A time to speak out

Photo: Paul Scott


A personal statement and analysis by Justin Schlosberg, activist and media expert. A short letter to the Guardian was not published, so this longer piece was produced for the Medium website. The author discusses how reasoned discussion – and effective action against antisemitism – is being hampered by “a climate of hysteria and repression fostered by Westminster, the media, and the right-wing Jewish lobby”.

Enough is enough: Time for left-wing Jewish voices to be counted and heard

Justin Schlosberg, Medium
30 March 2018

Such is the highly charged nature of debate over this issue that I’m compelled to start with three declarations. First, I am a Jew. Second, I am a member of the Labour Party, Momentum and a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Third, I believe that anti-semitism is a real and present problem within the left and the Labour Party which must be rooted and stamped out effectively and robustly.

But here’s the rub. I also believe that anti-semitism within Labour and the left is nowhere near as extensive as many assert; that it is more of a problem on the right, including the Tory Party; that attention to anti-semitism in this wider political context is being deflected and skewed by a politically and ideologically-driven smear campaign against Corbyn’s Labour; and that efforts to confront the root and manifestation of anti-semitism in the left are being hampered by a climate of hysteria and repression fostered by Westminster, the media, and the right-wing Jewish lobby.

This is a view shared by many of my Jewish colleagues and comrades both within and outside of the Labour Party. It is also the view espoused by organisations such as the Jewish Socialists Group whose membership has swelled over recent years, and the Jewish Voice for Labour which, in its very short history, has become one of the largest minority platforms within the Labour movement.

Yet these voices have been and continue to be consistently maligned and marginalised both within the wider Jewish community and the national press. Just last week, the Guardian’s report on what Jewish leaders have to say about ‘mural-gate’ focused almost exclusively on the views and statements of the Jewish Board of Deputies, and particularly its leader, Jonathan Arkush. At one point, the article even referred to the Board as simply “the Jewish community”. In an astonishing display of dodgy journalism, no mention was made of Jewish organisations that have been outspoken against the Board; and no mention of the fact that the Board of Deputies is a highly partisan, ideologically-aligned and non-elected body consisting primarily of Tory-voting and Trump-endorsing members.

Jews who have questioned the dominant narrative on mural-gate have faced a double-edged attack. Like all who express concern about the suspect timing of a news story that has surfaced no less than three times over the last six years, on this occasion coinciding with the launch of Labour’s local election campaign, they are dismissed as being deniers of, apologists for, or worse still, complicit in Labour’s apparently rampant anti-semitism. But they also face alarmingly repressive and deeply offensive rhetorical attacks from their own community. My name was once published on an ominous ‘list’ of self-hating Jews drawn up by a right-wing Jewish group, simply for attending a protest against the Israeli occupation. Anyone who has participated in public meetings organised by Jewish groups on campuses or within Parliament will know all too well the propensity for right-wing Jews to show up on force — not to raise challenging questions or participate in debate but to force the meeting to be abandoned by disrupting and shouting down anyone who dares to express a view that deviates from their own.

What lies behind this mobilisation of symbolic violence and closing down of debate is very resonant of what the French philosopher Michel Foucault called ‘regimes of truth’. When the controversy over Mear One’s mural in London’s East End first surfaced in the news in 2012 — long before Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party — the debate about whether or not it could be construed as anti-semitic, and whether or not censorship was an appropriate action for the authorities to take, was a relatively open one. Respected publications such as the English-language Israel daily Haaretz, and even the Daily Mail were far from unequivocal in their coverage, acknowledging the contesting views of both local residents and others. Some, like the International Business Times even ran comment pieces by those who did not believe the mural was anti-semitic. This was the context in which Corbyn made a comment on Facebook — not in anyway defending or endorsing the mural as has widely been reported — but simply questioning whether censorship was the right thing to do. In the end, the decision taken by local authorities was not based on a conviction that the mural was anti-semitic, but rather that it might be, or at least the perception of some Jews that it was anti-semitic was considered sufficient justification for it to be forcibly removed.

Six years later and the commentators who led the rehashed trumped up charge against Corbyn established a new regime of truth, echoed by the Jewish Board of Deputies and other right-wing Jewish groups that were given unchallenged platforms across the national media. It was now, all of a sudden, no longer a ‘question’ over whether or not the mural was anti-semitic, or whether or not censorship was appropriate, a truth further underlined when Corbyn himself (wrongly, in my view) declared emphatically that it was anti-semitic and apologised profusely for his comment about censorship. Not only that, these commentators anticipated the inevitable concerns about smear that this latest concocted scandal would produce, and embedded in their narrative that any such ‘come back’ was now ipso facto discredited. The ‘truth’ was established, dissent barred.

