Yesterday Jackie Walker was expelled from the Labour Party. This was written in 2017:
On 5 May, Facebook comments by Jacqueline Walker, a vice chair of the Corbyn supporting Momentum movement, came to light. She had written:
As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews.
. . . Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean?
It is a reasonable interpretation of these comments that they draw on a black nationalist antisemitic narrative that Jews were significantly responsible for, or were behind, the slave trade. In keeping with the Livingstone Formulation, Walker did not simply say that the people who alleged that there was antisemitism in the party were mistaken or had judged the situation wrongly; instead she hit back with the allegation that it was a ‘lie’ to suggest there was a ‘major problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party’.
Walker was not finally suspended from membership of the Party until 1 October, after she had been secretly filmed speaking at a training event put on by the Jewish Labour Movement for Party members, which was intended to raise awareness of antisemitism. At that event, Walker implied that security at Jewish schools was more a manifestation of a Zionist campaign to make it appear that they are under threat from antisemitism than a genuine response to a real security threat.
Did Jacqueline Walker remember that in March 2012 Mohammed Merah appeared outside the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in the city of Toulouse and murdered a rabbi and teacher, and his two sons; and then he murdered an eight year old girl; and he shot and injured four other people? Perhaps Walker does remember that the much respected and celebrated French intellectual Tariq Ramadan had insisted that that killer had not been ‘driven by racism and anti-Semitism’; notice the intellectual effort expended in the attempt to find the antisemite guilty of a lesser charge, any lesser charge, so long as it was not antisemitism. Murder, yes; disorientation, yes; pathetic, yes; but he himself was, according to Ramadan, a victim, not a perpetrator of racism. Ramadan’s full paragraph:
Religion was not Mohamed Merah’s problem; nor is politics. A French citizen frustrated at being unable to find his place, to give his life dignity and meaning in his own country, he would find two political causes through which he could articulate his distress: Afghanistan and Palestine. He attacks symbols: the army, and kills Jews, Christians and Muslims without distinction. His political thought is that of a young man adrift, imbued neither with the values of Islam, or driven by racism and anti-Semitism. Young, disoriented, he shoots at targets whose prominence and meaning seem to have been chosen based on little more than their visibility. A pathetic young man, guilty and condemnable beyond the shadow of a doubt, even though he himself was the victim of a social order that had already doomed him, and millions of others like him, to a marginal existence, and to the non-recognition of his status as a citizen equal in rights and opportunities.
Jacqueline Walker also spoke about Holocaust commemoration as though it had become a Zionist-owned enterprise whose primary function is to increase the victim-power which it bestows on Jews by creating a hierarchy of victimhood and by obscuring and downplaying other ‘holocausts’, as she calls them: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all peoples who’ve experienced Holocaust?’. When told the day was indeed for all post-World War II genocides, she said ‘in practice it is not circulated and advertised as such’.
The politics of this sustained assault on Jews and Israel via the issue of Holocaust commemoration requires some unpacking; it relates to Ken Livingstone’s claim that Hitler was supporting Zionism; and it relates to Ilan Pappé’s claim that Israel is committing genocide like Nazis; and it relates to Desmond Tutu’s claim that Jews have forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust. It plays politics with the Holocaust by accusing Jews of playing politics with the Holocaust. It engages in victim competition by accusing Jews of engaging in victim competition. It obscures the actual relationship between Israel and the Holocaust by proposing all sorts of tangential, exaggerated and invented relationships between Israel and the Holocaust. Lesley Klaff names the process whereby the Jews are portrayed as the new Nazis ‘Holocaust inversion’. ‘The Shoa need not be denied as a historical fact, it may be invalidated as a moral truth’, writes Abram de Swaan, in his paper about how ‘anti-Israel enthusiasms’ function as an avenue for psychological release for some people, after the general post war repression of antisemitic urges in Europe. Secondary antisemitism is often illustrated by Zvi Rex’s remark that ‘[t]he Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz’.
One of the hoped for positive functions of publicly remembering the Holocaust is to remind us what actually happened. Sometimes a particular image or anecdote or artefact can bring home to us, again, with a new freshness, the hugeness of what happened to the Jews of Europe. Whether we are scholars of genocide, or political activists, or people who know nothing of history, events of commemoration have the power to take us out of ourselves, our own lives and our narrow political concerns and connect us back to the scale and depth of what the Holocaust was; and what genocide is.
