Leading Israel lobby MP quits Labour

Louise Ellman is the chairperson of Labour Friends of Israel.

Joel Goodman ZUMA Press

Labour Friends of Israel’s chairperson Louise Ellman quit as a member of Labour on Wednesday evening, demanding a “different leadership” in the UK’s main opposition party.

“Jeremy Corbyn is not fit to serve as our prime minister,” she wrote in a statement she also posted on Twitter. “With a looming general election and the possibility of him becoming prime minister, I feel I have to take a stand.”

Ellman has long been been facing calls by local members for her to quit as MP. Earlier this month she was facing imminent no-confidence motions.

Party officials and the Labour leadership stepped in to protect Ellman from these actions, but it seems she’s had enough.

A source in Ellman’s local Labour constituency party told The Electronic Intifada that Ellman had been “politically crushed in Liverpool Riverside by ordinary members.” She “knew it was game over,” the source said.

The MP for the Riverside constituency in Liverpool will retain her seat in Parliament for now.

But her re-election in any new election seems highly improbable, since she will no longer be a Labour candidate. Riverside is one of the country’s most safe seats for Labour, and Liverpool is a solidly left-wing northern city.

The Riverside scandal

Ellman went on in her statement to claim that Corbyn could pose a “threat” to the country and particularly to British Jews.

But a recent investigation by a left-wing Jewish group severely undermines Ellman’s claim to be the victim of anti-Jewish racism in the party.

On the contrary, in a statement released on Thursday, Jewish Voice for Labour said their report shows evidence of Jews in Ellman’s constituency “facing harassment because they oppose her unquestioning pro-Israel stance,” as well as “her attempt to cut British aid for Palestinians schools; and her open hostility to Corbyn.”

Jewish Voice for Labour concluded in the report that since the spring of 2016, there has been “a systematic campaign by Ellman and her anti-Corbyn allies” in Liverpool “to disempower and drive out members who back the socialist, internationalist politics of the Labour leadership.”

The detailed report is based on extensive conversations between Jewish Voice for Labour and local Labour members, as well as an extensive trove of primary documents and audio recordings since 2016.

Local Labour members say they are the victim of a media-led witch hunt encouraged by Ellman and her right-wing party allies.

The report contains some hair-raising findings.

The campaign against ordinary Labour members in Liverpool has included:

  • Wide-ranging, un-evidenced smears of anti-Semitism;
  • A widely-circulated dossier on “the far-left” in Liverpool’s Labour Party authored by an unnamed person or persons who apparently infiltrated the local chapter of left-wing group Momentum to steal minutes, content from private online forums and other internal documents;
  • An allegedly doctored audio recording intended to smear a local leftist;
  • And “distressing” attacks by the right against left-wing Jewish members.

Smears

Jewish Voice’s for Labour’s investigation details how the smears against Liverpool Labour members really kicked off in April 2016 – weeks ahead of local elections which had been regarded as Corbyn’s first real electoral test.

The initial allegations, put forth by Ellman allies like right-wing Labour councilor Nick Small, claimed that at a local party meeting, one member had alleged that Israel was “behind [the] rise in anti-Semitism.”

But as the report states, there was no mention in any of the reporting that the comments were by Helen Marks, who is herself Jewish.

Small’s rendering of Marks’ comment was inaccurate, the report states. In fact she “suggested that if there had been a rise in anti-Semitism, particularly in the Labour Party, as Ellman had argued, this might be due in part to the actions of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians.”

The idea that Israel’s wars against Palestinians are often followed by upticks in anti-Semitism is by no means Marks’ original idea, the report says. The Community Security Trust, or CST, “which monitors anti-Semitic incidents noted a 500 percent rise following Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014.”

The CST is a charity which monitors levels of anti-Semitism in the UK, but which also privately lobbies for Israel and in favor of Zionism.

“Silencing”

Marks told a Labour Party investigator “how distressing it was for her to face anti-Semitism allegations, given her experience as a British Jew whose ancestors had fled bigotry and violence in Russia and Poland before World War I and whose father had lost most of his extended family during the Nazi Holocaust.”

She told the party official that “silencing is what has been happening to people, like myself, critical of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, and this has sadly been done by members of the Labour Party who have equated such criticism with anti-Semitism.”

In September 2016, Corbyn was facing a leadership challenge from the Labour right, after a coup attempt launched by Labour Friends of Israel supporter Margaret Hodge in June.

Amid all this, right-wing libertarian blog Guido Fawkes published a dossier claiming to expose “far-left infiltration of the Labour Party in Liverpool since September 2015” (the month Corbyn was first elected).

Jewish Voice for Labour found that the dossier “was presented as if it revealed a sinister, anti-Semitic Trotskyite plot, justifying Ellman’s public campaign against members of her own CLP.”

The dossier itself is a scurrilous series of smears; a tenuous conspiracy theory seeking to conflate the then-new left-wing group Momentum with the Trotskyist Militant tendency, which made waves in Liverpool in the 1980s.

But the document does contain some telling admissions about its own agenda.

As Jewish Voice for Labour notes, the anonymous dossier “in effect made clear that Louise Ellman faced challenges from the left because of her opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and her support for the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestine and Palestinians – not because of her being Jewish.”

One of the “key figures” of the “hard left” that it targeted was Jeremy Hawthorn who “has been an active campaigner with Liverpool Friends of Palestine.”

“Black-op”

Guido Fawkes’ own analysis of the dossier is worth noting. The blog claimed at the time that it had been authored by unnamed “Labour Party moderates.” They said it contained “highly professional, forensic levels of detail.”

