In defence of Jackie Walker

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Controversy exploded after the release of film footage of a ‘training event’ organised by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) at the Labour Party Conference. It was claimed the footage allegedly showed a leading member of Momentum, Jackie Walker, making anti-Semitic comments.


Jackie Walker: Opposing racism and witch-hunts

A torrent of condemnation followed from all quarters, including from fellow Momentum member Barbara Ntumy. On the Daily Politics, Friday 30th September, she stated that Jackie Walker’s comments were:

“completely inappropriate and out of order” and “were not acceptable in that room, they are not acceptable anywhere.”

All the critics announced Jackie Walker guilty as charged, blithely ignoring one rule of evidence – which is not to take evidence selected by an organisation with a material interest at face value.

One article typical of the range of accusations against Jackie Walker was one titled Jackie Walker, The Left and Antisemitism written by Joe Mulhall and published by Hope Not Hate. This article based its condemnation of Jackie Walker using the film footage as well as revisiting old allegations.

As this was the apparent judgement of what is one of the more prominent and respected anti-racism organisations I thought a detailed rebuttal appropriate. The reply was posted on the afternoon of Friday 30th September and to date has yet to be published. Below is a reproduction of that post, it’s in its original format, including typos, to maintain a faithful copy as possible.

========Start reply to ‘The Left and Antisemitism’========

In defence of Jackie Walker

When an author writes serious allegations they have duty to hold themselves to a high bar, to be scrupulously fair in their arguments, to avoid distorting or putting words into the mouth of the one(s) they accuse.

Sadly, this article fails badly by that criteria.

It is mixture of straw man arguments, distortion and innuendo designed to discredit someone who has actively engaged in anti-racism all her political life.
Jackie’s mixed Jewish African-Caribbean and Jewish heritage contribute to what is a fairly unique perspective. While sometimes this can be challenging to those who hold certain viewpoints and political positions it does not necessarily follow that that is anti-Semitic.

You refer to a film footage of comments Jackie Walker made at a Jewish Labour Movement ‘training event’.

Jackie raised three points in her contribution.

Holocaust Memorial Day

You quote Jackie, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all peoples who’ve experienced Holocaust?”.
From the filming it’s difficult to discern the whole part of that conversation due to interventions from other audience members and the point was not developed.
It should be noted that it’s not good practise to use fragments such as these in the manner you have.

For a more reliable view of Jackie Walker’s comments one needs refer to what she has said elsewhere on the subject. She has in particular raised the African slave trade as a holocaust, in fact Jackie clarified on Channel Four news 29 September 2016:

“But as a mixed-race person who is African and Jewish, I was making the point that why is the Cambodian genocide, which was after the 1940s, included and the African holocaust is not?” Walker said the criticism should be seen through the prism of the “political differences underlying it”.

Now there may be perfectly good reasons for Holocaust Memorial Day not to include the African holocaust but to to construe Jackie’s remark as anti-Semitic is specious.

Security in buildings used by Jews

Jackie raised a question on security in buildings used by the Jewish Community, raising the example of her grandson.
Unfortunately you don’t directly quote her or inform us that the context was a response to something said by the speaker.

This is what Jackie Walker actually said:

“I’m a bit concerned about other (indistinct) that your, your kind of suggestion that the Jewish community is under such threat that it has to use security in all its buildings I have a grandson he’s (indistinct) year old there’s security in his nursery school and every school has security now and it’s not because I’m frightened or his parents are frightened that he’s going to be attacked”.

You seem make the claim that this, “also appeared to denigrate the need for security at Jewish schools”, in order to follow up with, “at a time of heightened terror risks and international attacks against Jewish targets…”. That would seem to be more than a little cynical.

You also raise in the same paragraph above, Jackie stating, “I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.”

You seem unaware that there is a live and lively debate over the precise parameters of anti-Semitism as can be seen in a letter [http://www.jlm.org.uk/yjlm] letter to the Guardian from young members of the Jewish Labour Movement disputing positions on Zionism & anti-Semitism held by other Jews.

Jackie has since clarified her position [https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/29/momentum-likely-to-oust-jackie-walker-over-holocaust-remarks] saying she supports David Schneider’s definition [https://twitter.com/davidschneider/status/780107628500381696].

Macpherson Principles

Jackie is right to point out the Macpherson Principles state that the police should investigate cases reported by the victim or another person as a racist crime but not to accept them as a racist crime.

She was also right to raise concerns that some groups hold the view that incidents alleged to be as anti-Semitic then denying anti-Semitism as a motive is itself anti-Semitic.
This isn’t raised in the article so perhaps Jackie’s view on this is accepted or is considered uncontroversial.

Jackie Walker may be open to the charge of clumsiness or lack of clarity in some of her contributions but I can not see how, singly or collectively, Jackie Walker’s remarks at this meeting constitute anti-Semitism.

The article goes on with further accusations. Particularly pernicious is the accusation of Jackie supporting the position of Louis Farrakhan in blaming Jews as a race for the slave trade.

You achieve this by misquoting and selective editing:

““What debt do we owe the Jews?” and stating that Jews “were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade””
You omit to mention that Jackie was subject to a hearing by the Labour party over those Facebook posts and re-admitted [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/anti-semitism-row-momentum-organiser-jackie-walker-readmitted-to-labour-party-following-racism-a7053966.html].

