In the light of Monday’s malicious BBC Panorama programme, it’s worth recalling the case of Cyril Chilson, an academic at Oxford University who once served as a Captain in the Israeli army. His mother was in Auschwitz concentration camp. His father only just escaped the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland and went on to fight in the Soviet army. Cyril’s criticisms of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians led him to be accused of antisemitism and he was expelled from the Labour Party on March 20th last year.
My experience of Labour’s NCC
“I HAD BEEN SUSPENDED SINCE AUGUST 2016. Was it a coincidence that the letter from the Party, informing me about my suspension (following an anonymous ‘complaint’), came through my letter box only a short time after I posted on the Labour website a note in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership?
Be that as it may, it seems that after this extended period of incubation the NEC and the NCC became all of a sudden quite anxious to get things done. Was the impending election of a new General Secretary the stimulus to this newly found efficiency? I was contacted in November 2017 and was given three weeks to respond and find legal representation. The NCC rejected my request to have Tony Greenstein as my legal representative, despite his legal qualifications. When Daniel Bennett, a Barrister from the Doughty Street Chambers volunteered to act on my behalf the NCC agreed at last to defer the hearing. Having been forced to accept that being represented by a lawyer would deprive me of the right to speak during the hearing, I decided to represent myself and give up Mr Bennett’s kind offer. with my wife as my ‘silent friend’.
We arrived at the hearing venue, the Jurys Inn Hotel in Oxford where the NCC panel met. The panel was chaired by one Maggie Cousins. Her lieutenants were Emina Ibrahim and Douglas Fairbairn. The prosecutor (appearing here under the bureaucratic euphemism: ‘presenter’) was a certain Dan Hogan from the infamous Compliance Unit. A young trainee-apparatchik with a title to match: ‘Investigations Officer’. He was accompanied by Louise Withers-Green, an even younger ‘silent friend’.
The session began with Mr Hogan’s presentation i.e. the charges against me. He homed in on an assortment of my tweets which were the sole material used as ‘evidence’ by the NCC industrious investigators.
Hogan pulled out of nowhere the Chakrabarti Report. To the best of my knowledge this report may have been endorsed by the Party, but not implemented. I tried to question the use of the Chakrabarti Report ad hoc while the official status of this document remains unclear. At this point the Chair, Ms Cousins started to shout at me: “If you go on like this, you will have to leave the room.”
Hogan ‘apologised’ for not having added the said report to the bundle and dispatched Jane Shaw, Secretary to the NCC, to photocopy the pages thereof. The same thing happened with Hogan’s reliance on the IHRA definition which was called into question by me. I referred Hogan and the panel to the resolution of the last Party conference whereby the endorsement of the definition for Antisemitism which was laid down by IHRA in 2016, was limited to the preamble, not to the examples which follow it. Once again, the Chair chided me: ‘Keep this for your own presentation’. When I tried to clarify that this was a procedural issue, given that this material did not appear in the bundle and the Party’s own rules make it clear that no further evidence can be accepted after the deadline of evidence submissions, I was once again facing a threat from the Chair: “Enough of this. I have been very tolerant up until now”.
Hogan’s presentation was chequered with personal insults and mendacious statements. He did not refrain from character assassination by association aimed even at those who were already expelled from the Party during the present witch hunt: “Mr Chilson”, announced Hogan in dramatic pathos, “wanted to be represented by Tony Greenstein. This was followed by Mr Chilson dismissing Mr Daniel Bennett, a Barrister who volunteered to act on his behalf. One wonders why”. Mr Hogan seems to have forgotten that innuendo and indeed innuendo based on lawyer-client relationship (which is meant to be confidential), is unacceptable. What one should have really wondered in this context, is how come Mr Hogan knew that I had ‘dismissed’ Mr Bennett? He wasn’t briefed by Mr Bennett, surely?
This was followed by a failure of Hogan’s reasoning. “Mr Chilson refused to engage with the NEC investigation”. When I reminded him that I did answer the questionnaire which was sent to me and asked him how this can be squared with my attendance which on the face of it contradicts his postulate, he ignored my question and instead the Chair again reprimanded me: “Don’t talk over him!” despite the fact that I never did so. In fact, Ms Cousins herself kept interrupting me time and again.
