Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)

Part 2 of this article is coming soon, though delayed. Meanwhile for proposals on creating a democratic national structure for Momentum, see here.

On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.

Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.

After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).

I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.

Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us

For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:

“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.

“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.

“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.

“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.

“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.

“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”

Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.

To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.

Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.

Free speech on Israel?

To continue quoting from the article above:

“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.

“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “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”.

“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.

“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”

Momentum’s statement

The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.

Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.

Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.

At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.

This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)

My motivations

There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.

I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.

I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!

I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.

Get in touch and let me know what you think: jillmountford@rocketmail.com

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13 thoughts on “Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)”

  1. “When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.
    Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”

    Not happy with this statement. I believe the first reaction is in fact to examine the cause of complaint. In fact I find the claim that this is not so astonishing. If the cause of complaint turns out to be chimerical, attention quite naturally turns to why the complaint was made. The point is perfectly evidenced by the case of Jackie Walker herself. The original complaint against Walker was apparently laid by the Israel Advocacy Movement, an organisation whose mission in its own words is to “counter the increasing hostility Israel is suffering at the hands of the British public. The Israel/Palestine conflict is plagued by huge volumes disinformation circulated by Israel’s enemies, this duplicitous strategy has manipulated many well intentioned Britons into harbouring underserved prejudices against Israel. We intend to counter this bias by educating the masses of Britain using social media and network of street level advocacy teams to educate the British masses on the reality of the Israel/Palestine conflict”.

    One could argue the merits or otherwise of this ideological stance, but it can hardly be denied that “using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions” would not be regarded on the left as an unreasonable description of the IAM’s procedures. Particularly since the Labour Party itself reinstated Walker and found no evidence that her words were anti-Semitic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have you ever noticed the number of attacks on kids with red hair? Probably not because it sounds a little silly. My son was bullied at school for 8 years, often violently. He was ridiculed, assaulted and driven to attempt suicide. He got no additional protection. He was not the only kid with red hair to be victimised. Where wss the additional security? Bigotry is bigotry – stop creating special cases.

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  3. Thanks for this. It’s very helpful. The only knowledge I have a out this debacle is what’s in tge public sphere. It’s helpful to have some background and inside perspectives like yours.
    I supported the decision and the analysis contained in the momentum statement.
    I don’t think momentum should have attended the event as it was clearly another front in the smear campaign against Momentum and the Corbyn leadership.
    Jackie Walker showed political naivete, ignorance of the subhe ts dis ussed and was self indulgent in ignoring her own advice given the day before and filmed with her permission at another event.
    We members and supporters of momentum and Corbyns leadership deserve better. Much much better repredentation and respect from our leadership. We ate all in a goldfish bowl at the moment. We are all models of the country and values we speak about wanting.
    I felt the statement reflected an insecurity or lack of confidence but not knowing what’s going on I couldn’t know why that was.
    Your comment on the lack of experience and skill in managing high octane national political crises explains some or most of this and also why this:
    “This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.”

    It’s PRECISELY THIS FLAW that is weakening the Corbyn leadership and Momentum.
    The fresh air that’s been brought into Corbyn’s cabinet following the coup is doing precisely this:
    1.stating things clearly
    2.promoting discussion
    3.educating the movement
    4. Models of good practice
    These new shadow ministers are out and proud working class heroes. They are not ashamed of their class and understand the value and strength that their life experience and the perspectives of their communities can bring to shaping caring and responsible government.
    If Corbyn relied less on the Oxbridge PPE elites for guidance he would gain more standing and credibility among the working class populations “left behind ” by Labour for the last 25 years.

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  4. In Mountford’s defence of her of her decision to vote for the removal of Jackie Walker from her position as Momentum vice-chair, she fails to understand what lies behind Jackie’s concerns about Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). As I understand it Jackie has two separate concerns. The first springs from her position as a woman of both African and Jewish heritage. She cannot understand why the suffering of her Jewish ancestors is a focus of public commemoration while the suffering of her African ancestors is not. We can suggest that while the British was leading players in perpetrating the African tragedy the Shoah was the doing of others. It is easier to acknowledge the guilt of others than your own.
    Many of our African and African-Caribbean friends feel deeply that her painful history is ignored. Despite some perfunctory school lessons about the slave trade, surveys show that the British have positive view of the British Empire. HMD may, or may not, be the correct vehicle for such acknowledgement – If there were an equal high profile annual event then, maybe, the question wouldn’t arise but there isn’t so it has to be addressed in this frame.
    The second is a more generally felt concern about HMD. Questioning the use of the Jewish Holocaust in current politics is being deliberately confused with Holocaust denial. None of the people I know are in any doubt about the scale of the tragedy or its historical significance as he first modern genocide – modern in the sense of belonging to modernity in its use of modern technology and organisation to carry out the crimes. Where we part company from the Zionists is in its use as a justification for the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes and their continued oppression by the Jewish Israeli state, supported and encouraged by Zionist organisations worldwide–including ‘soft’ Zionists like the JLM who seek a gentler, kinder Apartheid.
    Questions about the construction of HMD and its use are slandered as antisemitic because they undermine the legitimacy of the Holocaust as a justification of the current Israeli state.
    Momentum’s labelling of Walker’s questioning as ill-judged shows how urgent her questions are and Mountford has announced her complicity in this.
    Attacks on Jewish Schools in France of course raises anxieties here but so should attacks on Muslim centres in Britain; as Walker said all our children should be safe. But there is a political use of these attacks that is an issue. As more and more young Jews flee Israel for freer societies elsewhere, the Israeli government is desperate to increase Jewish immigration and amplification of fear among Jewish diaspora communities is a long-standing tactic to entice Jews to make Aliyah, to migrate to Israel.
    Security, whether at schools or airports is a little about keeping us safe and a lot about trying to induce dependence on a security sate that diminishes our willingness to criticise those in authority. Continual questioning of the ambit and activity of the security state is a necessity for Socialists, and all defenders of liberty.
    Momentum’s failure to understand the underlying politics of Walker’s intervention is troubling. Democratisation of Momentum is urgent as the only way to achieve its and our aim of democratising the Labour Party. In that Mountford and I can agree.

