Antisemitism in Political Parties

Claudine Letsae

2020-present: Green Party International Coordinator

2019: Green Party parliamentary candidate for Erith and Thamesmead

2018-2019: Green Party Equalities and Diversity Coordinator

2107: Green Party parliamentary candidate for Erith and Thamesmead

Ms Letsae is also a Director of Greenwich Housing Rights

Incidents

  1. On 5th August 2014, @serengetisun tweeted: “the Zionists Own the media and everything else inbetween [sic].”

    (Ms Letsae runs a Twitter account under her own name which was set up in 2017. However, a 2012 article lists those Twitter users who shared or retweeted it, linking to a retweet in her name, sent from from an earlier account with the ‘handle’ @serengetisun which is now run anonymously, but is nevertheless identifiably Greenaffiliated, with an interest in the Greenwich area, and which has multiple general and several explicit links with her. This tweet, in particular, was generated from an account whose tweets follow an identical format of reproducing the display name used by the account-holder being addressed, thereby preserving older names for posterity and showing that the @serengetisun account was run under Ms Letsae’s name. A further article from 2013 (a time when Ms Letsae was a Liberal Democrat supporter) lists Ms Letsae among those Twitter users who shared or retweeted it. As before, the linked account is @serengetisun. There are no other Twitter users named Claudine Letsae.)

  2. On 24th September 2014, @serengetisun tweeted in protest at the closure of the controversial Exhibit B installation at the Barbican Centre, writing: “It would not happen if it was Jewish exhibition#[email protected] because it is minority that has less of a voice-if its black people”. Then, responding to a question by another user, she replied: “well the Jews are no longer persecuted and they have received their reparation. None for the African slaves yet.”
  3. On 7th July 2015, @serengetisun was tagged into a response by another Twitter user who had evidently been engaged in a robust exchange about Israel-Palestine. Apparently replying to a question about his interlocutor in that exchange, he responded: “he found me. He was trying to impress a couple of zionist cumsluts.” @serengetisun appears to have ‘liked’ this.
  4. On 9th April 2016, @serengetisun retweeted a post by Rachel Reeves MP, in which Labour members were encouraged to sign up to an ‘action plan’ for dealing with antisemitism within Labour, and commented: “You Blairites are peddling the biggest con of the electorate. Israel is an apartheid state that terrorises Palestians [sic].”
  5. On 28th April 2016, @serengetisun retweeted a comment which appears to have been responding to condemnation by Sadiq Khan, who was then a mayoral candidate for London, of comments made in defence of Naz Shah MP by Ken Livingstone, including statements regarding Adolf HItler and Zionism, for which the former Mayor was suspended from the Labour Party that day. @serengetisun expressed solidarity with Mr Livingstone, commenting: “#IstandwithKen #antisemitism not= #antizionism he dared to speak the truth.”
  6. On 30th April 2016, @serengetisun retweeted a post by the Guido Fawkes Twitter account which shared an article examining the credentials of the author Lenni Brenner, upon one of whose works Ken Livingstone had apparently based his comments relating to Hitler and Zionism. @serengetisun commented: “@GuidoFawkes you are an Israeli policy apologist and these has [sic] been staged by you Labour’s right and Israel lobby.”
  7. On 3rd July 2017, @serengetisun retweeted a post relating to the final stages of the battle by coalition forces to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the so-called Islamic State and commented: “The cruelty of this Zionist nations [sic] knows no limitations to their barbarity and cruelty #FreePalestine.”
  8. On 3rd July 2017, responding to a tweet concerning a breach of data law by London’s Royal Free hospital, @serengetisun tweeted: “They are run by Zionists, they are one NHS Trust that is extremely corrupt.The Information commissioner needs to refer them for prosecution”.
  9. On 7th February 2018, @serengetisun retweeted a post which shared an article by the Jewish Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, in which he criticised US President Donald Trump, and commented: “@jonathanfreedland has never complained about Israel’s #Netanyahu”. Mr Freedland has, in fact, been a consistent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  10. On 2nd September 2018, responding to a tweet which alleged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters were “increasingly allying with anti-Semites [sic] and promoting anti-Semitism [sic], even as they cynically claim to be its chief victim”, @serenngetisun replied: “Current day Jews are not Semites but Khazarians.”
  11. On 28th April 2019, @serengetisun shared an article on Twitter entitled: “The UK Labour Party’s ‘Antisemitism crisis’ and the Likud supporters in its leadership’. The article’s author characterised the accusations of antisemitism within the Labour Party (the majority of which were described as having “no merit”) as being entirely politically motivated, asserting: [a] “The Labour party’s ‘antisemitism crisis’ keeps dragging on. What can the Labour leadership do about it? The Labour’s leadership has tried appeasing its critics, but this has not worked. Appeasement has only emboldened these critics. Jeremy Corbyn’s detractors, both inside and outside the party, are adept at moving the goalposts, and will never be satisfied until he is gone as leader, and Labour once again becomes a ‘natural’ home for opportunists like Tony Blair and his followers, and their friends in the Zionist lobby.” The author continued at length, making repeated allusions to a “Zionist lobby” and its supposed power, as here: [b] “As mentioned, the tactical higher ground in making determinations on these issues (given the anti-Labour disposition of the UK media and the power of its Zionist lobby) always lies with those making such accusations.”
  12. On 17th June 2019, @serengetisun responded to another Twitter account which had posted a video of French riot police savagely beating an individual after a day of violent unrest in Paris in late 2018 and asserted that the victim was later found dead, by claiming: “They train them all in Israel.”