One of the charges against me was hinged on one of my tweets about Zionism whereby I reminded my interlocutor that following the Boycott of German goods which the Jewish leadership in the US had organised after the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Nazis had swallowed their racist pride for fear of the impact on Germany’s frail economy and agreed to negotiate with the Zionist Federation, forced to treat the Zionist representatives as their equals. Hogan tried to liken this to an act of Holocaust denial dubbing it ‘historical revisionism’.
When I mentioned that I was a son of Holocaust survivors and therefore could not be anti-Semitic let alone a Holocaust denier, Hogan said “I only refer to the evidence, I don’t know you”… I went on to ask him if he was a trained historian with an expertise on the history of the Zionist movement in Nazi Germany. He admitted he was ‘no expert’. At this stage the Chair intervened: “I know everything about the history of Nazi Germany and everything about Jewish history and I want this to stop and I want it to stop now! We are not here for a history lesson!”
Was the Chair of the Kangaroo Court becoming concerned as Dan Hogan was losing ground?
Another contention which demonstrates the falsehood of the charges and the way in which they were looked at by the panel revolved around my tweet about the pro-Israeli lobby in the UK and those who run it. I highlighted the pivotal role of two individuals connected with the arms trade, Hogan tried to portray this as an attempt to present the UK Jewish community as a collective whose loyalty to the UK is questionable. Hogan went on to refer to it as a ‘typical anti-Semitic trope’. Likewise, drawing on one of my tweets in which I argued that ‘Jewish solidarity is not a sentiment but an investment’ he tried to develop this theme and claim that by criticising certain British Jews I was employing an anti-Semitic stereotype whereby Jews around the globe are collectively responsible for the policies and acts of the State of Israel. ‘The investment’ theme’, declared Hogan, ‘is a typical reference to Jewish greed and manipulative behaviour’.
When I reminded Hogan that even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day, he was struggling with the meaning of this metaphor. I had to explain to the puzzled ‘presenter’ that the existence of anti-Semitic tropes does not exclude the existence of Jewish individuals who sadly behave in a way reminiscent of those repulsive generalisations. If we were to refrain from criticising them because they happen to be Jewish, we betray the truth and by remaining silent we actually join the oppressors. I also reiterated a claim which Hogan tried to dispute and found himself in a pickle due to his ignorance of Jewish contemporary history: the leadership of the Jewish communities in the western world (particularly in the US and the UK), adopted a policy of ‘right or wrong my country’ vis-à-vis the State of Israel especially since the coming to power of Likud in 1977. This is not a ‘trope’ or a ‘stereotype’ but a historical fact.
I referred Hogan to an article by the American Jewish columnist Jonathan Weissman on this specific issue, published only four days beforehand in the New York Times. Weissman criticises the American Jewish leadership for being ‘obsessive’ about Israel. So much so, that the community leaders had neglected domestic Jewish-American issues such as the rising home-grown anti-Semitism. They also refrained from criticising the rise of far right anti-Semitism in Europe as this did not suit the Israeli foreign policy. As regards Anglo- Jewry, Hogan kept ignoring my references to a study by a Jewish sociologist from London City University which corroborated my claim that the majority of Jews in Britain regard the State of Israel as an essential part of their self-identity. Among these, 71% accept (to a variable extent) Israel’s policies in the occupied territories even if they are unhappy about parts or all of them. All of this was labelled as ‘typical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’.
Hogan asked me or rather stated at some point: “so like most anti-Semites you think that all the Jewish community in the UK are in Israel’s pocket or collaborators of Hasbarah!” (the Israeli state-sponsored propaganda system). I said: No. No one could say such a thing about the late Sir Gerald Kauffman or the late Harold Pinter or the excellent members of Jewish Voice for Labour or Labour against the Witch Hunt, but these are, alas, the exception. Let me remind you that certain dignitaries in the Jewish community called not to vote Labour in 2015 because ‘Ed Miliband’ as they put ‘is not one of us’. Was it the bacon bap that he ate in public or rather his (fairly moderate) criticism of Israel that made Miliband fall afoul of them?
