Dany Louise: My experience of a culture of ignorance and antisemitism in the Hastings & Rye Labour Party
Three facts about antisemitism in the Labour Party:
The Equalities & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is conducting a statutory investigation of the Labour Party for institutional antisemitism.
The investigation was triggered after the Jewish Labour Movement and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, submitted evidence of around 1000 incidents to the EHRC. Every one of these incidents had been vetted by lawyers, to ensure that it met the high standards of legal proof required.
In addition, Labour Against Antisemitism has submitted to the EHRC a 15,000-page dossier of screenshots of antisemitic remarks made online by members of the Labour Party. That is fifteen thousand pages of antisemitism from Labour Party members made on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
When I resigned from the Labour Party in February 2019, I cited as my reason the recognised increase in antisemitism in the Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and in particular the treatment of Jewish MP Luciana Berger. Since then, I have sat as an Independent Councillor for Hastings Borough Council (HBC).
Although I concentrated on the national picture in my resignation letter, I could equally have cited antisemitism in Hastings & Rye CLP (Constituency Labour Party). My experience is that it is endemic and unchecked in this organisation.
I didn’t do this for two reasons. I thought that the overall national picture was of more strategic importance, and still do. But I also made the decision out of residual loyalty to my former colleagues. I wanted to spare them the shame of being called out publicly. I hoped that my resignation would motivate them to take the issue seriously, and to look at themselves and certain of their number more critically.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the case. In reality, they have responded to my resignation by embedding themselves even more deeply within the antisemitic zeitgeist.
With a general election announced, and HBC leader Peter Chowney the Labour parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye, I have made the decision to go public. I think it is important that voters are aware of my experience of a culture of ignorance and antisemitism in the Labour Party here in Hastings.
I am a lifelong Labour voter, and my working life has been spent in the public sector. Since 2010, I have followed and written about the cuts to publicly funded services and organisations, all driven through by Tory ideology.
In the run-up to the May 2015 General Election I responded to an advertisement from the local office of the Labour Party, and decided to volunteer one day a week until the election. I met four or five other Labour councillors and they appeared to be friendly, reasonable people. It was an interesting, enjoyable introduction to local politics.
Labour lost in 2015, and again in 2017. By then, I had become aware of the rise in antisemitism in Labour. The evidence was manifest, plentiful, and disturbing. It was apparent that it coincided with Corbyn’s election as Labour party leader.
However, when Trump was elected in late 2016, I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was. I knew that locally the Labour Party was looking for women candidates for the 2018 local elections. I met individually with seven councillors and asked them about the role. All were mostly positive. In retrospect, I can see that they saw it as part of their job to encourage me, and to stress the positive aspects. I genuinely wanted to contribute positively to Hastings, a town I am extremely fond of, and thought that my 30 years of professional experience would be useful. I put myself forward. Over several months, I was first empanelled, and then selected.
Hastings & Rye CLP
I started going to Labour Party branch meetings and the General Committee (GC). I found GC very difficult. Nearly every session I attended, there would be an anti-Israel motion, usually put forward by one of two people: Leah Levane or Rachel Lever, Hastings’ very own “as-a-Jews” (see note 1 below).
Privately I wondered what Israel had to do with the very serious issues that Hastings faces – real poverty and hardship for too many people, too much poor-quality housing, lack of employment opportunities, and low standards of educational attainment. These subjects were rarely discussed at any of the Labour Party meetings I attended.
At a December 2017 meeting, the Chair asked for feedback on the Labour Party. I made a short intervention about the party working harder to be a more welcoming place for Jewish members, in the context of there being an upsurge in anti-Israel activity in the party, “and here in Hastings, and that could make people who don’t share those views uncomfortable”. I added that the Labour Party was “pretty known for having a problem with antisemitism which isn’t being addressed.”
There was silence and then a long-standing member said: “There’s a difference between being anti-zionist and antisemitic”.
“Yes,” I responded, “in an ideal world, there would be. But, unfortunately, we’re not in an ideal world, and criticism of Israel is very often a cover for antisemitism, because it’s seen as the acceptable face of antisemitism”.
The Chair responded by saying, very abruptly: “That’s just your opinion, and you can’t tell people that you’re right and they’re wrong, that’s not how we do things in the Labour party”. I was effectively being told to agree with them on this issue or shut up.
