Tensions surface among campaigners against Labour antisemitism

Twitter walkout triggers rifts among online warriors and Jewish activists


Tensions have surfaced among online campaigners who have battled to rid the Labour Party of antisemitism — with internal disputes, often involving Jewish activists, themselves emerging on social media.

The disagreements — among those involved in both established communal organisations as well as grassroots campaign groups — began almost as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was replaced as Labour leader by Sir Keir Starmer.

Some on the political left in the community immediately welcomed Sir Keir’s move to portray himself as a leader who had made it his priority to tackle the antisemitism problem he inherited from Mr Corbyn.

But other experienced campaigners pointed out that as recently as last December, Sir Keir had been knocking on doorsteps in the election campaign urging voters to put the former Labour leader into Downing Street.

Last month’s hugely successful Twitter walkout over the rapper Wiley’s antisemitism was another catalyst for these internal disagreements to flair.

The walkout — organised by the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman and online activist Saul Freeman, and backed by the JC — also had the support of some of the leading campaign groups against antisemitism on Twitter, including Labour Against Antisemitism and the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

So successful was the campaign that it won the backing of politicians from all parties as well as celebrities and organisations from both within and outside the community.

But a smaller group of activists from within the community, often connected to the Jewish Labour Movement, felt they were unable to support the Twitter walkout.

Some of this group said they believed the walkout should have encompassed all hate online rather than just Jew-hate.

But others disagreed, pointing to the refusal of some Jewish Labour activists to give up on a party riddled with antisemitism under Mr Corbyn.

With impressive diligence, groups such as Labour Against Antisemitism, the Twitter account GnasherJew and others set themselves up to expose evidence of antisemitism among Labour Party members on social media.

With their more aggressive approach to tackling the problem, these groups gave short shrift to those still arguing it was possible to change the Labour Party from within.

And they openly challenged Jewish activists to justify their decision to remain in Mr Corbyn’s party.

In the aftermath of the Twitter walkout, some Jewish Labour activists openly vented that they could not take part in the event because they had suffered what they claimed to have been harassment from a minority of online campaigners over a long period of time.

Peter Mason, national secretary of JLM, made his feelings known on the issue in a lengthy Twitter thread on July 29. He said he and other senior activists had themselves supported the campaign, but other members of his 4,000 strong group had not.

“Our members have faced years of abuse both online and off,” wrote Mr Mason. “By people brave and dumb enough to do it in their own names, but also scores of sock puppets hiding in the shadows behind the defence of anonymity.”

He added that his own Twitter account had received direct messages after the start of the walkout calling his activists and members “toxic, narcissistic fools”, with an instruction that they should “f**k off.

“I haven’t spent the last few years of our lives fighting a fight we never asked for, and being publicly accountable for everything we have said and done to be treated in such an appalling way.”

Another leading communal activist, who asked not to be named, told the JC that some antisemitism campaigners were "abusive, vindictive and all consumed by their fight, to the detriment of the mental health of those they should have been fighting alongside.”

Despite the criticisms of some campaigners, there is no denying the success of what quickly became established online groups such as LAAS and the GnasherJew account in highlighting the full horror of left-wing antisemitism.

And in 2018, an exhaustive probe by another celebrated campaigner, David Collier, exposed the Palestine Live Facebook group – which contained vast evidence of the true of extent of antisemitism among those who supported Mr Corbyn.

Last week, the GnasherJew Twitter account announced it was ceasing operations. It was inundated with praise on social media.

Much of the praise centred around the claim that without social media accounts of this kind, left-wing antisemitism under Mr Corbyn would not have been defeated.

But even this line of argument has caused upset amongst some who claim that antisemitism also needed to be tackled within the party itself. Those who say they stayed to fight antisemitism in the party also point to key alliances with leading MPs, trade union leaders and ordinary party members as being just as crucial.

They also point to successful direct action, such as walkouts from local party meeetings after antisemitic speeches, the organising of a widely supported letter campaign amongst Labour MPs and councillors to suspend the ex-MP Chris Williamson, and making the crucial alliance with the Panorama antisemitism whistleblowers.

And at last year’s Labour Party conference, while many activists tweeted photos and expressed their disgust at the antisemitic banner positioned outside the Brighton Centre, a Jewish activist who had remained inside the party carried out the defining act of defiance.

That person was a JLM member. He was given a police caution for criminal damage after he tore down the highly offensive poster resulting in it being removed from sight.

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