Ella Downing v The Labour PartyLeave a comment
05/06/2020 by socialistfight
Reply to Labour Charges, Ella Downing
Having trawled through at least seven and possibly ten years of social media, covering tens of thousands of posts, the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) of the Labour Party (LP) have highlighted six items they say are contentious and extrapolated a series of charges of anti-Semitism based on these. I’m not sure how many positive posts about Jews where scrolled past to find these because I’m not able to look through ten years of commentary, but I suspect many more than six. This is one reason I don’t think these serious allegations are made in good faith.
I am forbidden from seeking advice on these charges and how to refute them, which I assume includes legal advice and appears to include friends and family. It seems wholly against natural justice that I should be required tell no one of the charges and that I should construct and present a defence alone whilst the GLU have access to no doubt scores of legal professionals. Compounding this discrepancy the burden of proof appears to be reversed, with my suspension proceeding an investigation then my being required to provide proof of innocence. The complainant is not named in the document sent to me despite the LPs NEC adopting the Chakrabarti Inquiry 2016 which conferred ‘the right, absent of good reason, of the person who is complained of to be notified of the details of the complaint and the identity of the complainant’.
Moreover, I wrote to the LP twice to request an extension with a compelling reason, having been informed this was sufficient to be granted one, and heard nothing back. I have therefore responded within the two-week limit but am disappoint my emails were ignored (I noticed the subs were still taken).
Response and Clarification
I am accused of belittling the holocaust on account of two posts. I would like to ask where I have done this? I wrote that 15 million Africans were killed by Belgium (the upper estimate of King Leopold’s victims), 12 million people in the holocaust, including 6 million Jews. My refusing to say the slaughter of 6 million is worse than 12, or 12 worse than 15 million, seems to be the matter of contention. This could only be the case if Jewish or Europeans lives were worth more than Africa lives. The premise of this charge is therefore deeply racist. I would go further. To read that 15 million Congolese were slaughtered as a belittling of the holocaust actually belittles the Congolese genocide.
I think it important to consider all the victims of the holocaust, the Roma, Disabled, Queer, left wing, including the Jews who straddled these identities, and so on. My point in writing ‘the death toll of the holocaust was 12 million, but the figure often cited is 6 million Jews’ is not to diminish Jewish suffering, but rather to highlight the shared humanity of all the victims. Emphasising only the Jews who died is a denial of other victims suffering, like they never existed to begin with. Over 100 million and counting have been murdered in the Native American genocide. To claim that this is not the worst genocide in all history is to dehumanise and devalue every single victim, just as it is to deny the holocaust, all of it’s victims.
The next charge quotes me as having used the phrase ‘Israeli funded’ and says this is propagating a stereotype of Jewish control. Well, the allegation clearly equates Israel and Judaism. The LP have adopted the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and this states that ‘Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel’ is an example of antisemitism. The LP have confused the terms Israeli and Jewish, not me. Moreover in 2018 Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated 72 million dollars for an international propaganda campaign to combat the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), a continuation of a policy which goes back years. To say some propaganda is ‘Israeli funded’ is therefore a statement of fact, and according to LPs own adopted definition could only be considered antisemitic if I accused Jews collectively of making and funding Israeli propaganda, which I do not.
On the face of it item 4 in the evidence against me is antisemitic. Let me provide some context. This comment was made the year I was a full-time carer for my mother who was dying of cancer. I may not have been on best form. Moreover we cannot see the comment directly above which promoted this joke, admittedly as bad one, as the person I was writing to has deleted their social media so we can only see one half of the conversation. I wrote it before I had expanded my social media to include people I didn’t know personally. Given that most of my friends and contacts are staunchly antiracist, this comment was unlikely to inflame racial tension. Although alluding to it here, the ‘thievish Jew’ stereotype is not one I’ve ever bought into, and I don’t actually consider stealing a milk bottle from a doorstep a terrible crime. The LP appear to accuse me of portraying Jews as avaricious. Avarice is characterised by extreme greed. Where have I done this?
