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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.