Jackie Walker (Jacqueline Walker), born on 10 April 1954, an American-born black British Jewish activist, writer and former Vice-Chair of Momentum. She is the author of her family memoir Pilgrim State, and co-author and performer of the one-woman show The Lynching. Hers’s Jackie Walker biography and profile:
My father Jack Cohen was a Russian, Ashkenazi Jew who migrated to the USA as a child from Moscow around 1914-18. Like many Jews at the time, Jack was a communist committed to world revolution and the liberation of all people.
My mother Dorothy was from the Caribbean and typical of Jamaicans, her heritage was diverse. Descended from West Africans (Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal) who had been enslaved as victims of what many people call the African Holocaust.
But …..along with a smattering of Scottish and English ancestry, there were also Portuguese Jews; both the enslaved and the slave masters.
Portuguese Jews have a significant history in the Caribbean and elsewhere as merchants and sailors. While now the number of practising Jews in the Caribbean is small, historically, Jews played a significant part, at certain times and in certain places, in the establishment of plantation society as experts in sugar production, financiers, as traders and plantation owners. To find out more about this history, take a look here if you want to find out more.
Unlike white Christians, particularly early on in the developmentof the Caribbean, Jewish men married African women as long as they converted to Judaisim. This was how I have Jewish heritage on both sides.
I was a teacher and after working in inner city secondary schools I became an adviser, specialising in equal opportunities and development studies in the West country of England. I wrote materials, planned courses and developed programmes for anti-racist training, particularly in majority white areas. After a while I became a freelance working for organisations like Oxfam and Christian Aid, overseas as well as the UK.
In the early 1980s I returned to London and began post graduate studies at SOAS (University of London) researching the construction of British Caribbean identity. I took MA units in Jewish Holocaust literatures, the African diaspora, literatures of the Caribbean. In 2008 my first book, a family memoir, Pilgrim State was published in hard back, paper back and as an audio book.
I re-joined Labour around 2009, always a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. In Thanet we had successfully kept Nigel Farage out of Parliament. After working on the Jeremy4leader campaign, when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, I became the Organiser of Momentum Thanet, and was elected vice Chair of Momentum. It was exciting and turbulent times. We were riding high, but not everyone was happy. Some on the right of the Labour Party made it clear they would not rest until Corbyn and his followers were defeated. They were unhappy with the increased demands for involvement from a growing membership, used to doing things a certain way and didn’t want change. What was occurring, in many ways, was a civil war in the Labour Party; the Leadership and most members on one side, the structures of the Labour Party and many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the other. I knew where I would be but as a Corbyn supporter and vice Chair of Momentum, without knowing it, I became a target of false allegations of anti-semitism.
The lynching of Jackie Walker
The attacks on Jackie Walker and others are political, a determined effort by the Israel lobby to make Britain’s Labour Party safe for Israel and Zionism. Jackie Walker, who was Vice Chair of Momentum’s Steering Committee, was suspended from the Labour Party. Although no reasons were given there is little doubt that it was as a result of allegations of anti-Semitism made by the Jewish Labour Movement [JLM].
The Jackie Walker affair began in May of 2016 when a private Facebook discussion between Jackie and a friend of hers was broken into by the Israeli Advocacy Movement. The IAM, which describes its purpose as to ‘counter the increasing hostility Israel suffers at the hands of the British public’, has no visible means of support. It is likely that its operations, including two staff, are funded as part of the campaign against Boycott Divestment and Sanctions run by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs [MOSA]. MoSA’s remit includes co-ordinating and organising anti-BDS activities globally. It has a $50m budget.
Jackie was suspended in May and after an outcry was quickly reinstated about three weeks later. This was a decision that the Zionist movement and the JLM have never accepted.
What was Jackie Walker’s offence?
In the course of a complex and nuanced Facebook conversation Jackie Walker declared, ‘I will never back anti-Semitism but neither am I a Zionist’. The friends spoke about her combined Jewish-African heritage, the suffering involved in the slavery movement, and ‘the Holocaust’ as a debt owed to the Jews, to which Jackie responded:
“I hope you feel the same towards the African holocaust? My ancestors were involved in both – on all sides… millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues to this day on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews and many Jews, my ancestors too, were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade… so who are the victims and what does it mean . We are victims and perpetrators, to some extent by choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator.”
In the light of subsequent accusations it seems clear that Jackie wasn’t saying that only Jews were financiers of the slave trade, but acknowledging that her Jewish ancestors were amongst those prominent in financing the African slave trade. One side of her family had been involved in the enslavement of the other side of her family.
The Israel lobby in Britain doesn’t do nuance. Their role, with the aid of the mass media, is to shout down all opposition with megaphone propaganda. The Jewish Chronicle which was handed the transcript of Jackie Walker’s Facebook comments went to town in the best traditions of the tabloid press, leading with the headline ‘Labour suspends Momentum supporter who claimed Jews caused ‘an African holocaust’.
