Category Archives: Anti-occupation

Open letter to Rachel Reeves MP: Why I won’t vote Labour, though I hope for a Labour-led government

Dear Rachel,

You don’t know me but I’m one of your constituents and I wanted to take the time to explain why I won’t vote for you in this election, even though I hope to wake up on Friday morning to a Labour-led government that can implement its manifesto promises. I look forward to a government that will restore the NHS, mitigate the environmental crisis by investing in new energy and cutting fossil fuels, and bring vital services back into public control. I am filled with dread by the prospect of another Conservative government led by Boris Johnson, following his party’s lurch to the right, crashing us out of Europe and further into the social division and inequality that successive Tory governments have exacerbated.

Yet I won’t vote Labour because the party, especially its leadership, has utterly failed to deal with the antisemitism that has surfaced in its ranks. At first, this was something I didn’t want to believe was happening. I came back to the UK, to Leeds, after just over a decade in the US in December 2016, happy to be returning to the NHS – though not yet aware how much the years of austerity had reduced it . I was also looking forward to voting in a country with a mass social democratic party with a real chance to govern. Yet I could already sense that the Brexit referendum had let some dark genies out of the bottle, scapegoating various “others” for various wrongs, just as Trump has done. How, though, could such resentful racism have any hold in the Labour Party? I also didn’t want to believe that as a Jew I would be made to feel unwelcome in the party, especially after an earlier decade during which I lived in Israel, where I was very much on the left of politics, critical not only of Netanyahu’s government’s policies but the systemic oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel itself. That oppression is shielded in part by pernicious efforts, some of them funded by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs, to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. So, it seemed too convenient that no sooner did the Labour Party elect a left-winger than the ‘socialism of fools’ – antisemitism – took root in it. Surely it must be the case that anti-progressive politicians and press in both countries, and further afield, had found common cause in amplifying a few marginal cases of antisemitic expression on social media and occasional branch meetings? At first, then, I discounted some of what I heard. I have Israeli friends and know other Jews still in the Labour Party who continue to do so.

But I was learning too much from old friends, some of whom stayed in the party, some of whom left, as well as in regular news reports, to hold out on to my wishful thinking and denial. One friend was very much in the thick of it, trying to counter antisemitic tropes on new media and being constantly abused for doing so. Others were not finding their MPs willing to speak out and some began to find their local branch a hostile environment. Some of what I was told about is reflected in the Jewish Labour Movement evidence submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an investigation which in itself must cause the Party shame. I do not doubt that there is a concerted right-wing political and media campaign to discredit Corbyn and the Labour Party as much as possible. That’s what they do. But I also do not doubt that a trend has developed among some party members and supporters to substitute a genuine critique of capitalism with conspiracy theories featuring the Rothschilds, George Soros and other “Zios.” There is both antisemitism in the party and coordinated efforts by opponents of Labour and its current leadership to capitalize on it. But if the party really dealt with antisemitism, its opponents would have little ammunition.

Increasingly it became apparent that the party leadership was not interested in challenging the antisemites robustly, taking action that could easily have knocked this issue on the head. What I could justly expect of Jeremy Corbyn – or his staff – would be to call people out on the use of antisemitic tropes as they were posted on social media platforms and spoken at meetings, making it clear that nobody could count themselves as his supporter if they were also a racist. Instead, he hid behind disciplinary processes which have in any case proved inadequate. Of course, to call others out Jeremy Corbyn would have to begin with himself, expressing horror rather than mealy-mouthed “regret” that he had defended Mear One’s antisemitic mural. He would need to admit shame that he had slipped into the worst sort of English “polite antisemitism” by referring to British Jews as Zionists who don’t understand English irony. As a committed anti-racist, he must know by now that we have all been socialized into damaging racist attitudes and that we need to keep working to decolonize ourselves. If Jeremy Corbyn cannot demonstrate political, cultural and intellectual leadership on this issue, why not?

