Not just bad advice

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Editors note: This article was published without providing James Schneider with the right to reply or respond to any of the allegations made. We have placed his subsequent response statement rejecting the contents of the article at the end. Please scroll down to read it. 

For several years now I have been struggling to understand why the Labour left doubled down on the “error” of capitulating to the false narrative regarding their party’s so-called “antisemitism crisis”. I initially believed this strategy to be a “mistake”. However, I now believe that the approach forced upon Corbyn was borne out of ideology – specifically the imperialist mentality of some of those who were advising him at the time.

Most people reading this article will have seen and been shocked by the Labour Files, which recounted the disgraceful behaviour of the Labour right towards the party’s elected leader and his supporters. But, astonishing though its revelations are, they only reveal part of the story. Many truths remain hidden beneath a clutter of misrepresentations, lies and misunderstandings. Politicians often “frame” their actions to narrow their audience’s perspective and draw attention away from the bits of the picture they hope to keep obscured. I have written this piece for readers who, like me, want the broadest possible view of the truth. The key narrative presented by the Labour Files was of a hostile right wing determined to destroy an insurgent Corbyn-supporting left. In part two of the documentary, the shocking behaviour of the right-wing party machine was illustrated via the recounting of a series of appalling injustices committed against Labour members and left-leaning party staff on the pretext of rooting out antisemitism. However, this framing obscured an even more shocking truth: some of the worst behaviour depicted by the documentary was allegedly committed by “left wing” Labour staff. For instance, Halima Khan, a former official from the Labour Party complaints team, recounted a meeting convened following the death of an elderly Labour member who been sanctioned by the party for alleged antisemitism and then died of a stroke shortly afterwards. At this meeting, one member of staff allegedly joked that they had now become “antisemite killers”, to which the room responded with laughter, apparently demonstrating a callous lack of care by the party machine for the organisation’s members. It was later suggested on social media that “the person who made the comment was former Momentum Head of Digital Communications.”

I find it curious that the author of “antisemite killer” comment’s Momentum affiliation wasn’t mentioned in the Labour Files Part Two, especially as it would have changed viewers perspective on the picture of the Labour Party presented by the documentary. This broader view would have illustrated not just the shocking disregard of member welfare by the labour right but also the left, showing that the rot in the Labour Party runs throughout the full spectrum of the party’s factions.

New left, new antisemitism

Notably, members of the Momentum-aligned Labour left were allowed to frame the narrative of the Labour Files according to their own perspectives.  This included Momentum Co-Founder James Schneider who had played a part in legitimising the mainstream media narrative of the Labour Party’s “antisemitism crisis”. I recall, from own experience, that Schneider was one of several who advised the Rebecca Long Bailey leadership campaign to adopt the ten pledges for dealing with antisemitism proposed by the Board of Deputies – an organisation of largely “capital C” Conservative Jews, which is proudly supportive of Israel. These “pledges” included the stipulations that:

  • The [pro-Israel lobby group] Jewish Labour Movement should be engaged by the Party to lead on training about antisemitism.
  • Labour must engage with the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not through fringe organisations and individuals [such as the Jewish critics of Israel represented by Jewish Voice for Labour].

The decision by all 2020 Labour leadership candidates to adopt these pledges was, in effect, a commitment to double down on Labour’s war against its own progressive and anti-imperialist members and a scandalous attempt to police the boundaries of legitimate Jewish identity.  Even if Starmer had not won the leadership, it’s quite clear that Labour’s witch hunt against its own supporters would have continued under the banner of the Momentum backed “left”.

Reflecting upon the “antisemitism crisis” in “How we win: the Party” – an article for Novara Media adapted from his new book, Our Bloc, Schneider recognises that different perceptions of the state of Israel’s place in Jewish cultural identity exist within “the Jewish community”. He affirms that “non-Zionist Jews, as well as some Zionist Jews, forcefully reject” the idea that “anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism”. He also acknowledges that “while the concepts of Israel, Zion and Jerusalem run deeply in Jewish religion, history and culture – and are, for many, symbolic of national liberation and collective safety – to many Palestinians, Zionism represents their eviction and occupation, and the denial of their rights.”