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  5. Momentum has shot itself in the foot. I don’t know Jackie Walker, I have never met her but it is clear she was being “mobbed”. The three core issues are

    1. A deliberate mis-understanding that antiIsrael is not=antiZionism and not=AntiSemitism. The three can be logically independent. Israel has admitted that it accuses people of antisemitism in order to close down (legitimate) criticism of Israel’s actions – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shulamit_Aloni – and many Jews are antiZionists – http://www.ijan.org/who-we-are/

    2 THE Holocaust (definite article) according to http://www.het.org.uk is reserved exclusively to the Nazi extermination of Jews. I submit that most people (Clapham omnibus persons) understand the use of “holocaust” in a wider context. I did.

    3 The “Labour is full of antisemites” allegations from the Right of the Party that ran throughout Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign and which the Chakrabarti report should have, but did not dispel.

    None of Jackie Walker’s comments were “hanging offences”. If any were, and you agree that they were not antisemitic, then she should have been thrown to the wolves. By failing to criticise the mobbing (which is intolerance, bullying, hurtful) and support her, Momentum has shown itself to be made of straw and to help perpetuate the myth that Labour is riddled with antisemites. Momentum has damaged itself far more than you seem to realise.

    The leadership battle is over, Jeremy Corbyn scored a decisive victory and we should all be fighting the Tories who are moving rapidly to the right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with your comments and I also have never met and have no association with Jacqueline Walker. Jill Mountford and those in the Momentum Steering Committee who voted to remove Jackie I would classify as intellectually incompetent political opportunists and actions like this will only serve to further alienate potential Momentum supporters.

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  6. Could you tell us more about the pressure you experienced from the Labour Right and the Momentum Right even though it didn’t bother you. After all in the future others might have similar pressure and not be as resolute as you.
    It might be helpful to them to know what to expect.

    Leaving aside the issue of whether Jackie’s comments were about Israel, the faux outrage of the Zionist orgs was/is about Israel. It is ALWAYS about Israel.

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  7. I completely agree with the sentiment of much of this blog and thank you for saying it. I’m replying, mostly not because of the comments of Jackie Walker, but of many of those that have supported her: much of this has been online debate, so I have no idea whether this is coming from Party members or not, but have to say that I have been rather shocked and appalled at the comments of some “anti-zionists”. I’m glad that you have addressed this in this blog as it seriously needs addressing. The assumption that anyone who feels offence is a pro hardline Israeli aggression is disturbing. Even if you could argue that it isn’t antisemitic, it certainly plays into the language of antisemitism.
    Hearing the word “Zionist” bandied around as an insult, I decided to do my own research and it seems that there is a large progressive Zionist movement: something I think we on the left should be embracing. Many of these comments come from a place of ignorance and I think Momentum, as a movement, should be doing lots to dispel this ignorance (this blog is s step in the right direction). I’d love to hear the voices of some progressive zionists, to dispel some of the myths. Maybe Momentum could do something along these lines. Keep up the good work. We’re a strong political force,now. Glad to see we’re acting like one.

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  8. You was tested and found wanting, instead of removing her from the post, you should have made here Chairwomen and told the JLM sorry but where are not playing your silly childish games.
    You have now made Momentum’s case very plain to all members that you will fold before you will stand up for them, all you have shown is that you are not willing to stand up for a senior Momentum committee member, what chance have the ordinary members got in you fighting in their corner.
    All you have done is show that JLM or any over organisation, have the power to attack you with impunity and you will crumble instead of getting behind your own members.
    Sorry, but the idea of Momentum was a good idea in principle but lacking in fighting spirit, with members already leaving and cancelling subs ,who can blame them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You make a good argument to explain the way you voted.

    But if so, why is Walker still on the Momentum steering committee? Why is she still a member of Momentum?

    I appreciate that, sometimes, in political organisations, you have to make compromises. But given the case you’ve set out, how can you compromise with antisemitism?

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  10. Hi everyone – obviously I’ve received a lot of comments on this post (as well as lots of emails). I’m not ignoring them but given there are so many I need to find time to reply.

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  11. There is a comment which I have approved but which for some reason has not appeared. Here it is:

    Dear Jill Mountford,
    I understand your attempts to reduce the sense of injustice shown to Jackie Walker and that you voted in a less punitive way than the final decision is perceived.
    I am sorry and concerned that your report does not the context of the exact words Jackie Walker used.
    I am more saddened by the successful attempts of malicious people to attack Jackie Walker’s political career due to her questioning and assessment of historical stereotypes.
    Last night Momentum Oxford voted (approximately 90% majority) for a letter protesting the Momentum Steering Committee decision and asking that Jackie Walker is reinstated.
    Thank you. Ed Surridge

    Like

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