I’m Jewish and I’m voting Labour in the general election. Here’s why

JVL Introduction

We are delighted by the number of Jews who are standing up and calling for a Labour vote on 12th December.

Now Jonathan Lis adds his voice, and talks of millions of people suffering too long under Tory rule. In particular, he describes a pervasive Xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment across the whole Tory election platform.

We agree with that, but wish to challenge his comments on “the antisemitic fringe on the left”.

Large surveys clearly demonstrate that antisemitism is lowest on the left of politics. Even on the far left antisemitism prevalence is indistinguishable from that in the centre.

Lis also says “too many bigots and bullies have escaped discipline”. There is no evidence for this. Over four years about 0.1% of Labour members have been reported following allegations of antisemitism and 0.06% taken through the disciplinary process, most now dealt with promply – none has escaped unexamined.

So we disagree with any suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic, or that antisemitism is more prevalent in Labour than elsewhere, when the opposite is true. Every reason for British Jews to vote Labour.

 

This article was originally published by Guardian on Fri 22 Nov 2019. Read the original here.

I’m Jewish and I’m voting Labour in the general election. Here’s why

Yes, antisemitism exists in Labour, as in other parties. But we can tackle it and still elect a progressive government

In three weeks’ time I will do something that shocks many of my closest friends and relatives. The mere mention of it can provoke amazement or outright hostility. In many cases the unspoken – or spoken – accusation is that I am throwing my community under the bus. Why? I am Jewish, and in the general election I will be voting Labour.

In the Jewish community, there is genuine fear about a Jeremy Corbyn-led government and anguish that this fear is not being taken seriously. Earlier this month, the Jewish Chronicle appealed to non-Jewish people to vote against Labour. One prominent rabbi emailed his congregation to request they “vote for whichever party is most likely to defeat Labour”.

The first thing, then, is to accept that the problem exists and has been terribly mishandled. Jewish Labour members (and members of parliament) have been made to feel unwelcome, while too many bigots and bullies have escaped discipline.

It doesn’t follow, though, that Labour is an institutionally antisemitic party. Nobody can identify any specific policies or threats made by the Labour leadership against Jewish people. Nobody accuses the vast majority of Labour MPs or activists of being antisemitic. Indeed, the party is full of people who are appalled by antisemitism and want to stamp it out.

What about Jeremy Corbyn himself? It is certainly true that he was too careless with his words and company before he became Labour leader; since then, he has been too defensive in the face of legitimate challenge, and too quick to assume bad faith on the part of his critics. For these reasons he was much too slow to acknowledge the problem and respond to it. It is an enormous leap, however, to claim that he is personally antisemitic. There is significant evidence to suggest that he is not. And there is no evidence that he poses any kind of risk to Britain’s Jews.

A common response to this is that a Labour victory would embolden racists. Certainly, the antisemitic fringe on the left might cheer. But as the recent attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Halle illustrate, the gravest and most palpable danger to Jewish people comes not from the far left but the far right.

We must also tackle the absolutism of this discussion, which sometimes labels any Labour vote as a tacit endorsement of antisemitism. This is false and offensive. First, many Labour voters have criticisms of the party but don’t want to see it sink altogether. More broadly, voting always involves some degree of compromise, particularly in a non-proportional voting system. If you believe that the prospect of Labour in power is truly beyond the pale, then Britain’s electoral system and politics compel you to prefer a Conservative government. That is a perfectly valid opinion, but it deserves scrutiny.

Put simply, it’s hard to see a Tory government as a price worth paying for abandoning Labour. Brexit is of course the big issue – and as things stand, under Boris Johnson we are heading for an extremely basic trade deal in December 2020 or none at all. But this also goes well beyond Brexit. There are millions of people who have already suffered under nearly ten years of Tory rule and cannot afford another five: people who are homeless, or access food banks, or depend on schools, and a health service cut to the bone.

Antisemitism exists across Britain’s political spectrum. This week both Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates have been suspended for offensive remarks. We also need to discuss other forms of racism. It is not whataboutery to point to the endemic problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, or to note the prime minister’s description of African people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, or his likening of Muslim women to letterboxes, which reportedly provoked a surge in anti-Muslim attacks, or his leadership of a referendum campaign that threatened voters with the arrival of 76 million Turkish migrants. The only candidate for prime minister who has repeatedly written racist things and promoted racist policies is Johnson.

Xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment are not simply present within the Tory party, but underlie its whole election platform. This week Matt Hancock tweeted disparagingly about the “International Health Service”, while Priti Patel has enthused about ending free movement. Brexit has cemented the Tories as a party of English nationalism, able to attract the tacit support of Nigel Farage and other figures from the hard right.

History shows us that a political climate hostile to foreigners and minorities will not spare Jewish people. The Community Security Trust recorded a 30% increase in antisemitic attacks in the months following the Brexit referendum. No government can ensure the safety of Jewish people while it simultaneously promotes an exclusionary discourse around migration and nationality.

I would never judge a Jewish person for not voting Labour, or seek to persuade them otherwise. The Labour party has, in many ways, failed the community. But it is also full of people who have fought racism, including antisemitism, all their lives, and who intend to keep fighting it.

I will be voting Labour because I want a progressive government that rebalances the economy, helps the people who need it most, promotes migration and migrant rights, and offers the only credible route to remaining in the EU. I will also challenge antisemitism wherever I see it. Those ambitions are not mutually exclusive – we must work tirelessly for them both.

