Event Report: Author Evening with Asa Winstanley – Weaponising Anti-Semitism

Event Report: Author Evening with Asa Winstanley – Weaponising Anti-Semitism

IHRC held an author evening with Asa Winstanley on 11 August 2023, to discuss his book Weaponising Anti-Semitism. The conversation was chaired by Professor David Miller.



Read an excerpt from the discussions below. Some of the dialogs have been edited for better readability.

Professor David: Why write a book on a topic like this? How did it happen?

Asa: I’ve been writing on this issue for some years now; the specific topic of Jeremy Corbyn and the popular movement behind him started in 2015, when Corbyn first ran for the leadership of the Labour Party. He was regarded as an outsider candidate but, we knew who he was, people in the Palestine Solidarity Movement knew who he was. He was a kind of itinerant leftist remaining in the Labour Party.

I was in my early 20s when the Iraq War was happening and when Afghanistan was invaded after 9/11. As a young pacifist type, I was not politically sophisticated but, I was naturally inclined towards the anti-war movement. To me, the Labour Party was the war party because Tony Blair was leading the invasion in Iraq and participating with Bush, so I never perceived the Labour Party  as a good thing. Nonetheless, there were around 2 million people at the demonstrations and there would be meetings organised against the Iraq war, [including] activists from the Labour Party. The leaders of the demonstrations – there would be one or two Labour Party MPs and it was always Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott, and maybe a couple of others.

There was a point during the whole Labour anti-Semitism crisis where this Twitter account from someone working for the integrity initiative, he had tweeted some pictures of me at a PSC event with Jeremy Corbyn, and so it was this terrible thing Corbyn had done: speaking on a platform with me. He was not a self-promoter in a way of going to these events as political opportunism. He would chair these meetings and do the actual work.

There was a moment in 2015 where this great amount of hope to the British left that felt defeated in many ways and where all the different strands of the British left came together to support Jeremy Corbyn. I thought it would be funny and wind up the Blairites to put Corbyn on the ballot, which it did and that was great. But, then it became a whole thing. The reason I started the reporting which the book is based on… it just felt like no one else was doing it and it felt necessary. There were so many stories. Jonathan Cook has done some good reporting about it and even the canaries. We felt at the Electronic Intifada that we had to do it. At a certain point my managing editor, Maureen Murphy, said that I have done enough reporting on this for a book and there is no book about this. I started writing it in 2019 when Corbyn was still the leader and I could see the way things were going. Finding a publisher was the hard part.


Professor David: Why couldn’t you find a publisher? Tell us about that.

Asa: OR Books is an American publisher. I think it speaks to the success of the manufactured anti-Semitism campaign against the left that I couldn’t find a British publisher. I spent two years working on that and the COVID pandemic was an aspect of that. I went to all the British so-called radical publishers and they all rejected it for one reason or another. I went to around 46 publishers and agents; most of those were mainstream who were probably never going to go for it. There was one conservative agent that said he thinks it deserves an audience and he was quite supportive.

It was quite dispiriting and I thought I would have to self-publish, which I did not want to do. One of the reasons for doing this is to put it on the historical record and it is easier for bookshops to ignore self-published books. But I wanted the editorial process.


Professor David: All the plethora of Israeli lobby groups who are active in this story, from the Jewish Labour Movement, the campaign against anti-Semitism… how do you get a handle on all of that? When people hear about these organisations, quite often they get lost in all the acronyms. How do you make sense of all these different organisations? Do they work together?

Asa: a large part of that is reading the Jewish Chronicle I suppose, that is a good way of keeping up with all these organisations. The Jewish Chronicle is an interesting newspaper; it doesn’t appear to make any money at all and it has almost gone out of business several times. It is essentially being currently funded by unknown persons who have a very definite agenda, it is right-wing Zionist.


Professor David: People say quite often that the most members of the Zionist movement are not Jewish, in particular pointing to the huge number of Christian Zionists in the US. There are Christian Zionists in this country too – not so many, but most of the people that staff Israeli lobby groups in this country are Jewish, but there are some that are not. I want to ask you about them… John Woodcock, John Mann, Ian Austin, Joan Ryan… there are quite a lot of people who are not Jewish who get involved in that. How does that happen? Are they ideologically motivated? Do they come from the Labour right?

Asa: It’s an interesting question and I think there are a variety of reasons. Historically British non-Jewish Zionists were motivated by Christian Zionism because it was the era where religion played a much bigger role in this country, especially upper class officers and so forth. Richard Kemp seems to be the infamous British colonel, basically Israel’s favourite British colonel, who is in favour of every Israeli war crime going, and every Western war crime in general. He seems to be motivated by some form of Christian Zionism… the Christian Zionist part of the Israel lobby is nowhere near as powerful here; religion plays a much smaller role in public and political life in Britain than it does in the States.

