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Waltham Forest: Trade unionists and socialists opposed council adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism
Waltham Forest Socialist Party members
On Wednesday 12 December the Socialist Party in Waltham Forest, London, posted on Facebook an appeal for people to join a lobby on the steps of the town hall the following evening to appeal to councillors not to pass the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism into the council's code of conduct.
Rather than helping to counter antisemitism, the definition has been used elsewhere to try to stop criticism of the racism and repression carried out by the Israeli government.
Nancy Taaffe, a prominent Socialist Party activist, wrote:
"We call on all members of the community to contact their councillors and urge them to reject these proposals. We call on the ranks of the Labour party/Momentum and Corbyn supporters to contact your councillors tonight and urge them to reject the adoption of these proposals.
"We call on all youth, opposed to the killing and persecution of young Palestinians and others by the Israeli government, to contact your councillors today to urge them to reject the adoption. We urge all those who wish to defend the right to protest and freedom of speech to turn out."
We learned of the agenda item through Socialist Party members in the trade union Unite. Had the lobby been publicised more widely there would have been a much bigger turnout.
This is an issue for all those who defend freedom of speech in the borough and we believe hundreds of young people and workers would have braved the cold to express their opposition, had they known.
The lobby was like no other that had taken place over the last 30 years on all manner of subjects. Gathered on the steps of the town hall were the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Socialist Party, the Waltham Forest Trades Council, along with some other small groups of Palestine supporters; then there was a group of counter-protesters - some of them openly admitted that they used to be in Britain First, a known far-right organisation. They took photos of the protesters.
Their tactics included shouting down speeches of international solidarity and opposition to austerity; shouting in people's faces; standing very close to people while waving the Israeli flag on metal poles of about two metres length; telling a pregnant woman she should be at home with her baby; calling a protester of Jewish background a 'kapo'; asking people to kiss their flags and saying they came from the IDF (Israeli Defence Force); asking a young protester if they were a boy or a girl or 'what were they'; preventing the filming of an interview with a protester; and more.
When our speeches of protest against the council and its record of austerity were shouted down by chants of "you're all a bunch of liars" we started chanting "the workers united will never be defeated". The counter-protesters shouted "the workers united are a bunch of idiots".
We spoke to some councillors going in, but received absolutely no support. We were told that the incorporation of the IHRA definition into the Waltham Forest council code of conduct was being demanded by Tory Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Protesters were then, in effect, locked out of the public gallery. In a disgraceful attack on democratic rights and transparency, an apparently arbitrary cap of 25 people for a viewing chamber with capacity of around 50 seats was imposed.
As an act of solidarity, Socialist Party members volunteered to allow others to take our seats.
A couple of representations were made, including from someone we believe was an openly right-wing Zionist who has been associated with Tommy Robinson.
In the chamber the motion was moved by the Labour deputy leader, Clyde Loakes, seconded by the Tory group leader Alan Siggers, and carried immediately.
It was believed that some Labour councillors were in fear of being suspended if they voted against! There were a lot of apologies. We found out later that some protesters had disrupted proceedings.
The trade unions will now need to ensure that none of their members are trapped in this snare. They could be penalised for comments criticising the Israeli government.
Look how Blairites have used this issue to intimidate and persecute Jeremy Corbyn. Workers should fear this move.
The IHRA list of examples that accompany its definition were not originally aimed at setting boundaries of behaviour.
The council already has adequate anti-racist disciplinary procedures for its employees. These cover racism from all quarters.
Moreover, the new proposals have never been consulted on with the local trade unions, as would normally be the case. The major unions locally, the NEU, Unite and Unison all have registered strong objections.
The fight against the Tories, the Blairites - and the far right - goes on.