FORMER West Hampstead councillor Phil Rosenberg may have stepped down from the Town Hall but those who do not share his politics, or perhaps more importantly his view on the way the Labour Party currently ticks and whether or not it is riddled with anti-semitism, would be mistaken to think he is going to peel away into the background. The opposite, if anything.
In last week’s New Journal’s letters page he took on Camden Momentum, who he claimed are divided between “genuine socialists and absolute cranks”, adding: “Socialists are supposed to be ‘anti-racist’ whereas Camden Momentum’s leadership seems determined to make Labour a safe haven for bigots and a hostile environment for Jews.” More, he wrote: “The Battle of Cable Street in October 1936 was a proud moment when the left, including socialists, communists and trade unionists, joined forces with Jews to protest against Oswald Mosley’s anti-Jewish marchers. I am sure that, were this historic event to repeat itself, Camden Momentum would attend. But, from their current posturing, it is no longer clear whose side they would be on.”
That’s not writing around his thoughts, no hints or innuendo, it’s the full unload and needless to say there are Labour members who are attached to Momentum, and some who simply see themselves as broadly supportive of Jeremy Corbyn, who think he went too far. Just as needless to say, Mr Rosenberg does not feel he needs to retract any of it. He is already boycotting full branch meetings on the grounds that he no longer believes them to be open to Jewish members and has said he thinks members obsess over motions relating to Israel.
Put simply Mr Rosenberg and those who share his frustration on this believe they have had more reason to take offence in recent months than Momentum members can take from his letter. This weekend he was told the reference to Cable Street and the idea that some members of Camden Momentum would side with the fascists was a “slur” by Kilburn councillor Douglas Beattie, although the two could not find more common ground than sending each other best wishes in between a polite disagreement on Twitter.
“I just disagree (respectfully) because I know these comrades and know they would literally be among the first to cry No Pasaran and stand with you against fascists,” said Cllr Beattie, in reply to Mr Rosenberg, who had tweeted: “Problem is this: Camden Momentum is literally organising and demonstrating in favour of making Antisemitism easier. Map that back on to the different sides at Cable St and it isn’t pretty.
Mr Rosenberg (pictured above during his time on the council) had been was writing to the CNJ on the back of news that the local Momentum group are planning a ‘mass lobby’ ahead of the party’s National Executive Council meeting tomorrow, aimed at persuading organisers not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-semitism with all its examples. There should be a full vote of Labour members before doing so, the group says, arguing that at least one of the examples would rule out criticism of Israel.
If all this was not leading the news agenda, in terms of Labour’s summer, enough already, former prime minister Gordon Brown made one of his ex-PM pacing speeches at the JW3 Centre in Finchley Road in which he said anti-semitism in the party could be allowed to fester no longer. Outside the Jewish Labour Movement conference, Margaret Hodge said she had come to realise that “Jeremy Corbyn was the problem”.
It was a tweet about what Mr Rosenberg had apparently told the conference which then opened up old wounds, and while I wasn’t in the room it does not seem to be disputed. “Phil Rosenberg outlining how the Hampstead & Kilburn hecklers of Tessa Jowell’s minute’s silence makes this struggle against antisemitism one of common decency,” said Liam Martin-Lane, a Labour campaigner from Ilford.
While the ‘story’ of that heckling went national, the facts are disputed. Don’t ask me to umpire that one, but the most common account has around five people objecting and refusing to stand, sighing loudly or leaving the room. This is in itself may sound curious and mean-spirited, but visions of shouting and barracking while others stood in silence are not agreed facts. Whatever the scene, those who did not want to take part that night were said to be unforgiving of Ms Jowell’s endorsement of the Iraq War, an opposition to foreign policy rather than something to define anti-semitism with.
Rebecca Shirazi, vice-chair of campaigns in the Hampstead and Kilburn branch, pictured below on an anti-austerity march this summer, has challenged Mr Rosenberg before on the issue and took offence again; and through last night it once again played out on Twitter in uncompromising tones.
“Would be great if you for once stood up against racism against Jews rather than alongside the racists,” Mr Rosenberg told Ms Shirazi.
Ms Shirazi: “What a horrid and untrue thing to say. I’m very hurt and offended you would say that, especially given you know I’m Jewish. It’s become commonplace for you to call anyone who dares to disagree with you a racist. This has to stop Phil.”
Mr Rosenberg: “Maybe I’m mistaken but isn’t this a picture of you fronting the campaign AGAINST Labour taking measures to tackle Antisemitism? You are not a bystander. You are literally standing with the oppressor against the oppressed & selling out others Jews.”
(NB: I’m not posting the photo used by Mr Rosenberg here; tweeting photos of a large group of people identifiable and suggesting some of them might side with anti-semites is his own legal risk)
Ms Shirazi: “What you’re saying is offensive, hurtful and diminishing the actual fight against racism. As a Jewish member of Camden Momentum, I attended a meeting Momentum organised about AS. This does not make me or anyone else who attended that meeting a racist.”
Mr Rosenberg: “The CM [Camden Momentum] you attended was entirely aimed at ‘diminishing the fight against anti-semitism’. The page on which this picture was found has a post calling Jon Lansman ‘a Mossad agent’. How do you feel about that? Once they’ve finished using you who will be left to fight for you?”
Ms Shirazi: “You’ve accused me & CM of racism, in response to my challenge of ur credibility as a source for H&K Lab meetings which u don’t attend. It appears you have defamed the CLP today by falsifying an account of a meeting that u did not attend. This has nothing to do with racism.”
Mr Rosenberg: “It has everything to do with racism & the culture of denial prevalent, of which you are part, probably in the mistaken belief that it will advance your political career. Multiple sources in the room who attest to heckling. I note you have not responded on the Lansman calumny…”