by Frazer Loveman
Two days ago the Labour party lifted the suspension of Jackie Walker, the vice-chair of Thanet Labour and also vice-chair of Momentum’s steering committee. Her comments regarding the African holocaust on Facebook, where she had suggested that Jews had been “chief financiers” of the slave and sugar trade have now seemingly been deemed by the Labour party leadership to have been perfectly acceptable, with no further action necessary.
Now, I don’t know Ms Walker, I don’t want to judge whether or not she is actually an anti-Semite, but her remarks were at the very least misguided and distasteful. What is more offensive is that she refuses to recognise or accept this, posting a blog on May 26th in which she does not offer contrition, or an apology, but instead doubling down suggesting “anti-Semitism is not a major problem” before going on to discuss the “increasing convergence between Zionists, the right of the Labour Party, the Tories and our right wing media”. This has been her stance all along, as characterised by her response on Russia Today when she again claimed the issue was not anti-Semitism, but the restriction of free speech (as she misappropriated the Martin Niemöller poem First They Came) within the Labour party, comparing her suspension to McCarthysim.
This inability to even countenance that she may have made remarks that could be considered anti-Semitic is almost worse than making the remarks in the first place. When it was revealed that Bradford West MP Naz Shah had shared anti-Semitic images on Facebook she showed nothing but remorse, apologising for the posts and actively reaching out to the Jewish community, culminating in her appearance yesterday at a Synagogue in Leeds where she once again fully apologised and said that she had been “ignorant”, but now “understood” more about the situation in Israel and how the BDS movement effects normal Israeli citizens.
Shah should be seen as a shining example of how Labour can move on from the issues arising with anti-Semitism, Jackie Walker is not. Shah took it upon herself to actually reach out to the Jewish community, understand how what she had posted on Facebook was considered offensive by Jewish people and has learnt from the experience. Ms Walker has done none of this, she defends her comments wholeheartedly and going further by insinuating in her blog post that the Ambassador of Israel exerts undue influence in having met with new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. This is the kind of classic anti-Semitic trope that dates back to the writings of Wilhelm Marr and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and has no place in the Labour Party.
When I joined Labour it was because I thought it was the party that best reflected the kind of society I wanted Britain to be. You look at the PLP and you see men and women from all social classes, all ethnic backgrounds, all parts of the country. There will always be disagreements within the party over certain issues, one of them can even be the party’s stance on the Israeli government, but it is possible to both oppose the Netanyahu government and Israel’s stance over Gaza and Palestine while not reducing yourself to base racism.
It should embarrass Labour members that people like Walker and Ken Livingstone are allowed to shame the name of this party with their unapologetic, racist behaviour. In the case of Walker, however, it seems to have been decided that this is acceptable, that the 19th century caricature of Jews as “financiers” of evil deeds will not earn your condemnation from the top of the party, but a slap on the wrist in the form of a brief suspension. The “zero-tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism that was espoused by John McDonnell when the furore was at its peak appears to have been pushed gently to one side.
It has been suggested by many people that those within the Labour party opposed to this sort of hateful rhetoric (particularly Livingstone’s Hitler comments) should leave the party, allow it to tear itself to shreds; but that’s not the point. The Labour party should be more than this, and it is on the members of the Labour party to speak out against it. Though it seems that the rise in this kind of incident has occurred following the rise of Momentum and the election of Corbyn as leader, I’d like to believe the majority of members still find the behaviour of people like Walker abhorrent and worthy of expulsion, or at very least removal from her role as a senior member of both Thanet Labour and Momentum.
It is time for all Labour members at all levels to stand-up and show that people like Walker are in the minority, that it is not acceptable for the name of a party that has achieved so much for so many to be dragged through the mud by its association with people who feel the positions of Walker and Livingstone are acceptable. If the leadership refuse to do anything about this of their own volition, then it is up to Labour members everywhere to try and make a difference.
Frazer Loveman is a history and politics student at the University of Southampton