Educating Labour – a serious approach to antisemitism: No 1

JVL introduction

In June, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) began a series of mass online training sessions, titled Antisemitism Awareness Education, on behalf of the Labour Party. Many members have told us that taking part left their brains reeling from the speed of the delivery and the stream of very complex ideas being made to sound deceptively simple.

JVL has been engaging with party members on the subtleties of what might or might not be antisemitism for several years in workshops run by our Education team. Based on that experience, we published an initial JVL response to JLM antisemitism training in mid-June.

What follows is one of a planned series of more detailed commentaries, based on the many comments the JVL Education Group has received about the JLM sessions. We offer these as further contributions to the discussion about how best to understand antisemitism in order to challenge and resist it.

The first contribution looks at the danger of pretending simplicity where the reality is subtle and complex.

No 1: Confronting Complexity

A central problem with the JLM presentation titled Antisemitism Awareness Education is that it pretends simplicity where the reality is subtle and complex. Obviously there are clear cut cases of antisemitism: assaulting a visibly attired Jew in the street; attacking a synagogue; posting ‘Rothschild runs the world/Britain/the Labour Party’.

But many cases are far from clear cut, often hotly contested. Is such and such a cartoon antisemitic or not? Does the artist’s motivation make a difference? Why is one definition of antisemitism preferable to another? How does the context in which a statement is made change the way in which it is interpreted?

An education programme intended to develop understanding of these subtleties would open them up for questioning and debate. There is no scope for this in the JLM presentations.

Talking about Israel 

Israel is often central to the complexity we refer to. The connection between Jewish communal institutions and wealthy/influential Zionists (whether Jewish or not) and their support for Israel’s actions can snare the unwary. Education should help participants to recognise the complexities and disentangle them with sensitivity and understanding.

For example, few would allege antisemitism against someone saying that Israel is responsible for violating human rights and international law. We and the JLM can agree that it IS antisemitic to hold Jews, as Jews, responsible.  But complexities arise when assessing how far, and in what ways, it is acceptable to criticise those who justify Israel’s illegal and/or reprehensible actions.

Whether they are Jewish institutions or the Tory Party or sections of the Labour Party, they should expect to face criticism if they defend the indefensible.  How this is done is key. We oppose the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other establishment Jewish bodies who act as advocates for Israel, not because of some innate Jewish traits of theirs but because of their actions.

Jewishness and Israel – what are the links?

It’s not surprising that many people are confused by the linkages between Jewishness and the state of Israel that its defenders often make.  Ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frequently claimed to represent the Jews of the world, not just Israelis. Donald Trump, addressing a gathering of American Jews, spoke of Netanyahu as “your prime minister”.

Closer to home, when Keir Starmer was criticised for accepting financial support from Trevor Chinn, a rich Zionist Jew, this was not based on something inherent in Chinn as a Jew, but on the fact that he advocates for a state which is guilty of infringing human rights and international law, and he seeks to influence the Labour Party to do the same.

Locating the boundaries

These are difficult areas to get right and there is much legitimate argument about where the boundary between the permissible and the non-permissible lies. Education sessions should discuss frankly and help participants locate that boundary.

The failure of the JLM session to recognise these difficulties, let alone address them, means their programme will not help Party members make their own sound judgements. It is simply not fit for purpose. Learning to make such judgments is a crucial part of any educational process. Without it, people are liable to get things wrong: in one direction not making the essential case for Palestinian rights; and in the other perpetuating dangerous and hurtful images of Jews.

You can find out about the work of JVL’s Education Team here.

Comments (8)

  • Daniel Vulliamy says:

    I worked as a WEA Tutor-Organiser, then as University SL in trade union and prison education for over 35 years. I thought JVL’s critique of the JLM training was magnificent, totally grounded in how people best learn and develop, and am ashamed for not have praised it at the time, so make amends now, in the week in which I secured Austrian citizenship for myself and numerous children and grandchildren as descendants of a victim of National Socialism. Thank you, JVL, for all you do.

  • jenny Mahimbo says:

    The JLM “training” wasn’t training – it was a presentation. Top-down, non-participatory. It was an exercise in ticking boxes with no attention paid to impact or outcome. The LP has made no attempt to evaluate the training by asking for feedback from the recipients (we weren’t participants).

    By far the worst anti-racism awareness raising I have ever been on and I’ve been on quite a few. No atempt was made to raise awareness

  • harry law says:

    When asked whether criticism of Israel policy was anti Semitic R Long- Bailey and L Nandy said it was, how the JLM can teach Labour party members about Anti Semitism beggars belief The JLM are affiliated to the World Zionist Organization who fund the settlement enterprise, i.e. grave war crimes in breach of article 49.6 of the Geneva conventions. Labour members are being taught by supporters of war crimes.
    Editorial |
    The World Zionist Organization’s Land Theft Division
    It’s time to investigate, and then shut down, this quasi-governmental agency, which steals both state and private Palestinian lands to realize its sacred goal of settlement construction

  • Sean O'Donoghue says:

    Surely JLM’s narrative is zilch but PR / Propaganda for the state of Israel.

  • John W says:

    Why doesn’t JVL start doing on-line sessions?

  • Charlotte Williams says:

    Members of JVL’s Education team are presenting a Zoom workshop this Sunday at 4pm. If you’re interested in attending, email [email protected]

  • John Hodkinson says:

    Of course they just skated over the facts and kept things as simple as they could. Any in-depth look at the subject would have exposed them for what they are and what they were doing, covering for the evils of a reprehensible, right-wing regime

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