    It should be noted that, whilst many police forces have received training in and from Israel, especially in the area of counter-terrorism, such international cooperation is common, and it is only one of many countries to provide training to others. Thus, whilst the controversial Electronic Intifada blog claimed in 2009 that Israel had trained Greek police in “possible scenarios involving terror and civil disturbances” ahead of the 2004 Olympics, it failed to note that six other countries had also assisted Greece in creating its security plan. It further claimed that “the French government brought the head of the Israeli police’s special forces to instruct their police in riot control”, but no citation was provided to back this assertion.

  13. On 29th September 2019, a statement was published in the London Green Left blog, to which Ms Letsae was a signatory. The statement included the following accusation against Campaign Against Antisemitism: “CAA is a campaign which systematically makes accusations of antisemitism against pro-Palestine activists (esp. Jewish ones). To take up this complaint would be to collude in an anti-Palestinian agenda that would also discredit the Green Party. It is astonishing that the Party could fall for such a tactic, unwittingly or through lack of political courage.” It further asserted: “The IHRA definition poses a serious threat to academic freedom and freedom of expression by conflating opposition to Israeli policies with antisemitism…A complaint which now exploits the definition, without the backing of conference, in order to frame allegations against a member is itself evidence of this threat. For the Green Party to sponsor a politically motivated external campaign against one of its own spokespersons is an affront…”

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Ms Letsae’s actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

Although the theory that Ashkenazi Jews descend from a Turkic people in Khazaria who converted to Judaism was first propagated by a well-meaning Jewish intellectual, the idea has been repeatedly debunked by historians and geneticists. However, the Khazaria myth became an antisemitic canard of the far-right, used to deny the connection between European Jews and their biblical ancestors, and now also has currency in left-wing antisemitic discourse. Ms Letsae, however, does not appear to discriminate between Ashkenazi Jews and those who have resided in the Middle East and North Africa since Biblical times in her statement in [10], in which she additionally asserts that “Jews are not Semites” — a fallacious argument, often based on a misunderstanding of the term “antisemitism” — thereby advancing an antisemitic trope employed by the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, amongst others. By promoting claims that allege an alternative origin of Jewish ancestry, especially the Khazar myth about Ashkenazi Jewish ethnic origins, therefore, she was “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination…”.

By responding to criticism of US President Trump by a Jewish journalist by falsely claiming that the journalist had not criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a similar manner, thereby suggesting that his moral authority was compromised [9], she was “holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.”

The use of the phrase “Zionist” in a context where it was being deployed pejoratively alongside the obscene and offensive term “cumsluts” rendered it an equivalent form to terms such as the abusive slur “Zio”. As such, it qualifies as a derogatory and abusive term for Jews and constitutes antisemitic discourse under the International Definition of Antisemitism by expressing “hatred toward Jews”. By ‘liking’ the use of the phrase “zionist cumsluts” in [3], therefore, she was endorsing the expression of “hatred toward Jews”.

By suggesting that Israel was responsible for the brutal behaviour of French police and the supposed death of their victim [12], which is analogous to the antisemitic claim that Israel was ultimately responsible for the racist killing of George Floyd by American police, and reminiscent of repeated libels against the Jewish people, who have been blamed throughout history for atrocities, she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective…” where Israel is “conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

By claiming that “Zionists own the media and everything else…” [1]; by expressing resentment towards the Jewish community, asserting that they, as a minority, receive preferential treatment, and claiming that they no longer suffer from discrimination [2], thereby both denying the existence of antisemitism and implying that Jews use power and influence to garner inappropriate or unnecessary attention, sympathy and material gain [2]; by asserting the existence of a conspiracy involving the blogger Guido Fawkes, the right wing of the Labour Party and the “Israel Lobby” [6]; by characterising the belligerents in the battle of Mosul as “Zionist nations”, thereby implying that both the coalition of western governments and Islamic State were either directly controlled by or acting on behalf of Jews or Israel (as suggested by the hashtag “#FreePalestine”) [7]; by claiming that a hospital trust which she described as “extremely corrupt” was “run by Zionists” [8]; by making a false claim about the Jewish journalist Jonathan Freedland [9]; and by sharing an article in which repeated allusions are made to the “Zionist Lobby” (a trope regarding the hidden power of diaspora Jews or Israel which originated in the antisemitic propaganda of 1970s Soviet Russia) and its supposed power [11b], she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

