Paul Flynn must explain his comments about Jewish loyalty

His ill-chosen words have nothing to do with the just cause of Palestinian liberation.

His ill-chosen words have nothing to do with the just cause of Palestinian liberation.

"Maverick" is a term I usually avoid, because all too often appears to mean "those who reject the prevailing consensus and are therefore a bit wacky". But -- with all due respect to Newport West's long-standing Labour MP -- Paul Flynn has a track record of both being a maverick and a bit wacky. "The only I way I'll vote for this is if they give me a full frontal lobotomy," he said over tuition fees in 2004. "If you find me with half my brain missing, the whips will have had their grubby, blood-stained hands on it." Witty and -- as I say -- a bit wacky.

But - if his comments to the Jewish Chronicle have been accurately reported - then Paul Flynn has discredited himself. The paper challenged him after he questioned the acceptability of Matthew Gould as Ambassador to Israel. In a sitting of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, which discussed meetings between Gould, the former defence secretary Liam Fox and his friend Adam Werrity, Flynn alleged that Gould "has proclaimed himself to be a Zionist and has previously served in Iran, in the service."

There is a case for Flynn to raise this. Zionism is a political movement, after all, and an MP is well within his rights to query whether there is a conflict of interest. But there is no justification whatsoever for his subsequent comments. According to the Jewish Chronicle, Flynn argued that previous ambassadors to Israel had not been Jewish "to avoid the accusation that they have gone native." He apparently added that Britain needed "someone with roots in the UK [who] can't be accused of having Jewish loyalty."

Flynn has dismissed accusations of anti-semitism as "ludicrous" on his blog. But he still must adequately explain -- or apologise for -- these reported comments.

Firstly, his remarks imply that being Jewish would make a person inherently supportive of Israel. Given the long tradition of Jewish critics of Israel -- recent prominent examples include the late Harold Pinter, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky -- this is outright nonsense.

In actual fact, many hardened Zionists are not even Jewish. US Presidents ranging from Richard Nixon (who privately indulged in anti-Semitic tirades) to Ronald Reagan were non-Jewish Zionists. The US Christian Right could not be more supportive of the worst excesses of Israeli governments. There are plenty of non-Jewish British ultra-Zionists who -- it could be argued -- would fail to hold Israeli governments to account if they served as Britain's Ambassador.

Of even greater concern is Flynn's clear suggestion that a Jewish person has no "roots in the UK". This echoes classic anti-semitism, which is based on the slur that Jews outside Israel are aliens in whichever country they live (a myth that, unfortunately, is these days also promoted by the Israeli government.) Perhaps Flynn's words simply were ill-chosen but he certainly should clarify what he meant by this.

Apologists for Israeli policy have long alleged that their critics are motivated by anti-Semitism (and that Jewish critics are "self-hating Jews"). It is an ingenious means of shutting down scrutiny, because nobody wants to be associated with a bigotry that, in the 20th century, culminated in the extermination of millions of people. It is as untrue as to suggest critics of Apartheid South Africa were motivated by a hatred of white South Africans.

But Flynn's comments will now be used by ultra-Zionists as evidence that their critics are motivated by bigotry. The immediate danger is that the affair risks overshadowing legitimate questions about the Fox-Werrity affair.

There is an ongoing struggle for a just Middle East free of Western interference, in which Muslims, Jews and Christians alike can live secure, peaceful lives. Hatred of the Jewish people has nothing to do with this struggle -- except that it must be fought against to the bitter end.

I have proudly marched in support of Palestinian liberation, and I will continue to do so. But Paul Flynn's words have nothing to do with this just cause, and he should rightly be condemned.

Owen Jones is author of "Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class"

Owen Jones is a left-wing columnist, author and commentator. He is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and writes a weekly column for the Guardian. He has published two books, Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment and How They Get Away With It.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.