In the Jewish museum in Prague, housed in four synagogues whose congregations no longer exist, there is an exhibition of drawings made by Jewish children in the ghetto and concentration camp at Terezín (Theresienstadt in German). From Terezín the children were transported to Auschwitz where they were all murdered on arrival. The website of the museum describes the exhibit:
The story begins with reflections on the events immediately following 15 March 1939, when Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by the Nazis and transformed into a Protectorate. This is followed by a description of transports to the Terezín ghetto (starting on 24 November 1941), everyday ghetto life and the conditions in the children’s homes.
There are also depictions of holiday celebrations and of the dreams that the imprisoned children had of returning home or of travelling to Palestine. This section provides a sort of poetic interlude between the brutal uprooting from their homes and deportation to Auschwitz, which is the final and most tragic chapter of the whole story.[i]
Israel is the dream of the children who were never going to have a chance of finding asylum there. All we can do now to help them is to look at their drawings in the lifeless museum. There is a connection between the Holocaust and Israel, but it is not the self-serving and trivializing one offered in the clever speeches of today’s antizionist activists.
There are other senses in which Jackie Walker’s rhetoric falls far short, offered with great confidence and authority, always ‘as a Jew’, ‘as a black woman’, as an antiracist hero, to people who may not have the analytic tools, the courage or the knowledge to judge whether she is right or not. She speaks as a teacher, in a broad sense, but she does not teach. Many of the pioneers of genocide studies, the people who first studied the Holocaust and then who used some of the same concepts and ideas to study other genocides, the people who pioneered the notion that genocide was not unique to the Nazis, many of these were Jewish scholars of the Holocaust. Totten and Jacobs, tell the story of the ‘Pioneers of Genocide Studies’. They document the remarkable contributions of Jewish scholars such as Robert Melson, Israel Charny, Irving Horowitz and Helen Fein. And in any case there was Raphael Lemkin, the man who developed the very concept of genocide, and who fought a long and lonely struggle for recognition which culminated in the Genocide Convention; Lemkin himself was a Polish Jew who lost forty-nine members of his family in the Holocaust. More recently Philip Spencer has continued in that tradition with his book ‘Genocide since 1945’. Spencer’s evidence of the hollowness of the aphorism ‘never again’ is a challenge to Walker’s Momentum worldview in another sense too. The story is not simply one of imperialism committing genocide against non-white people; the stories are diverse and individual. Many of them are stories of the immense failures of anti-imperialist movements and nationalisms to replace colonialism with something better; stories of people’s rage against imperialism being murderously manipulated and directed against ethnic groups like Tutsi, Tamils, Armenians, African Asians and Bosniaks; mass killing in the name of anti-imperialism are as much a part of the story of human inhumanity as are the crimes of imperialism itself.
And of course Walker is not right factually, about how Holocaust Memorial Days are actually organized; they are organized by people up and down the country, across the world, taking responsibility to organize days to facilitate reflection, memory and education. It is not a Zionist conspiracy; it is a story of real men and women putting time, effort and energy into doing something which they feel is important.
There is always a tension in Holocaust education. On the one hand, the Holocaust needs to be presented as something that happened specifically to the Jews, something about antisemitism in particular and something which profoundly altered the history of the Jews. On the other hand, the Holocaust needs to be taught as a lesson for humanity about racism and totalitarianism in general. It needs to remember the other victims of the Nazis and the victims of other genocides. There is a tension between the particular and the universal lessons of the Holocaust. Walker speaks as if she has no idea how people around the world agonize to create these events and to pitch them exactly right; perhaps sometimes they fail to pitch them exactly right. Walker speaks as if she has no idea how Armenians, Rwandese, Bosniaks, Darfurians, socialists, Tories and Christians are involved in these events and how Holocaust memorial strives to remember and educate about genocide in general.
Jews have reason to fear Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). It is predictable, each year, that HMD will be seen as an appropriate occasion to mobilize the memory of the Holocaust against the Jews. An activist in Lewisham shouts at a rabbi to include Gaza in the list of genocides for which he is lighting a candle; the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign hosts a reading of Jim Allen’s play Perdition, which tries to blame Zionist collaboration with the Nazis for the efficiency of the Holocaust; a city in Sweden cancels its planned torchlight procession due to an intensification of conflict in Gaza; the Muslim Council of Britain boycotts HMD ‘in protest at the Israeli offensive in Gaza’. An MP writes that he is ‘saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians’. That HMD will elicit antisemitic discourse is now, shockingly, as predictable as pogroms once were at Easter.