Unfortunately, the lack of attendance at GC by a more moderate membership meant that those who did attend were given something of a free rein. During the process of recruiting the next parliamentary candidate in December 2017, details of applicants were circulated. One was a known antisemite, who had made some appallingly offensive antisemitic posts on Facebook and Twitter. The CLP shortlisted and interviewed her in January 2018.
I wrote to the Chair and Secretary of the CLP. “It is unthinkable that Hastings & Rye Labour party share the beliefs and values of this woman. It is also clear that selecting her is bringing this CLP into disrepute nationally,” I said. I didn’t receive a reply, waited a week and wrote again. The Chair directed me to a short statement on the Labour Party website that simply said that this candidate had been withdrawn. I was looking for an unequivocal statement that antisemitism had no place in Hastings & Rye CLP. I didn’t get it. Read my letter here: Email to JL & PB
I later heard that Labour’s regional office had instructed the CLP to drop the candidate after complaints had been made. The then Chair of the CLP is now an elected councillor (Paul Barnett, Hollington). After the event he said to me: “I would have handled that so differently” – as if he hadn’t been Chair, and as if my letter hadn’t been addressed to him. He could have handled it differently. But he didn’t.
One of the features of my experience of the Labour Party in Hastings is how impersonal it is. I noticed very early on that no-one asked me questions. No-one wanted to know who I was, what I believed in, what was my background, let alone what my politics were or are (for the record, a fair way to the left of Gordon Brown).
In one way, to be accepted without question is mildly gratifying. But it also makes for superficial relationships where no-one really knows much of substance about anyone else. In a Party which has had a huge influx of new members, it has allowed all sorts of people to put themselves forward for election. I didn’t experience any effective vetting procedures. I literally walked in off the street and within a very short period of time I was a sitting councillor.
Being a candidate for local election
As a candidate I was put in touch with the CLP Women’s Officer, Gill Knight. We became Facebook friends. One night I noticed she had been on what appeared to be a counter-demonstration in London and had posted: “We chased those Zionists down the street!” I instantly unfriended her.
I had been selected for Old Hastings ward, situated in East Branch. In early 2018, the active members became busy promoting me, planning an election campaign, advising on canvassing, strategy, printed election materials. I was grateful to them.
Ken Livingstone’s disciplinary was nearing after he had been suspended for his incessant antisemitism. What do you think? I asked Jay Kramer, vice-chair of East Branch and current vice-chair of the CLP.
“Isn’t what he is saying about Zionists colluding with Hitler true?” she suggested. Absolutely not, I replied.
“But how do you know?” she asked.
“Because Holocaust Studies is a well-established academic area of research and there is no evidence that this is true,” I said. “And quite a lot of evidence that it isn’t.”
What about Corbyn’s defence of an antisemitic mural? I asked her. She thought that “it’s only about one silly mural,” that Jeremy Corbyn “should never have been put in this position”, that he hadn’t had time to sort out the issue of antisemitism because he’d had to fight two leadership elections in the previous two years, and that he had “been forced to accept” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism [IHRA for short], with a clear implication that he therefore should not be bound by it.
It was after the “Enough is Enough” demonstration by Jews outside Parliament. “Jews should have complained quietly,” she said.
“So it’s the Jewish community at fault, not Corbyn?” I asked. “Would you say that to any other minority community?”
Her final comments were that it was worse in the Tory party, and that all the allegations of antisemitism were coming from “a hidden agenda” of the political right. She then accused me of being right wing.
“No,” I said, very firmly. “I am on the left. This has nothing to do with left and right, this is about antisemitism”.
I felt like withdrawing my candidacy after that conversation with Jay Kramer, which upset me enough to note it down. It was becoming clear to me that there was ignorance and group-think in Hastings Labour.
In March 2018, Erica Smith, a prominent community activist, and newly active within Labour, posted on Facebook that she felt she was in the middle of a “witchhunt”, and “witch trials”, the expression usually used by an antisemite when exposed as such. There were over 120 comments agreeing with her, denying antisemitism in Labour and agreeing it was a “smear”. Only three people posted otherwise. At the end of the comments, Erica wrote a rather smug self-congratulatory note about how pleased she was that they had managed such a civilised discussion about the matter. She completely missed the fact that no real discussion had taken place – they had simply agreed with each other.