However, he reaffirms the notion that the nation state of Israel is “the primary form of collective Jewish existence [my emphasis]” in his assertion that “the injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people need not be obscured by an essential sensitivity to Jewish people [my emphasis].” It logically follows that, for Schneider someone who criticises the apartheid state too abrasively can be accused of insensitivity to the Jewish people as a whole and, thereby, “antisemitism”. Note too that Schneider’s analysis implies that the “new antisemitism”, which equates criticism of Israel with a hatred of Jews for being Jews is a valid definition, at least to a point.  Following the logic of Schneider’s argument, criticism of the apartheid state should not be done in a way that offends the “Jewish people” for whom, so Schneider accepts, Israel forms a key aspect of their identity. Here, it must be emphasised that criticising the state of Israel – which, like the United States, Australia and many other settler colonies, was founded on ethnic cleansing – is going  to offend the sensibilities of people who see it as symbolic of national liberation and collective safety. The truth sometimes hurts and it is true that the state of Israel established in 1948 is, and always was, a racist endeavour regardless of how some would like to see it.

Schneider’s support for Israel over and above the concerns of non-Zionist Jews is confirmed by his assertion that the recommendations proposed by the, in my view deeply flawed, Equality and Human Rights Council (EHRC) report into Labour Party antisemitism. This report was heavily criticised by non-Zionist Jews in Jewish Voice for Labour.  Nevertheless, Schneider affirms that its recommendations “should and must be implemented”.

“Pukka but not really, English but not quite”

Given Schneider’s belief that support for an apartheid state is an important expression of Jewish identity, it is not surprising that his work has been endorsed by Corbyn-critics. One of these is the Atlantic Council’s Ben Judah, who praised Schneider’s Our Bloc as “brilliant”.

In 2018, when the furore over allegations of Labour antisemitism was at its height, Judah’s journalism legitimised claims made by both Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin. In a piece for the Atlantic, Judah complained,

“They [Hodge and Austin] have been immediately probed for their “abusive” manner, while a pro-Corbyn candidate for Labour’s National Executive Committee who recently accused the Jewish community of fabricating anti-Semitism has merely referred himself for equalities training.”

He further explained that “hardliners around Corbyn, such as his director of strategy, Seamus Milne, see the old IHRA code as threatening to silence those who wish to expose the true nature of the Israeli state […] Conversely, most in the Jewish community believe that living inside this type of criticism is the foul virus of anti-Semitism.”

Judah also emphasised his pride over “the dogged exposure, Facebook post by Facebook post, done by Jewish activists like the Campaign Against Antisemitism” and also “the Jewish Chronicle for revealing a flourishing culture of conspiracy theories inside the Labour Party.”

Accordingly, Judah, like Schneider, accepts the new antisemitism, which equates criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews for being Jews, as a legitimate definition of the term. What is perhaps more surprising, given his critical appraisal of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, is that Judah is a long-term friend of Schneider’s. The two were reportedly housemates at the time Schneider set up Momentum, which he asked Judah to join in 2015, and this followed a long and close connection dating back to their student days at Oxford.

The nature of their friendship was touched upon by Journalist David Patrikarakos, currently contributing editor at Unherd, in an article written to reflect upon the legacy of novelist of John Le Carré. In a fascinating piece, which is worth quoting at length, Patrikarakos likens Judah and Schneider to Le Carré’s characters “many” of whom, he observes were “were spies”. Wistfully recalling his time at Oxford, Patrikarakos writes:

“It was in my third year as a postgraduate student at Oxford that I met my now great friend (and probable distant cousin) the writer Ben Judah. Late one evening over several hours, we sat in my college room and I listened to this 18-year old discuss everything from Russia to Israel to our shared Middle East origins, in seamless staccato bursts, and understood that I was now in the presence of only the second person I had met during my time at Oxford who was truly intellectually exceptional. Halfway through the night, in walked Ben’s friend, James Schneider, up at Oxford from Winchester, who went on to co-found the left-wing organisation Momentum and become communications advisor to Jeremy Corbyn; another product of exile (via a Jewish father whose origins lay in Eastern Europe), formed by his passage through England’s institutions, and like us [and Le Carré’s characters] ‘Pukka but not really; English but not quite.’”

