UK’s Labour Leader Sacks the Most Left-Wing Member of His Shadow Cabinet

Photograph Source: Chris McAndrew – CC BY 3.0

As a Labour party member, it is unavoidable that I should have an opinion on the party leader Keir Starmer’s sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey.

RLB was shadow education secretary until her dismissal, as well as being Starmer’s primary opponent for the party leadership when Jeremy Corbyn resigned after Labour lost to the Tories in December’s general election.

In the leadership election I voted for Long-Bailey, with the current shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy as my second choice, and Starmer was last of the 3 candidates I could vote for.

RLB made a mistake in retweeting the actor Maxine Peake’s accusation that US police forces are taught the neck restraint technique by the Israelis. Peake subsequently apologized for tweet.

Granted, the officer who murdered George Floyd was trained by the Israelis, who commonly use the technique on Palestinians. But it does not follow that he was taught it during his training by Israeli “security experts”.

There is a more or less strong likelihood that the officer in question was, but, to state the obvious, the likelihood of X is not an actual X. After all, there are dozens of clips showing the neck restraint technique being deployed on Palestinians, some of them children, and the killer cop could have acquired the technique from watching these videos.

Moreover, at least 100 Minnesota police officers attended a 2012 conference—the second such conference to be held– hosted by the Israeli consulate in Chicago, with the FBI as its joint host (as if we need anymore evidence that the militarization of American police forces is state-sanctioned).

At these conferences Minnesota police were instructed in the brutal techniques used by Israeli forces as they coerce and terrorize Palestinians living in the occupied territories under the pretense of security operations.

That said, the assertion that RLB and Peake made, even though not substantiated, hardly amounts to an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”. It was directed at a state regarded by many as a rogue state, or at any rate, a state where consistent violations of human rights are integral to its functioning.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has adopted the following “working definition” of “antisemitism”:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In its elaboration of this definition IHRA continues:

“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

It has also to be noted that IHRA says explicitly that this definition is not legally binding. Which is just as well, since many jurists, including the UK’s Lord Justice Stephen Sedley (who is himself Jewish), have said that the definition would not stand up in a court of law.

At least two problems arise for Starmer and his Zionist supporters with regard to the sacking of Long-Bailey.

Firstly, the IHRA’s clause that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic” shows unequivocally that criticizing Israel for teaching its police, and the police forces of other countries, techniques of arrest which inflict serious injury or death on a person already under restraint, is not antisemitic as such.

After all, the apartheid regime in South Africa provided training, including crowd and riot control, for police forces in Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, (the then) Rhodesia, and (the then) Zaire under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. South Africa’s police during this time was basically an unaccountable paramilitary organization, with the uniformed branch tasked with patrolling the black townships widely regarded as thugs dressed up in uniforms.

Apartheid South Africa’s police was criticized for its racist policing methods, with parallels for the way Israel is criticized today for its policing in Palestinian areas. Many of the abuses documented where the apartheid South African police were concerned, parallel equally well-documented violations by Israeli security, police and military officials.

Since the criticism made of Israel’s police is on a par with that levelled at the police of apartheid South Africa, Israel is therefore being subjected to a form criticism that is levelled at other countries, and so this criticism of Israel cannot be considered “antisemitic”, even according to the IHRA’s stipulations.

Secondly, to say that criticism of Israel as a state, such as Peake’s and Long-Bailey’s, is “antisemitic” is tantamount to saying that, e.g., criticism of Zaire (as a state), under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (a fan of routine torture), even if not substantiated in the one instance, is “racist” because the population of Zaire is overwhelmingly black. A palpable absurdity obviously.

But, some may object, the Israeli authorities say they do not teach the neck restraint technique to foreign police forces, nor even to their own forces, because it is not in their police-training manuals. This, surely, is a poor attempt at humour—one only has to go to Google Images and enter a search for “Israeli forces kneeling on the necks on Palestinians” to find numerous still shots of Israeli forces using the knee-on-neck technique. Just because something isn’t in someone’s manual doesn’t mean that….

Starmer should have asked RLB to issue a clarification after she refused to retract her tweet, e.g. by allowing her to say that the policy of having police officers (of any country) trained by Israeli police forces is highly problematic, given the propensity of those forces to engage in human rights violations, and this in the course of enforcing an occupation that is illegal according to international law.

According to Amnesty International, hundreds of US police officers from Baltimore, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state, and the DC Capitol police have traveled to Israel for training. Thousands of others have been trained by Israeli representatives here in the US.

Amnesty International has made numerous criticisms of Israel’s human rights violations. By Starmer’s logic, he should stand up in parliament and acknowledge that the rationale he used for sacking RLD behooves him to say that Amnesty is likewise antisemitic.

Alas, I am more likely to encounter a unicorn on my daily walk than see him do this! Labour has several anti-Zionist MPs—perhaps one of them can raise this issue at the appropriate time in the House?

Before his election as party leader Starmer received a donation of £50,000 from the UK’s Zionist lobby. He did not disclose this donation until after he was made party leader. This may or may not have been inadvertent, just as it may or may not have anything to do with the ditching of RLB.

At the same time, I suspect RLB’s anti-Zionism was not the only consideration involved in her sacking. As education secretary RLB was forthright in her support of the teachers’ unions in their opposition to the Tory drive to get them (and pupils) back to schools in unsafe conditions.

We have to remember that Starmer is a Blairite, and Blair and his followers were no friends of any union.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.