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Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent

Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

November 8, 2017
7 min read

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

On 3rd October 2017, longstanding Kilburn resident and member of Hampstead & Kilburn Labour Party, Emeritus Prof Moshé Machover was summarily expelled from the Labour Party. Many decried it as an abject denial of any form of natural justice or due process, sparking protest from branches and Constituency Labour Parties up and down the country, and a letter of protest signed by around 1300 members of the Party. This groundswell of outrage saw him eventually reinstated on October 31st.

His reinstatement is a great victory: a personal vindication for Machover, but also a triumph for the left in the Labour Party, sick to the teeth at the rearguard actions of right-wingers in the Party machine who have not yet come to terms with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the leadership and resurgence in the polls.

The prevalent culture in the machine is one of automatic, instant, expulsion or suspension of Labour Party members without a hearing, and with no right of appeal. Who has levelled a complaint is generally unknown – and some people have now been in a state of suspended limbo for 18 months or more. Many, but not all, suspensions are linked to people active in the struggle for Palestinian rights.

Ever since February 2016, accusations of antisemitism have been used as a weapon against leftwing forces in the Party, spurred on by such organisations as Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel an organisation linked to Israeli officials who spent serious money lobbying – and according to some, bribing – British MPs.

Of course there is some antisemitism in the Labour Party; there is antisemitism in wider society, and even with its history of anti-racist campaigning, the Labour Party is not immune from the ills of society. Such prejudice has no place in the party. Antisemitism is a form of racism,  prejudice, hostility and discrimination against Jews because they are Jews. It is totally unacceptable and action needed against any who express it in word or deed (though generally, I would argue, the aim should be educational not punitive, except in the case of the most hardened of racists). But attempts in recent years have been made to wider this definition to include certain criticisms of Israel ‘that go too far’ and most – not all – cases of alleged antisemitism concern Israel in some way or other. This muddying of the waters around what constitutes genuine, unacceptable prejudice obscures the real mission of rooting out antisemitism from the party. It is a cynical attempt to suppress dissent, and not really an attempt to tackle bigotry.

In the case of Moshé Machover, the machine over-reached itself. Moshé, a founder of the Israeli Socialist Organisation Matzpen, is a lifelong anti-racist, anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist campaigner (and a longstanding and good friend). He was first investigated after an anonymous tipoff for what his expulsion letter described as ‘an apparently antisemitic article’ published in his name in a paper called Labour Party Marxists (LPM). But on investigation of this ‘apparent antisemitism’, LPM was deemed to express ideas incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. So the charges of antisemitism were put on the backburner; but Machover’s new crime of association with LPM deemed so heinous that he was bundled out of the Party without a by-your-leave. The allegations of being antisemitic, he was told would be kept on file and might be reactivated if he were ever to apply to join the Party again.

All this has happened in a Labour Party that prides itself on having commissioned and adopted the Chakrabarti Report which put at its forefront the need for clear, transparent disciplinary procedures, as well as for protecting free speech and encouraging ‘an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect.’

The Report, we understand was adopted last year. But we are still awaiting those transparent disciplinary procedures. Instead, the old regime continues on its merry way. Machover was not formally charged with anything and was not been called to speak in his own defence, but was summarily expelled in a dispensation of ‘justice’ worthy of the Elizabethan Star Chamber.

Machover wasn’t asked if he was a member of LPM or the organisation which publishes it. In fact he isn’t, saying quite clearly, with sardonic McCarthyite echoes: ‘I am not and have never been a member.’ LPM had asked his permission to reprint an article that had appeared a year previously in the online Weekly Worker, published by an organisation called the CPGB. He gave it, he says, ‘as I would allow any paper and anyone to reprint my articles’. And though Machover has published many articles in the Weekly Worker, he is not a member of the organisation that publishes that either.

It is a long tradition on the left for trade-union leaders, politicians and public intellectuals to write for, and participate in, open debate and discussion in papers like the Morning Star on the left, as well as in publications well to the right of the Party. There has never previously been the suggestion that willingness to engage in this free exchange of ideas automatically constitutes support for a rival political organisation, let alone be worthy of summary expulsion.

It was claimed that Machover fell foul of a rule set out to (sensibly) ensure that members don’t join or campaign for another organisations which stands candidates in elections against the Labour Party. But the rule starts with a gloriously imprecise catchall phrase which allows the exclusion of ‘A member of the Party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party…’.  Presumably anyone who supports organisations like Make Votes Matter  or Compass or even the Child Poverty Action Group could fall foul of this rule, broadly interpreted. It obviously wasn’t drawn up with that in mind.

Nor is it self-evident that the Communist Party of Great Britain has aims ‘incompatible with those of the Labour Party’. Until this recent ‘investigation’, member of the CPGB have happily been member of the Party. Now it appears that any past association with an organisation against which no objection had been  previously raised is sufficient grounds for expulsion.

Yet it is precisely on these grounds that Machover was expelled, in an arena suddenly deemed incompatible with membership of the Labour Party.

Shami Chakrabarti was explicit about the dangers of arguing ‘guilt by association’ – and for good reason. It would, she said, ‘undermine the kind of dialogue and debate that is the basis of peace, progress and greater understanding in the world.’

To restore the Labour Party’s good reputation it is essential that this Star Chamber dispensation of ‘justice’ be brought to a swift end. Rolling back Machover’s expulsion must be the start of wide-scale reform of Labour’s disciplinary processes. If anyone else has charges to answer, they should be made clearly and explicitly, and investigated and resolved transparently, in the spirit of Shami Chakrabarti’s Report and the long-established democratic disciplinary procedures in the tradition-union movement.

This McCarthyite scaremongering must end All those summarily expelled or suspended from membership without due process must be immediately reinstated pending a hearing – if there are indeed real charges to answer. And Machover himself must be offered an apology and an unambiguous withdrawal of the smear of being antisemitic which the Labour Party machine has left hanging over his head.

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