During this canvassing period, Cllr Sue Beaney was finding that antisemitism was an issue on the doorstep. She told me she was replying that she “didn’t understand the issues”. I offered to talk her through them. She said: “Maybe as a cabinet we need a line on the Jewish question”. I felt like screaming but instead I explained: “There is no Jewish question. That phrase is straight out of the Nazi handbook. The Final Solution was Hitler’s response to the so-called Jewish question. There is no Jewish question in the same way there isn’t a Muslim question or a Christian question or a Buddhist question.” I hope she got it.
During a break in a mass canvas on 21st April 2018, a few of us were sitting around someone’s kitchen table. Young Labour activists had been bussed in to help and two YL young women were present. I was talking to someone but in the background, I heard one of the long-standing councillors, Mike Turner (Baird), criticising Israel.
Mike Turner first denied that there was a problem with antisemitism in Labour, simply because he hadn’t seen it. One of the Young Labour women pointed out that her Director was Jewish, and that she had seen the Director’s inbox full of antisemitic hate mail. Mike Turner insisted it was from the Right. I told him that according to figures from Labour Against Antisemitism there was a minimum backlog of 1000 antisemitic complaints, and that they had another 1000 more to submit.
It had been a pointed but generally civilised discussion around a kitchen table. But then Mike Turner stood up, stooped over the table, began waving his hand in my face, and shouted at me:
“Do you know I used to work in Israel right near the Lebanon border when Israel invaded. There were fighter jets screaming past and they bombed a school. A school!” And they were cheering! Cheering because they had bombed a school! I asked a man why they were cheering and he said he didn’t know. Are you going to condemn that? Go on, condemn that, here and now! Go on!”
His statements were incoherentbut he continued to scream in my face: “Go on condemn it, NOW!”
I told him that I didn’t have the facts in front of me but that it is a very complex issue and that there had been terrible wrongs on both sides, and both sides had legitimate claims and grievances. Mike Turner kept shouting at me to condemn Israel: “They bombed a school! Do you agree with that? What about Boris Johnson? He called people picaninnies! What about Amber Rudd?”
Witnesses included one current councillor, Warren Davies (also Baird). No-one stopped him bullying me in this way, or even remarked on his behaviour. As I walked out, Mike Turner yelled from behind me: “You’ve just accused everyone in Labour of being antisemitic!” I denied that I had done this; he insisted that I had. I asked those present if they had heard me do that.
“You implied it,” was Mike Turner’s final response.
I could have made a formal complaint to the Labour group Whip about Mike Turner. Except I couldn’t because Mike Turner was the Whip.
On 20th April 2018, the Hastings Independent Press published a piece on Labour antisemitism that was full of ignorance and misinformation about the Jewish community, and came close to saying that all Jews were rich conservatives. I wrote another letter correcting the misinformation.
Being an HBC Councillor
Despite my growing ambivalence, I didn’t withdraw. I was elected to represent Old Hastings in the May 2018 local elections. The role was exciting, stimulating, interesting. I approached it with due seriousness, engagement, respect and competence.
In Full Council on 23rd July 2018, the Leader of the Tories, Rob Lee, asked Peter Chowney:
“My question is to the Leader of the Council. Leader of the Council, we have agreed many times that this town should be an inclusive Council, indeed an inclusive town… (sound obscured). ..And on that basis, do you agree with the definition of antisemitism, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance?”
Peter Chowney replied: “I don’t know what it is….I don’t think it’s relevant to Hastings Council. If I don’t know what the definition is I can’t really answer that.” View video here. (You need a My Hastings account to log-in and see it).
I immediately wrote to Peter, linked to IHRA, outlined my experience of antisemitism in Hastings, and implored him to take the issue seriously. You can read my email here: Letter to PC July 2018. I didn’t receive a response. When I saw him three days later, he professed not to have received the email. I re-sent it. He sent a short reply back:
“It might have been better to talk to me about this, rather than sending me such an unpleasant, accusatory email.”
