Labour intensifies purge of socialists, dissenting Jews

Collage shows two men

Ken Loach and Graham Bash. Labour has expelled the filmmaker and is likely to expel the activist, after both spoke out against the purge of the left and the Palestine solidarity movement. (The Left/Labour In Exile)

The right-wing leadership of the UK’s Labour Party has intensified its purge of the left.

Two of the most high-profile targets came in recent days with the expulsion of veteran socialist filmmaker Ken Loach and a threat to expel Jewish anti-Zionist Graham Bash.

Left-wing group Jewish Voice for Labour says many of its leaders and members are being kicked out and as a result, “Labour is purging Jews from the party.”

Award-winning director Ken Loach announced on Saturday that he had been expelled.

He said that Labour had demanded he “disown those already expelled” and that he would not do so.

“I am proud to stand with the good friends and comrades victimized by the purge,” he wrote. “There is indeed a witch hunt.”

Party leader Keir Starmer “and his clique will never lead a party of the people,” Loach added. “We are many, they are few.”

Loach is the director of such films as The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom and I, Daniel Blake. For decades he has been a supporter of left-wing causes and the rights of Palestinians.

The Labour Party establishment has led a witch hunt against socialists and Palestine solidarity activists for years now. It began in earnest in 2016, soon after Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

Since right-winger Starmer took over the party last year, the purge has only intensified. Starmer – who was funded by the Israel lobby – swiftly declared that he supported “Zionism without qualification” and signaled a sharp turn towards Israel.

Under his leadership, the party hired a former Israeli spy onto Starmer’s staff, banned local members’ debates on Palestine on the pretext of “anti-Semitism” and handed unprecedented party powers to the Israel lobby.

Palestine solidarity activists and the wider left have been steadily kicked out of the party, apparently based on hit lists drawn up by the Israel lobby.

Others, despairing of Starmer’s pro-establishment policies, have felt they have no choice but to resign.

The pretexts for most of these purges has been alleged “anti-Semitism” – which is almost always a code word for supporting Palestinian human rights.

And in recent months, Labour Party lawyers have threatened lawsuits against or tried to intimidate critics and journalists, including The Electronic Intifada.

Bans

The recent wave of purges comes ahead of Labour’s annual conference, due next month in Brighton.

It kicked off last month, with the banning by Labour of four left-wing activist groups: Labour Against the Witchhunt, the Labour in Exile Network, Resist and Socialist Appeal.

All four have campaigned against the witch hunt. Resist was founded by former Labour member of Parliament Chris Williamson, himself a target of the purge.

Labour’s ban means membership of or support for these groups is enough for party members to be expelled – “auto-excluded” in the jargon of party bureaucrats.

Right-wing Labour MP Neil Coyle reacted to the news of the bans by saying they didn’t go far enough, demanding that Jewish Voice for Labour “and other outright communists” should be banned too.

Although the left-wing Jewish group has not yet been officially banned, Labour is targeting its leaders under the latest purge. The group has for years spoken out against expulsions on the pretext of fabricated anti-Semitism.

A wave of emails went out on Friday threatening “possible auto-exclusion” – three of them to prominent Jewish Voice for Labour activists Graham Bash, Leah Levane and Roger Silverman.

Bash is the group’s political officer, a left-wing supporter of the leadership under Corbyn and an anti-Zionist Jewish activist.

His partner is Jackie Walker, a Black and Jewish anti-racist activist, and one of the witch hunt’s most high-profile targets.

Bash has released his response to the Labour Party’s inquisitors as an open letter.

“The current leadership is endangering the very existence of our party and destroying the trust of hundreds of thousands of new members who joined us in and after 2015,” he wrote, referring to the year Corbyn became leader.

“I have been a party member since December 1968 – for over 52 years – and have participated in every general election campaign since 1970, fighting for a socialist Labour government,” he recalled.

“I fear I may become yet another Jewish victim of the witch hunt.”

Jews are being purged

Jewish Voice for Labour earlier this month released a report laying out the evidence that left-wing Jews are being specifically targeted by Keir Starmer’s Labour Party.

“There is considerable evidence that Jewish members have been disproportionally targeted with investigation for anti-Semitism,” the report states.

“It appears that as a population share, almost five times more Jewish than non-Jewish Labour members have faced complaints of anti-Semitism which have been investigated,” it reveals.

“We estimate that Jewish JVL members have been subject to actioned anti-Semitism complaints at a rate 20 times greater than non-Jewish Labour members.”

These shocking figures are the tip of the iceberg.

All this is a form of discrimination “targeted not just at our political beliefs but at the nexus of these beliefs with our Jewish identity,” the group states.

Several other prominent members of the group’s leadership, including Leah Levane and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, have been targeted for suspension or threatened expulsion.

In 2017, the pair gave memorable speeches at the Labour Party’s annual conference in defense of the party against false allegations of anti-Semitism, during what was perhaps the peak of the Corbyn leadership era.

“I feel angry to receive this letter, but also feel honored to be in the firing line at the same time and for the same reasons as many other excellent committed socialists,” wrote Levane last week in response to her Labour inquisitors.

Quitting

Others on the left have seen little choice but to quit the party due to Starmer’s right-wing, anti-Palestinian policies and in solidarity with their purged comrades.

Author and filmmaker Haim Bresheeth-Zabner quit the party on Saturday, “after the fiasco of expelling Ken Loach.”

A former Israeli solider, Bresheeth-Zabner is now an anti-Zionist activist. His history of the Israeli military, An Army Like no Other, was published by Verso last year.

In a letter of resignation to Starmer, seen by The Electronic Intifada, Bresheeth-Zabner said the Labour leader has “perfected a regime of inquisition in the Labour Party, searching for anti-Semitism in every group which supports a just peace in Palestine.”

He said this “is a mark of shame you have justly earned.”

He wrote that Starmer’s unqualified support for Zionism is an “incredible act of political delusion – after all, it was the British Empire which, in 1917, afforded the crucial support to Zionist colonialism and enabled the takeover of Palestine from its indigenous inhabitants through the three decades of British control of the Mandate.”

He added that he felt “unable to be a member of an organization led by such an unprincipled and odious leader. I hereby tender my resignation from the Zionist Labour Party of the British Empire.”

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None of this new to the Labour Party, it goes back to the 1940s/50s and the Cold War and the Labour Party's (willing) participation in witch-hunts against the Left, and it became official Labour Party law including mass expulsions, banning any connection/membership to/of left groups , so you might say that Starmer et al, are following in a not-so-noble Labour Party tradition. It's sad to say it, but a curse on the Labour Party!

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I'm 67 now and was a Labour voter all my life, even (holding my nose) throughout the Blair years. I had never been a member until the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. At last there was real hope of a truly Socialist government. Like thousands of others, I was moved to join the party in order to support Jeremy during that pathetic challenge to his leadership in 2016. Like thousands of others, I resigned in utter disgust after the manufactured General Election defeat in 2019 and Starmer's election as leader. I haven't voted at all since then. I can't imagine I ever will again.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

At The Electronic Intifada he is associate editor and co-host of our podcast.