EXCLUSIVE: Jewish Voice For Labour official chairs Labour panel on antisemitism

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EXCLUSIVE: Jewish Voice For Labour official chairs Labour panel on antisemitism

A leading JVL figure, once branded an "antisemitism denier" by the Board of Deputies, has been allowed to lead a hearing of the Labour Party's highest disciplinary body.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers his keynote speech during the party's online conference.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers his keynote speech during the party's online conference.

A leading Jewish Voice for Labour figure, once branded an “antisemitism denier” by the Board of Deputies, has been allowed to chair a hearing of the Labour Party’s highest disciplinary body that looked into accusations of antisemitism, Jewish News can reveal.

Stephen Marks, a JVL committee member, led a three-person meeting of Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) last Thursday that ruled on a case that involved allegations of bullying and further claims of antisemitic discourse, according to Jewish News sources. 

Marks, who has previously been labelled an “antisemitism denier” by the Board of Deputies, was controversially elected on to the NCC, which has the power to expel members of the Labour Party, in 2018 after being supported by activists of the Momentum group.

JVL committee member Stephen Marks.

Last week’s hearing involved allegations made by the former Labour Mayor of Haringey and Labour councillor Sheila Peacock.

Peacock, who is herself Jewish and aged 89, had made a formal complaint against local councillor Vincent Carroll, which included the allegation that he sent her a text message threatening she would be “physically removed from office.”

It followed a dispute over Peacock’s decision to cancel a Council AGM last year due to the coronavirus pandemic and instead hold it this May.

Sources said Marks chaired last week’s hearing alongside Annabelle Harle, the Cardiff West Labour activist who was also backed at elections for the NCC by the Momentum group.

Mick Caney, president of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) trade union, was the third person on the panel.

Jewish News has learned that the case also involved an allegation that Carroll had issued threats to Peacock  and offered her “money” to leave the party.

A mobile telephone text message exchange revealed Carroll had said to Peacock “if you wish to leave the party, say so.”

He added: “If you need the money, come to me. Don’t just try to hang on, it’s pathetic.”

The four times Mayor of Haringey and councillor for the Northumberland Park ward responded by texting him writing: “Money unlike for some is not my God.”

Caroll replied: “Yes it is. You either move the AGM or be disciplined by the party.”

It is understood that in a witness statement Peacock claimed she was particularly upset that Carroll had offered her money.

She alleged he had done so because she is known to be Jewish.

Labour sources have stressed that the main allegation at last week’s hearing involved allegations of bullying, rather than antisemitism, and that Peacock had herself first used the “Money not my God” phrase.

After hearing the case, the NCC panel cleared Carroll of the charges against him. He had been suspended by Labour last year, but he is now back as a full member of the party’s Haringey Group.

It is not known if this was a decision reached by all three people on the panel or by a majority.

Sources close to Peacock say she has been left “distraught” by the ruling.

She had attempted to get last week’s meeting adjourned, citing a medical appointment.

A legal representative for Carroll convinced the panel that the case should be concluded that day.

The decision to ask Marks onto a panel involving some allegations around the issue of antisemitism has raised anger among senior Jewish Labour figures.

It is understood they have now raised the issue with senior figures connected to leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Marks, a member of Oxford East Labour Party, won his place on the NCC at elections in September 2018 as one of six candidates on the Momentum slate.

The NCC meets to adjudicate on the most high-profile and serious cases of alleged misconduct in Labour – such as those involving former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and other cases involving antisemitism claims.

Its three-person panels are selected shortly in advance of upcoming cases, with care meant to be taken to ensure the panel does not have political or factional left-wing/right-wing bias.

Momentum founder Jon Lansman, who has now stood down from the organisation, had been amongst those opposed to Marks being nominated for the NCC.

Last December, Marks wrote an article for the JVL website openly attacking the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn over his response to the EHRC report into Labour handling of antisemitism.

He accused Starmer and Labour general secretary David Evans of granting “privilege” to Jewish communal groups “who agree to join in the lynch-mob attack” on Corbyn.

Marks complained: “To point out that Jeremy’s statement was in no way antisemitic is now proof of ‘antisemitism’.”

He had also previously supported a Labour member suspended from the party in 2016 over claims he had shared claims on Facebook that Isis had used weapons made in Israel, comparing Mossad with the Nazis and accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians.

Marks shared a petition, saying: “It is cases like this which ‘bring the party into disrepute’. Those responsible are the ones who should be suspended!”

In 2018 he reportedly compared calls by communal organisations for Labour to strengthen its disciplinary processes on antisemitism with how  “the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia in 1914 was designed to provide a pretext for starting World War I”.

Marks, who once accused the Board of being behind “imagined” claims of antisemitism in Labour, also wrote a letter in support of the now expelled Labour activist Jackie Walker, according to minutes of a meeting of Momentum’s Oxford branch.

Miriam Mirwitch, ex-chair of Young Labour and a leading member of the Jewish Labour Movement, said electing Marks onto Labour’s NCC  was not the way to “win back the trust of the Jewish community”.

The power of the NCC will be greatly reduced once Labour introduces an independent disciplinary process as instructed by last October’s EHRC report into antisemitism.

The report recognises that in line with Labour’s rulebook the independent complaints process needs to be approved at a vote at the party’s annual conference later this year.

Until this happens, Labour will attempt to ease its backlog of disciplinary cases by holding regular meetings of both its NCC and national executive committee (NEC) disputes committee.

A Labour spokesperson refused to comment on the decision to use Marks at last week’s NCC panel.

Jewish News approached Marks for comment, giving him a day to respond before publishing this article.

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