So, sadly I cannot vote for you on Thursday, even though I believe you are a good constituency MP – you’ve written in support of my partner’s PIP appeal – and have an admirable record in Parliament, not least on environmental issues that are close to my heart and current activism. I admit that if your majority were less secure, I would be agonising more on whether to vote for you or the Green candidate. Yet, I expect that you will understand my decision and hope that one day soon you will be able to let me know that the Labour Party is once again a safe political home for progressive Jews.

With best wishes,

Jon Simons

The Provocation: Ta’ayush and the Picnic

taayush.soldier hitting“Whose provocation?” asks the Ta’ayush activist who has recorded on video an Israeli soldier striking one of her fellow activists. Rightly, she says the provocation came from the soldiers who had come only to see what was happening, not even to serve a “closed military area” order, not even to make the Palestinian farmer stop ploughing the field next to the olive grove, not even to tell the other Palestinians, Italian volunteers and Israeli activists to get lost. So, in that sense, the blows dealt by the soldier to another activist filming him were unprovoked. He seems to have worked himself up into aggression by his own monologue about the “traitors” who were accompanying Palestinians from the town of Bani Naim to work on their land under the noses of the settlers of Pnei Hever. The local relations of occupation between the two places have been rehearsed many times before but of course the settlement has an army on its side in this uneven conflict. On this occasion, and following reports of the incident in Ha’aretz and other news outlets, even the Israeli army deemed that the soldier, Alon Segev, had used excessive force and discharged him from reserve duty. His blows were unprovoked.

Yet, in another – and good – sense, Ta’ayush were being provocative. I was with the Ta’ayush activists in the South Hebron Hills that day, August 10th 2018, but I was elsewhere, accompanying a shepherd, when this incident occurred. When after a short hike I joined the group near Pnei Hever the activist who had been hit was just being driven off to an emergency room as he was feeling unwell. Then I found this provocative scene. While the guy on the tractor got on with his ploughing, Israelis, internationals and Palestinians sheltered from the hot sun under a tree. Hot, sweet tea and coffee were served, some snacks were passed around. Various conversations murmured on in different languages, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic about the spring connected to a cave whose water used to feed the fields we were in but is now within the fence of the settlement, about politics and peace, about Catalan and linguistics, about how the Israeli matriculation exam in Arabic doesn’t enable students to speak Arabic. By the time the ploughing was done and the picnic was packed up, I had given my address to two of the Palestinians, one who is already studying a PhD in the UK and the other who is about to come to study.

picnic at bani naim

Picnic at Bani Naim, 10 August 2018

So why is this picnic provocative? Because the co-resistance to Occupation by Israeli Jews, non-citizen Palestinians and internationals defies the accepted logic of separation between “Jews” and “Palestinians” that underlies the conflict. This relaxed togetherness and well-practiced partnership resist all the opposing practices of dispossession, estrangement, demonization and denial that fuel enmity and convince Israeli Jews that “there is no partner for peace” and they must always “live by the sword.” The picnic provokes further because it shows that peace is not made by living behind secure borders and in isolation from each other, but by confronting injustice together.

That evening I participated in another provocation, a demonstration in Tel Aviv by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel against the new Nationality Law that enshrines already-existing inequality by asserting the rights of the Jews in Israel above all others. The law is itself a provocation against democracy, but much of the Israeli press chose to focus on the “provocation” of the display of Palestinian flags by some of the demonstrators (against the wishes of the organizers). A provocation to show that there is a Palestinian as well as a Jewish nationality in this land between the river and the sea. A provocation to gather and march together in the sultry humidity of a summer night, to protest the racism of ethno-religious superiority in a territory in which two peoples dwell. I preferred the hum of conversations under the tree to the long speeches at the demonstration, but in their own way each was a provocation to resist oppression and struggle for just peace.

anti nationality law demo

“Jews and Arabs together”. Anti-Nationality Law demonstration. Tel Aviv, 10 August 2018