Jonathan Lis is deputy director of the thinktank British Influence

Comments (11)

  • different frank says:

    Post this on the indy.
    Post many things there.
    Make your presence felt.
    I am talking to JVL.

  • Benny Ross says:

    Dear Jonathan, I’m going to half agree and half disagree with one of your comments. You said “I would never judge a Jewish person for not voting Labour” — neither would I — “or seek to persuade them otherwise.” Well, I also wouldn’t judge them, but I would and do seek to persuade them otherwise. It means I get a few funny looks from some people at shul, and I’ve had some mild disagreements with some family members, but on the whole, I find people can accept that I am a meshugganer lefty and therefore cannot be reasoned with, just as I accept that they have been scaremongered into a despairing, circle-the-wagons mentality. You don’t have to argue with everyone all the time, but I do think it’s worth discussing issues and trying to change people’s minds with facts, logic and calm reasoning.

  • Dave taylor says:

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I would urge fair minded people of all stripes and persuasions to vote tactically. The irresponsible ‘brittania unchained’ cabal must not be allowed the reins of power under any circumstances.
    Labour, lib dem, Green. Any but the tories.
    shalom, from a concerned goy.

  • Hilary katzenell says:

    Thank you….. I’m a life long labour /socialist supporter & abhor all forms of racism …. today’s comment by the Chief Rabbi Tuesday 26nov 2019 took the smile off my face ….. leaders come and go ….. look to the manifesto…. there are some very good policies for the country as a whole ……

  • Eric Goodyer says:

    The greatest threat to Jews living in the UK is the far right infiltration of the Tory Party, their Neo-Nazi/Fascist inspired BREXIT fuelled by undisguised anto-immigrant hatred. Boris Johnson’s racism is clear for all to see. Corbyn spent Pesach last year at a Seder night dinner with his constituents. Strong stuff but I have had enough of self-appointed ‘representatives of the Jewish Community’ claiming to speak for me. We Jews are the bedrock of the Labour Party, and only a Labour Government is able to break down racist stereotypes, and build a society for all

  • Hillary Shaper says:

    Chief Rabbi Mervis is not self appointed and in fact represents a far larger constituency than you believe or will acknowledge

    • Mike Cushman says:

      Indeed he is not self-appointed but, as Wikipedia says (and on this I think it is accurate), “The United Synagogue (US) is a union of British Orthodox Jewish synagogues, representing the central Orthodox movement in Judaism. With 64 congregations, comprising 40,000 members.”

      A significant number but only a small fraction of British Jews.

  • Guy Falkenau says:

    I’m from a Jewish family background, which had almost a dozen members murdered during the holocaust , including my grandparents and 26 year old aunt.I have been an active member of the Labour Party for over 60 years in four different constituencies, including one containing a Talmudical college and a large Jewish community. I have never encountered antisemitic views being expressed by party members, although I have occasionally encountered individuals with right wing views engaging in the telling of tasteless ‘Jewish jokes’ based on unpleasant stereotyping.

  • Frank Land says:

    Let’s start living in the real world. In a response to an attack on myself and my views I was asked to apologise for opposing the condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn and the institutional Anti-Semitism of the Labour Party. My response included the following:
    Perhaps it would be useful to outline where my understanding of anti-Semitism comes from.

    • As a boy of 9, I witnessed the State-sponsored Kristallnacht in Berlin.
    • A little earlier the German State confiscated my Father’s engineering business.
    • Every member of our Family had to wear a yellow star and were debarred from sitting on designated park benches plus other discriminatory regulations.
    • My Mother’s parents died in Theresienstadt though we don’t know if they were killed or died of neglect.
    • One Uncle spent time in Dachau Concentration Camp and another died of ill-health after years of forced (slave) labour.
    • My large extended family was scattered across the world, including Israel, as refugees.

    Of course many, many Jewish families fared much worse.

    What I witnessed was institutional anti-Semitism and very clearly an existential threat to the Jewish Community. Are you, or the Chief Rabbi, telling me that Corbyn or the Labour Party poses any similar threat or even the threat of state sponsored discrimination against Jews? Or would tolerate discrimination of any sort against Jews?

    We as Jews with our experience through the centuries must be the first to see and fight against racism wherever it crops up and whatever group it is directed at – Jew Palestinian, or whoever. In the 1930s and World War II Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust was the by far the most important and heart-breaking racialist motivated issue and we applaud all those who stood on the barricades with us. But in more recent decades it is not Jews who were the main targets, though Anti-Semitism continued in many communities including most political parties.
    Corbyn, not surprisingly, focussed on some of these issues. He is now attacked because he called- out discrimination and deprivation against Palestinians But nothing he has said or done make him other than enemy of discrimination and oppression. If he perceived a threat to Jews from based on Anti-Semitic attitudes he would be the first on the barricades defending the Jews.

  • Dave taylor says:

    I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I would urge fair minded people of all stripes and persuasions to vote tactically. The irresponsible ‘brittania unchained’ cabal must not be allowed t h e reins of power under any circumstances.
    Labour, lib dem, Green. Any but the tories.
    shalom, from a concerned goy.

  • Sally Sweeney says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the balanced analysis I have read on this website.
    It will be devastating for this country if this issue de-rails Corbyn and puts Johnson into number 10

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