Editor’s note: What follows is a letter by 12 members of the Liberal Democrat party in the UK to their party leadership about restrictions on the discussion of Israel, which they titled “Open letter: please tell the truth about alleged antisemitism.”
The Liberal Democrat party holds 12 seats in the British parliament and formerly served in the Conservative governing coalition of 2010 to 2015. This center party was a big winner in the recent European Parliamentary elections, getting more seats than the Conservative and Labour Parties combined.
In March of this year, the Party’s Federal Board suspended its “Associated Organisation”, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP) because their Facebook page had provided links to three allegedly antisemitic articles, particularly one by Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada, and closed down their social media and website until the matter was resolved. The main point of contention is said to be training conditions that the Federal Board wants to impose on LDFP’s use of social media. Many members will see such conditions as unjustified and implying that LDFP has done something wrong.
A group of 12 Party members was particularly concerned about the Party leadership’s overall stance on antisemitism, and sent this Open Letter to four named recipients. They also sent it to several Lib Dem on-line forums, only to get it rejected and/or expunged by the Administrators. This experience has prompted eight of the original signatories to go public; they would have preferred to simply debate the matter within the Party, but this has not proved possible.
Open letter: please tell the truth about alleged antisemitism
30 May 2019
Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable, Party Leader
Rt Hon Jo Swinson, Deputy Leader
Rt Hon Tim Farron, previous Party Leader
Baroness Sarah Brinton, Party President
Dear Party Leaders
We are a group of Lib Dem members who, in an era of spin and alternative facts, feel passionately about the need to tell the truth. Failing to do this can have disastrous consequences, as we saw with the dodgy dossier on Iraq, and with Brexit.
We are heartened by the Party’s recent showing in the European elections, yet deeply troubled by the leadership’s public statements giving credence to, and lending our voice to, accusations that the Labour Party is a den of antisemitism. It has continued making these statements even after receiving messages seriously questioning their accuracy.
Anti-Jewish prejudice exists alongside other forms of prejudice in the UK, and is reprehensible. However, the statistical evidence in this link shows that: (a) it is most pronounced on the right of British politics; (b) it is not a particularly left-wing phenomenon, and; (c) other minority groups face far greater challenges. Most of the evidence advanced by critics of Labour is anecdotal and often deeply flawed, as when Margaret Hodge said she had submitted a dossier of 200 complaints. It turned out that they corresponded to 111 individuals, only 20 of who were in the Labour Party.
We do not speak in representation of the recently suspended Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP), but think that the Federal Board (FB) should reinstate it unconditionally. The FB’s primary objection is that LDFP posted a Facebook link to an article by the journalist Asa Winstanley, who said that Sir David Garrard was a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist and that he was funding the breakaway Independent Group of MPs. We see no evidence that Winstanley’s assertion is untrue, or in any way antisemitic.
We also believe that the Party should ditch the flawed IHRA definition of antisemitism (with its eleven examples) and revert to a simple definition, such as that in the Oxford English dictionary: hostile to or prejudiced against Jews. There is massive evidence (e.g. here) that the Government of Israel and its supporters have been unremittingly pushing the IHRA definition in order to conflate legitimate criticism of their own behaviour with genuine antisemitism. By doing so, they have trivialised the latter.
We Lib Dems do not owe the State of Israel such special treatment, any more than we owe it to states like Russia, China or Saudi Arabia that are involved in grossly illegal acts and/or violations of human rights. By contrast, we should be mindful of the many British Jews who question the narrative of rampant antisemitism.
We shall welcome an early reply to this letter, dealing with the evidence and other points presented.
+ 4 others not wishing to go public