When I was suspended I used (and I still do so) to tweet the headlines concerning the atrocities committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories. I added to those headlines the rhetorical question: ‘is reporting this anti-Semitic?’ Hogan tried to claim that by doing so I was mocking the very concept of anti-Semitism and thus “denying the Jewish people the language to describe their persecution by a deliberate attempt of hijacking the definition of what anti-Semitism is”. Hogan failed to realise that he was actually conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism contrary to his own admission that ‘criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic’ and therefore he himself was actually denying me any language to describe the unpleasant truth. Certain Israeli Jews have become persecutors and certain Jews abroad support them by trying to gag anyone who dares to tell this simple and horrible truth.
“Are you denying”, asked Dan Hogan, relishing his freshly-baked scholasticism, “that by sending those tweets you were distracting from actual anti-Semitic acts which deserve redress and indeed, by doing so you were denying Jewish people the language to describe the prejudice, discrimination and hatred they are subject to? And if you do deny it, what for should a reasonable person send these questions? Who was meant to answer them?”
Here I had to remind the already ecstatic Mr Hogan that rhetorical questions were not meant to be answered. The Chair interjected: “we all know what a rhetorical question means.”
“Apparently not” I replied.
“Well, answer then: what was the purpose of all of this? “
“Telling the truth and opposing the gagging by false accusations of anti-Semitism” I replied.
Mr Hogan wanted to continue but the Chair signalled him to stop. She seems to have realised that even in a Kangaroo Court, silly questions must be asked measuredly.
Now presented itself an opportunity for the hitherto silent panellist namely Ms Emina Ibrahim to share with me her own pearls of wisdom: “Well, perhaps this is an issue of cultural differences. Take me for example: I am of Turkish – Cypriot background. In my culture we often use rhetorical questions to express displeasure or exasperation or at time, over-excitement. Perhaps this was an unnoticed return to your personal culture of origin?’
I was profoundly shocked and I hope that my speechlessness may have allowed Ms Ibrahim to consider her question as a rhetorical one, and therefore, a question not meant to be answered.
Mr Hogan’s ‘cross examination’ featured repeated insinuations such as: “Have you been aware of the inflammatory nature of your twits?”, “Can you understand that your tweets come across as offensive?” “How do you feel about causing pain to Jewish members of Labour?” “Do you think that comments such as yours would make Labour an attractive and safe place for Jewish voters?”
I stressed time and again that I never meant to hurt anyone. I likewise apologised for any feelings which may have been hurt but at the same time I expressed my belief that mature and constructive politics must not involve sentiments. Rather, it must be realistic, truthful and logical. I then told the panellists how I was abused by one of the most active pro-Israel accounts on Twitter whose handle is @GnasherJew. This hitherto anonymous operator (whose identity seems to have been revealed by now) did not refrain from appealing to the Oxford College in which I teach, requesting the College to sack me while adding an abusive description of myself.
My account of the abusive and slanderous behaviour of @GnasherJew was simply ignored. The above are of course only snippets from what went on during my hearing. I concluded my summations by saying: “I never imagined, when I proudly joined the Party, that I, son of Holocaust survivors, would have to defend myself against allegations of anti-Semitism against other Party members who have chosen to use a weaponizing of anti-Semitism to achieve their political targets . You may disagree with me but expelling me from the Party will be tantamount to spitting on the non-existent graves of the Holocaust victim, including those of my extended family.”
The Chair asked me after my concluding remarks: “Do you think your hearing was a fair one?”
“I think this question is unfair. I do have some misgivings about what went on here today, but I hope to be proven wrong”. I replied, trying hard to maintain a calm tone, hoping I was not showing my indignation and disgust at this ostensibly-innocent question.
There was a break of 30 minutes. When we returned to the room the Chair said: “The panel has decided that the charges against you have been proven. I want to remind you that we are able to expel you and would like to ask you whether there were any mitigating circumstances?”
So I was not proven wrong after all. This was indeed a kangaroo court that was apparently one track minded.
At this point, I decided that this farce had to be brought to an end. I grabbed my briefcase and said: “This was a colossal waste of time. Good bye!”
“Hang on! Don’t go! We haven’t reached a decision as yet!” Shouted the Chair in a last attempt to keep a façade of fairness. Me and my wife kept walking and did not look back.