The Chakrabarti Inquiry of 2016 recommended a statute of limitations of two years for this type of complaint and suggests no retrospective action i.e. against comments made prior to the inquiry. This comment is over 3 times the limit and predates the inquiry by 3 years. It does not indicated a pattern of antisemitic behaviour, but is rather an off colour comment made under extreme pressure. That the LP could find no repetition of my expressing this stereotype supports this. My remark is reminiscent of what John Stolliday, once head of the GLU, said about Ed Miliband when he called him ‘beaker’, a reference to his nose. Equally problematic as what I wrote but he was not brought up on up charges, which begs a question of this process’s integrity. I am happy to apologise to anyone who saw my comment and was upset or offended.
A further charge accuses me of using derogatory language about Jews. Where have I done this? In the two items presented as evidence I used the word Jew and Jewish. These are not slurs. I referred to Jesus as a ‘zombie sky Jew’ so was accused of being antisemitic. To who? Jesus as a Jew? I can’t believe I have I write this, but the above phrase I used over a picture of a billboard which read ‘You can’t hold hands with god when you’re masturbating’ is lampooning a Christian myth and Christian fundamentalism, the official religion of this country. I don’t know if there is school of thought within Judaism which deals with masturbation and I can’t begin to guess what it might teach, so that defiantly wasn’t the target. Was it that I called Jesus a Jew? I find that uncontroversial, however some on the far right would disagree with me. If it’s that I called him a zombie and said he’s in the sky, then by all means accuse me of irreverence of Christ. However, I remain unconvinced that this is an antisemitic post and challenge my accuser to show me the derogatory term I used about Jews (it isn’t there).
And finally, the last charge is that I undermine the LPs ability to campaign against any form of racism. Three items have been highlighted to evidence this allegation, however upon rereading my statements I cannot see where I’ve done this. One phrase made in a decontextualized comment on a tread is quoted as contentious, ‘I don’t see Jews as a victim group anymore’, which could be seen as undermining efforts against anti-Jewish racism. I no longer believe what I wrote there but probably would had I not been allowed to debate it. This therefore represents a stifling of academic debate as I was not engaging in hate speech but rather expressing an opinion which I stood to be corrected on. I see no other point I made which could be seen to undermine the LPs ability to tackle racism.
In 2014 all but six Labour MPs abstained on the Immigration Act which ultimately led to the Windrush scandal. Before this Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson introduced the concept of a ‘foreign national offender’ into UK law and the basis of the hostile environment. I have been active around Windrush and have heard tales of horrific state abuse, including first-hand accounts of what most would consider torture. Far from me undermining the LPs ability to campaign against racism, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) undermined our ability to fight state sanctioned racism by allowing for the Immigration Bill 2014 to pass almost unopposed.
If the LP think itself absolved of racism they clearly refuse to take responsibility for 2003’s invasion of Iraq, the subsequent dramatic increase in anti-Muslim hate crime, and the hostile environment that British Muslims live under, in no little way because of Tony Blair. Not only that, now Starmer sits in that man’s chair, boasting the persecution of Julian Assange on his CV. So Blair commits war crimes and Starmer suppresses the reporting of them. I do not think it an exaggeration to say the society which suppresses the reporting of war crimes creates the conditions for them to reoccur. For this reason, the prospect of a 2025 win under Starmer is less palatable than a consistently outspoken anti-war campaigner becoming Prime Minister in 2017 or 2019.
Until recently Trevor Philips was on record as having called Islam a ‘brutish, authoritarian cult’ which got him expelled from the LP. However, he had long been arguing against multiculturalism, variously characterising Pakistani men as sexual predators and arguing that Muslims do not constitute a race (therefore Islamophobia could not be considered a form of racism). He was permitted to remain within Labour, as an anti-racist zhar, whilst holding these beliefs. This is the man that Blair, propitiously made Middle East Peace Envoy in respect of over a million dead Iraqis, thought proper to head the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), someone with views more often express by the English Defence League (EDL). I campaigned against the EDL from its inception until it folded, and at times it felt we were also fighting prominent Labour politicians because of their unhelpful comments. The LP has changed over the years, but Blue Labour with Miliband sought to include voices like the EDL, Corbyn drew back on this idea, but now Labour has shifted to the right again.