I wrote to him again. Would he like to engage with the substance of what I had written? He responded to this message by saying he didn’t want to continue the conversation by email but agreeing to meet.
At that meeting on 15th August 2018, I took along a pack of articles and information about antisemitism, Israel, Jewish culture, and where they intersected with the current Labour Party zeitgeist (also given to several other councillors at other times). Peter Chowney professed to know about antisemitism because he had often seen it as a Hackney Councillor; however all the examples he gave me were that of violent right-wing antisemitism. He wouldn’t admit to left-wing antisemitism other than saying that in a party of 500,000 members, some of them were bound to be antisemitic.
He said that now he had read IHRA, he was willing to put it on the Council agenda.
We agreed that Cllr Leah Levane and certain other members would not accept it. I suggested antisemitism training for all Members. He agreed, saying that it would increase the quality of the debate. I wanted the training to be organised in the same semi-compulsory way that all the other councillor training is organised. But he said: “I can’t force Councillors to attend and I think we should discuss this in group.” We were back to the question of whether the majority of the group would accept it, and we both doubted that they would.
“Who would conduct the training?” Peter asked. There is only one credible answer to that, which is, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), who offer free antisemitism training to Labour councillors. The Jewish Labour Movement was formally affiliated to the Labour Party in 1920 and has been the representative forum for Jewish people and their allies in Labour for nearly 100 years. It is still the only Jewish affiliate organisation to the party and 2020 will be the centenary anniversary of that relationship. But the last four years have tested that relationship considerably. JLM members voted not to disaffiliate from Labour at their 2019 AGM. However, they will now not campaign for a Corbyn-led Labour government due to his lack of action on antisemitism in Labour’s ranks.
What was equally clear was that Leah Levane would not accept training from JLM. Her organisation, JVL, was set up explicitly to oppose the JLM. We agreed that I would research antisemitism trainers who could train all elected members, not just Labour ones, as a way of avoiding the Labour group blocking the proposal.
I left feeling more encouraged. But I encountered a problem. JLM training refers specifically to left-wing antisemitism, with examples, and therefore provides it for Labour Party members only (to avoid giving ammunition to the Tories). This took me back to the problem of the group not just accepting training but attending as well. I rang every large Jewish communal organisation and not one could do it. I was told there were moves afoot to initiate Local Government Association antisemitism training but that would take months before it came to fruition (and still hasn’t as far as I am aware, although it is desperately needed).
I discussed it with Cabinet member Colin Fitzgerald, also giving him my info pack. “We should just go ahead and organise it for Labour,” he said. That’s what I wanted to hear. I emailed Peter Chowney, copying Colin in, to say just this. He emailed back: “We could put it on a Labour group agenda. Is this free though?” I was exasperated and wrote to him again:
“I’m not convinced that putting it on the Labour Group agenda is the best way forward with this. We wouldn’t put it on the agenda if the training was available to the Tories – it would simply be organised and the date made known to members – so I don’t see why we need to do that now.
In my view, I should think you could simply make a decision that we will have the training, let me get on and organise it, and when the date is set you could strongly encourage the Labour Group to go to it, and explain why the Tories aren’t invited!”
I didn’t receive a reply from either Peter or Colin. That confirmed to me that neither was prepared to support this initiative, or take a stand as a matter of principle. I knew I would not get antisemitism training to happen without Peter Chowney’s active support. To date, no antisemitism training for members has taken place.
Dates of religious significance
Rosh Hashana and Kol Nidre, September 2018: the two most important and holy dates in the Jewish calendar, Jewish New Year and the start of the Day of Atonement. The Council had arranged meetings on both these dates, meetings that as a conscientious councillor I should attend. I gave my apologies, saying why, and suggesting that dates of religious significance should generally be avoided when arranging meetings in future.
Peter Chowney said that religious dates couldn’t be done as there would be too many dates to avoid in an already full calendar. He added that it wasn’t for the Council to decide what the most important religious dates are. I suggested that there were clear and known important dates in the major religions, and that anyway, it would certainly be easy to take advice on which ones if required. “We could discuss it in group,” he replied.
I brought it up in the September 2018 Group meeting. “I’m really surprised to have to bring this to your attention” I said. “I thought these were basic equalities issues and that these battles had been fought back in the 1970s. We boast about having about fifty nationalities living in Hastings, but can’t manage to organise our calendar to enable them to participate in civic life if they wanted to.”
