Black politicians, academics and activists face pressure and punishment in the U.S. for their opposition to the Israeli occupation and support for Palestinian rights, including figures such as U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Angela Davis and Marc Lamont Hill. Meanwhile, a Black woman political activist has faced similar retribution in Britain for her outspoken views on racism, Israel and Palestine.
Jackie Walker is an anti-racism trainer and the former vice chair of the British political organization Momentum, which helped propel Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party. A Black Jewish woman who was born in the U.S. and claims dual American and British citizenship, Walker was expelled from the Labour Party amid claims of anti-Semitism, in an environment in which she says leftist British political activists are targeted for supporting Palestinian rights and the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement against the Israeli occupation.
Walker came under scrutiny for a number of comments she made, including a Facebook discussion in which she advocated that Holocaust Memorial Day — which is a remembrance of the victims of Nazi Germany and subsequent genocides — should be expanded to include those millions who perished in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During an anti-Semitism training, she also questioned the trainer’s definition of anti-Semitism, saying, “I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with.”
That definition was the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, which includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” Critics have blasted the definition, which is promoted by the Israeli government and lobbying groups, for equating criticism of Israel, including its apartheid policies, with hatred of Jews. Migrant and Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups have characterized this definition as an attempt to silence their voices as part of coordinated efforts by far-right British extremists who are “being actively encouraged by President Trump’s racism and fear-mongering.” Walker also argued that anti-Semitism was not a major problem in the Labour Party, and that the political party had a record of anti-racism.
After a two-year suspension, Walker was expelled from Labour, in what she characterizes as a smear campaign and a “Witch Hunt,” which is also the name of a recently released documentary on her story.
Recently, Atlanta Black Star spoke with Walker on her experiences and activism.
ABS: What are your thoughts on the weaponization of anti-Semitism to silence debate on Israel? The Labour party didn’t specifically say you had made anti-Semitic statements, correct?
Jackie Walker: They didn’t for a very good reason. Sometimes simplicity tells you everything. They didn’t do it because they couldn’t, and they couldn’t because I never said anything anti-Semitic. What I did do was infuriate the right wing and Zionists, so they had to find a reason to expel me, and a lot of newspapers support it as anti-Semitism.
They say if you tell a lie long enough it becomes the truth.
My partner is Jewish. I have been an anti-racist all my life. I self-identify as a Black Jew. I don’t need to go to synagogue to prove my identity. …
… What we know is there is a building campaign against anti-Zionists. The victims are Blacks and Jews. Recently Netanyahu announced millions of shekels to fund anti-BDS groups around the world. The German parliament is making a law saying BDS is anti-Semitic. It is one step away from saying any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.The IHRA, the controversial definition of anti-Semitism, that’s where it is going.
I find it extraordinary when the chief proponents are right wing and racist. You find this strange situation where Trump is an ardent supporter of Netanyahu. And we know where he stands on Blacks. There is a difference between being a Zionist and being a Jew. … I suspect most Zionists are not Jews.
ABS: Are Black activists, politicians and intellectuals targeted for their criticism of Israeli policies?
Jackie Walker: If you’re a white Jew and want to be accepted as white, then it is very handy to look at any Black person and say they are different to us, they are anti-Semites. I also think there is a real fear in Zionist circles of anti-Zionist Jews finding common cause. They do not want common cause to be made. There is also some history in the Black and radical Jewish community, and it is not always a story of peace and working together. There is also a history where interests have clashed. I also think the issue for me in terms of being Black and Jewish is I can’t just see it from just one angle. I can’t. It’s impossible to look at the Jewish Holocaust and say this is the worst thing that has happened in history. … I’m not going to quantify this, and there is a demand on us that we stick to a particular hierarchy. And if as a Black Jew you step out of the hierarchy … you are policed.
White anti-Zionist Jews are threatened in the Labour Party. There was a bomb threat when we tried to show the film ‘”Witch Hunt.” … Nobody in the Labour Party spoke up. … Our group, Jewish Voice for Labour, we have experienced attacks and assaults from the streets, from the press, nothing is done. And when you realize that this is not about race and trying to protect Jews, this about people trying to protect Zionists.
I’m really happy for Zionists to give their case. I’m an old-fashioned free speech person. But what’s interesting is they will not allow free speech. There’s a reason why because in an open debate they will lose.
How can you possibly defend the demolition of homes? How can you actually defend that as a Jew, I have a right to return to Israel, and yet a Palestinian whose parents were made refugees, they can’t? Because it is indefensible. And that’s why they won’t do open debate.
ABS: You have characterized your expulsion from Labour as a witch hunt. Do you believe your experience represents a turning point in the UK on Israel? Does it mean BDS is having an impact and the pro-Israel lobby is getting scared and desperate?
Jackie Walker: I think it’s both, and as a BDS supporter this shows how profoundly successful they’ve been. If you look at the membership of the Labour Party, there’s no doubt where their sympathies lie. … If you look at the 600,000 members. … It’s not just BDS that’s been successful, as Israel has become increasingly racist and authoritarian and using methods that invoke images of militaristic dictatorship. They have done damage to their image in the world. … The reason they’re acting the way they’re doing is they are totally confident in their support from the establishment, and they should be. … I’ve met Democrats who are questioning America’s relationship with Israel. … Any objective view of the billions America is putting into that country even when it cannot provide its people with medical care …
Young Jews and many Jews in America are beginning to turn their backs on Israel. Twenty years ago those questions [would have been unthinkable].
ABS: What are your thoughts on the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May, the latest European parliament elections, and Brexit leader Nigel Farage, who is aligning with European white supremacists and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon?
I’m bored rigid with Brexit, so we’re in a state of political paralysis. I don’t celebrate her [May] going, because Boris Johnson [will likely replace her]. Boris Johnson said Black people have smaller brains, they are pickaninnies. He’s the modest English version of Trump. He went to Cambridge and he can read. He’s economical with the truth and he’s a bigot and a populist. The Tory party will never do anything but back the U.S. and Netanyahu. …
… The first time I was called a racist was when Nigel Farage tried to get elected to Parliament. We had this amazing campaign against him, and he was upset. This campaign was so effective. And that was the first time Breitbart picked me up and that was when I was identified by the far right.
They are not just far right, they are properly racist governments in Europe, and they are closely aligned to Netanyahu. How can this be? …
… There’s white nationalism and Jewish nationalism as well. [A Jewish nationalist has] more in common with a white nationalist than an anti-Zionist Jew. Tommy Robinson [far-right white nationalist activist with the UK Independence Party] has just dumped two visits to Israel. Most of those who support him are American.
White nationalists say if Israel can have a homeland for themselves, why can’t whites? There’s a lot in common there. People grow up with an idea of Jews being oppressed for 2.000 years. Actually, look at what is happening, and who the allies of the Israeli state are. That is hard for Jews to take on.