That Schneider’s book has been endorsed by Judah and their long-term friendship continued throughout the former’s employment in Jeremy Corbyn’s office has political relevance because Judah is not simply a supporter of Israel and critic of Jeremy Corbyn. He is also a foreign correspondent with close ties to organisations often regarded as fronts for the Anglo-American security services and military industrial complexes.  

From 2010 to 2012, Judah was a policy fellow in London at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a European pro-NATO think-tank. In 2015, he spent time in Israel, which is where he received a message from his then housemate James Schneider, inviting him to join Momentum, which Schneider had just co-founded. In June 2015, while in Israel, Judah was present at the annual Herzliya conference, which is regularly attended by the great and the good of the Israeli military industrial intelligence establishment. The conference is hosted by Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, which David Miller’s Powerbase.info describes as having “strong connections with the military and intelligence in Israel” and serving as a base for “the Israeli propaganda operations Stand With Us and HelpUsWin.org.”

Between 2017 to 2020, Judah served as a research fellow at the establishment think tank, the Hudson Institute, in Washington D.C, where, in 2020, he interviewed former MI6 head, Sir John Sawyers. Since 2020, Judah has been a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a hugely influential US-based pro NATO think tank funded by the British Government. Should we be worried, that Judah, who is so close to the institutions and actors of the NATO-backing, military industrial, intelligence complex, has enthusiastically endorsed James Schneider’s blueprint for the future of the British left? I certainly am.

Schneider’s establishment connections are not limited to his close long-term friend and former housemate, Judah.  Patrikarakos, who likened Schneider and Judah to John Le Carré’s protagonists, is also close to institutions of the military and intelligence community. A foreign correspondent currently embedded with the Ukranian military, Patrikarakos’s name featured in a leak of details pertaining to the EXPOSE Network, an alliance of several organisations convened to counter “Russian Disinformation”, which was intended to be headed up by the Institute for Statecraft’s Chris Donnelly, the Chatham House thinktank’s Amil Khan and the Zinc Network’s Louis Brooke. MI6’s Andy Pryce, who heads up the Government’s Counter Disinformation & Media Development Program (CDMD) – the pilot to which Aaron Bastani’s former PhD supervisor Andrew Chadwick  appears to have contributed – has been named in  connection with the programme by journalist and blogger Ian Davis. Intriguingly, Schneider was still on friendly terms with Patrikarakos as late as 2016, well after his conversion to socialism and founding of Momentum, which he dates to 2015.  Another contact from Schneider’s Oxford days worth mentioning is Max Seddon. Seddon, who co-wrote wrote a play in which Schneider starred during his time at university, is now Moscow Bureau Chief for the Financial Times. Schneider endorsed his hiring by Buzzfeed in April 2015 and was still sharing his work in 2016. Unsurprisingly, Seddon’s work on Russia consistently tows the line of the pro-NATO foreign policy establishment.

Of course, it is true that peoples’ politics can change and, just because Schneider once shared the views of his friends in the journalistic establishment does not mean this is still true. Schneider himself has explained how his politics “changed” by 2015 following his own work – essentially as a kind of foreign correspondent – for the London based Think Africa Press.

Schneider also has credentials as a “progressive” internationalist. In “How We Win: the World”, another article for Novara Media”, Schneider refers to several international campaigns from which the British left might take inspiration. However, the basis for his internationalism appears to be Anglo-American social democracy, rather than true anti imperialism. His article’s emphasis on US Democratic Party/Democratic Socialists of America initiatives, such as the Green New Deal, betray the limitations of his prospectus: progressivism taken to the limits of what might be allowed by Anglo American imperialism. He does not even suggest  abolishing or leaving institutions that were established to administrate and support the empire, such as NATO and the IMF. Again, this is hardly surprising, as Schneider currently works for Progressive International, which receives financial support from the Sanders Institute. The Sanders institute is a very corporate institution, set up by Bernie Sanders. This year Sanders, along with the “squad” of “progressive” US Democrats, demonstrated the true extent of his socialist politics by voting for tens of billions of US dollars to be spent on escalating the NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

