Do no harm

Jo Bird, of Jewish Voice for Labour, on antisemitism and what to do about it.

Jew Process

19 May 2018


Labour

I was Labour candidate for Eastham, in Wirral South. On 4th May, I won 1500 votes, an increase of 65% (600) from last time.

I didn’t win the election, but our share of the vote increased from 24% to 36% – the best result on the Wirral. Nationally, Labour did great – gaining 79 seats and winning more than half of all council seats.

We all know Labour is the focus of media attention and establishment attack because it is the next government in waiting. And because of Jeremy Corbyn’s track record of standing up for social justice – from Hillsborough, Grenfell and Windrush, to Anti-Apartheid to Gaza. With this leadership, the Labour Party brings hope to millions of people in this country and around the world.

Jewish traditions

I am also Jewish. The Labour Party is a great home for me and other Jewish people. I’ve been made very welcome.

My great-grandparents fled murderous pogroms in Prussia. In 1905, the first anti-immigration Act effectively stopped much more Jewish migration to Britain.  My granddad was arrested for fighting Mosely’s fascists in Manchester and again fought fascism as a soldier in the second world war. He never met his extended family that remained in mainland Europe.

Me and my sister we were raised in a Jewish tradition of socialism not God, trade union stickers not mezuzahs, Woodcraft Folk not Hebrew school, internationalism not Zionism. I started and ran a co-op business to take study tours to Israel~Palestine to see the situation for themselves. We helped bring fair-trade Palestinian olive oil to the UK.

Given our centuries of persecution, we Jews are generally vigilant about antisemitism. We have a good idea what anti-Jewish hostility and prejudice looks like. Its always wrong. Its just as wrong as false accusations of antisemitism.

The Labour is far from perfect. Antisemitism, including holocaust denial, exists in the Labour Party just like anywhere else. But the Labour Party is not overrun with it. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research found antisemitism is much more common in the right and far-right. We’ve all see the election of racists like Trump, and overtly anti-semitic parties in central Europe. And close to home too. Luciana Berger MP has helped to put 3 far-right aggressors behind bars.

Which brings me to the question, “What can we do about the situation?”

I have four suggestions:

1. Do no harm

  • Don’t make the situation any worse than it already is. Don’t give our opponents ammunition, if possible. Educate ourselves about antisemitism and the way it is used as a weapon against us.
  • Jewdas, with whom Jeremy Corbyn celebrated Pesach, have guidance notes at jewdas.org/how-to-criticise-israel-without-being-anti-semitic/
  • Challenge statements that starts with “the Jews this” or “all Jews that” such as Jews are rich or Jews support Israel. Generalisations erase the diversity of Jewish experiences.
  • Ask for evidence for allegations. Call out allegations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

In summary: (1) Behave decently, even when angry; (2) Don’t deny or minimise the holocaust; (3) Provide evidence for allegations.

2. Affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour

Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) was formed one year ago. It is a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party.

We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere.

JVL has a vital role to play in dealing with anti-Semitism and its allegations. We don’t receive money from the State of Israel. Unlike Jewish Labour Movement, we are not affiliated to Zionist organisations – and we are the only network where full members must be members of the Labour Party and Jewish.

To support JVL, you can affiliate if you are an individual member of Labour – or an organisation like a trade union branch. There is an affiliation pack on Jewish Voice for Labour website www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/affiliation-to-jvl/ .

3. Speak up for human rights in Palestine~Israel

Jewish Voice for Labour is appalled, and condemns the Israeli government – without reservation – for the massacre of over 100 Palestinian protesters in Gaza recently. Including people such as 14 year old Azzeddin Musa Mohammed Al-Samak. Talking of doing no harm – the UK should immediately suspend its arms trade with Israel.

I lived in Derry, in Northern Ireland for 3 years. The trauma of Bloody Sunday and military occupation is clear to see. The resonance between Ireland and Palestine has long roots. In the 1920s, the British Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, used the North of Ireland as the model for colonialism in the middle east, aiming to establish “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

I’m trying to show that not all supporters of Israel are Jewish, and not all Jews support Israel. For example, in Northern Ireland, there are more Protestant than Jewish people waving the Israeli flag and repeating Israeli government propaganda.

