Labour activists challenge party decision to hire Israeli

Law firm Bindmans has threatened to take action against the party


MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: A close-up image of a pin badge bearing the logo for the Labour Party for sale at the Labour Party Conference on September 22, 2014 in Manchester, England. The four-day annual Labour Party Conference takes place in Manchester and is expected to attract thousands of delegates with keynote speeches from influential politicians and over 500 fringe events. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Labour left-wingers, including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, are backing a legal challenge to the party over a decision to employ an Israeli citizen as one of its social media managers.

Law firm Bindmans has threatened to take action against the party on behalf of Labour member Adnan Hmidan who has complained about the party’s decision to recruit the new employee because of his admission on his own social media page that he had previously served with the Israeli army signals intelligence and surveillance branch known as Unit 8200.

It is understood the new recruit began his job, which is based in Westminster, in January.

But since starting they have faced intimidating accusations of an alleged past as an “Israeli spy” from left wing elements loyal to former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“I am very concerned that the Labour Party has recruited a former Israeli spy to a position that involves monitoring the social media accounts of its members including those that are British Palestinian, supportive of Palestine or opposed to the occupation of Palestine,” Mr Hmidan said of the decision to employ this individual.

The JC has decided not to name Labour’s social media manager as the party have always taken a strong stance on insisting that staff members are not identified in media reports.

The job description of the role says: “You will help to move the social media listening framework of the party to be laser focused on those we need to win over to form the next government.”

When asked about his firm’s decision to write to the Labour Party, Jamie Potter, a partner at Bindmans, told the JC: “As you will appreciate, as solicitors we act on our client’s instructions, and are bound by obligations of confidentiality and privilege. We are therefore limited to what we can say in response. 

“However, to suggest that we “are choosing to single out this particular individual” is incorrect and misleading. 

“We would refer you to our press release in respect of the matters you raise, which explains clearly the position and what we are seeking from the Labour Party in order to address the legitimate concerns of our client, a British Palestinian.”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, said: “Bindmans appears to be asking the Labour party to discriminate against its employee because he is an Israeli. To do so would be unlawful”.

It is understood that senior Labour officials are furious that the staff member has been named – initially in reports on his employment that surfaced on the notoriously anti-Israel blogs Electronic Intifada and Middle East Eye.

On Tuesday, a further report in the Guardian, written by the paper’s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour, again named the Labour employee.  Mr Wintour wrote: “The episode underlines how raw the issue of Israel remains in the Labour party. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer’s leaderships have been marked by controversies over antisemitism.”

But the report made no mention of the fact that military service is compulsory for all Israeli citizens after they reach the age of 18 .

The normal length of compulsory service is two years and six months for men (with some roles requiring an additional four months of service) and two years for women.

In the complaint sent to the party from Bindmans solicitors it is alleged that the Labour recruit had worked for Unit 8200, the cyber branch of the Israeli Defence Force, from 2009 to 2013.

It adds that the unit has been mired in controversy over its surveillance practices against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Bindmans letter alleges that it is “very likely that [X] was involved in the unlawful coercive surveillance practices” of Unit 8200 or was at the very least aware of them.

Mr Potter had previously told Middle East Eye that because of the employee’s “apparent background it is deeply concerning that the Labour Party recruited him without providing any assurances whatsoever to its Palestinian and other members, and has still not done so despite senior figures within the party condemning the recruitment.

“This is all the more surprising given the Labour Party’s public condemnation of Israel’s unlawful settlement policies. We hope that the Labour Party will now engage with our client and respond fully to his questions concerning the recruitment decision.”

Bindman’s letter argues that either the party did know about the Israeli’s  background, in which case it has shown a failure to consider the views of its Palestinian members, or it did not know and has failed to show due diligence.

Labour’s former shadow chancellor Mr McDonnell added: “I believe most party members will be bewildered to say the least that despite all the social media talent available in our movement, the party has decided to recruit someone with a track record of working in an intelligence organisation roundly condemned for its role in the abuse of the human rights of Palestinians.”

Mr Hmidan has  said unless he receives satisfactory assurances from the party, he intends to refer the issue to the information commissioner and consider whether he will take legal action on the basis of unfair and unlawful recruitment.

A Labour Party  spokesperson told the JC: “We do not comment on staffing matters.”

Mr Wintour has also been approached for comment.

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