More broadly, Schneider’s views on Israel and Labour’s antisemitism “crisis” remain aligned to those expressed by Ben Judah and he was endorsing the work of his friends in the security services adjacent mainstream press long after his conversion to socialism. Moreover, Schneider remains within an influential network of people who regularly publish articles towing the establishment’s pro-NATO line on the current Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Given his background and political history, Schneider’s socialist credentials are rather shaky and it is possible that his co-founding of Momentum did not shift his own politics much further leftwards. Rather, I would argue, Momentum moved the British left to the right and away from its anti-war politics. This is indicated by a 2016 New Statesman article by the magazine’s then Political Editor, Stephen Bush, which highlighted factional disputes within Momentum. Apparently taking its lead from Momentum’s bureaucracy, the piece draws a distinction between the “new left” or “Lansmanite” caucus rising up through the Corbyn movement and an old guard of reactionary leftists. This latter group is characterised as an alliance of “people who had been kicked out [of Labour] in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock” and “people who believe the Canary”; this distinction is not at all dissimilar to the Blairite invention of “new” versus “old” Labour and the reference to the Canary is, of course, intended pejoratively. It is a clear insinuation that its readers are “conspiracy theorists” or “cranks”, slurs that have become levelled at dissenters like myself with disturbing regularity in the years since. This framing is perhaps revealing of the Momentum leadership’s view of its own members at the time; that it was allegedly the former Momentum Head of Digital Communications who joked about Labour staff being “antisemite killers” following the death of a party member should, in my view, be read in the context of this culture.

In Bush’s article, Schneider is presented as the poster-boy for the young, up and coming, more pragmatic Lansmanites and fits the profile perfectly. As we have seen, Schneider does not hail from the traditional anti-imperialist left. His foreign policy positions and those of his journalist friends tend to align more closely with the more openly atlanticist views of the Labour right, particularly in his subtle support for Israel and tentative legitimisation of the new antisemitism. Furthermore, Schneider, as a former chair of Oxford University Lib Dems and someone who has previously praised Conservative Party policy, can be seen as similar to those Momentum members “who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites”. This is essentially how the piece characterises him. Bush writes:

“Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists [and] has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist.”

Schneider was, at least according to Bush, an important link between the activist base and the mainstream media. His pragmatism and personability allowed him to reach both “reasonable” left wingers willing to compromise, and positively influence the views of those who wielded power through the press, such as, perhaps, Bush himself.

Schneider is not alone in pursing this agenda effectively. Other notable figures on the new (establishment) left include various Novara Media journalists, like Aaron Bastani, who has his own links to people and institutions connected to the establishment and security services and who recently suggested that the British left should move away from anti-war activism. Additionally, there is Grace Blakely, the “economist” and staff writer for Tribune magazine, who has towed the establishment line on the Ukraine conflict numerous times, including a confident prediction that western sanctions could collapse the value of the Ruble and “spell the beginning of the end for Putin’s reign” (). Perhaps not incidentally, Blakely has also collaborated with Schneider on numerous podcasts for Tribune and has been romantically linked to him by Mace Magazine.  

Schneider and his associates at Momentum, Novara Media and Tribune project leftism on domestic policy – though fairly inconsistently – while adopting similar foreign policy rhetoric to the more obviously establishment stalwarts like Judah, Patrikarakos and Seddon.

Consequences for a captured left

The history of Momentum, as exemplified by Schneider’s own rise to influence on the British left strongly suggests that the complicity of the new (establishment) left in legitimising the false antisemitism crisis narrative was not, as the account presented by the Labour Files implies, forced upon them by pressure from the right. Rather, it was a natural outgrowth of the pro-NATO, establishment left’s own, imperialist, atlanticist ideology. Momentum was, therefore, never, even at its earliest stages, likely to emerge as a vehicle for progressive internationalist politics.

