Rebecca Long-Bailey slipped up, but a discussion about Israeli police violence is long overdue

Rebecca Long-Bailey slipped up, but a discussion about Israeli police violence is long overdue
Comment: Sacking Long-Bailey for making a factual mistake about an otherwise verified practice is a low-down attempt to punish Labour's left, writes Malia Bouattia.
7 min read
30 Jun, 2020
Starmer removed Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey from her post [Getty]
Just when it feels like we have seen all there is to see from the right of the Labour party in its bid to destroy and delegitimise the left, and erase the memory of the last five years of Corbyn's leadership, another unbelievable stunt is pulled.

MP Rebecca Long-Bailey was removed from her post last week as shadow education secretary by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who accused her of spreading an "anti-semitic conspiracy theory".

RLB retweeted an article from The Independent, in which actress Maxine Peake mentioned that police tactics in the US are "learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services", in reference to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer.

The attacks by the Israel lobby and its allies came thick and fast - critical of both the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as pro-Corbyn supporters like Peake - and were [apparently] over the suggestion that the chokehold that killed Floyd and many others, was not a training method provided by Israeli forces.

The claim they made was that Peake, instead of describing actual relationships between Israeli and US repressive institutions, was instead engaging in anti-semitic conspiracies about Jews controlling US police and organising its state racism. That no mention was made of Jews in Peake's article or that the relationships between the two countries' police forces are well documented, did not matter.

So to be clear, Israel does export its repressive and violent tactics around the world, including to the US. This is well documented. It is also well documented that Israel has trained many police forces in the US in "crowd control".

Making a factual mistake in describing an otherwise verified practice is now a 'trope', a 'conspiracy theory'

There is however no available evidence that the specific technique which involves an officer's knee on a man's neck, was part of those. This detail is where the focus of the public debate lies, strengthened by countless headlines and airtime in defence of Starmer's sacking of Long-Bailey.

Making a factual mistake in describing an otherwise verified practice is now a "trope", a "conspiracy theory", and anti-semitic. What's more, this furore allows the fact that Israel's dehumanising practices - which it has perfected on the Palestinians it colonises, displaces, and dispossess - to recede in the background and be pushed out of the public debate – let alone the fact that the British government continues to support the colonists. 

Get your facts wrong, you are a racist. Support racist regimes, you aren't. 

In response to the attack, instead of holding the line and restating the facts, Long-Bailey scrambled to disassociate herself from that particular section of the piece, and Peake even released a point of clarification over her mistake. Yet calls by pro-Israel groups, like the Jewish Leadership Council, were swiftly met with her sacking within the hour. 

In fairness, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Long-Bailey, who throughout the leadership campaign did all she could to distance herself from Corbyn and the movement that had brought him - and kept him - in power, has been complicit in her own defeat. The MP not only declared herself a Zionist, but also equated accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, to being anti-semitic.

Read more: Black Lives Matter UK stands with Palestine against 'colonialism' as Israel's illegal annexation looms

She capitulated to the Israel lobby and the right of the labour party that built their power through repeated smear campaigns against Corbyn and other high profile Palestine solidarity activists, in a desperate bid to appeal to the right of the Labour Party.

It was her political choices - and those of many of her allies on the institutional left of the Party - that, by throwing the Palestinian people and their struggle under the bus, weakened the Labour Party's ability to put forward serious anti-imperialist politics and build genuine international solidarity.

It also ceded ground to those who shamelessly weaponised anti-semitism to undermine the Corbyn project and effectively allowed the left to be painted as a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth, racist conspiracy theorists. This thinking assumes that her heart really lies with the oppressed, in Palestine and around the world. But her complicity in the targeting of pro-Palestine, anti-colonial activists makes having any sympathy in the face of her sacking, near impossible.

The point, of course, is not about Long-Bailey, however. It is about the left and how we rebuild a serious, mass based, internationalist movement. It is helpful - given the current state of play - to start by simply restating the facts in the face of the onslaught. 

The Israeli state plays an active role in exporting racist violence, tried and tested, on Palestinians across the world. Through these programmes it plays a part in the militarisation of the US police and the continued violence disproportionately targeted at black communities in the country.

Get your facts wrong, you are a racist. Support racist regimes, you aren't

The death of Freddie Grey in Police custody in Baltimore in 2015 for example, led to mass protests in the US which spread around the world. Amnesty International USA wrote about how the local law enforcement, implicated in Grey's murder, went to Israel for training. 

In fact, Amnesty published its findings in response to a report released by the US Department of Justice about the "widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement, and culture of retaliation" of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). It highlighted the direct connection between this structural oppressive behaviour and the Israeli training. 

Baltimore police are not alone in this regard. Hundreds of law enforcement officials across the country have taken part in the training trips in Israel, and thousands of others have received training from Israeli officials within the US. The exchange extends to the sharing of technologies, information gathering, working with the media and border control, all of which has been taking place since 9/11. 

There is never a neat separation between racism at home and imperialism abroad. The history of colonial police tactics being brought back to the metropolis is a long and bloody one. It is one that we would do well to highlight more often, and bring to the centre of our debates on both global solidarity, and resistance to racism. 

Also in the UK, the Black Lives Matter movement, echoing the strong anti-imperialist tradition and internationalism of former freedom fighters like the Black Panther Party, recognises this important connection. Over the weekend, BLM UK released statements of support to the Palestinian people's struggle for liberation, and made clear its opposition towards the continued annexation plans of more Palestinian land by the Israeli government. The backlash soon followed. 

The Israeli state plays an active role in exporting racist violence, tried and tested, on Palestinians across the world

While hundreds of pro-Israeli twitter accounts descended on the organisation, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, expressed her disappointment and went as far as accusing BLM UK of using an "anti-semitic trope" because they posted in a tweet that "mainstream British politics is gagged of the right [sic] to critique Zionism, and Israel's settler colonial pursuits".

Yet how else should we describe the continued institutional assault, by politicians, pundits, and state officials on those who dare stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people? If not gagged, would silenced be better? Intimidated? Harassed?

The argument is laughable. Just like it is laughable to think Peake's small factual mistake was actually an anti-semitic conspiracy theory. The real outcome of these attacks however, is that instead of discussing continued Israeli colonial expansion, racism, and violence, and strategising on how to force our government to end British complicity in it, we spend all our time debunking their spurious attacks. 

As Trump's Deal of the Century and Israel's annexation plans press forward, each and every political leader that remains silent will be complicit in the continued theft of land, violations of international law, and dispossession of countless Palestinians.

We are in dire need of rebuilding a strong, uncompromising movement that restates the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, opposes oppression at home and abroad, and has the political insight and strength to take on the right, including inside the Labour Party.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.