I read out an email from the Leeds City Council Equalities Team, who had outlined for me how they take a “common sense” approach to avoiding the most important dates in the major religions. It clearly demonstrated that it isn’t too difficult and undermined Peter Chowney’s argument.
Following my presentation, Peter repeated his position that he didn’t agree with avoiding religious dates and that it would be too technically difficult to do it. Kim Forward also spoke against it because she was “an atheist” and “there are important dates to my family that I can’t take off”. The result was bureaucratic: it was agreed that it would be put on the agenda of the next Working Arrangements Group (which at that point was meeting every six months).
By the Autumn I was waking up with a sense of dread, and every further antisemitic incident in Labour – and there were many – increased my anxiety and unease. I realised that Hastings councillors were too ignorant, too complacent and too tribal to take any principled stand on the issue. It seemed that they didn’t think it had anything to do with them.
I resigned on 13th February 2019 with a huge sense of relief. Goodbye to cognitive dissonance, and hello again to the freedom to speak my mind without being fettered by the sinister term “uncomradely behaviour”.
Having made it known within local Labour, I made it more widely known and received an encouragingly large number of messages of support, both from within and outside the party, and from many Hastings residents. One member of my creative writing group left, despite “the fact that you are an inspirational teacher”, because she was “a big supporter” of Jeremy Corbyn.
Also selected as a candidate at the same time as me, for the town centre ward, was Leah Levane, a member of Hastings & Rye CLP. She is well known for trying to persuade the Labour Party conference in 2017 to adopt a watered-down definition of antisemitism in place of IHRA, the internationally agreed definition, which has been adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service, the UK Government, 31 countries around the world, and a growing number of local authorities in the UK. The CLP-mandated delegation, which included Paul Barnett, failed in their mission. They subsequently toured each of the Hastings Labour branches and seemed to revel in the story of the disruption they had caused and the high-level Labour Party officials they had met and the attention they had received. “We’ve put Hastings on the map!” said one of them.
At that very same conference, Leah Levane and some of her long-time confederates launched a deeply problematic organisation called Jewish Voice for Labour, or JVL for short, of which she became co-Chair (a position she still holds). To mark the occasion, they invited anti-Israel activist Miko Peled to talk in a fringe session where he stated that free speech should involve allowing the questioning of the Holocaust, and whether it took place. Holocaust denial is hardly free speech.
Members of the Brighton & Hove Jewish community complained to Brighton Council about this meeting, about statements on the conference floor made by the JVL media officer Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, about verbal abuse of people identified as Jewish within the conference centre, and about the comments made at this Free Speech On Israel/JVL fringe meeting.
Warren Morgan, then Labour Council Leader in Brighton, rightly condemned this as antisemitic activity at the Labour Party conference:
“It was my view that these incidents were in breach of a number of Council policies on equalities and anti-racism, and that they had caused distress and fear amongst residents of the city to whom I and the city council had a duty of care…I subsequently wrote to the then General Secretary of the Labour Party, in my capacity as Council leader, asking that all possible measures to prevent a recurrence of these statements and incidents be put in place by the Party before it returned to the city.”
It is his view, and mine, that: “membership of JVL is not compatible with elected office under the Macpherson Principle or the standard code of conduct applicable to councillors.”
Hard left Momentum founder Jon Lansman has several times publicly described JVL as “irrelevant” and existing only to deny antisemitism in Labour. He gave his analysis and opinion of the organisation in a leaked letter to co-Chairs Levane and Jenny Manson. It’s worth quoting that letter since it summarises the problematical nature of JVL and its membership from someone who is well placed to know all about it:
“You no doubt believe that you are expressing the views of progressive socialist Jews, and yes I am aware of many progressive socialist Jews who, after backing Jeremy Corbyn in two leadership elections and in the 2017 general election, are now considering leaving the party or have already done so, and JVL’s existence has been partly responsible.
