Analysis comment

Must-read: Jewish member targeted by Labour tells party it is unfit to ‘police Jewish identity’

“the process in which you are complicit at this very moment has terrifying implications for the fight against racism and has already played its part in helping to elect a far-right Conservative government.

Heather Mendick, a Jewish member of the Labour party targeted by the right for standing up against smears, while her own complaints about abuse she has suffered have been ignored.

Now targeted again by the party in its racist purge of left-wing Jews, she has responded to its ‘notice of investigation’ by detailing the antisemitism of the right-wing Labour machine’s conduct and the ‘terrifying’ implications for the genuine fight against racism and for the future of this country.

In her response, posted to her Facebook page, Ms Mendick writes – emphases, along with comments in parentheses, are added by Skwawkbox:

Response to NOi CN-97 48

I am happy to confirm that the newspaper article, 12 tweets and one ‘like’ that you have cited in NOi CN-97 48 are authored by me. These express widespread political opinions about the way that antisemitism is functioning both in the party and in wider society. If taken seriously, the position that I articulate will help the Labour Party to fight against racism.

I do not intend to legitimise these so-called ‘accusations’ with a defence. However, I believe that this is a teachable moment and so will use this NOI to explore problems with the way
‘antisemitism’ is operating in the Labour Party
. I want to ask questions of the people who are placed in a position of judgement over me.

First I note that in August 2019, my Twitter account was listed in the Community and Security Trust’s report Engines of Hate. The report’s authors do not discuss my account except generically but they do state that after looking in detail at my Twitter feed they found no antisemitic material. Nine of the 14 items of evidence cited in the NOI pre-date this report. This exemplifies the shift that has taken place during the past two years not only in what one is allowed to say about Jewish people and antisemitism, but in the very way that we are defining antisemitism.

[CST is a registered charity that has been criticised by noted Jewish historian Geoffrey Alderman for its opaque funding. It was criticised by a tribunal for its ‘unbalanced’ reporting on antisemitism that failed to distinguish between antisemitism and criticism of Israel. It did not find antisemitism in the social media posts for which Labour is now pursuing Ms Mendick.]

Labour demanding responses and action during Jewish holy festivals to ‘police Jewish identity’

Ms Mendick’s response continues:

I received the email accusing me, a Jewish person, of antisemitism on Erev Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year’s Eve] when Jews believe that G-d writes our fate for the coming year in the book of life or the book of death. The email requested a response during the ten days of repentance before Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], the day when G-d seals our fate.

This was done in the name of fighting antisemitism and making the party welcoming for Jewish people. In making this claim, the Labour Party is excluding me from the category of ‘Jewish people’. I cannot express in words how painful and offensive this is. Mine is not an isolated case. There is clear evidence that Jewish members appear disproportionately among those being investigated, suspended and excluded for ‘antisemitism’. This is unsurprising as the Party is using its disciplinary processes to police what members can say about Jewish identity and about anti-Jewish racism, and these are topics on which Jewish people are understandably more likely to speak out than non-Jews.

The policing of Jewish identity and the legitimacy to speak as a member of the UK Jewish community have long been fiercely contested. Nearly a decade ago, Tony Lerman detailed in a Guardian article how this has functioned to protect Israel from criticism in the Jewish diaspora ‘mak[ing] it harder for Jews to criticise by accusing them of disloyalty, succumbing to “Jewish self-hatred”, and being ”fellow travellers” of antisemites – spurious and groundless charges. Jewish critics … are subjected to a process of vilification, demonisation and marginalisation. Since such Jews often describe themselves as being outside the organised Jewish community, ostracising them has been effective. The Jewish establishment in the UK – which includes the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, the Zionist Federation and numerous private groupings of the great and the good – is highly experienced at this. I saw it happen in the 1980s when communal leaders sought to make life impossible for the small but highly active radical Jewish Socialists’ Group. And I became a target for such treatment myself when I was appointed head of the influential Jewish Policy Research (JPR) thinktank for a second time in 2005′.

The Labour Party to its shame has become implicated in this.

Destroying the grassroots left and opening the country to the far right

She goes on:

These processes no longer function just to protect Israel. As Jamie Stern Weiner has documented, they have been extended to destroy the grassroots left insurgency that was inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. This is the most beautiful and powerful political movement in this country during my lifetime. As I say in one of the tweets cited in the NOI: ‘the only logical end point of this is to say that the whole global left is guilty of supporting antisemitism and needs to be destroyed. After which, there’ll be nobody left to stand against the spread of fascism, to protest the people doing Nazi salutes in the streets’.

In other words, the process in which you are complicit at this very moment, has terrifying implications for the fight against racism and has already played its part in helping to elect a far-right Conservative government.

This systematic ongoing attack on the Labour left within which the party’s disciplinary processes are being used to destroy a left political insurgency, is also a means to extend the bullying and abuse to which left-wing members have grown accustomed. As I say in another of the tweets cited in the NOI:

‘The Labour Party will never be a welcoming and safe space for anyone. It contains groups who have very different ideas of what changes we need and of how we make these changes happen. These differences matter. They lead to insults, rows, attacks, bullying, harassment, slander … ‘

In writing this I was drawing on Ralph Miliband’s arguments in Parliamentary Socialism: A study in the politics of Labour. However, the tweet is also based on my personal experience and that of close comrades. While I was Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP secretary, members sent me abusive emails, trolled me on Twitter, shouted at me repeatedly and aggressively in meetings and made a multitude of unevidenced public accusations against me. I know through the CLP Secretaries Forum on Facebook that such experiences are the norm. In December 2020, another Hackney Labour Party member made defamatory statements about me in a meeting attended by around 100 people, forcing me to instruct a solicitor in order to secure a retraction and an apology.

On one occasion, after my attempts to resolve an instance of abuse informally were shut down, I tried to use the Party’s disciplinary system to address it, by submitting a formal complaint for online abuse and for bringing the party into disrepute. This report concerned personal and public attacks on me. I have received two code numbers in relation to it (S10069 and CN-3960) but nothing more. It is now over two years since I submitted this complaint and it has yet to be assigned to an investigator. Instead, the Party’s extensive disciplinary apparatus is being turned on me, most likely given the timing and content of the NOI, at the instigation of a local Hackney Labour Party member who has abused me in the past.

This makes you and the system complicit in that behaviour, and complicit in the suppression of dissenting voices in the party, and complicit in silencing Jewish socialists in speaking the truth. This, in its starkness and brutality, is the weaponisation of antisemitism.

Dr Heather Mendick
8th October 2021

On 11 September, Ms Mendick had announced the ‘charges’ against her in a Twitter post, all of which clearly negate her views and experience as a Jewish woman:

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