By describing those proposing an action plan to deal with antisemitism in the Labour Party as “peddling the biggest con” and implying, through juxtaposition with an accusation against Israel, that they were doing so in order to protect the State of Israel from criticism [4]; by sharing an article in which accusations of antisemitism within the Labour Party are characterised as having “no merit” and as being politically motivated [11a]; and by signing a statement which accused a Jewish charity fighting antisemitism of being a “politically motivated external campaign” enacting an “anti-Palestinian agenda” by “systematically [making] accusations of antisemitism against pro-Palestine activists” [13], she was deploying the so-called ‘Livingstone Formulation’, by accusing Jews who cite evidence of antisemitism of lying, conspiring or having deceitful motives in doing so, when there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism. This further constitutes “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews…”

We further note that the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following its statutory investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party, in which Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant, includes a section entitled “Types of antisemitic conduct that amounted to unlawful harassment” with a subsection entitled “Suggesting that complaints of antisemitism are fake or smears”. This subsection states that: “Labour Party agents denied antisemitism in the Party and made comments dismissing complaints as ‘smears’ and ‘fake’. This conduct may target Jewish members as deliberately making up antisemitism complaints to undermine the Labour Party, and ignores legitimate and genuine complaints of antisemitism in the Party. These comments went beyond simply describing the agents’ own personal experience of antisemitism in the Party.”

Additionally, in its report, the EHRC made clear that its judgements apply to all political parties and emphasised that the European Convention on Human Rights does not protect racist speech, which may include antisemitic speech.

On this basis, the EHRC found that denying antisemitism in the Labour Party and making comments dismissing complaints as “smears” or “fake” — such as allegations  that complaints of antisemitism are “part of a smear campaign by ‘the Israel lobby’ to stigmatise critics of Israel as antisemitic, and…intended to undermine and disrupt the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn MP” — are not protected by the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In other words, such comments are not protected as freedom of speech at all, but amount to unlawful harassment of Jewish people.

Furthermore, the EHRC specified certain examples of antisemitic conduct which would be unlawful on the same basis within the relevant context.

Ms Letsae’s comments, endorsements and dissemination of material deploying the so-called ‘Livingstone Formulation’ as described above appear, under our analysis, to be captured within the examples given in the EHRC’s report.

By expressing solidarity with Ken Livingstone and claiming that he “dared to speak the truth” [5], she was endorsing Ken Livingstone’s assertion that “Hitler was supporting Zionism”, which perverts the historical account of the Holocaust in order to demonise an identifiably Jewish movement.

We note in this context that the EHRC found that Mr Livingstone had “[committed] unlawful harassment” of Jews through his comments made in defence of Naz Shah.

Outcome

On 24th February 2021, it was reported that the Green Party would be debating the validity of the International Definition of Antisemitism at its spring conference, and that a motion had been proposed enjoining the Party to “campaign against adoption of the…definition”. Ms Letsae is shown to be a co-sponsor of this motion.

In May 2021, Campaign Against Antisemitism put this matter to both Ms Letsae and the Green Party, but did not receive any response.

Having initially failed to respond, on 23rd July 2021, the Green Party issued the following statement: “Over the last six months our work across a whole range of equality, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism activities has been gathering pace. Like you we have engaged closely with the Equality and Human Rights commission review of the Labour Party and their general guidance to political parties on the implementation of the Equality Act. We have also looked at the Singh Report into the Conservative Party’s complaints process and taken lessons from that.

The party has taken on a programme of activities to ensure we are fully meeting our obligations under the Equality Act. This includes how we engage with and work with those affiliated groups which represent party members with protected characteristics. It also includes setting up systems for training all those who act as party agents.

We have developed new social media guidance for members and are widely publishing this to ensure people use social media wisely.

There is also medium-term work going on to develop a wider Equality, Diversity and inclusion Plan to ensure the party is fully inclusive, does not tolerate racism or bullying or harassment or discrimination, whilst respecting the Green approach to debate and discussion on party policy. This is on-going [sic] work which is never complete and we continue to engage with and hear the concerns and issues raised by members and non-members.

We have been rolling out mandatory training in equality and diversity, including anti-anti-Semitism [sic] across our two main governance bodies (GPEx and GPRC) and with members involved in the complaints process. There is always much more to be done.

The issues you raised regarding individual members will be reviewed by the party.”

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “bad”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 1st Monthember 2019.

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “unsatisfactory”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 1st Monthember 2019.

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “good”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 1st Monthember 2019.