Labour General Secretary candidate Paul Hilder – the least well-known to many Labour members of the three known to have applied so far – has spoken at length to the SKWAWKBOX about his view of the General Secretary position and how he sees the future organisation of the Labour Party.
But one area of particularly sharp interest at the moment, in view of recent events, is that of the suspension or expulsion of a number of predominantly Jewish members on charges of antisemitism. Hilder spoke frankly of his view of the situation.
SKWAWKBOX: What do you make of the suspensions, particularly those of largely Jewish people accused of a/s and what would you do about those and the cases of people suspended during the purge who still haven’t had their cases resolved or suspensions lifted?
PH: I’m not sufficiently informed about the detail of the current controversies around anti-semitism investigations to comment on specific cases, nor do I think that would be appropriate. Let me instead state a few simple principles.
First, anti-semitism is always and unequivocally wrong. This worldview has a genocidal legacy and a toxic nature. Anti-semites are not welcome in the Labour Party, and in any incident where a hate-crime may have been committed – against a person from any background – the police should be involved.
Second, every member is entitled to justice and due process, with decisions being made as swiftly as possible, and on the basis of evidence and reason rather than factional interest. But I would review the process if appointed as General Secretary, because it seems (from a distance) to be imperfect at present.
Third, we must not blur the lines between anti-semitism and legitimate criticism of the policies of the state of Israel. I spent almost five years working around the edges of the Middle East peace process, talking to everyone from settlers to militants.
I spoke with Hamas leaders in Gaza and in Beirut; anti-Semitic opinions were impossible to avoid. I also spoke with radical settlers who openly proposed acts of genocide and war crimes against the Palestinians, such as bombing the Temple Mount.
People adopt extreme opinions in the midst of hot conflicts, and there are shades of grey. But there are also clear lines you cannot cross if you want to be a member of the Labour Party, and anti-semitism and Islamophobic prejudice are two of those red lines.
I hope my experience has helped me understand these issues better; and I also believe that a background in conflict management and conflict resolution may be helpful to the party in the months and years to come.
The three candidates have so far taken different approaches to their candidacy.
Unite’s Jennie Formby has maintained – with the exception of a dignified comment on Nick Cohen’s vile article in today’s Observer – a public silence on her suitability for the General Secretary job, letting her critics expose their own prejudices, as indeed Cohen has done, and feeling that a public debate on a non-elected position may generate more heat than light to the detriment of the party.
Jon Lansman has spoken to media largely through spokespeople. Some journalists have claimed Momentum has also been ‘briefing’ to the media, but this has been hotly denied by Momentum’s official press office.
Hilder – widely considered to be the outside chance but personally confident – has gone on record with details of his views and plans.
Whichever candidate you think will make the best General Secretary, his comments on controversial allegations of antisemitism and the distinction between that and legitimate criticism of Israeli policies ought to be welcomed by all who have been critical, from whatever viewpoint, of their handling up to now.
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