Walker, a pro-Palestinian, Black Jewish woman and supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, contested the definition of “anti-Semitism” at a training session in 2016 conducted by the Jewish Labour Movement, which conflated anti-Semitism with criticism of Zionism. Further, several decontextualized comments she made on Facebook were used against her in what became a long and abusive smear campaign.
Walker’s experience and consequent expulsion show direct parallels to the recent defamation of Rep. Ilhan Omar. Further, the use of Walker by Zionists and their allies to incriminate Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is reminiscent of the targeting in the United States of Representative Omar, leaders of the women’s march and those close to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Walker co-wrote and has performed a one-woman play, “The Lynching,” as a means of communicating her viewpoint in an otherwise complete media bias and/or boycott against her. Meanwhile a new documentary film, WitchHunt, details her account. Walker has received the endorsement of multiple Labour Party grassroots groups and prominent intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky and others.
Truthout spoke with Jackie Walker about the campaign waged against her and the weaponization of “anti-Semitism” by Zionists to silence critique of Israel, target BDS activists and fragment the left.
Yoav Litvin: Describe your trajectory as a political activist. When did you become aware of BDS?
Jackie Walker: I was born in New York and am a dual American and British citizen. I went on my first civil rights demonstration as a child with my mother. We left the U.S. when my mother was deported for “un-American activities” during the civil rights movement.
My first political grounding was with the South West African People’s Organization (SWAPO), which was fighting alongside the African National Congress (ANC) for liberation of Black people from apartheid in South Africa. There, I was first introduced to apartheid and became aware of boycotts.
The massacre of Gaza of 2014, also known as “Operation Protective Edge,” profoundly affected me and I felt no choice but to get more involved in supporting BDS and the Palestinian struggle.
What is the significance of your expulsion from the Labour Party? Speak to its state under Corbyn’s leadership and the support you have received, or lack thereof, throughout this affair.
The Labour Party is not one body. It depends whether you are referring to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) or the power structures within the Labour Party. The PLP still remains a Blairite party and does not reflect the membership. And so, this is where the conflict between … the old/new Labour and the new/new Labour is being played out… on this ground of anti-Semitism. It could have revolved around other issues, but none gained the same kind of traction.
The Labour Party has been in a state of civil war since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as a candidate, let alone became leader. In fact, one of the reasons I was suspended is precisely due to the fragmented nature of the party.
The campaign against me has been highly political with dramatic effects on my life. I have absolutely no doubt that the bulk of the activist membership are in support of me. It may well be that the majority of the regular members either support me or think, “What the hell is going on here?”
How has the British media reported your case?
The reporting has been unprecedented in its negligence. There is only one available narrative and no fact-checking; for nearly three years I have never had an English newspaper come to me and confirm a story or my direct quotes.
It is very interesting what the papers and the media are not reporting, which is actually what is happening in the Labour Party at the Constituency Labour Party level.
Why did you walk out of your final hearing?
One of the reasons I walked out of my hearing was the racist abuse against me, which was peppered throughout the Labour Party’s evidence bundle. It included anti-Black abuse, which the Labour Party refused to remove after multiple requests from my solicitor. They expected me to sit there and be examined and cross-examined while looking at racist abuse.
The hypocrisy is staggering. While they target me for differentiating between criticism of the state of Israel and anti-Semitism, there is no recourse for a Labour Party member of parliament who says that “to be anti-capitalism is to be anti-Semitic.” That is astonishing.
What role do race and your intersectional identity play in the campaign against you?
One thing that the Labour Party found absolutely impossible to wrap its head around was my Jewish background. In fact, the media and the PLP will not mention my Blackness or my Jewishness and therefore my very particular perspective and access to the politics of oppression.
Certain aspects of the politics and the narrative of race are healthier in the United Kingdom than the United States. However, Britain lags behind the United States in the understanding and implementation of intersectional politics, as our struggle has not been as contested as it has been in the U.S. In the U.S., you have Mocha Jews – a whole movement and organization reflecting the complex responses Jewish people of color express. We have no such organization here in the U.K.
My claim on both Jewish and African descent made me extremely dangerous for the Zionists in the U.K. because the last thing they want is the coming together of Jewish and Black radicalisms to forge a politics of resistance in support of Palestinians. It is explosive in many ways and forges a global struggle against white supremacy.