The letter with the expulsion for two years decision, arrived on the following Saturday. I found particularly repulsive the concluding paragraph:
“If you apply to re-join you will not be eligible to have your join date backdated to give you continuity with an earlier period of membership.”
BACKGROUND TO CYRIL CHILSON
Cyril Chilson was born in Petakh Tikva, near Tel Aviv, Israel, into a family of holocaust survivors.
His father Leon came from Drohobycz, a town situated south-west of Lwow, the regional capital of what used to be between the two world wars, the province of Galicia in Eastern Poland (now part of Western Ukraine). Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Cyril’s father transferred to a technical school which was run by Red Army personnel. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Leon joined the retreating school personnel twenty-four hours before the invading troops reached his hometown.
Leon was drafted and trained by the Red Air Force as a combat pilot. He first saw action in air battles at the Finnish Front during the Soviet-Finnish Continuation War and later took part in the battles of Kursk and Stalingrad where his aircraft was shot down by a German anti-aircraft battery. Despite being wounded Leon managed to down a German fighter aircraft before parachuting himself out of his fire-engulfed plane. Nonetheless, he managed to make it to the nearest Soviet outpost with four (half-frozen) German soldiers he captured single-handedly en route. For this feat, he was decorated with the Soviet Order of Glory (Russian: Орден Славы).
Lodzia, Cyril’s mother, was transferred in 1942 from her home town Ozorkow in Central Poland, to the Lodz ghetto. Having survived there nearly two years, she was deported in summer 1944 together with her mother and sister to Auschwitz.
Upon arrival Dr Mengele, who was in charge, examined the newly-arrived and with his index finger decided who will be killed instantly and who could still make themselves useful to the Reich through hard labour. Lodzia and her mother Helena were granted the privilege to work for the Germans.
However, Lodzia suddenly noticed that her sister was sent to the queue on ‘the opposite side,’ i.e. to instant gassing in the crematoria. Lodzia dared to try and flatter Dr Mengele (speaking unasked to an SS officer, was deemed suicidal). Lodzia hoped to flatter Mengele by calling out towards him: ‘Herr Feldmarschall!.’
Instead of shooting her in the head (as everyone expected), Mengele asked Lodzia what he could do for her. Lodzia did again the unimaginable. She insisted (another taboo in the relations between Jews and Nazis) that an error had occurred. Her sister, she claimed, was young and healthy and perfectly fit for work. Mengele asked Lodzia to point at her sister (the stunned inmates thought he wanted to murder both sisters to discourage any future impertinence). Lodzia did as she was told and to the amazement of everyone present, Mengele ordered to remove Perla, Lodzia’s sister from the death queue and reunite her with her family among those destined momentarily for life.
Lodzia, Perla and their mother Helena survived the Holocaust. They were liberated by the Red Army in Terezienstadt, Czechoslovakia. After three years in a Displaced Persons camp near Munich, they emigrated to Israel. Lodzia trained as a nurse and met Leon who arrived in Israel from France.
Leon returned to Poland after the war only to find out that the Nazis murdered his entire family (parents and two younger siblings) in the concentration camp of Belzec in south-eastern Poland. He moved to Paris where he studied engineering. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951 and despite not being a Zionist, Leon chose to come to Israel. He became a senior official at the Israel Electric Company but passed away following a cardiac arrest aged 48.
Cyril was educated at the first Hebrew secondary school in the world, Ha-Gymnasiya Ha-Ivrit Herzliyah in Tel Aviv (founded: 1906) and after his military service which was spent almost entirely in the occupied West Bank (where he witnessed the instrumentality of the IDF in the daily oppression of the Palestinian population), Cyril served in Lebanon during the first Lebanon War in 1982 where he witnessed the treachery of the then secretary of defence General Ariel Sharon, who was responsible for the infamous massacre of thousands of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut.
As a reservist Cyril, who is fluent in several lanaguages, was transferred to the IDF spokesman unit and served there as a liason officer to foreign press
Cyril read Classics and History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, graduating with distinction. He worked as a journalist in the printed and electronic media. Cyril was news editor at the defunct Al Hamishmar Daily, the organ of the United Workers Party (MAPAM- also defunct) and served as news editor at Channel 1 of the Israeli TV.
