“Open letter to Ian Lavery about Labour’s 10 pledges”

This letter sent to the Star was written by Julie Pearn, chairman, John Morgan, vice-chairman, Diana Charles, secretary, Neale Gibson, treasurer, and committee members Kaltun Elmi, Adam Hurst, Sarah Johnson, Peter Jones and Angela Martin, Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine, Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, S11

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 8:12 am
Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine

Dear Ian Lavery

Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine was established in 2015 to champion the rights of the Palestinian people and to develop solidarity with Palestine within Sheffield Labour.

This has included supporting Palestinians’ right to statehood and an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, as international law requires.

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We have organised visits to Palestine and cultural exchanges in order to foster mutual understanding and friendship.

We have also consistently worked to explain the clear and fundamental distinction between antisemitism as a form of racism on the one hand and politically grounded and ethically motivated criticism of the state of Israel on the other.

In a Labour Party committed to standing up against all forms of injustice and oppression, we see the struggle for the rights and freedom of the Palestinian people and the fight against antisemitism as entirely complementary. We were particularly proud that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Party voted for recognition of the state of Palestine and the freeze of arms sales to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

We are therefore writing to you, as Labour Party chairman, to express our alarm at the acceptance by all Labour Party leadership candidates of the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ ‘10 Pledges to end the antisemitism crisis’ and call on you to publicly clarify, for all Party members and supporters, the Party’s position with respect to the ‘10 Pledges’, as well as the implications for the Party of the candidates’ declared intention to adopt them.

Our concerns are as follows:

The demands on the Party contained in the ‘10 Pledges’ are unconstitutional since they entail surrendering the Party’s independence and integrity as a political organisation, with democratic control of its own policy and investigative and disciplinary procedures, to an outside body which is unaccountable to Party members;

We completely reject the attempt by the BoD itself, a body which campaigned relentlessly against the Labour Party in the recent General Election and was unremittingly hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in particular, to interfere in Labour Party business and to claim a right to influence the internal processes, procedures and political education of the Party;

We completely reject the attempt by the BoD to sideline, marginalise or silence the voices of Jewish organisations and individuals which the BoD considers “fringe groups”, on account of their opposition to the Israeli occupation and support for Palestinian rights.

We believe this is an outrageous act of discrimination against significantly large sections of the Jewish community who do not share the political views of the BoD and do not feel they are represented by it;

As independent media research has consistently shown (eg. Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief by Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller, Pluto Press 2019), the extent of antisemitic views among Labour Party members has been wildly exaggerated and politicised by the mainstream media and by organisations (including the BoD), and individuals opposed to the direction of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

Present candidates for Labour leadership should be aware of such research, as well as information from the Party’s own internal disciplinary process, and be using it to counter the overblown claims of a ‘crisis of antisemitism’ in Labour’s ranks.

Instead, we fear the leadership contenders, in accepting the ‘Pledges’, are further damaging the reputation of the Party and are adding to the confusion over the distinction between antisemitism and legitimate criticism of the state of Israel, thereby making it more difficult to speak up for Palestinian rights.

In the light of these concerns, we would ask you as a matter of urgency to:

Inform all candidates for leader and deputy leader of our views on this matter;

Confirm the candidates’ acceptance of the ‘10 Pledges’ is merely an expression of their own views and in no way constitutes a commitment to the ‘Pledges’ on the part of the Party itself;

Ensure the Party membership is fully consulted before any proposal to adopt the ‘Pledges’ could be accepted.

We regret having to write to you publicly on these matters, but we feel they are of crucial importance for the future political direction and leadership of the Party.

We also know that these issues are of concern to very many Labour Party members and supporters who have reacted with dismay and anger to the leadership contenders’ position.