Christians United for Israel – the Christian evangelical organisation led by John Hagee, infamously anti-Semitic John Hagee who said that Hitler was a hunter sent by God to drive the Jews to Palestine “in Israel”, as he claimed. This infamously anti-Jewish pastor nonetheless is a very close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu. His organisation claims, last time I checked on their website, to have 6 million members. I suspect that is a bit of an exaggeration, they probably calculate that by the membership of the combined churches of the pastors who are members. But, certainly they are a very big political constituency in the US, as this kind of religious extremism. I think the Labour Party right, their motivations for being pro-Zionist are that it is just this emblematic thing for the Labour Party, for this kind of pro-NATO, pro-American imperialist tendency of the Labour Party tradition. [It] is really exemplified by people like Luke Akehurst, Ruth Smeeth, who of course is a Jewish Zionist within the Labour Party, former MP who was so dedicated to sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn. [Smeeth] basically campaigned herself out of a seat in the 2019 election because it was more important for her to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn.

There is an array of motivations and it is also a good way to get a career. If you look at Joan Ryan for example… before she was Labour Friends of Israel, I had never heard of her. The chairperson for LFOI, Steve Reed I think – who is he? I had never heard of him before. Where do these people come from? It is a useful career for them, that is what it comes down to. Joan Ryan lost her seat because she left the Labour Party and now she is in a presumably a very well-paid job in the Israel lobby in Brussels. It is  opportunism, right-wing, different motivations and they are not mutually exclusive as well.

Professor David and Asa also discussed the case against Raed Salah in Britain, the Community Security Trust, the role of the Labour left, ways to break down division to have open discussions, the importance of Ken Livingstone being forced out of the Labour Party, the stages of targeting Jeremy Corbyn from 2015, Shai Masot, and much more. 

We heard anecdotes from audience guests sharing their personal experiences within the Labour Party and Jewish activists supporting the Palestinian struggle, as well as questions around US imperialism, Israel as a threat to US national security, and more. 

About the author:

Originally from south Wales, Asa Winstanley first travelled to Palestine at the end of 2004, volunteering with the human rights defenders of the International Solidarity Movement. He ending up working and volunteering in the occupied West Bank until 2007 and has returned many times since. He was media coordinator for the ISM and later wrote for and was an editor at the late Palestine Times, the first Palestinian English-language daily newspaper published in the occupied West Bank. He has been writing for The Electronic Intifada since 2009 and has been an associate editor there since 2012.

His expertise means he is often in demand and he regularly appears on other podcasts and YouTube channels, including: BreakThrough News, The Jimmy Dore Show, By Any Means Necessary, Unauthorized Disclosure, The East is a Podcast, Multipolarista, Not the Andrew Marr Show, Red Line TV and Palestine Declassified.

He’s written for many other publications over the years, including Declassified UK, Middle East Monitor, Al-Akhbar English (Lebanon), Middle East EyeThe National, JacobinCeasefire Magazine, New Left Project, the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, the Morning Star and Freedom.

He wrote a chapter in the book Israel and Gaza: Behind the Media Veil, published by MEMO in 2014. Along with Frank Barat, he was the editor of Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation (Pluto Press, 2011) a collection of written and spoken evidence from the London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

He is a member of the National Union of Journalists.



About the chair:

Professor David Miller is a non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Islam and Global Affairs at Istanbul Zaim University and a former Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol. He is a broadcaster, writer and investigative researcher; the producer of the weekly show Palestine Declassified on PressTV; and the co-director of Public Interest Investigations, of which spinwatch.org and powerbase.info are projects. His recent work has been published in Mintpress, Mayadeen English, Electronic Intifada, Grayzone, PressTV, IRNA and TRT World. He tweets @Tracking_Power.


About the book:

Meticulously researched while reading like a fast-paced thriller, this explosive new book details the way the Israel lobby deployed charges of anti-Semitism to destroy Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for power as leader of the Labour Party.

In an electrifying account, investigative journalist Asa Winstanley shows how Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis was manufactured by pro-Israel groups. Despised and feared by Israel and its allies because of his long-standing support for the Palestine solidarity movement, Jeremy Corbyn became a target of enemies determined to abort his left-wing project.

Drawing on new interviews with many of those victimized in purges the Labour leadership claimed were necessary to tackle anti-Semitism, Winstanley exposes a plot by the Israel lobby, in alliance with the Labour right and Israeli and British intelligence agencies, to prevent a socialist entering Downing Street.

An essential historical corrective, Weaponising Anti-Semitism shines light into the murkiest corners of the British state and those who work with it.

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