s.
Generations of campaigners had learnt from him, and would not stand by while he was attacked in this way.
“I got a huge, an astonishing, amount of support from within the Labour Party, beyond the Labour Party and also an international campaign,” he says.
He believes that the people behind his expulsion were as surprised as he was by the groundswell of support, most significantly, from the grassroots.
Labour Party branches up and down the country passed motions demanding that he be reinstated and have access to a fair, transparent process.
A thousand people signed a letter of support, and a social media focus was provided by Jewish Voice for Labour — launched to much acclaim at the Labour Party conference fringe as an inclusive forum for Jewish members fighting for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere.
At the conference, speeches in support of the Palestinians and the need for open debate on the Israel/Palestine conflict received enthusiastic applause, as did Jeremy Corbyn when he called for justice for the Palestinians in his conference speech.
Machover describes this as “very brave,” adding that “the huge applause and popularity [show that] he’s expressing what the grassroots of the Labour Party now think.”
Machover’s formal written response demolished the accusations made by the head of disputes with absolute precision.
Never grandstanding or focusing on his own victimhood, he insists on the need for Labour to transform its procedures so they are accountable, transparent and conform to natural justice.
The head of disputes seemed to have overreached his capacity. The ineptitude, combined with a disregard for due process, came as no surprise to anyone who had followed the mass suspensions and expulsions during the two leadership campaigns.
By summarily expelling Machover, the head of disputes short-circuited any investigation and blocked his chance to defend himself.
He was given two weeks to challenge the validity of the evidence given for his expulsion. If he failed, it would be five years before he could apply to rejoin — by which time he would be 86.
All of this is at odds with the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report, set up to investigate an earlier wave of accusations of anti-semitism.
Its findings were endorsed by the Party’s national executive committee but are yet to be properly instituted.
ShamiChakrabarti insisted that:
free speech in the party should be protected while safeguarding against hate speech;
members facing complaints were entitled to fair, transparent procedures, based on natural justice; and
education is preferable to heavy-handed discipline.
When organisations like the Jewish Socialists’ Group and Jewish Voice for Labour added their voices against the disciplinary bodies’ behaviour, this gave confidence to non-Jewish Labour Party members to express their concern about how Machover was being targeted.
This ill-considered victimisation is of a piece with the right wing’s persistent attempts to chip away at the left and to discredit Corbyn by trying to taint them with the accusation of anti-semitism.
They have made common cause with the Jewish Labour Movement which, by conflating “Jew” with “zionist” and spuriously claiming to represent all Jewish members of the party, would like to silence support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israel, and to make Labour Party members fearful about discussing zionism.
One way of achieving this is to entrench an elastic definition of anti-semitism that will inhibit anyone from criticising Israel or zionism.
The allegations against Machover are an attempt to establish such an amoebic definition.
The last part of the puzzle is to marginalise Chakrabarti’s recommendations, which would protect critics of Israel from unjust and dishonest accusations.
Machover’s victory is not what his opponents expected, and we should be proud of what we, in the grassroots of the party, have achieved.
His expulsion has been rescinded, but the anti-semitism smear remains.
The letter nevertheless claims that “any reasonable person looking at the evidence” would have concluded that he did indeed support a hostile organisation. There’s no explanation for why they didn’t use that supposed evidence to uphold their own decision.
It ends on a threatening note, urging Machover “to take a cautionary approach to avoid any future misunderstandings regarding your eligibility for membership of the Labour Party.”
There have been many other expulsions and suspensions; some of the people concerned have been quietly reinstated but many have not.
The process has been murky and unaccountable. But the clarity of Machover’s writing, the rigour of his response and, above all, the strength of the grassroots support for him have turned the tide.
He has been reinstated, and ordinary members have discovered that they have the clout to demand that the Labour Party’s structures, officers and representatives act in accordance with its founding principles of socialism, equality, accountability and justice.