Recently uncovered confidential minutes, acquired by The Electronic Intifada, have exposed the depth of the connection between the United Kingdom’s primary opposition party, Labour, and the pro-Israel lobby. Within these records, a momentous and contentious gathering on December 2, 2020, between Shadow Minister Steve Reed and prominent Israel lobby contributor Trevor Chinn, takes center stage. The core of the conversation revolved around extraordinary commitments made by Reed, notably his opposition to the BDS movement and his endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.
The Secret Meeting
During the clandestine gathering, Trevor Chinn, accompanied by five other Israel lobby representatives, engaged in a dialogue with Steve Reed and two members of his staff. The minutes of the meeting, meticulously documented by Reed’s aide Owain Mumford, revealed the establishment of a “regular channel of communication” between the lobby groups and Reed’s office.
The Controversial Pledges
One of the most significant outcomes of the meeting was Steve Reed’s commitment to opposing the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led initiative calling for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Moreover, Reed expressed his support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s controversial definition of anti-Semitism, which has been widely criticized for undermining Palestinian rights.
A Remarkable Turnaround
What makes these pledges even more remarkable is Reed’s recent history. Just a few months prior to the meeting, he had been embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal for describing a Jewish donor to the ruling Conservative Party as the “puppet master” of the cabinet. Chinn, in an attempt to ease concerns, reassured the group that Reed had been a long-time friend of the Jewish community, emphasizing their shared values.
The Meeting Participants
The meeting included representatives from three prominent Israel lobby groups: the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), and the Community Security Trust. While these groups claim to represent the Jewish community in Britain, their primary focus and policy agenda seem to be centered on Israel and its interests.
Pushing the IHRA Definition and Opposing BDS
Amanda Bowman of the Board of Deputies thanked Reed for promoting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and opposing BDS in local government. The IHRA definition, considered highly politicized by some, has been rejected by Palestinians and their supporters due to its perceived harm to Palestinian rights. The minutes also highlighted Reed’s efforts to encourage Labour councils to adopt the IHRA definition, even intervening with Hastings Council on this matter.
The Jewish Leadership Council expressed its satisfaction with Reed’s efforts but urged him to exert more pressure on resistant Labour councils to support the IHRA definition, citing examples in Nottingham and Coventry.
The Role of Israel Lobbyist Luke Akehurst
The minutes noted that the JLC’s Russell Langer recommended Israel lobbyist Luke Akehurst as a key contact for bringing more councilors to Israel. Akehurst is not only a full-time Israel lobbyist but also a right-wing Labour activist who currently sits on Labour’s influential National Executive Committee.
Labour’s Stance on BDS
The minutes strongly suggested that Reed had committed Labour to tacitly support the Conservative government’s long-promised anti-BDS law. The Board of Deputies cautioned against opposing the outlawing of the BDS movement, emphasizing that Labour should not take its commitment to combating anti-Semitism as a carte blanche to criticize Israel.
Concerns Over Grassroots Support
The minutes revealed concerns among the Israel lobby groups over the grassroots within the Labour Party since Keir Starmer took over leadership in April 2020. The lobby groups expressed worry that certain local Labour parties were creating an unsafe space for the Jewish community, primarily due to their debates on the expulsion of Jeremy Corbyn.
Demands to Rein In Party Members
The Israel lobby’s demands also included restraining party members from discussing Corbyn’s expulsion. They insisted that local officers should be reminded of their legal responsibility for their actions. Furthermore, the lobby appeared to demand vetting of party candidates for local elections, specifically to ensure their compliance with the IHRA definition.
These secret minutes provide a rare glimpse into the influence of the pro-Israel lobby within the UK’s main opposition party. The commitments made by Steve Reed during this meeting signal a significant shift in Labour’s stance on issues related to Israel and Palestine, a departure from the policies championed during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. This revelation has raised questions about the extent of external influence on the party and the implications for its future direction. It remains to be seen how these revelations will impact Labour’s internal dynamics and its approach to matters related to the Middle East.