Anti-Semitism is the new black

The union movement is giving succour to the oldest form of racism.

Oh, how fashionable it is all becoming. A month ago, enfant terrible designer John Galliano was fined over an anti-Semitic tirade at a Paris restaurant. But his drug-addled ramblings were just the latest signs of a wider trend.

There are numerous recent incidents -- ranging from an unpleasant flavour of anti-Israeli activism to straightforward racism -- that should sound alarm bells for the liberals among us. For example, take the odd promotion of renowned Jewish conspiracy theorist Gilad Atzmon's book on the Times' website. Or the "ugly" barracking of Israeli musicians during a London concert for the heinous crime of, er, being Israeli. Or a racist incident involving a Jewish student at St Andrews University.

But there's a new twist on the ideological catwalk. We can visualise far-right thugs indulging in this kind of thing but somehow we don't expect it from our comrades on the supposedly liberal-left.

And I am afraid that the final two incidents referred to above, and others beside, are connected with a small knot of campaigners purporting to further the cause of the Palestinian people. They go by the name of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Not only was the St Andrew's student a member of the Scottish PSC but it was then the PSC who condemned the conviction, according to Stephen Pollard writing in the Daily Telegraph.

If you need a primer on the PSC let's start here. This is the organisation that invited Raed Salah - accused by a Jerusalem court of anti-Semitism - to speak at the Houses of Parliament. Its defence? Jaw-droppingly -- as the London Evening Standard reported -- it was because "he denied completely he was an anti-Semite" (despite views expressed in this video and others attributed to him here). Salah is now likely to be deported following a tribunal ruling reached earlier this week.

Moreover the PSC has members who have been quoted making troubling and making conspiracy-fuelled attacks about the role of Jews and the state of Israel (see this list on the dubious activities of ten separate local branches). And it was one of the PSC's close union allies, UCU, which decided to reject any formal definition of anti-Semitism, so as not to limit its pronouncements against Israel, and which now has its Jewish members leaving in droves.

Meanwhile, it was Viva Palestina, a group linked to PSC, whose organiser Carole Swords, was caught on camera shouting "go back to Russia" at a man outside the Israeli cosmetics store Ahava in Covent Garden and who was later arrested -- in a separate incident -- for using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour.

And which mainstream group is unthinkingly giving succour to this new vogue? Step forward, Britain's trade unions, once the reliable ballast of the Labour right, who are increasingly being influenced, in their wilder conference pronouncements at least, by the far left.

So much so that the Trades Union Congress recently tried to break links with their counterpart in Israel, Hisradut, a largely progressive grouping which has sought to cultivate links with their Palestinian brethren. Observer columnist and a defender of unions, Nick Cohen, cancelled his speaking date at a TUC rally in protest at what he calls a "foul smell in Britain's unions".

While they also operate on Labour's fringes, the far left knows that the TUC's resolution-based democracy presents a far better opportunity to effect action because if a resolution is passed it becomes policy; even if that resolution is the work of a small number of nutty, but well organised, activists.

The TUC needs to wake up and challenge the toxic effect of its association with the PSC. (There is an honourable exception to this near-universal backing for the PSC -- the union Community backs the non-partisan Tulip, which reaches out to both sides).

Last weekend, there was a scheduled PSC-organised trade union conference,. I'd like to think that this was because the unions involved finally saw sense but find myself believing the reason given by the PSC -- namely, the TUC was too busy preparing for the 30 November day of action. The accompanying statement states that, in supporting the PSC, "the TUC has voted to . . . oppose racism". Have these people no sense of irony?

Yet the worst culprit of all, in the propagation of this twisted fashion, is us. You and me. We of the Labour Party and the labour movement, because we are content to sit back and let it happen.

It blights our society, it hurts the Palestinian cause and, in the end, the latent toxicity of the PSC and their fellow-travellers will damage us on the left, too. Tolerance of the viewpoints of a broad church is fine. But this fashionable tolerance of racism, in imagined support of a cause, is unacceptable and must not go unchallenged.