“JVL behaves as if it speaks for Jewish socialists. It does not. And too many of its members self-define as “Jews” only to attack other Jews…neither the vast majority of individual members of JVL nor the organisation itself can really be said to be part of the Jewish community since the organisation was set up to oppose the conclusion that I’m afraid that every significant Jewish community organisation has arrived at about the Labour Party. I do think it is possible to eradicate antisemitism in the Labour Party and to defend the Labour Left’s project but not by denial of the problem within the Labour Party. The fact that JVL insists on defending those who deny the problem and many of those who have clearly brought the Labour Party into disrepute (whether they are antisemitic or not) means, I am afraid, that I regard JVL as part of the problem … of Labour antisemitism. And as a consequence of that, I’m afraid it ill-serves the cause of Palestinian rights too..”
The full letter can be read here.
JVL repeatedly and actively supports Labour Party members who are facing disciplinary action for antisemitism (Wadsworth, Williamson, Livingstone, Walker, Willsman). Levane herself attended Jackie Walker’s disciplinary hearing as a character witness (Walker was expelled for, amongst other things, blaming the Slave Trade on Jews), as well as that of Hastings CLP member Kevin Towner (empanelled to stand for election in Hastings in May 2020) who, in answer to the question of why people where leaving the Labour Party gave a list of reasons that included: “Because they’re Zionists?” There is no requirement to prove Jewishness to join, and judging by the commentary on JVL social media pages, a considerable number are antisemites, which is what Lansman is referring to in his sentence about self-identifying “Jews” who join ”only to attack other Jews”.
Leah Levane attended the Enough is Enough demonstration on 26th March 2018 as part of a JVL counter-demonstration denying antisemitism in Labour and calling it a “witchhunt”, a mechanism designed to turn the perpetrators into victims, and the victims into perpetrators.
Peter Chowney had one-to-one meetings with the new candidates before the May 2018 election. Amongst other things we spoke about, I brought up the issue of antisemitism. Peter Chowney told me: “I had a lot of sympathy with Warren Morgan before he made those comments about Conference.”
Leah Levane was also elected to Hastings Borough Council in May 2018. After the election, the then professional Organiser told me he had received a call from the Regional office, asking if they should expel Leah Levane before or after the election. He told them, “after”.
After I resigned
At the Full Council budget meeting on 20th February 2019, Cllr Leah Levane wore a very large red JVL badge. When I stood up to speak, I criticised the Tories who wanted 25 jobs cut to balance the local authority budget, and ended with the sentence: “I am as incensed by this as I am by Cllr Levane wearing a JVL badge, an organisation that exists solely to legitimise antisemitism in Labour and to delegitimise the state of Israel.”
The Labour councillors booed me and I had to shout over them to be heard. I sent an email to both Peter Chowney and the Chief Legal Officer (CLO), asking if they thought it appropriate that she wear this badge in public meetings. Peter Chowney didn’t answer my email. The CLO told me verbally that she thought not and had so advised the Labour Whip.
I noticed that Leah Levane was more actively promoting JVL in Hastings; and in my view, using her position as a councillor to promote this problematic organisation.
I found a “Free Speech on Israel” flyer in my Council mailbox (see Note 2). A public meeting was organised. She gave an interview, as a councillor, to Hastings Online Times, where she promoted JVL, and minimised the issue of antisemitism in the Party, by saying:
“the figures of its existence are tiny, significantly less than half a percent”. (Actually, these figures refer to the number of complaints investigated at the time, and ignores the very significant backlog of cases waiting to be dealt with). She said: “it seems clear that it is also being used as a weapon by more right-wing parts of the Labour Party”.
She was a signatory to various media letters denying antisemitism in Labour, two of which included the signature of Antonia Berelson (St Helens). Maya Evans (Hollington) also signed one such letter.
Now that I was no longer part of the team, I had the freedom to explicitly show councillors the nature of JVL. There is a document by “JVL Watch” that gathered together evidence of antisemitic activity by JVL management and members, which had been sent to every MP in Parliament. Read it here: JVL Dossier and have a look at this: JVL update document. I sent an email to all HBC councillors that summarised the key points and offered to meet with all or any of them to talk them through the issues. Only Rob Lee, Tory leader, responded to that email. Knowing that the Labour councillors were more willing to believe Leah Levane’s defence than me, a few days later I emailed the full report so they could see the evidence themselves. I did not receive any response.