Alongside his socialist convictions he has been a staunch opponent of the Israeli occupation and supporter of justice for the Palestinian people. Cyril came to the UK as a post-graduate student and wrote a doctoral thesis at Brasenose College, Oxford, on the 5th century Palestinian-born church historian Sozomenus of Bethelia (near Gaza).
Cyril teaches at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. He is married to Dr Tali Chilson, a scholar of Jewish thought and Hebrew literature. They have two grown-up sons. He and his family have been naturalised as British Citizens. They live in Oxford.
From the Israeli Defence Force to Labour’s NCC
“I CAME TO THE UK in 1996 as a postgraduate student to read for a doctorate in ancient history at Brasenose College, Oxford. I had behind me 16 years of compulsory and reserve service in the Israeli army - mostly spent in the occupied Palestinian territories and in occupied Lebanon during the First Lebanon War in 1982, with later stints as a reservist.
My last commission before moving to the UK was as a foreign press liaison officer at the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) spokesman unit. My job was to whitewash the atrocities which I had witnessed on a daily basis when serving in the West Bank or in Gaza and spoon-feed with watered-down information the foreign correspondents while escorting them during their restricted visits.
My military experience together with a strong socialist conviction led me to become an activist of the Peace Now movement alongside joining the United Workers Party (MAPAM, now defunct). However, only here in the UK was I able to gain a wider perspective of the real intentions of the state of Israel, reflected through the agenda of the settlers’ movement, namely a permanent and irreversible Jewish colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territories.
I was naturalised as a British citizen in 2006, but it was only when Gordon Brown’s government was about to hit rock bottom, the fear of a Tory government with an agenda not dissimilar to that of the ruling Likud party of Israel led me to join Labour. I positioned myself on the left of the party and gladly welcomed the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership in 2015. Shortly after Corbyn’s election, the social media (Twitter in my case) became swamped with anti-Corbyn propaganda. Being a veteran of the Israeli military propaganda system and intimate with its civilian Siamese twin (the notorious “Hasbara”, co-ordinated from the Israeli PM’s office in Jerusalem), I could immediately identify their ideological fingerprints all over it. I kept a watchful eye on the vitriolic accounts (always anonymous, without exception) which had mushroomed over Twitter with the false antisemitism allegations. I ignored their abusive accusations against me and my family - including an appeal to the college I teach at in Oxford to sack me.
The first notice about my suspension from the party was in August 2016. I did not let it and the emails from the party’s Compliance Unit stop me. The suspension lasted till November 2017. I was then informed about the NCC’s (National Constitutional Committee) decision to summon me to a disciplinary hearing which eventually took place on 20th March 2018. The NCC disciplinary panel included Maggie Cousins as chair with Emina Ibrahim and Douglas Fairbairn as co-adjudicators.
The charges against me revolved around my ‘antisemitism’ - a grotesque accusation for a son of Holocaust survivors whose mother had been snatched in the last minute from the crematoria of death camps and whose father had fought the Nazis flying a Soviet combat aircraft, while his entire family, parents, siblings and all their relatives perished in the Belzec concentration camp.
The ‘antisemitism’ in question was my criticism of the state of Israel and its atrocious policies - namely, the unending occupation of the West Bank and the inhuman siege on Gaza, the continuous colonisation of the West Bank and annexed territories (ie. Eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) and the pervasive apartheid and discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
My accusers were very keen to recast comments I made on Israel’s success in recruiting certain leaders of western Jewish communities and turning them into zealous supporters who ostracise opposing Jewish voices, as “making mendacious allegations about Jews as a collective” and “accusing Jews, supporters of Israel and critics of antisemitism as being more loyal to Israel than to the UK…”. And most ludicrous – accusing me of “ denying Jewish people the language to describe their own oppression. “
With such a charge sheet, it did not come entirely as a surprise that Ms Cousins and her adjutants ran the disciplinary hearing as a kangaroo court from start to finish. I was constantly disrupted and harassed by the chair and the ‘presenter’ Dan Hogan, and my replies to the accusations were largely ignored. When Ms Cousins declared that the charges were ‘proved’ I decided to leave the kangaroo court in disgust. The anticipated expulsion letter arrived four days later. I have been expelled for two years. Presumably I am expected to be cured from my ‘antisemitism’ by then.
recently expelled from the Labour Party