Cross-posted on Engage.
Over the past several years Green Party members have proposed a number of motions and initiatives tackling antisemitism, all of which have been defeated or deformed beyond usefulness by anti-Zionists. As The Guardian’s Hugh Muir observed back in 2010, Green officialdom has long opted to brush concerns about antisemitism under the carpet. Below are the most recent fruits of that – a bit of background, a brief timeline of recent events, and finally why you’d be wrong to blame me for bringing this to light.
For a long time the Green Party has been racked by bitter, polemical campaigning against Israel which has crashed the boundaries of simple anti-Zionism. It has included calling Green Party members who defend Israel Nazi infiltrators, alleging that a non-Israeli member with a Jewish name was an Israeli agent, failing to react appropriately to antisemitic comments in a discussion of a “Zionist lobby“, saying that Israeli academics were “not part of the civilised world”, circulating material by David Duke and quasi journalists concerned about Jewish influence in Parliament, promoting material by Gilad Atzmon, objecting to Jews taking certain official positions, affiliating to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition, and tending to treat concerns about antisemitism as politically motivated (and in fact worse than antisemitism itself).
A main channel for all this was internal Green Party email discussion groups, particularly the International List which discussed little else. Concerned members made several official complaints at the heart of which were failures by those assigned to moderate these groups. The complaints did not lead to any action, though. Some were rejected while others went into limbo. In contrast, a shockingly flimsy complaint against one member on a charge of disrepute and entryism on behalf of Israel progressed smartly to an internal tribunal (although the member, with help, managed to clear herself she has never been notified of the outcome). Members, including me, left, resigned their candidacy, or retreated into the background in protest about both the antisemitism and the ineptitude of the responses. The invective about Israel continued unabated. By some time in 2011 the International List moderator had had enough so it was decided to separate off the Israel-related stuff to the relative containment of a new discussion list called Palandisrl. The new list’s first moderator was someone who had referred to Israel as a “bloated state” with “US puppets in the UN”, and Zionism as “incompatible with Green views” and “an ancient theological fantasy”, so things went on in the same vein but with added moderator caprice. It quickly became an anti-Israel echo chamber where things could get quite surreal. When Terry Gallogly (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a video of the 2012 Olympic logo morphing into the word ‘Zion’, an appalled member bypassed the moderator in favour of an email to then-leader Caroline Lucas. Lucas sent a quick, unambivalently sympathetic response but again as far as we know no further action was taken. At some stage Shahrar Ali (Brent Green Party and recently elected joint Deputy Leader) took over moderation.
That was some background – a brief timeline follows.
8 August – during Operation Protective Edge the discussion on the Palandisrl list became over-heated. Malcolm Chapman (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a diatribe he had authored titled ‘GENOCIDE TODAY ~ A CALL TO BOYCOTT’. Soon afterwards it was published on the Y&H website (no link because it was taken down without explanation on 8 September). Interspersed with some trenchant criticism of Israel were references to a Holocaust “happening again”, “real terrorists” who “call their victims terrorists”, “deliberate targeting of civilians” “influence over foreign governments”, “you have the memory of genocide in your DNA, why do you want to visit it upon others”, “why pretend any longer that your Palestinian Semite cousins have no right to their ancestral homeland”, and “all of Palestine must be freed from oppression”. More on why this is objectionable below.
14 August – I (a former member of Waltham Forest & Redbridge Green Party, who due to some bureaucratic error even now receives Palandisrl messages) emailed a request to Martin Deane and Shan Oakes (contacts for Y&H) to take down the piece, giving notice that otherwise I and others planned to make a complaint about antisemitism.
15 August – Martin Deane responded with a long defence but no undertakings, so our complaint was submitted. We took issue with the singularly hostile treatment of Israel, and the simplistic victim/perpetrator story which failed to recognise the role Hamas and the local jihadis in the conflict. We raised the matter of Holocaust inversion, an anti-Jewish propaganda tactic actively pursued by the far right, including Hamas. We pointed out the cruelty in referring to the Holocaust as a lesson Jews failed to learn. We observed that the mystified portrayal of the world’s sole Jewish state as a sinister, irresistible power resonates with the portrayal of Jews by people who hate Jews. We expressed discomfort with the racialised and tribal language of the piece. We objected to Malcolm Chapman’s failure to provide evidence for any of his claims, which made the Green Party look ignorant as well as prejudiced.
16 August – things got very much worse. Martin Deane posted an email to the Palandisrl list including the sentence “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right”. This sentence crossed the line from shame and denial of antisemitism, to owning antisemitism. A conscientious, responsible moderator would have quickly intervened, but instead nobody intervened.
17 August – I emailed Shahrar Ali as Palandisrl moderator, reminding him of the need for scrupulous moderation on that list, warning that I would publish the events and offering him a chance to respond. He did not respond, nor did anybody on his behalf. I’ve waited a month.
6 September – at the Green Party Autumn Conference Shahrar Ali was elected male deputy leader of the Green Party.
8 September – the ‘GENOCIDE TODAY’ piece was quietly taken down. Since the Green Party has not responded to our complaint about the piece, the reasons for this are unclear. However we do know that somebody had a ‘quiet word’.
12 September – on the Palandisrl list, former Green Party male speaker and newly elected International Coordinator Derek Wall announced that Shahrar Ali would be stepping down as moderator and invited volunteers to replace him. When Martin Deane volunteered Derek Wall, who is himself energetically anti-Zionist, responded that he would be “very happy” for him to take the role.
Perhaps at this stage you’re inclined to shrug – after all, this kind of talk is normal now. But it shouldn’t be because it lowers resistance to antisemitism when what we need to do is make antisemitism strange. Perhaps you’re thinking that I am trying to create a diversion from criticism of Israel. But Greens Engage has always drawn attention to criticism of Israel. Perhaps you’re of the opinion that the Greens’ creation of the Palandisrl list was a principled measure of containment and damage limitation, a sort of pre-moderation in itself. But the Green Party was aware of antisemitism from these quarters, has taken a policy stand against it, and therefore has a responsibility to keep things clean under that stone. Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t pursue the ‘quiet word’ approach – the offending piece is gone now, after all. The reason I wasn’t prepared to pursue the matter informally and discreetly through an intermediary is because I consider that approach ultimately unsustainable, not to mention disempowering for members without these privileged connections to the inner circle of activists.
Perhaps you’re tempted to shoot the messenger or deny that anything antisemitic has or possibly could have happened in the Green Party, because the Green Party is the party of the good people. Yes, but Shahrar Ali – moderator of the step change when Martin Deane announced “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right” – is now a Deputy Leader of the Green Party. His conference speech was all about the need to fight discrimination. That anti-discrimination agenda needs to be honoured when it comes to Jews – including Zionist ones, and even when the attacks on them come from what seems to be pro-Palestine campaigning. And then there’s Martin Deane himself, selected to replace Shahrar Ali as moderator of a discussion about Palestine and Israel, a role for which he has shown himself to be inadequate. So this is not an anti-Green Party post and it’s not suggesting that antisemitism characterises the Green Party. This post has happened because there are no functioning official internal channels for redress on antisemitism.
As well as being frightening and wrong, antisemitism weakens both the Green Party and the cause of Palestinian emancipation. In this case I’m hoping that sunlight is the best disinfectant.