How has the Labour group behaved towards me since I resigned? The first thing Peter Chowney did was try to have me removed as a Trustee of the Magdalen and Lasher Charity, a wonderful organisation that distributes hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to the most needy of Hastings residents with the minimum of bureaucracy, and runs Old Hastings House care home. Being a Trustee goes with the role of being an Old Hastings councillor, from whichever party, or indeed none as I now am. Peter Chowney instructed the Chief Legal Officer (CLO) to investigate the terms of my appointment to the Board in order to find out if I could be replaced. (I’m still a Trustee, and I find it one of the most rewarding parts of the role).
I was told that Mike Turner had told the group that they now shouldn’t talk to me. Most of the long-standing members ignore me. We may be standing next to each other at an event, but councillors Judy Rogers and Kim Forward will not say hello or even acknowledge my presence.
I heard that the group allowed a 40-minute rant against me by Cllr Levane at one of their meetings, with only Sue Beaney daring to point out this was rather unfair since I wasn’t there to defend myself. As a result, Sue Beaney was disciplined by the Whip for “uncomradely behaviour” towards Cllr Levane, and made to apologise to her. I don’t think she has dared say a thing since.
Apparently Cabinet member Cllr Judy Rogers dismissed my whistleblowing as simply ‘a JLM/JVL turf war’. Cllr Andy Batsford doesn’t understand how it is possible for a Jew to be antisemitic (see note 3 below). “I don’t know why we can’t just admit there are antisemites in the Labour Party,” said my Old Hastings co-councillor James Bacon rather cheerfully, as if this was a perfectly acceptable proposition. James Bacon has assured me that he “isn’t like the others” without giving me any evidence to support this assertion. I was reminded of the adage: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”
Palestinian Solidarity Campaign
I received an email from a Jewish resident. She felt “intimidated and harassed” at the presence of the PSC stall in Hastings town centre, complete with large Palestinian flags. “I think few people other than you would understand that it makes me feel intimidated even harassed to see local campaigners in favour of such hateful politics. I usually avoid the town centre completely because of it.”
She didn’t want to complain directly to the Council because, as she was Jewish, she was nervous that the Council wouldn’t take her complaint seriously. I assured her that Officers would not discriminate against her, and urged her to contact the Council directly. She wrote to the Licensing department explaining, amongst other things, something about Palestinian politics and how the presence of this stall makes Jews feel unwelcome in Hastings. I sent a back up email in support of her. She asked that I kept her name confidential because otherwise “PSC supporters would troll me online if they knew I’d complained.”
The Council directed both of us to Love Hastings, the town centre management company. It took a series of 15 emails and a large amount of my time before the Manager, having spent some time explaining to me at unnecessary length the concepts of democracy, freedom of speech and the complexity of the Israel Palestinian conflict, agreed to do his job and make sure that the PSC were not intimidating passers-by.
Hastings PSC brought Miko Peled for an evening of anti-Israel rhetoric at the White Rock Hotel just last month (October 2019). He received a glowing write-up in the Hastings Independent Press.
On the 15th May 2019 Full Council meeting, Peter Chowney presented the Council’s programme for the year. Nearly every councillor used their allotted three minutes to comment on it. I stood up to speak, in order to say the following:
“I listened to Cllr Chowney’s and Cllr Lee’s speeches with interest. Both focused on the difficult finances of the Council. It is a huge issue. But to my mind there are other issues which this Council needs to address, and those issues are to do with the values of the Council, the ethics and standards by which it conducts itself. Therefore to illustrate my point, I want to draw your attention to a very shocking event that took place in London last Saturday. Bear with me, because I return to the year’s programme after I have given my example.
“Here’s a warning to the Jewish leadership. While you foment your campaign of allegations of antisemitism against Corbyn and the left to silence Israel’s critics while you cry wolf, month after month, year after year in the Labour Party…you are not part of the solution – you are part of the problem…We have our own Republicans here – a fifth column inside the Labour Party. 190 Labour Friends of Israel MPs led by Hodge and Watson and the Jewish Labour Movement.”
I repeat: rather than acknowledging that Jews are the victims of antisemitism, which they are, the Secretary of JVL said that Jews are part of the problem of antisemitism, implying that they are somehow responsible for the antisemites’ behaviour. He has said that 190 elected representatives in the House of Commons are “a fifth column”, in a clear reference to the antisemitic trope that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their home country. Further, anybody supporting Israel is now somehow also guilty.