4. Fair Treatment within Labour

JVL is campaigning with others to overturn Marc Wadsworth’s unfair expulsion, clear his name and to defend Jackie Walker (who is black and Jewish) and others earmarked for the next phase in expulsions.

VL is calling for disciplinary hearings to be paused until a due process has been established based on principles of natural justice. What I call Jew process. [This last phrase has caused some people to take offence. I am sorry for any offence caused by my plays on words – that was not my intention. – added 10 March 2019.]

We support Chakrabati’s inquiry recommendations of a fair, prompt, disciplinary system based on principles of natural justice. Her report placed anti-Semitism where is should be – not on a pedestal but alongside other forms of racism.

I was disappointed that Shami Chakrabarti joined in ‘trial by media’ of Ken Livingstone, last Sunday. But the principles within her report remain fit for purpose.

If talking repeatedly while being a gob-shite was an expel-able offence applied fairly to all, there’d be quite a few vacancies in Labour. Not everyone can be as diplomatic as me. 😉

Seriously, one thing that worries me is the privileging of racism against Jews as more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination such as against black people, Muslim people and people who have crossed borders to this country. These abuses of power are measured in detentions, deportations and deaths – so lets have a sense of proportion and perspective in the current situation.

Every type of racism is different and needs a time and a place for discussion. And privileging one group over another group is divisive. It’s bad for the many as well as the Jews.

Lastly, I would like to say that:

We remember Carl Sargeant, a member of the Welsh Assembly for Alyn and Deeside who killed himself in November last year, just days after allegations against him were made public in a ‘trial by media’.

The Labour Party owes the accused, and the accusers, a duty of care – and fair treatment for all. I am looking forward to a credible disciplinary policy within the Labour Party. We all need it.

19 May 2018

Comments (25)

  • Mike Scott says:

    This is absolutely spot-on and I couldn’t have put it better myself! We should be passing on the link to our relatives and friends and I’m going to do so now!

  • patrick terence ogorman says:

    every body is innocent till proved guilty —-the right wing- and are party need to make sure nobody is hounded by the media –on falsehoods and political one upmanship ————————-jeremy corbinpm

  • Stephen Tiller says:

    Great post.

    🙂

  • Barry Rodin says:

    An excellent post; integrity and common sense allied with family and own experience.

  • An excellent and heartwarming pos

  • John Maher says:

    Jo, this is a wonderful, inspirationaland informative piece. You’re right. We cannot confront discrimination, by relying on organisations who are, by nature of their own constitution, discriminatory in nature.

  • mike sleeth says:

    Hi Jo, You make some excellent points, particularly about placing anti-Semitism above all other forms of discrimination. Also, the fact that you are discussing this openly, is very helpful to someone like me. I’m probably committing some sort of PC offence, in that I don’t want to know someone’s religion, sexuality, etc: all I want to know is that we can get on (or not), and it’s their competence in the relevant field that concerns me. The issue inside the Labour Party has sort of taken me by surprise. I’m not aware of dealing with Jewish people locally so the issue never arises. I think therefore that when the Party is accused of sweeping the problem under the carpet, many members must be in the same position as I am. The information you provide is very helpful.

  • Danny Nicol says:

    I don’t entirely agree with the article. I am glad that Ken Livingstone is leaving the Party and hope that Jackie Walker – she of the vile “sugar and slave trade” outrage – follows suit. Both have damaged the Labour Left. The author’s failure to distinguish between Marc Wadsworth’s case and that of Jackie Walker insults Wadsworth and is politically illiterate. So too is the author’s nasty suggestion that the Party is privileging anti-Jewish racism over other racisms, which unpleasantly implies that Labour is somehow doing TOO MUCH to counter anti-Semitism. I hadn’t noticed.

    I much favour JVL over the Jewish Labour Movement, but alas I cannot join JVL as, for me, it is insufficiently hard-line against anti-Jewish racism.