Thanks to the prominence they enjoyed by attaching themselves to the Corbyn leadership via Momentum, Schneider and other members of the establishment left have integrated themselves into existing anti-war organisations. For someone like me, who shares Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-imperialist internationalism, it is very troubling to see Schneider and fellow travellers consolidating their influence in organisations like Stop the War and Counterfire.

Thanks to repeated governments’ doubling down on disastrous, war mongering policies, Britain and the wider west are now in crisis. Countries that have, until recently, been at the receiving end of British imperialists’ jackboots are taking control of their own resources and seizing opportunities for real independence, thereby decreasing the Anglo-American empire’s – and thus its subjects’ – access to essential fuels and materials. Most frightening of all, the conflict in Ukraine is moving the West ever closer to a world-ending nuclear war with Russia.

More than ever, we desperately need a strong voice in Britain that will challenge the foreign policy orthodoxy and its disastrous narratives, which have led us into our present quagmire. However, not only is the space for debating alternative points of view not growing, it is being shrunk by the influence of the “new” establishment left, who are actively and effectively policing the boundaries of “legitimate” discourse, to the exclusion of nonconformist, non-atlanticist perspectives.

Due to the expanding influence of the pro-NATO establishment left, it is increasingly difficult for socialists to challenge the foreign policy orthodoxy. Those of us who do, are frequently accused of “conspiracism” and “antisemitism” and side-lined accordingly.

Particularly concerning to me personally, is Schneider’s own project to create a “federalised left” as outlined in Our Bloc. I consider Schneider’s proposal to be blueprint for uniting the British left under the single banner of an essentially controlled and neutered opposition, permanently tied to Momentum and the Labour Party, and from which we dissenters are almost certain to be forever alienated.

There is now a real danger that the legacy of Corbyn’s time as Labour Leader will not be the emergence of the coherent mass anti-imperialist movement we so desperately need but a contained and constrained left. A “movement party” organisation that unites the socialist left under the control of people with close connections to individuals and institutions embedded within the military industrial intelligence complex will not facilitate change. Rather, it will ferment inertia on the issue that matters most – the urgent need for a new approach to foreign policy.   

Statement in response by James Schneider:

This article, riddled with factual errors, misrepresentations and false logical leaps, rests on two main charges against me and a heathy dose of innuendo.

Bevin claims that I am a supporter of the “new antisemitism” which equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism. I am not, which is why I wrote in ‘Our Bloc: How We Win” that “following this logic would render much activism by or in support of Palestinians antisemitic by definition…We have already seen efforts to render ipso facto antisemitic any support for the right of return of dispossessed Palestinians, discussion of the Nakba or the labelling of Israel an apartheid state. They are not.”

He bases his claim in part in his false assertion that I advised Rebecca Long-Bailey to adopt the Board of Deputies’ ten pledges. I did not join that campaign until the second week of February 2020 – almost a month after she had adopted the pledges – having been prevented from doing so by campaign director Jon Lansman. The pledges had long been adopted by the time I joined the campaign and my advice was not sought their adoption.

Allied to this false charge is the laughable notion that I “legitimised” the mainstream media narrative on Labour antisemitism. I have prominently challenged that narrative in writing, interviews and public talks. Furthermore, I do not “support Israel over and above the concerns of non-Zionist Jews”. I am myself a non-Zionist Jew.

He also claims that I hold imperialist, atlanticist views. I do not. My politics are grounded in anti-imperialism, liberation for the Global South and implacable opposition to planetary structures of domination and destruction, such as the IMF and nuclear weapons.

Bevin presents my role as communications director for the Progressive International as evidence of my lack of anti-imperialism, which would baffle the organisation’s mainly Global South membership and readers of its political declaration that states “our internationalism stands against imperialism in all its forms: from war and sanctions to privatization and “structural adjustment”.”

Like most people on the planet, not all of my friends share all of my views. For Bevin, my friend Ben Judah is the central figure in Bevin’s heavy innuendo that there is something more sinister to the advice, about which he is profoundly ill informed, I gave Jeremy Corbyn. His suggestion is that I pushed a political agenda antithetical to Corbyn’s or am a spy or both. I invite Bevin to not hide behind innuendo and plainly make his accusation. If he does, I will sue for defamation.

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