What was actually written was [https://m.facebook.com/cheltenhammomentum/posts/1040048392756008] :
“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.”
The original post is not available but there are screen grabs: [http://www.kentonline.co.uk/thanet/news/leading-labour-activist-suspended-over-95356/]

“Many Jews (my ancestors too)” is the term used by Jackie, seen in the context of her background it’s difficult to see this as an anti-Semitic attack. This distortion is also used elsewhere to attack Jacqui [https://www.buzzfeed.com/sirajdatoo/momentum-branch-plans-to-host-an-anti-semitism-debate-during?utm_term=.cjlqOrm4L#.fsJ4O5x3R]

In conclusion, the allegations of anti-Semitism by Jackie Walker is only sustainable on the basis deliberate misrepresentation and stripping her words of context.

When I read pieces such as this I’m reminded of a saying attributed to Cardinal Richelieu:
“If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.”

What is clear from this article and numerous others is that the attack on Jackie Walker is politically motivated.
Jackie has a history of service to the movement in general and is a well known figure on the left. Her expulsion or suspension would be a great prize for her political opponents.

It would be disappointing if the Labour Party and Momentum did not give Jackie Walker the support and protection she needs and deserves from what is nothing more than a vicious and vindictive smear campaign.

========End reply to ‘The Left and Antisemitism’========

Definition of anti-Semitism

It’s beyond the scope of this piece to conduct a thorough examination of the various definitions of anti-Semitism[1] referred to in the above reply, it’s worth noting that even the UK government points out there is no agreed international definition of antisemitism. It refers to the UK’s College of Policing guidance as a working definition of antisemitism.

Jewish Labour activists in defence of Jackie Walker

Fellow activists who attended the JLM ‘training event’ with Jacqui have condemned the allegations of anti-Semitism against her. They also raise the behaviour of JLM supporters at the event. It may be of further interest to them that a close examination of the footage audio reveals that during Jackie’s comments on buildings security someone makes reference to her grandson “in a body bag

Those activists also raise concerns over the suitability of JLM to run training events. If the footage is from the camera used by JLM to film the event then there may well be a case for them to answer regarding unethical behaviour.

Jackie Walker suspended

Since the reply to Hope Not Hate Jackie has been suspended from the Labour Party.

According to media reports Momentum is set to remove Jackie Walker from her post on Monday.

Declaration of interest

I have no relationship with Momentum but I did attend a public meeting organised by them with Jackie Walker as one of the speakers. I was impressed by her depth of knowledge and her eagerness to share and discuss her experience. Jackie is a valuable asset to the Labour movement and it would be a tragedy to allow her political enemies to bring about her removal with such dishonest and underhand tactics.

I always consider it a proud duty to defend a fellow comrade, especially one who has given so much to our movement.

Gary Hollands – October 1st 2016

Postscript

Jackie Walker removed as vice-chair

In what appears to be an act of political fudging, Momentum removed Jackie Walker from her position of vice-chair but not from the steering committee last night (Monday 3rd October). This may be possibly a result of opposing pressures from the media and Labour’s right wing on the one hand and from Momentum’s rank and file on the other.


Jackie Walker: In her own words at a Free Speech on Israel event

Hacked Facebook posts clarified

At the time of writing the above rebuttal to Hope not Hate I hadn’t come across an interview, Jackie Walker Responds to Accusations of Antisemitism, by Jews for justice for Palestinians (jfjfp). In this interview Jackie expanded and clarified her hacked Facebook posts referred to by the Hope not Hate article.

Many of the attacks elsewhere on Jackie also include criticism of those hacked Facebook posts. For example, similar ground is covered in an article published by Left Futures, “Jackie Walker’s position is untenable, she should go“. The author attacks the the Facebook posts with a short history of the Bristol slave trade. This is odd in light of the fact that the jfjfp interview makes clear that Jackie Walker’s research was on her own Portuguese Jewish ancestors:

“The accusation was based solely on a quote taken out of context from Jackie’s Facebook page on 27th February 2016. It was not a public posting but part of a private discussion with a Zionist friend and others about the African holocaust and the fact that Jews – notably Jackie’s own Portuguese Jewish ancestors whose history she has researched – had been involved in the sugar and slave trade.”

It’s perhaps time that authors and supporters of the witch-hunt against Jackie Walker explain their apparent denial of an easily accessible public document that completely answers their allegations?

Before the Labour Party Conference Jackie Walker spoke at Momentum public meetings on the Chakrabarti report, she also gave out a three page hand out setting out her position on anti-Semitism and racism in the Labour Party. It also details her thoughts on the term ‘holocaust’. It is not credible that groups such as the JLM are unaware of Jackie’s stance, their reaction at the ‘training’ event would seem to be nothing more than faux outrage.

What is more worrying are the words of Momentum’s Jon Lansman in reply to Tony Greenstein where he repeats a slur against Jackie Walker:

“I imagine however that the party is likely to take into account her earlier comments about Jews and Slavery which included the comment “many Jews (my ancestors included) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. I do regard this comment as much more problematic since it is extremely similar to a widely repeated antisemitic trope associated with the publication “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews” published by the Nation of Islam”

As Jon Lansman is a colleague of Jackie Walker’s, is it credible that he is ignorant of her public clarification of the hacked Facebook posts? Perhaps he should be pressed to explain this omission when he raised the hacked posts in his reply to Tony Greenstein.

Fight for Momentum

There have been calls for Momentum members appalled by the decision to remove Jackie as vice-chair to stay and and fight. But those members now have another battle to fight as well as the one for their ideas, they also have the political maneuverings of their leadership.

Notes and references

1. A concise description that distills the essence of anti-Semitism is given by Dr Brian Klug in his paper, ‘The collective Jew: Israel and the new antisemitism‘. He defines anti-Semitism as “a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.”

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