Jackie Walker went on Newsnight to defend herself against charges of antisemitism. She said: ‘Of course the Jewish Holocaust was an awful, extraordinary event and Jews should have a day when they celebrate that’. She repeated this obscene mistake of referring to Jewish ‘celebration’ of the Holocaust more than once. One can only guess as to the Freudian connections which led to her using this word in this context. It may be related to the notion that Jews feel like celebrating their success in competing with other groups for the recognition of their suffering. Feelings of envy for the Holocaust, and the immense victim-power with which it is felt by some to endow the Zionists or the Jews may come in to play. There may be a feeling that being oppressed is connected to virtue and so worthy of celebration.[ii]
After Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 News journalist, had interviewed Jacqueline Walker, Newman was sent a number of antisemitic tweets. She was denounced as a ‘useless Zionist bitch’ by one viewer. Newman responded: ‘So people know this is what you get for asking legitimate questions about anti-semitism. Especially if your name is Newman’; Newman is, incidentally, not Jewish. Another person who describes herself as a Labour activist on her Twitter profile wrote: ‘self pity won’t work here. Your jewish ancestors committed an holocaust against my ancestors in the transatlantic slave trade’ [sic].
Walker’s Labour Party membership was suspended on 30 September and her case was discussed at a meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee on 3 October. The committee found Walker emphatically not guilty of antisemitism. It ‘does not regard any of the comments she appears to have made, taken individually, to be anti-Semitic’. But it found her guilty of lesser charges: ‘her remarks on Holocaust Memorial Day and on security of Jewish schools [were found to be] to be ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive’. The problem is that if it was to concede that antisemitism is possible within an ‘antiracist’ space, then it is conceded that one must be vigilant against antisemitism, that one must educate about antisemitism, that one must take care; that is why there is great reluctance ever to admit that anything that happens within an antiracist space is antisemitic. What is required is debate about what is antisemitic and what is not. In order to avoid such debate, it is necessary to deny that anything is antisemitic, and that all such charges are made in bad faith.
Momentum removed Walker from her position as vice-chair, it kept her as a member of the steering committee, and it opposed her expulsion from the Labour Party.
The other point that Momentum was keen to make concerned confidentiality. In an institutionally racist institution, secrecy is taken seriously; the boundaries are policed. It is considered a breach of the community to tell tales outside the institution of what has been happening within it. A culture of institutional racism has to be protected by a culture of secrecy. ‘Momentum is concerned that footage of a training session was leaked to the press’, it announced. ‘The leak is unacceptable and undermines much needed political education’.
Yet Jacqueline Walker presents herself as a victim and she shows no sign of contrition or regret. This from the webpage in which she is crowd funding so that she can pay for lawyers to sue the Labour Party for suspending her:
On 4th May I was suspended for the alleged (subsequently cleared) charge of antisemitism. As a Jewish person, whose partner is Jewish, this was heart-breaking. Since May I have continued to be targeted by the media, in print, online and in other places. Currently I am suspended for questions asked at a training session on ‘Confronting Antisemitism & Engaging Jewish Voters’ at this year’s Labour Conference, after being unethically filmed by a Jewish Labour Movement campaigns officer who is also a Labour councillor. It seems this training was not a ‘safe space for all Jews’ by any means.
On 1 October, the film director Ken Loach spoke at ‘The People’s Assembly Against Austerity’ in Birmingham. He spoke from the platform:
There have been some terrible smears in the last few weeks. One of them’s the antisemitic smear. An atrocious lie if ever I heard one. I heard Jackie speak at a meeting about this so-called . . . this lie of antisemitism. She made a thoughtful, constructive speech discussing Jewish identity. She has a Jewish identity herself. She is a decent, honourable principled woman. And we know why the smears are made. The smears are made to inhibit criticism of Israel.
In this speech, Loach goes on to re-state his support for a boycott of Israel. In 1987 Ken Loach was the director of the Royal Court production of Jim Allen’s play ‘Perdition’, which was based on Lenni Brenner’s account of the ‘Kastner affair’ and which attempted to normalize the idea that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to murder Jews because of their ideological similarity. This was the material which had influenced Ken Livingstone to claim that Hitler had ‘supported’ Zionism.
Exerpted from ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’ by David Hirsh