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Members Voice: Don’t Pay UK smeared me as an anti-semite!

Workers Party member Dr Phil Bevin argues we shouldn’t be putting our trust in the Don’t Pay UK campaign – and he’s certainly got a story to tell. It’s a tale of intrigue – Zionist intimidation, lurid smears and threats, and the slippery figures behind the Corbynista movement….a heady brew indeed!

Needless to say, the views expressed here are done so in a personal capacity and do not necessarily represent those of the party as a whole.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Smears and threats from the Don’t Pay UK campaign

I criticised Don’t Pay UK on social media for its misleading statements about the likely consequences for people choosing not to pay their energy bills on 1 October, and shared a post by Unity News Network which raised similar concerns.

Unity News Network has a reputation for accuracy, which I always consider to be the most important characteristic of a news website.

After sharing their post, I received the following response from Don’t Pay UK’s official Twitter account, which attacked Unity News Network and myself for antisemitism:

It’s 2022 – you do you – but it seems absolutely WILD you claim you’re some sort of left wing emissary in conjunction with UNN (Unity News Network): an antisemitic/right wing conspiracy channel you’re now sharing left, right and centre. Think carefully, the Labour mvmt will see an act accordingly.

Don’t Pay UK’s personal message to Phil Bevin

As is usual when I receive abusive threats like the one levelled at me by Don’t Pay UK, I investigated both the organisation and the people surrounding it more closely.

I wasn’t too surprised to find that, despite claiming to be a “non-aligned non-political party campaign”, the organisation almost certainly does have a political alignment – although not an explicit one.

The so-called ‘Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’

Many of the people close to Don’t Pay UK consider themselves to be ‘left wing’. But underlying their behaviour appears to lie the imperialist, Zionist ideology associated with the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty (AWL).

The AWL has a number of characters in common with Don’t Pay UK and the ‘left’ Labour Party faction Momentum, which is often described as ‘Corbynite’.

It may seem surprising that an organisation like the AWL – known for its supportive stance towards Israel, UK/USA proxy wars, and enthusiastic backing for the EU – would be interested in attaching itself to the leadership of an internationalist and Eurosceptic like Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been roundly (and falsely) denounced as an antisemite by many establishment Zionists, particularly those who equate criticism of apartheid with antisemitism. He has also been criticised by the AWL over his support for Palestinian rights.

Nevertheless, despite these seemingly irreconcilable differences, a lot of notable supposed ‘Corbynistas’ have been associated with the AWL – either by writing for its website, or being a subject of the group’s promotional interviews.

These include former Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson, former Momentum treasurer, Another Europe is Possible organiser and Don’t Pay UK leaflet distributer Michael Chessum, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, and mainstream media pundit Grace Blakely, who has made supportive statements about Don’t Pay UK on social media.

It may seem surprising that people associated with an organisation that disagrees so deeply with Jeremy Corbyn’s world view were able to integrate themselves into his Labour leadership – but that’s what happened.

It would have been more difficult for them if they’d been open about their affiliations. But, as Momentum founder and long-term AWL collaborator John Lansman has explained, this wasn’t the case.

In a statement published on the AWL’s Workers’ Liberty website, Lansman claims that, instead of openly contesting elections as a separate party to Labour, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty “made the tactical decision to back close fellow travellers and some well-known activists rather than their own full members for [internal Labour Party] elections.”

This is revealing. It confirms that the AWL’s supporters and proxies, particularly those operating within the Labour ‘left’, are not always forthcoming with details of their association with the group. Instead, they choose not to identify themselves in order to maintain cover.

As I experienced first hand, such individuals often appeared enthusiastically pro-Corbyn. Their differences with his opposition to imperialism didn’t surface until the false allegations of antisemitism kicked into fifth gear.

However, AWL associates’ nervousness at being linked to the group goes beyond simply not talking about it – it even extends to outright denial.