Rob Marchant is a political commentator and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left. You can follow him on Twitter @Rob_Marchant


UPDATE: The PSC has asked us to point out that they take a firm line on racism and that the front page of the organisations website says: "Any expression of racism or intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement. Such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

"Our campaign is a positive one, working to ensure the freedoms enjoyed by people throughout the world are not denied to the people of Palestine. We seek to build a movement where all those who are in support of our core demands can take part. Join us, and let us create a world free of occupation, free of racism and where the human rights of all are protected."

Further the PSC has asked us to point out that 1. The protest against Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was based on the IPO's close association with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and 2. The Scottish PSC is an entirely distinct organisation to PSC. It has its own membership, officers, structure and policies. More

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Can Britain’s new powers to investigate unexplained wealth prevent real-life McMafias?

The government is waking up to the fact that global criminals are fond of London. 

The BBC’s McMafia, a story of high-flying Russian mobsters and international money launderers woven into the fabric of London, ended this month. Despite the dramatic TV twists, the subject matter has its basis in reality. As a barrister dealing with cases that involve Russia and former Soviet states, my experience is that politicians and business people use the apparatus of the state to put rivals out of business by any means possible.

In McMafia, previously straight-laced fund manager Alex Godman (played by James Norton) begins transferring money under the cover of a new investment fund. With a click of a button, he can transfer a shady partner’s money around the world. As the Paradise Papers underlined, money can indeed be hidden through the use of complex company structures registered in different countries, many of which do not easily disclose the names of owners and beneficiaries. One company can be owned by another, so the owner of Company A (in Panama) might be Company B (in the Cayman Islands) which is owned by Company C (in the Seychelles) which owns property in London. To find out who owns the property, at least three separate jurisdictions must be contacted and international co-operation arranged – and that’s a simple structure. Many companies will have multiple owners, making it even more difficult to work out who the actual beneficiary is.

I represent individuals before the UK extradition and immigration courts. They are bankers, business people and politicians who have fled persecution in Russia and Ukraine or face fabricated charges in their home country and face extradition or deportation and will often be tortured or put on show trial if we lose. Their opponents will deploy spies, who may pay visits to co-defendants in Russia for “psychological work” (aka torture). Sometimes the threat of torture or ruin against a person’s family is enough to make them confess to crimes they didn’t commit. I have seen family members of my clients issued with threats of explicit violence and the implicit destruction of their life. Outside their close relatives’ homes in Russia, cars have been set on fire. Violence and intimidation are part of the creed that permeates the country’s business and political rivalries.

As in McMafia, London has long played a bit part in these rivalries, but the UK government has been slow to act. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent turned defector, was killed in London using Polonium 210 – a radioactive substance put into a cup of tea. Although Russian state involvement was suspected from the beginning, the UK government tried to block certain material being released into the public domain, leading his family to complain that the UK’s relations with Russia were being put before the truth. In 2016, a decade after his death, the inquiry finally delivered its verdict: there was a “strong probability” Litvinenko was murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin. Yet in the same breath as condemning the act, David Cameron’s spokeswoman said the UK would have to “weigh carefully” the incident against “the broader need to work with Russia on certain issues”.

The government of Cameron’s successor has however been quick to use McMafia as a spring-board to publicise its new Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO). These new investigatory powers are purportedly to be used to stop the likes of Alex from hiding money from the authorities. Anyone with over £50,000 of property who is politically exposed or suspected of a serious crime, will be forced to disclose the source of their wealth on request. While most British homeowners would own more than £50,000, the individuals are likely to be high profile politicians or under investigation already by the authorities. If they fail to respond punctually, they risk forfeiting their property.

The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has long campaigned for such measures, highlighting cases such as the first family of Azerbaijan owning property in Hampstead or senior Russian politicians believed to own flats in Whitehall. Previously, confiscating hidden assets has been a lengthy and complex process: when the High Court confiscated an £11m London house belonging to a Kazakh dissident, the legal process took seven years.

The new Unexplained Wealth Orders mean that the onus is shifted to the owner of the property to prove legitimacy and the origin of the wealth. The authorities will have much greater power to investigate where finance and investment originated. But in order for them to work effectively, they will have to be backed up by expert prosecutors. The government still has a long way to go before it makes London a less attractive place to hide money.

Ben Keith is a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill specialising in extradition, immigration, serious fraud, human rights and public law.