Rebecca Long Bailey’s wrongful dismissal.

There was no antisemitism: the troubling case of Peake, Starmer and Long Bailey

Rebecca Long Bailey took up Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy of hope

By Richard House, Abdul-Karim Al-Malahi, Paul Kelly, Tosh McDonald, Alec McFadden, Andrew Samuels and Chris Searle**

Last week the actor Maxine Peake conducted a 1,650-word interview that appeared in The Independent newspaper in which the following words appeared: The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services… The then Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey tweeted the link to this interview, expressing her great admiration of Peake. The rest is now well-documented history. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer summarily dismissed Ms Long Bailey from her post – despite her issuing a statement clarifying that her re-tweeting of the interview did not amount to an endorsement of everything said in the interview. The political storm that followed was generated by around 20 words from the interview’s 1,650 words.


Did Keir Starmer wrongfully dismiss Rebecca Long Bailey in a full frontal attack on the Labour Left?

Before we unpick Peake’s statement and subject it to rigorous and dispassionate fact-checking, we need first to say something about the conspiracy theory trope that was used by Keir Starmer in his response to Peake’s statement. 

The deploying of the descriptor ‘conspiracy theory’ is now routinely used as an effective silencing manoeuvre by an establishment determined that the status quo should remain unchallenged. Playing the conspiracy theory card in this way is therefore often about closing down thinking about anything that might challenge mainstream narratives and interests. As history shows, sometimes there are conspiracies – we now know retrospectively that history is replete with them. So it is always an empirical, evidential question as to whether a conspiracy exists or not; and it’s just not good enough to summarily dismiss something as ‘a conspiracy’ by using this silencing rhetorical device.


Jeremy Corbyn and Maxine Peake

Now to the statement that Maxine Peake made that has caused the furore:

The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services…

There are several levels of unpicking that are necessary here. First, what precisely is, and isn’t, being said in this statement? Secondly, was the statement factually accurate or not? And thirdly, was it an anti-Semitic statement? We take it that if the statement can be shown to have substance and truth-value, then in no meaningful sense can it be said to be ‘anti-Semitic’. 

we will never be cowed into complying with a line of falsehood merely because those with media power will traduce us if we speak out.

First, what was – and wasn’t – being said. Peake refers to US police learning from, not ‘being taught by…’ – the two are crucially different. One can learn something from people without being formally ‘taught’ it. Next, we read that the kneeling tactic was learnt from ‘seminars with Israeli secret services’ – so we need to ascertain evidentially whether such seminars have taken place or not. Notice also that the political state of Israel is referred to by Peake, and not Jewishness in any way. 

Now to the factual basis or otherwise of Peake’s statement. A 2016 Amnesty International report titled With Whom Are Many U.S. Police Departments Training? With a Chronic Human Rights Violator – Israel  contains the following statements: ‘…But what hasn’t received as much attention is where Baltimore police received training on crowd control, use of force and surveillance: Israel’s national police, military and intelligent services. 

Baltimore law enforcement officials, along with hundreds of others from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington State as well as the DC Capitol police have all traveled to Israel for training. Thousands of others have received training from Israeli officials here in the USA.

It should be noted that the online version of this report contains multiple reputable links to corroborate all of the claims made in the above statement.

Thus, there is ample evidence to support the veracity of the statement made by Peake about US police officers learning the kneeling technique from Israeli state sources. 

Next, a 2012 newspaper report in the MPR News says the following, under the title ‘Minn. police learn from Israeli counter-terrorism conference’:

About 100 Minnesota law enforcement officers attended an Israeli counter-terrorism training conference in Minneapolis Monday.

The conference was put on by the Israeli consulate in Chicago, the FBI and the Minnetonka police. Deputy Consul Shahar Arieli said Israeli law enforcement officers shared techniques to prevent terrorist acts…

The half-day conference briefly touches on concerns that law enforcement operations could violate civil rights, but mostly focuses on terrorism prevention techniques, Arieli said.’

Moreover, the Israeli neck technique has made its way into the Minneapolis police manual which, not surprisingly, has been removed from online. An archived copy of the relevant section on how to control someone resisting arrest does still exist, however, and can be viewed here

Neck Restraint: Non-deadly force option. Defined as compressing one or both sides of a person’s neck with an arm or leg, without applying direct pressure to the trachea or airway (front of the neck). Only sworn employees who have received training from the MPD Training Unit are authorized to use neck restraints. The MPD authorizes two types of neck restraints: Conscious Neck Restraint and Unconscious Neck Restraint. (04/16/12) [The full document is available here: ]

So again, the claim the Peake’s statement was ‘anti-Semitic’ does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

Finally, on 31 May journalist David Lange – someone who is a strong defender of Israel – wrote an article titled The Nature of Israeli Training of US Police Officers, in which he writes that Maria Haberfeld, a former sergeant with the Israel Defense Forces, ‘…has extensively studied police training modules in the US and teaches officers on the ethics of using force, [and] said there are some legitimate take-down techniques by police that involve applying pressure around somebody’s neck.’  And in a 2 June report by journalist Alison Weir titled Minn cops trained by Israeli police, who often use knee-on-neck restraint’, we read that the training of US police officials by Israeli forces is widespread, with Neta Golan, the co-founder of International Solidarity Movement (ISM), quoted as saying: 

When I saw the picture of killer cop Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd by leaning in on his neck with his knee as he cried for help and other cops watched, I remembered noticing when many Israeli soldiers began using this technique of leaning in on our chest and necks when we were protesting in the West Bank sometime in 2006…. It was clear they had undergone training for this. They continue to use these tactics — two of my friends have had their necks broken but luckily survived – and it is clear that they [Israel] share these methods when they train police forces abroad in ‘crowd control’ in the US and other countries….      


Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian protestor during scuffles outside the compound housing al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City March 12, 2019.
Israeli police kneeling on a Palestinian youth’s head.

Thus, there is ample evidence to support the veracity of the statement made by Peake about US police officers learning the kneeling technique from Israeli state sources. 

Moreover, the Israeli neck technique has made its way into the Minneapolis police manual which, not surprisingly, has been removed from online

But even if the statement had been demonstrably false, could it have been construed as ‘anti-Semitic’? As alluded to earlier, the statement was about the State of Israel, and did not make any reference to Jewishness. The only way such a statement could conceivably be construed as being ‘anti-Semitic’ would be by a reader of the interview proactively assuming that anti-Semitism was secretly in the mind of the person saying it – an argument that is absurd, and which would have no legal grounds in any court, anywhere. So again, the claim the Peake’s statement was ‘anti-Semitic’ does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny.

It is also noteworthy that on the ‘Chiles on Friday’ show on Radio 5 last Friday morning, Adrian Chiles asked his guest, Jewish lawyer Bobby Friedman:

Was it overkill?… was it right that she [Rebecca Long Bailey] got the boot from the boss?… Let’s say you were a lawyer representing her [RLB] in this – sorry to put you in that position… Could you [as a lawyer] make a case for this being overkill be Keir Starmer?’

To which Friedman – again, no friend of Labour on the anti-Semitism question – replied that he would be able to make such a case.

Our clear view is that Maxine Peake’s statement regarding US police training by Israeli forces, for which there is ample factual evidence as detailed in this article, is not ‘anti-Semitic’ under any definition of that term – not even, it should be noted, the all-embracing international one adopted that has been by the Labour Party. 


In his immediate public statement on the issue, Sir Keir Starmer said:

The sharing of that article was wrong because the article contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. I have therefore stood Rebecca Long Bailey down from the shadow cabinet…’ (our emphasis).

It therefore follows from this that the adduced reason given by Starmer for Long Bailey’s consequent sacking from her shadow cabinet post is legally and ethically indefensible – and certainly when carried out by someone with the fine rational mind of someone of Sir Keir Starmer’s legal calibre.

the adduced reason given by Starmer for Long Bailey’s consequent sacking from her shadow cabinet post is legally and ethically indefensible

We have countless Jewish friends and loved ones, and we abhor and condemn anti-Semitism in all its manifestations. But for the sake of democracy, social justice and free speech, the use and deployment of faux anti-Semitism accusations must and will be called out by all fair-minded people – and that includes calling out those who – lazily or calculatingly – deploy the ‘conspiracy theory’ trope in order to close down or silence any critical thinking about the behaviour of the political State of Israel. It also includes relentlessly calling out those who, for whatever motivation, falsely conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of the behaviour of the political State of Israel.

In conclusion, we will never be cowed into complying with a line of falsehood merely because those with media power will traduce us if we speak out. Speaking the truth must, and will, never be silenced by intimidation and the abuse of positional political power and vested interests, and the attempt by those interests to control and manipulate mainstream media platforms and voices and, thereby, public opinion more generally.


** THE AUTHORS

Richard House, Ph.D., retired university lecturer and writer

Abdul-Karim Al-Malahi, Employment Law Officer, Salford Unemployed & Community Resource Centre

Paul Kelly, President, Salford TUC

Tosh McDonald, former President of ASLEF 

Alec McFadden, Press Officer, Salford TUC; Secretary, Salford Pensioners & Trades Unionists

Andrew Samuels, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex

Chris Searle, jazz journalist and writer

All the authors are either Labour Party members or supporters.


NOTE: An open letter to Keir Starmer based on this article, posing key questions that we believe he has an ethical duty to answer, has been sent to Keir Starmer. The letter can be viewed at https://www.unitynews.co/an-open-letter-to-keir-starmer/.

POSTSCRIPT ON BY-STANDING

We submitted this article to both the Guardian and The Independent, but these media organs that claim to champion liberal values both declined to publish it. You will no doubt reach your own conclusions.

As we write, in this age of chronic petition-fatigue nearly 20,000 citizens have now signed a petition calling for the re-instatement of Rebecca Long Bailey as shadow education secretary.

Yet it is of great concern to us that both Long Bailey and Maxine Peake seem to have drawn back from their position – capitulating to the ideological onslaught when, in our view, they are conceding vital ground that, in any conceivable fair and rational world, they should have no need to concede.

What does this signify? Surely if there is any learning from the manufactured assault on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour on alleged anti-Semitism between 2015 and 2019, it is that it is not only impossible to appease bullies ruthlessly wielding positional power, but to attempt to do so means that the attacks become all the more vicious and silencing in intent.

Bullies who are determined to impose an Israel right or wrong regime of truth on public and media discourse are not merely unappeasable: if you refuse to call them out and stand up to this behaviour, the bullying will continue all the more. This is what history shows us all too clearly.

We are indeed in a new Age of Endarkenment, where it is raw, naked power and its ruthless, unchallenged deployment that determine and control the narrative, not the fast-disappearing enlightenment values of truth and justice. This is indeed the new post-truth age of ‘Rumsfeldism’, whose worldview says, We have the power: we’re going to do whatever we want, and there’s eff-all you can do about it.

Are we going to bystand this, or are we going to stand up to it?



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