Labour HQ denied to the blog that was an official party document.

“Whoever carried out the extensive investigation must have had significant abilities and resources,” Guido wrote. “This is not an amateur job, it is a forensic red-on-red black op which found its way to the press to diminish the party leadership. Note that it’s written in the official party font.”

Despite the blog’s claim that the dossier was written by Labour “moderates” it remains unclear who exactly the author of this “highly professional … black op” was.

This long campaign against the Labour left in Liverpool resulted in an investigation by party bureaucrats.

Although this investigation, led by now-resigned staffer Ben Westerman, ultimately found no evidence of anti-Semitism, the local party was still sanctioned.

Labour’s ruling national executive imposed restrictive conditions on Labour meetings in Liverpool Riverside, which “initially benefited Louise Ellman’s anti-Corbyn faction,” the Jewish Voice for Labour report found.

Westerman and Ellman’s allegations played a prominent part in a now widely discredited episode of the BBC’s Panorama program on the issue in July.

Westerman claimed to have been asked by a Liverpool member if he was “from Israel,” and said that as a Jewish person, he had been shocked to face such anti-Semitism.

But an investigation by The Canary, based on an audio recording of Westerman’s interview severely undermined the former official’s claims.

The audio showed that the woman had actually asked “what branch are you in,” and had not asked where he was “from” – and crucially had said nothing about Israel at all.

Quitting Labour

Like other right-wing members of Parliament who have quit in protest against left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn this year, Ellman is refusing to call a by-election.

Unlike others MPs, however, Ellman said in her statement on Wednesday night that she would not be joining any other party.

Ellman’s predecessor as LFI chairperson Joan Ryan quit Labour in February this year, to join the new Independent Group for Change party.

The party – which is polling at insignificant figures – was funded by prominent Israel lobby donors.

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As I’m sure many people who subscribe to EI are aware, of the ten people in the Panorama program and were presented as ordinary Jewish Labour Party members, seven of them were/are executive committee members of the Jewish Labour Movement, and one of the other three their former Campaigns Officer. Just about all of them made claims that they had been subjected to anti-semitic abuse at ‘meetings’, and although they could only possibly be referring to meetings of their local CLPs, they ALL avoided saying as much AND naming the CLP as such.

Ella Rose, for example – who appeared at the outset claiming that someone came up to her and screamed abuse in her face whilst she was handing out leaflets at a LP conference – finished by saying that she could never tell a friend to go to a LP meeting, and that she could never do that to someone she cares about. Unlike the other participants in the program – ie the former staff and the so-called experts – John Ware was conveniently absent from their segments – ie the ten ‘ordinary Jewish LP members’ – whereas had he been present, I’m sure most viewers would have expected him to ask Rose what her experiences had been at meetings. BUT, what WE were viewing was the finished product, and it is inconceivable that when Ella Rose and the other ‘ordinary Jewish Labour Party members’ were initially interviewed by John Ware and Co, they wouldn’t have asked for details. I mean can you imagine Ella Rose saying to Ware and Co that she could never tell a friend to go to a Labour Party meeting etc, and not one of them asking her why that is AND what her experience has been OR which CLP she is referring to. In the REAL world THAT would be inconceivable!

And needless to say, any investigation AND any journalist worthy of the name, would have contacted the CLPs who had allegations made against them to ask them for a response to said allegations AND they would have included them in the program. But Ware and Co DIDN’T, and THAT says it all!

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Ellman's long tenure as MP and her previous role as a councillor on Lancashire County Council should give us pause. Throughout she has been an unflinching supporter of the State of Israel and of the Zionist project. Labour's record on Israel/Palestine is far from untarnished. There were some 100,000 British troops in Palestine during the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and a Labour government in Westminster. However, at least there was honesty from Ernest Bevin when Foreign Secretary: "The fundamental difficulty over Palestine was that the Jews refused to admit that the Arabs were their equals." That remains the fundamental difficulty.
A Labour Party member for 55 years, Ellman was, for all that time, the apologist of a racist regime. If there was any doubt during her early years in the Party, there can be no doubt in the light of the work of Ilan Pappe that Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing and now holds Palestinian prisoners in their own country.
How can a Party which claims to be opposed to all forms of racism harbour members, and not only members but people who hold significant office, who consistently give their backing to a regime founded on racial prejudice? We should not forget that the Israeli Labour movement has been heavily involved in oppression of the Palestinians. Doesn't this suggest the test of authenticity in matters of equality needs to go deeper than support of public services, trade union rights etc? Doesn't it need to go to the essential question of the equality of all human beings, the fact that there is one species only and that distinctions of race are spurious?
That Ellman has jumped to save face as she was facing deselection, not for anything to do with Jewishness, but because of her refusal to support agreed policy, is in keeping. Labour is committed to the right of return for Palestinians. All anti-racists and democrats support that. Resolution 194 is yet to be fulfilled. Only the Israeli State stands in the way.

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Ellman was one of the most poisonous figures in and behind the witch hunt. Animosity towards her in her own constituency had reached levels comparable to how Tories are viewed there, or Rupert Murdoch. Tony Greenstein's blog has a forthright assessment of her character-
http://azvsas.blogspot.com/201...
In particular, dwell for a moment on her interventions, cited, during a debate in Parliament on Israeli abuse of child detainees. (Hint: she's for it.) Anyone who aggressively and repeatedly defends the torture of children is unfit to hold office, and her departure is wholly to be welcomed.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.