On June 21, Jon Lansman, chair of Momentum (UK) and senior member of the UK Labour Party, will deliver a lecture in Tel Aviv on ‘Corbyn, Labour and Israel-Palestine’. The event will take place at the office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, affiliated with the German Die Linke (‘The Left’) party. The invitation poster features the logos of the UK Labour Party, Momentum and Standing Together (Hebrew – Omdim BeYahchad)), an Israeli NGO supported by the New Israel Fund.
If this tripartite alliance seems encouraging to supporters of the Palestinian cause, the impression is probably mistaken. Lansman’s lecture in Tel Aviv should be viewed against the backdrop of the war which is raging within the UK Labour party. The Palestinian issue is arguably the main reason for this war. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015, the Israeli government and leaders of the Jewish establishment in the UK, who falsely claim to represent all UK Jews, have been running a vendetta against him. The prospects of a future UK prime minister who demands an immediate end to Israel’s 1967 occupation and does not subscribe to Zionist ideology must be terrifying (and US activists may also find interest in all of this as a harbinger of a future battle for the Democratic Party). Corbyn has even been vilified as “hold[ing] anti-Semitic views” by Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry.
Unfortunately, strong elements within the UK Labour Party also stand on Israel’s side. While solidarity with the Palestinian people runs deep in the party, especially among grassroots activists and trade unions, a powerful sector of Labour supports Israel. The Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) caucus has recently defended Israel’s mass-killing and injuring of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Israel’s supporters within the party have also participated in a witch hunt against dedicated Labour activists who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, with the strategic goal of toppling Corbyn. Many of these activists have been persecuted and even expelled in a McCarthyite manner. In addition to Labour Friends of Israel, the astroturf, faux-socialist Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) campaigns “to support labour values within the UK, Israel and Internationally”, but has very little beyond support for Israel on its mind. Both LFI and JLM have strong ties with the Israeli Labour Party, which supports racism and militarism against the Palestinian people, and has suspended its ties with Jeremy Corbyn, accusing him of “enabling anti-Semitism”. This brazen lie does not seem to embarrass Israel’s UK Labour supporters.
In order to promote a Labour victory under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing organization named Momentum was established in 2015. Jon Lansman was its main founder. One would expect Momentum to consistently stand up to the Israel lobby, support free speech on Zionism and Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Many members of Momentum have done just that. Lansman is not one of them. A primary example is the case of Jackie Walker, a veteran black Jewish Labour activist and a consistent critic of Zionism and all forms of racism. Walker has been exposed to extreme hatred, sexism and racism, mostly due to her criticism of Zionism. She was suspended from the party in April 2016 and also removed from her vice-chair post in Momentum after a witch-hunt in which Lansman himself took part.
The Momentum leader has played an active role in the silencing of numerous critical voices within the Labour Party, a policy opposed by many in the organization. Moreover, Lansman has argued that use of the word ‘Zionist’ among Labour supporters must come to an end. This begs the simple question posed by the Free Speech on Israel campaign:
“So who do we blame for the 1948 Nakba and the 1967 mass expulsions less well known as the Naksa, which shaped today’s map? Surely not Israeli fundamentalists who were yet to come, and certainly not Netanyahu who was yet to come and will one day be gone”.
Lansman’s implied defense of Zionism, his opposition to BDS and his acceptance of the lie that there is rampant anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, have been happily endorsed by the Jewish Labour Movement. And Corbyn’s “biggest Jewish backer” is likely to please his liberal Zionist audience in Tel Aviv as well. This audience is quite willing to accept criticism of Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank, but mostly unwilling to connect the dots. A condemnation of Zionist racism and Zionist violence against Palestinians, with the necessary conclusions, would be frowned on by most members of this audience, but this is exactly what liberal Israelis living on Planet ‘Peace Process/Two States’ must hear.
The Israeli partner to this trilateral initiative is not innocent either. Standing Together was launched in 2015 with the support of the liberal Zionist New Israel Fund to “mobilize and activate progressive people in Israel”. The organization’s underlying agenda does not challenge the root causes of racism, occupation and apartheid in Israel-Palestine. Worse than that, the New Israel Fund has campaigned against BDS, and has suppressed free speech on Israel by refusing to funnel donations from international supporters to the few Israeli NGOs which support BDS (or refusal to serve in the Israeli military).
The hosting of the event by the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation of the Die Linke party is the icing on this dry cake. Die Linke campaigns strongly for socialist and left-wing causes within Germany, but has shed any leftist pretensions on Israel. Not even Israeli citizens are spared its efforts to restrict freedom of speech on Israel: when a group of Israeli BDS activists booked the foundation offices in May 2016 for a pro-BDS panel discussion, the foundation intervened to cancel the event.
Jon Lansman works hard to police the debate on Palestine, for the privileged few rather than the many. He does not stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, nor do his German and Israeli partners. The policy which Lansman wants to impose on the UK Labour Party is the epitome of ‘Progressive Except Palestine’. Supporters of the Palestinian cause – a struggle for justice and full equality – would do well to challenge Lansman and his partners instead of viewing them as allies.