In defence of my characterisation as antisemitic I would offer a few biographical facts. My first friends were Jewish, the children from across the road, and as they would help decorate our Christmas tree we were invited to special meals and the boy’s Bar-Mitzvah. My first boyfriend was Jewish, we met at a family music festival through a good friend of mine in my youth, Sam, another Jewish lad. In Prague me and my mother visited the Jewish Cemetery in the Old Town to find the names of our neighbours’ grandparents who had been sent to Auschwitz, Mr. and Mrs. Lobl. Whilst at Charles University in Prague I studied Jewish Medieval Thought, obtaining the highest possible grade. My childhood home was originally owned by a holocaust survivor, Mrs. Mesurier, and once when she was taking care of me she showed me the tattoo on her arm from the concentration camp she was in, Auschwitz again. It’s not something you forget.
I always intervene when I see racist abuse on the street. In Whitechapel I saw a gang of young white men attacking an Asian man and threw myself bodily into the fray in his defence, I’m sure preventing worse injury, and stayed with him until the police arrived (the assailants were let go). In Willesden Green I tackled an Islamophobe who accosted two women in hijabs and got a Black power salute for my effort. In the same spot a couple of years later I noticed more racist abuse. In this instance I was the was the lone voice which drove away a neo-Nazi who was berating an Orthodox Jew, saving him from a possible beating or worse. When the LP accuse me of hostility towards Jews, I take pride in the hostility I expressed to successfully defend a Jew, and solace from his wave of appreciation back at me as he hurried to safety.
In the weeks preceding my suspension I had been trying to put on weight after having lost a significant amount, and was succeeding. I didn’t eat a single meal in the 6 days after suspension and on the 7th decided it wasn’t safe for me too cook as I was at risk of burning myself, such had been the deterioration of my mental state. I say this not to enlist sympathy but rather to point out that due to the amount of people who have had vexatious allegations made against them, some of them must have been like me, with a tendency towards depression. Being formally likened to a holocaust denier is a horrible experience, but then to be hold you must keep these allegations to yourself, talk to no one about how you’ve been portrayed, and construct and present a defence alone, is not only an injustice, it’s cruel. I’ll recover however, not because the LP reminded in the suspension letter that I could call my GP, but because I sourced other opinions, and asked for help in defending myself, and got the support of community activists. All under threat of further disciplinary action from my party of 10 years’ membership.
The suspension and conditions attached are unfair, putting me at a disadvantage before I had even read the charges. Another disadvantage is I do not know who has complained about me, I therefore request this information from the GLU. I object that my right to seek advice has been eroded. I further object to any disciplinary action taken against me should I publicise details of the expulsion as I am the only person named in the document so am free to break confidentiality. I ask for a full hearing on this matter and not a ‘fast-track’ expulsion.
Dear Ms Downing,
Please find attached a letter regarding your Labour Party membership status.
Governance and Legal Unit
The Labour Party
Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QT
The Labour Party’s investigation process operates confidentially. That is vital to ensure fairness to you and the complainant, and to protect the rights of all concerned under the Data Protection Act 2018. We must therefore ask you to ensure that you keep all information and correspondence relating to this investigation private, and that you do not share it with third parties or the media (including social media). That includes any information you receive from the Party identifying the name of the person who has made a complaint about you, any witnesses, the allegations against you, and the names of Party staff dealing with the matter. If you fail to do so, the Party reserves the right to take action to protect confidentiality, and you may be liable to disciplinary action for breach of the Party’s rules. The Party will not share information about the case publicly unless, as a result of a breach of confidentiality, it becomes necessary to correct inaccurate reports. In that case we will only release the minimum information necessary to make the correction. The Party may also disclose information in order to comply with its safeguarding obligations.
Sent by email from the Labour Party, promoted by Jennie Formby, General Secretary, on behalf of the Labour Party, both at Southside, 105 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QT.