It is the eve of Passover, a Jewish festival which commemorates and celebrates the emancipation of the Jewish people from slavery in Ancient Egypt. More than any other festival, it embodies and exalts the great Jewish traditions of tolerance, respect and resistance to all forms of oppression. More than any other festival, it reminds us of the true bravery and heroism of Jews throughout history who have sacrificed their lives in the struggle for freedom and justice. Jews like Denis Goldberg who went to jail alongside Nelson Mandela and sacrificed the comfort and security of white privilege in Apartheid South Africa in order to resist its racial brutality and cruelty; of those Kibbutzim pioneers in the early twentieth century who passionately pursued peace and co-operation with their Arab neighbours over the policies of land appropriation and labour exploitation pursued by the right wing state; and of those who stood up to the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, knowing they would face certain death but that their actions would send a powerful message of defiance and resistance for generations to come.

It is precisely in the spirit of this rich legacy of resistance, and in acknowledgement of the unmatched scale of human genocide that was the Shoah, many Jews in Britain have long resisted the Israeli occupation and opposed the aggressive policy of Jewish settlement expansion on Palestinian land. They have also voiced their support for Jeremy Corbyn — a politician who has spent more than 40 years on the front lines of resistance to Neo-Nazism and all forms of racism; and a leader who has introduced unprecedented measures to stamp out and crack down on all forms of anti-semitism throughout the root and branches of the Labour party and its burgeoning mass membership base; so much so that many Jews within the Party have legitimately expressed concerns of a witch hunt.

Challenging anti-semitism on the left is clearly not done effectively by attempting to de-legitimise or silence critique of Israel or the banking industry or the media or any statement or expression that invokes conspiracy (however simplistic and banal). No doubt some people with anti-semitic sentiment choose to hide behind such critiques. But they are only emboldened by the attempts to silence others who legitimately hold those views without any prejudice or hatred towards Jews whatsoever.

Above all, Jewish voices on the left must be acknowledged, tolerated and heard. Anything less is a betrayal of Jewish values and an affront to democratic debate both within our own communities and public life at large.

Comments (15)

  • Michael Westcombe says:

    Brilliant! Thank you.

  • Debbie Friedman says:

    Huge relief to read this article and very much appreciated. The silencing of minority and in this case Jewish voices is deeply worrying and is clearly rampant at the moment. I wish and hope this article gets given space in the mainstream media but I’m not holding my breath. What I find most difficult (and yet familiar) is to experience Jewish people calling other Jewish people anti-semites if they don’t happen to agree with their more conservative viewpoint. Thank you for a great piece.

  • John says:

    I am not at all surprised that The Guardian refused to publish this letter.
    In their earlier manifestation as the Manchester Guardian, they were instrumental in supporting zionist efforts towards the Balfour declaration.
    The Guardian is for all time tainted by its involvement in the Manchester School of Zionism.
    They will never give supporters of Palestine or supporters of a non-zionist Israel any support at all – in fact, the absolute opposite.

  • Dave says:

    “I believe that anti-semitism is a real and present problem within the left and the Labour Party which must be rooted and stamped out effectively and robustly.”

    I’m a long-standing Jewish member of Labour but I just don’t see this “real and present problem” in the party. It’s a fake issue used to hurt Corbyn in the high stakes left-right politics we have now, and also serves the purpose of marginalising Palestinians (still further).

  • Rob says:

    Enjoyed your piece. What this boils down to is that some people want to link any criticism of Israel as Anti-Semitism. I do think that some Labour people have expressed some anti-Jewish sentiment (which is unacceptable) as part of a critique of Israel (acceptable) but the extent of this appears to be wildly exaggerated. I hope that the s*** stirring of Aaron Banks is widely condemned by members of all communities. It’s people like him who are the real worry

    • Stephen Bellamy says:

      None of this could be happening without the complicity of certain people on the ” left “,notably Lansman and Jones.And now Bastani has reassessed on which side his bread is buttered. These people have a lot to answer for.

  • Daniel says:

    You write:

    “and no mention of the fact that the Board of Deputies is a highly partisan, ideologically-aligned and non-elected body consisting primarily of Tory-voting and Trump-endorsing members.”

    This is indeed what I suspected/. But I never take things like that ion trust – so I went on their website, which states, at the very top of their “WHO WE ARE” page:

    “The Board of Deputies is the only democratically elected, cross-communal, representative body in the Jewish community. It comprises nearly 300 deputies directly elected by synagogues and communal organisations, from youth movements, to social welfare charities and regional councils”


    “Each synagogue and institution elects one or more Deputy, depending on the size of that particular body, with elections occurring every three years.”

    Are they delusional? or are you? Sorry but please reconcile these two opposing views – they cannot both be true can they?