    • Rosie Brocklehurst says:

      Have you got any idea of the scale of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party? Yes that is right- very small. Do you know how many of the comments received on email and social media by right wing Jewish MPs who complained, was anonymous? No? Most of it. Can you tell me why anti-Semitism in Labour became a publicised problem only after Corbyn was elected? Are the two connected? I agree with you about Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth being different cases, but that is hardly being politically illiterate. The author of the piece above is certainly NOT that. What JW said on a Facebook page, was an ignorant error, a trope, but hardly an outrage.Most of the anti-Semitism accusations that have come to light are errors of History. Also a lot of Jewish people complaining on both sides are ignorant of their own History. Methinks you overly protest. Tell them some non recvisionist History books to read. Most want to learn. What Ian McKenzie (Lewisham East rightwinger) said about ISIS, beheadings and Rape in a tweet about our Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. Now -that is what I call an outrage.

  • Gill Hughes says:

    Excellent ARTICLE Jo. Sorry to hear however, that Ken Livingstone has resigned. Such a pity.

  • Linda Edmondson says:

    Thank you, Jo Bird, for your articulate and compassionate piece. I see that you were disappointed by Shami Chakrabarti’s intervention a week ago, an uncalled for attack on Ken Livingstone that must have influenced his decision to resign from the Labour Party. I was incensed by her comments, so much so that I spent time I could have used elsewhere writing her a letter, noting that I was Jewish in case she thought I was an antisemitic nutter, and then pointing out the reasons why I thought expulsion was absolutely not the way forward. I also pointed out that she was prejudging the issue, something that as a seasoned lawyer she shouldn’t have been doing. Unfortunately there are too many people, even critics of Israel, who thought his ‘crime’ was worthy of expulsion. I wish he’d got all the facts totally correct, so that his enemies would have had less to work on. Unlike the commentator above, I see nothing ‘nasty’ in your observation that antisemitism is getting too much publicity compared with other racisms in this country. This is a disreputable campaign, being waged by organisations that have no sympathy for Labour or the left in general and is being used to damage the party’s electoral prospects. And you are absolutely right about ‘trial by media’. Thank you again.

  • Tessa Gray says:

    Yes yes yesx

  • Alan Maddison says:

    Thanks Jo for this interesting and constructive article. Of course some antisemitism must exist in Labour, but there is no evidence to support the repeated right-wing claims that it is any more prevalent under Corbyn, or than in other political parties. There is therefore no rational reason that only the Labour Party is placed under such scrutiny apart from a disingeuous political motivation to undermine Corbyn.

    In fact recent surveys suggest antisemitism has declined in Labour voters since Corbyn was elected Labour Leader, and is lower than in Tory and UKIP voters.

    The only survey I can find involving *members* of political pairties (Tim Bale et al., 2017) suggests racism, misogyny and homophobia may be almost three times more prevalent in Tory than Labour Party members. As victims from these three groups account for over 80% of hate crimes reported to the police, and antisemitism 1.3%, it does seem reasonable to conclude that those responsible for the politically motivated antisemitism attacks have little interest in the genuine fight against all forms of prejudice and discrimination in our UK society.

    Whilst Labour must work to both prevent (by education as you say) and sanction any antisemitism in its ranks, as should othe political parties, it would be best for all if the political and media narrative could be turned to fighting all forms of prejudice, and everywhere they manifest in our society.

  • Jaye says:

    Jo, nothing makes one any more or any less a Jew than any other Jew whatever one’s beliefs, traditions or lack thereof however with all due respect I have never heard of:
    ” .. a Jewish tradition of socialism not God, trade union stickers not mezuzahs, Woodcraft Folk not Hebrew school, internationalism not Zionism.”

    In what Synagogue or Jewish group, or on what Jewish texts is this tradition based? Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish learning, Jewish festivals, and Jewish celebrations are full of love of and longing for the Land of Israel. Jewish prayer and religious custom is carried out in Hebrew, even the minimum of welcoming the Shabbat done by nearly all Jews uses Hebrew. The mezuzah is a proud mark of identity for religious and non-religious and it contains the Shema prayer which practically every Jew can recite at least in part. Jewish continuity and community and Jewish learning is also fundamental to Judaism so without wanting to criticise your legitimate traditions they involve supplements or alternatives to Jewish tradition/s and I think it’s important to point out this distinction for the benefit of non-Jewish readers.

    • Mike Cushman says:

      Jaye, Jo is restating in modern form Hillel’s most famous saying: “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and study.”