On the basis of this egregious lie, the campaign against Jackie Walker, a dedicated and long standing anti-racist activist, began. Stepping up the hype, the Community Security Trust’s Dave Rich claimed in The Left’s Jewish Problem, that what Jackie Walker wrote was an echo of a book published by Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, The Secret Relationship – Between Blacks and Jews. In an act of calculated hyperbole, he quotes the American historian of slavery, Eugene D. Genovese, when Genovese says that this book “rivals in… fantasy and gross distortion”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – rightly termed a ‘warrant for genocide’.
There is a longstanding academic debate on ‘Jewish involvement in slavery’ and it too has been the focus of ‘anti-Semitic’ allegations. Of Tony Martin’s The Secret Relationship, the late Professor Winthrop, renowned historian of the slave trade, reviewing the book for The Atlantic in 1995, observed:
‘Ironically, Martin’s assertion that “Jews were very much in the mainstream of European society as far as the trade in African human beings was concerned” was very close to what many Jewish scholars had claimed some thirty years before.’
Criticising the book’s selective approach to evidence, he wrote:
‘If one were to inquire more neutrally into what role Jews played in the Atlantic slave trade, one would find that it was a considerable one during the formative years of the trade, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a very small one when the trade reached much greater volume, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Another more recent contributor to this debate, Dutch Orthodox Rabbi Lody van der Kamp, in an article in The Jewish Journal, the largest Jewish magazine in the USA outside New York, wrote in December 2013,
“Money was earned by Jewish communities in South America, partly through slavery, and went to Holland, where Jewish bankers handled it,” he said. “Non-Jews were also complicit, but so were we.”
By this definition of ‘anti-Semitism’, Jackie Walker and the Rabbi are equally culpable.
The Jewish Labour Movement, having refused to accept Jackie Walker’s reinstatement in May, the accusations of anti-Semitism against her were ongoing. When John McDonnell was announced as a speaker at a JLM meeting at Labour Party conference, there were calls for him to be disinvited when he spoke on the same platform as Jackie at a TUC Conference fringe meeting. The Jewish Chronicle quoted Jeremy Newmark, Chair of the JLM as saying that McDonnell ‘”must explain his defence of Walker which is inconsistent with his call for zero tolerance. This raises serious questions. Our members expect him to explain himself.’
Despite her being a long-standing anti-racist activist, regardless of her remarks having been made in the context of a private Facebook conversation, Jackie Walker was hounded. She received a torrent of racist tweets, the main thrust of which were questioning her own Jewish status. At no time has the JLM ever condemned the abuse Jackie received.
When Jackie went to a JLM ‘training event’ at Labour Party conference, she walked into a honey trap. The event was secretly recorded and the video footage was passed to the press. On the basis of remarks by Jackie Walker which questioned whether Holocaust Memorial Day was open to other holocausts, such as the millions of Africans who died in the slave trade; and whether the security precautions around Jewish schools were likely to exaggerate the fears of anti-Semitic attacks in the Jewish community, Jackie was further accused of anti-Semitism.
When Jackie challenged the assertion by JLM’s Vice Chair Mike Katz, that the EU Monitoring Committee’s Working Definition on Anti-Semitism was the standard definition of anti-Semitism, she was making an important point. The successor agency to the EUMC, the Fundamental Rights Agency, removed this ‘Working Definition’ from its website in 2013, as even the Times of Israel accepted, on the grounds of its inadequacies. That a training session conducted after the Chakrabarti Inquiry could once again be based on these discredited premises does not augur well for a cessation of hostilities.
The volume of the attacks on Jackie increased: by this point, the aim was clearly to have Jackie Walker suspended from the Labour Party. Momentum which is chaired by Jon Lansman, instead of standing up for the Vice Chair’s right to debate these issues, was described in the Jewish Chronicle as having ‘reached the end of his tether’. In an interview with the Independent, Lansman reported that the chair of JML, Jeremy Newmark, with whom he worked ‘very closely’ had been made ‘very upset’ by Jackie’s remarks. The Independent article concluded that it was ‘widely expected’ that Jackie would be removed as Vice Chair at the next meeting of Momentum’s Steering Committee. Sure enough, on Monday October 3, Jackie Walker was so removed, by a vote of 7-3.
Momentum’s Steering Committee released a statement in which they accepted that nothing Jackie had said was anti-Semitic. Nonetheless the Steering Committee had ‘lost confidence’ in her. Reacting to this obscure decision, Brighton & Hove Momentum’s AGM voted by 56-6 to condemn the removal of Jackie Walker. Camden Momentum voted by a similar majority as have other Momentum groups. At the very least, this raises some questions around the internal democracy of Momentum.
Despite all the talk of ‘anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party there has been a sparsity of evidence. As Asa Winstanley argues in How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis, many of the alleged instances of ‘anti-Semitism’ have been fabrications. The attacks on Jackie Walker and others represent a determined effort by the Israel lobby to make the Labour Party, in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, safe for Israel and Zionism.
- Jacqueline Walker biography and profile (Jackie Walker / Open Democracy)