    • Stephen Bellamy says:

      The Board is synagogue based. Synagogues ” elect” one or more deputies.Except ” sends” would be more accurate.” Elections” are rarely contested. It is mostly a case of finding a volunteer. And volunteers are, of course, invariably activists and partisan activists at that.This is how Jonathan Hoffman could get to be a Deputy for Woodside Park. They are rotten boroughs. In addition approved organisations may send Deputies. Approval of course is dependent on it having the correct attitude to The State of Israel. JVL would have no chance.

      The Board does not represent Jews without synagogue affiliation or of course the vast majority of Jews, who like the vast majority of the general population, are not in any sense organised. Nor does it represent the Ultra Orthodox who do not send deputies. It is essentially a bastion of right wingers affiliated to United Synagogue, with places reserved for Israelis. Its erstwhile treasurer, Laurence Brass, ruefully observed that the Board is an extension of the Israeli Embassy.

      Most Jews are not interested in the Board. The live streaming of its plenaries, struggle to reach an audience of 100.

      • Daniel says:

        Thank you Stephen. Two points / questions:

        “approved organisations may send Deputies” You say that “Approval of course is dependent on it having the correct attitude to The State of Israel”

        So, who does the approving? Do you have to hand their (the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BOD) constitution? What does it say? If it says nothing on this matter or if what it says is opaque, then what is your evidence for your claim?

        Sorry to be apparently pernickety but the question of the representativeness of the BOD is critical to this whole discussion.

        “Synagogues ‘elect’ one or more deputies. Except ‘sends’ would be more accurate.’Elections’ are rarely contested. It is mostly a case of finding a volunteer”

        Again I can quite believe what you say. But should I? Can any synagogue send a deputy? How many synagogues are there in Britain? How many send a deputy? How many of these “elections” are contested?

        I will ask the BOD myself. In the meantime, if you could post your answers here that would be helpful.

  • Paul T says:

    I would be very interested to hear a response to the point about the Jewish Deputies. You’ve said they are non-elected – could you provide us with your evidence?

    Secondly, I remember the Mear One mural story well, as I live nearby and visit the street often. I don’t remember any doubt about it being anti-semitic. The Daily Mail story you reference, has only one defender of the painting by the artist – Mear One himself. The mayor, the vicar, and local councillors all say it should be removed.


    Please point out the quotes from locals saying it should stay. We know the Daily Mail’s not the most Jewish-friendly publication, giving their smears of Ralph Milliband, so if they reported it was seen as anti-Semitic, shouldn’t everyone? Including you?

    Why would you misrepresent opinion on such a disgusting mural, I wonder?

  • Jim Denham says:

    The artist Mear One’s own explanation (according to Rafael Behr in the Graun): “Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Roths child or #Warburg etc as the demons they are.”

    Is that plain enough for those who question whether or not the mural was deliberately anti-Semitic?

    • Bob Stein says:

      No it actually is NOT Jim. YES Roths child & Warburg ARE indeed portrayed. The other 4 including Rockefeller and Morgan are NOT Jews. They are portrayed because they are BANKING MAGNATES. Thus their portrayal is not anti-Semitic, it is ANTI-PLUTOCRATIC. But don’t take my word for that, take it from a fellow Jew quoting the artist himself –


      Also note that the pyramid in the background actually symbolises Freemasonry, and the widely-held suspicion that Freemasons often give each other unearned ‘foot-ups’ up the hierarchy etc. But Freemasonry is NOT a Jewish movement. Therefore the fundamental theme of the picture is visibly ANTI-ELITISM. Furthermore, if it was really intended to be anti-Semitic wouldn’t he have put a Star of David in the background??

      Once you read & appreciate the above quoted article you realize that this controversy is based on a lie that has been propagated by a complicit pro-Tory BBC & “mainstream” corporate media just in time for the local elections in which they fear doing very badly. “If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes accepted as the truth”.
      As usual rather than run a positive campaign based on their fabulous achievements and future plans they are running a wholly negative one based on “smear & fear”. Can you guess why that is?

      • Richard Kuper says:

        So? Can’t an image be anti-plutocratic and antisemitic at the same time? Locals certainly thought so in 2012 when there was an outcry from antiracist campaigners. The iconography of the hook-nosed Jewish banker is so well establised that one banker of that kind is enough to immediately summon up all the historical antisemitic associations.

  • Rob says:

    I have just read about the contents of the mural and I now know that only two out of the six men shown are Jewish. Can anyone confirm or reject this conclusion? If so I have to conclude that it is not anti-Semitic but anti-banker.

  • Dave says:

    It’s pretty much impossible to represent a Jewish industrialist or banker in a critique of colonialism or capitalism outside of an academic paper. While we may think the ethnicity or religion of a historical businessman is irrelevant others won’t. So best to leave them out even though say the Rothschilds bankrolled Cecil Rhodes and de Beers in South Africa. If I was drawing it I would make all the figures non-identifiable and certainly not as Jewish.

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