The curious case of Michael Chessum

For example, former Momentum treasurer Michael Chessum has been interviewed by the AWL numerous times, and has spoken at their events.

Of course, he actively denies membership, claiming “I am not AWL and never have been” while angrily denouncing those who suggest otherwise as “cranks” or people engaging in “sectarian paranoia”.

He’s even cited disagreement with AWL as evidence of his non-membership, yet he makes a habit of distancing himself from organisations with which he works – recently, he’s denied involvement with Don’t Pay UK despite handing out their leaflets.

Given the number of AWL articles in which his name crops up, it’s safe to say he’s a fellow traveller of the organisation.

The contortions of James Schneider

The most tortured attempt to endorse Don’t Pay UK while also denying involvement came from former Corbyn spokesperson James Schneider, who co-founded Momentum with Jon Lansman.

In an email read out by Ben Timbereley – presumably the recipient – on Crispin Flintoff’s Not PMQs Zoom show, Schneider defended Don’t Pay UK, suggested Chessum was an AWL supporter, and distanced himself from both.

On the relationship between the AWL and Don’t Pay UK, Schneider claimed:

It [Don’t Pay] certainly isn’t an AWL campaign. It’s already far too big, attractive and well run to be so. I imagine some of the AWL’s tiny band of supporters know about it from Michael Chessum, who knew about it, I imagine, in a similar way to how I did. It isn’t an AWL front and I would have nothing to do with it if it were.”

This of course implies that Schneider does have “something to do” with the organisation and I think it’s reasonable to suggest that contacting journalists on behalf of Don’t Pay UK organisers constitutes involvement.

Interestingly, however, he contradicts himself in the same email – claiming, like Chessum, that he isn’t directly involved. In terms of how he knew about it, Schneider explains:

While I’m not directly involved, I know a couple of the people who are. I don’t know everyone involved, but those that I do know are longstanding and committed activists whose sincerity I would be happy to vouch for.”

Schneider is not as removed from the organisation as his email to Ben Timbereley implies. In his capacity as Momentum co-founder, Schneider has worked with Chessum and of course Lansman, who has his own longstanding links with AWL.

And just like the AWL, he’s picked up the ‘left antisemitism’ falsehood and ran with with it.

Anti-semitism’ as a weapon to attack the left

In an article for Novara Media, Schneider stresses the need to be equally sympathetic towards the Palestinian people and their Zionist oppressors:

Socialists should understand 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…The injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people need not be obscured by an essential sensitivity to Jewish people.

James Schneider, How We Win, Novara Media

How can we reconcile fighting for the rights of Palestinians, who have been the subjects of a brutal apartheid regime since 1948, with the sensitivities of Zionist supporters of Israel? Schneider doesn’t try to explain.

Rather, he simply defers to the recommendations of the EHRC report into Labour antisemitism, which he argues “should and must be implemented”. This places his views firmly in line with those of the AWL.

As I hope is now clear, many of the organisers and activists linked to Don’t Pay UK have worked very closely with, and had their voices amplified by, the imperialist AWL.

Even those who, like Schneider, have no direct personal connection to the AWL but do have something to do with Don’t Pay UK, essentially share the imperialist politics of Worker’s Liberty.

As far as I am aware, none of the people mentioned in this article have unequivocally condemned the weaponization of false antisemitism allegations for political purposes.

They have been silent over the witch hunt’s impact on the lives and reputations of innocent people. They have even legitimised it, by suggesting it represents a response to genuine concerns.

Workers need an independent alternative

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that I was smeared with a false allegation of antisemitism by Don’t Pay UK. This is a campaign endorsed and promoted by people who share an imperialist, racist ideology that seeks to justify and normalise apartheid, even as they frame their positions in the rhetoric ‘of the left’.

Therefore, if you do not support apartheid, if you believe in the importance having the freedom to speak out against all human rights abuses, you might want to think twice before signing up to Don’t Pay UK.

You may want to consider giving Labour and Momentum a miss, too.