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