Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan loses no-confidence vote

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Local party members accuse Ryan, who says she will not stand down, of 'smearing' opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in anti-Semitism row

A still from undercover footage shows Joan Ryan (R) on a Labour Friends of Israel stall during the party's 2016 conference (Al Jazeera)
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Friday 7 September 2018 14:27 UTC
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The chair of the Labour Friends of Israel group has narrowly lost a vote of no confidence among party members in her London parliamentary constituency after being accused of “smearing” Jeremy Corbyn.

In a statement and social media posts following her defeat by 94 votes to 92, Joan Ryan linked the vote to the ongoing row over allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and said that she would not resign.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle last week, Ryan had said that the party faced a “moral crisis” over anti-Semitism and declared herself “appalled at Jeremy Corbyn’s unwillingness to confront his own part in it”.

“This was about anti-Semitism in the Labour party and those of us who have stood by the Jewish community and said 'enough is enough'. I made no apologies last night for that and I make no apologies now,” Ryan said in a statement after the vote.

"I will continue to speak out against anti-Semitism, against the campaign to demonise and delegitimise the world's only Jewish state, and for a Labour party which is true to its values of anti-racism, respect and decency."

In Twitter posts, Ryan characterised those who voted against her as “Trots Stalinists Communists and assorted hard left”, but said she was “Labour through and through” and would “continue to stand up and fight for Labour values”.

Thursday night’s motion of no confidence in Ryan accused her of acting like an “independent MP in all but name” and of fuelling a “trial by media” against Corbyn.

“Our MP has smeared his character without him having the right to a fair and balanced defence,” it said.

It also cited an undercover documentary series filmed by Al Jazeera last year exposing efforts by Israeli diplomats to exert influence inside the Labour party in which the motion said Ryan had made “false allegations of anti-Semitism” against a Labour activist at the party’s conference in Liverpool in 2016.

Labour’s compliance unit subsequently dismissed a complaint against Ryan over the footage.

“The Lobby”, which was broadcast in January 2017, also showed Ryan discussing Israeli funding for an LFI trip to Israel with Shai Masot, a senior political officer at the Israeli embassy.

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The documentary also exposed efforts by Masot to establish a pro-Israel youth group within Labour, and contained footage in which he said Corbyn was “crazy” and described his supporters as “weirdos” and “extremists”.

The vote against Ryan came after Labour’s national executive committee this week voted to adopt in full a controversial definition of anti-Semitism alongside an accompanying statement emphasising freedom of speech with regards to Israel and Palestinian rights.

Labour had previously recognised the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition but had excluded an accompanying example which suggested that it was anti-Semitic to say that “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”,

Corbyn’s critics accused him of seeking to block the adoption of the full definition and also of failing to tackle allegations of anti-Semitism within the party.

Corbyn has also faced scrutiny over his support for Palestinian rights and his attendance at a Palestinian wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 at a graveyard where members of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation killed by Israel are buried. Two members linked to the “Black September” group which killed 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the 1972 Munich Olympics are buried there.

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While the local party vote is largely symbolic, the result suggests Ryan could face a battle to be re-selected as a parliamentary candidate ahead of the next general election.

Under new Labour rules, sitting MPs face a “trigger ballot” in which their re-selection must be endorsed by a majority of local party branches within a constituency. Incumbents who fail to secure a majority can be challenged by other candidates in an open selection process.

However, the conduct of the vote was called into question by some senior Labour figures after footage of the meeting was posted on social media by Press TV, the Iranian-state backed station that has been banned from broadcasting in the UK since 2012, using the hashtag #WeAreEnfieldNorth.

Tom Watson, the party's deputy leader, said it was "impossible to fathom" how Press TV had been able to live tweet the meeting and said it had made a "farce" of the proceedings.

But Press TV responded by saying that it had been doing its "reporting job".

"We can confirm that at no point were we asked to stop filming at last night’s Joan Ryan vote even though we filmed openly. We would have stopped had we been asked to. There were no “no filming” posters up and there was no public announcement. We just did our reporting job," it said.

Labour Friends of Israel said on Twitter that Ryan was “one of the most decent, courageous and principled people in British politics. Nothing about tonight's vote changes that fact”.