I shouldn’t have to explain this, but my experience shows me it is absolutely necessary. Antisemitism is caused by antisemites. This is a basic truth. Antisemitism is not a problem of the Jews, it is a problem of the society in which it arises. It is a problem for all of us, including you.
As I have said before, and repeat again, this is yet further evidence that JVL is a racist antisemitic organisation.
My question is to invite Cllr Fitzgerald to comment on whether he thinks it is appropriate that a Labour Party councillor should be associated with a racist antisemitic organisation, and whether it is compatible with being an elected member of Hastings Borough Council?”
This is what I wanted to say. Unfortunately, I only got as far as “of which Cllr Levane is co-Chair” before the Labour group erupted into boos and heckles, shouting me down. The Chair of the meeting, Nigel Sinden, repeatedly told me to sit down and kept turning my microphone off. I kept turning it back on, and struggled to continue.
You can view that shameful behaviour here, 1.53 minutes in. (Unfortunately, the sound quality of the recording is poor and doesn’t capture the sheer noise level of Labour’s booing and heckling).
The Secretary of JVL, Glyn Secker, was suspended from the Labour Party because of that speech. It was the second time he has faced suspension for antisemitism.
I have done everything I can do with the Labour Group, and following all the Council’s procedures, to ask them to address their local issues with antisemitism. They have not acted.
I heard indirectly that Peter Chowney has taken a strong stand against me and in support of Cllr Levane. Apparently he told the Labour group, amongst other things, that:
- My emails were “lies” and “libellous”. (Actually, they have been factual and backed by evidence, which he and other councillors have chosen to ignore. Further, everything I have sent or put in the public domain, including this testimony, has first been read by a lawyer and amended if necessary).
- I was a “lazy councillor”. (Old Hastings is known as the busiest ward in the town and the Labour group itself stopped me from joining the committees I am most suited to).
- I had been “influenced by others”. (Presumably he was referring to something like a Zionist lobby or conspiracy, rather than the 93% of the UK Jewish community who agree that Labour is institutionally antisemitic, and that JVL is a deeply problematic organisation).
For your information, the Labour group voted Leah Levane to the role of Chair at their AGM in May 2019. She has been selected for re-election to Castle ward in May 2020.
On a personal level, this has been a disappointing and sad two years. It has been a slow unfolding of incidents, events and increasing knowledge, to the point where I now truly believe that Hastings & Rye CLP, and the Labour Party generally, are institutionally antisemitic.
This document reveals how that institutional antisemitism plays out locally, in one small town. My understanding is that this is being repeated in many towns, across many CLPs, and it mirrors the takeover of the Labour Party by ideologues at the national level.
The Conservative Party are in no better condition than the Labour Party. I am unwilling to throw away my right to vote. I will therefore be voting for Nick Perry, the Lib Dem candidate, on December 12th.
Further notes on the issues:
Note 1: “as-a-Jews”
In the Labour Party, there are a number of people who use the Jewish identity as collateral to deny antisemitism. The common form this takes is to start a sentence: “speaking as a Jew”, and go on to deny the existence of antisemitism in the Labour Party, or to call it a right-wing smear against the Party.
Read journalist David Aaronovich on AsaJews here.
The co-Chair of JVL, Jenny Manson, has admitted that she only identifies as Jewish to help her anti-israel activism
Note 2: IHRA
IHRA does not stop free speech on Israel, it stops free antisemitic speech on Israel, specifically:
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Note 3: How can a Jew be antisemitic?
The Jewish community has a cultural concept of the “self-hating Jew”
There are many reasons why someone might hate themselves. Personally, I have noticed this basic psychological formulation in some Jewish people I have met:
They have dysfunctional family issues during their formative years, leading to internal conflict over their Jewish identity. They externalise and then dramatise their personal conflict by working ferociously against the world’s single, most potent symbol of Jewishness: the State of Israel.
I’ve come to the conclusion that sadly, these are the types of Jews that the people I’ve met in the Labour Party in Hastings are most familiar with.
Download pdf copy of this document here: Final DL