How Israel's left is missing the point

A discriminatory law which bans Palestinians from joining spouses within Israel was extended without

While Israeli PM Netanyahu's coalition seems steady, recent events like the response to the new anti-boycott law, the march for Palestinian independence, and the housing protests have some claiming a resurgent "peace camp". Yet the rhetoric by Israel's "left" has merely highlighted how much remains to be done to realise equality and basic Palestinian rights.

When the Knesset passed the anti-boycott law earlier this month, there was a huge outcry. Long-time activist Uri Avnery declared that the anti-boycott law "crosses the boundary between a democratic and a non- democratic society". The New York Times published an editorial saying that the legislation "seriously tarnished" Israel's "reputation as a vibrant democracy".

Days later, Israel's cabinet voted to extend another piece of legislation. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law bans Palestinians from the Occupied Territories from living with their spouses in Israel (for West Bank residents it depends on the individual's age). First passed as a "temporary" measure in 2003, it has been periodically renewed ever since. In 2006, the ('liberal') Israeli Supreme Court ruled against a legal challenge to the law.

As B'Tselem puts it, "the statute severely impairs the family life of tens of thousands of persons". To put it simply, this law prevents Palestinian families living together. That's why the EU Ambassador to Israel has previously slammed the legislation as "establishing a discriminatory regime to the detriment of Palestinians in the highly sensitive area of family rights".

Officially, the Israeli government justifies the law on the grounds of security, pointing to terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians who had entered Israel through family unification. But as a rationale for such a general prohibition this is inadequate: Israel's security services, after all, are able to approve entry for thousands of Palestinian workers.

In reality, says B'Tselem, the security argument is "baseless" and intended to "cover-up the real reason" for the law: trying to stop "the further increase of the Arab population in Israel in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state". In the words of then-minister without portfolio Gideon Ezra: "the state of Israel is not prepared to accept a creeping right of return; no one wants our state to cease to be a Jewish state". In 2005, the then-PM Ariel Sharon admitted: "There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state".

Where is the outrage over a law that was greeted by the right-wing news site Israel National News with the headline: "Cabinet Extends Measure Preventing 'Invasion by Marriage'"? Why, for Avnery and others, is the anti-boycott law -- and not the legally-sanctioned separation of Palestinian spouses -- the final straw? The key difference seems to be that the former will affect Jewish Israelis.

The ban on family unification is just one example, of course -- Israel's "vibrant democracy'"has long meant something rather different for Palestinians. But its renewal at the same time as the anti-boycott law dominated the headlines highlights the problematic politics of a mainstream Israeli left that seems more invigorated by a perceived urgency to "save Zionism" (i.e. through two-state ethnic separation) than by a fight against colonial occupation.

Ben White is a freelance journalist specialising in Israel/Palestine.

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.