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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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.