      • Jaye says:

        Really Mike? Nobody spotted that but Jo can probably talk for herself. Meanwhile by going and studying one can learn about Jewish tradition. More importantly by practising Jewish traditions we can promote Jewish continuity as has happened for centuries.
        When core traditions are abandoned or substituted, Jewish community and Jewish continuity are inevitably weakened over time, but maybe that’s what you want.

  • Mike Scott says:

    The last few posts above seem to be repoening the argument about who is and isn’t Jewish and that isn’t a discussion I would expect to have in JVL.

    Just because some Jews are religious, it really doesn’t mean that all of us have to be and I’m right behind Jo in that. I was also brought up in a secular socialist Jewish family (and went to the Woodcrasft Folk!) and that doesn’t make me any less Jewish than the Chief Rabbi or anyone else you care to mention.

    The reality is that most people who identify as Jewish are secular and reading the Torah is a choice, not a qualification!

    • Jaye says:

      Exactly Mike S, none of us is more or less a Jew than anyone else .. as I said above. And again I am a Zionist and a Labour voter, not a JVL member.

      My point was that there may have been noble “tradition/s” as described by Jo regarding her upbringing but I believe that these should not be falsely presented as “Jewish” traditions when they seemingly replace core Jewish traditions and practices rather than being add-ons. I also happen to believe, based on the hundreds/thousands of fellow Jews that I have known in my life, that core traditions including but not only love of and concern for Israel, are markers for Jewish continuity. Regarding Israel, love of and longing for Zion has been central to every aspect of Jewish life since the exile. Specific criticism of Israel – fine; general hate and denial of Jewish rights – not fine by me.

  • Bob Cannell says:

    You got suspended for this? Its even more benign that what Chris Williamson is alleged to have said.
    I must not lose faith in the Labour Party. Millions of poor people depend on us getting rid of the Tories. Illegitimi non carborundum, as we say.

  • Gavin Sealey says:

    Clear, simple and beautifully said.

  • Heath Pru says:

    I am thinking we need something like.A Clear Voice for the World ? movement. Jo Bird is a top bird , her intention and context is clear. I am pleased to see more of these arising. AOC and Greta Thunberg are clear voices.
    Thank you Jo ?❤️?

  • I have two concerns here.

    The first is the use of the term ‘Zionism’ as shorthand for ‘supporters of the Israeli government in its excesses’. The meaning of the term is debatable, sure, and behind closed doors we can debate it. But we will never have the final word in that debate, and for as long as there are differing interpretations, (forever), it’s an invitation to mischief.

    Second, and more controversially, I think we need to acknowledge the fact – and it is a fact – that some on the Palestinian side are no friends of peace themselves. Though the actions on the two sides are far-from equal, we do need to acknowledge indiscriminate and intentionally lethal attacks on Israeli civilians. These are unacceptable and also need acknowledgement.

    Finally, saying the things you are saying, I am sure you have been subject to the disgusting slurs ‘self-hating Jew’ and their equivalent. Please talk openly and widely about such abuse. It is clearly disgusting, I would argue of itself anti-Semitic in precisely the same way you have said the reverse (blaming Jews for Israeli policies) is anti-Semitic, and needs to be called out as anti-Semitism.

  • Gary Sayers says:

    She sounds like a good one. A sense of humour appears to be a crime nowadays. Reinstate please. No way did she mean to cause offence. Poor woman, more power to you Ms Bird.

  • Erica Flegg says:

    Thank you for that. It is meaningful to everyone, Jew and gentile. How sad it is that Zionism tries so hard to suppress this truth about the Jewish tradition and cast such a stain upon it. ‘Do not do to Palestinians what was done to you’ – the conscience of Jewry world-wide. It is vitally important that Jews do think about any parallels between their history of persecution and the sufferings of Palestinians and for that reason I’m totally opposed to the ban on drawing any parallels with the Nazis. A suppression of freedom of speech as well as Jewish conscience. I haven’t said Israel is the same as Nazi Germany or the crimes as great. But Jews should not be stopped from observing any resemblances – that is what conscience is all about

  • Christopher Richardson says:

    Excellent

Comments are now closed.