What is the particular part of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism that disturbs you?
Nobody I know and work with has a problem with the beginning of the definition, which states anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews for being Jews. The problem for many people, including certain Jews, lies with the sub-clauses linking criticism of Israel/Zionism to anti-Semitism.
In effect, the definition removes the ability of any Jew to choose to identify with Israel or not. It forces Israel to be an intrinsic part of Jewish identity and if one dares to protest, they are immediately branded a “kapo,” or not a real Jew.
There is an anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which people are afraid to openly discuss — it is a relentless persecution of Corbyn-supporting Jews. We receive threats to our safety in myriad formats, suspensions and defamations. When the media discuss this, they omit the fact that we are Jewish.
For example, a Labour Party colleague of mine, whose family escaped repeated pogroms in Europe and perished in the Holocaust, made a joke that some deemed inappropriate and was consequently suspended. She was described in the media not as “Jewish,” but as “claims to be Jewish.” What I am describing is a process in which Jews are being made and unmade. Jews who support Jeremy Corbyn are being unmade, yet people like Joan Ryan, who is not Jewish, are seen and spoken of as Jewish. Astonishingly, if you criticize Ryan, you are accused of anti-Semitism!
Outside of our meetings lurks a man who works as a security agent for the fascist political organization Britain First. He brandishes a Star of David, calling socialist Jews like myself “anti-Semites.” And that is what the Labour Party has done – they have allowed this to happen.
Zionist propaganda reframes a narrative of settler colonialism and subjugation of an Indigenous population into one of Israel’s “right to exist.” How do you counter this talking point?
I feel this discussion is a smokescreen. It is a trap. I am not interested in a state’s “right to exist,” but in a state being of its citizens. The reframing you mention encourages a notion that those who criticize Israel want to “destroy” the state. Yet all I want is for Israel to become a state of its citizens in the same way that England or even America is a state of its citizens, not a state for one particular ethnic group. This is immoral. It is apartheid.
Ilhan Omar, a Black Muslim woman affiliated with the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, was recently targeted for comments which were deemed “anti-Semitic.” What are some of the lessons we as Americans should learn from the campaign against you in the Labour Party? Do you have any advice for people who face similar campaigns?
Zionists politically lynched me and my body is not even cold, yet an editorial published in the Jewish Chronicle is all about how Jackie Walker is insignificant, and what’s important is she’s indicative of Jeremy Corbyn’s “anti-Semitism.” It is exactly the same with Omar and Sanders.
Bernie Sanders must not do what has happened in the Labour Party, which is to allow the picking off of too many people close to the leadership. This leaves a leadership without support and vibrant activist base. For Bernie Sanders to win, just like Corbyn, he needs people on the ground. He must not get cut off from his base. People have got to believe that he is willing to stick his neck out for his beliefs and his base. If you undermine that basic foundation, it is over.
Sanders and those close to him must not apologize for correctly criticizing injustice. Instead, they need to seek solidarity and media outlets that will truthfully convey their perspective if the mainstream media does not.
They will attack Sanders, and there is only one defense: solidarity and no compromise on principles and the integrity of the activist base.
Bernie Sanders has conveyed Zionist opinions and is a Jew. How are these facts going to affect the smear campaign gearing up against him?
You might think his Jewish identity will affect or perhaps even deter the smear campaigners, but it makes no difference. As I said, in this process, Jews are made and unmade — an anti-Semitic process in its essence. There’s a whole load of people: Noam Chomsky and other eminent Jewish people who were unmade by their proximity to the Palestinian cause.
On a personal level, how do you plan to proceed?
I am taking time to rest and recuperate. I am not interested in spearheading a campaign to go back to the Labour Party. I have an interest in raising levels of awareness about oppressed people and democracy within the Labour Party. I will continue to promote the film WitchHunt, even though it has been banned from being shown in Parliament. I will continue going around the country and talking to people. A play I co-wrote – “The Lynching” – is now being developed for three Black women actors to represent the story of Black women’s history of political life in the U.K. I will also write a book about what it feels like as a person to have this happen to you.