Jewish members of the Haringey Labour parties speak out

The letter below has been signed by several Jewish members of the Haringey Labour parties and submitted to the Guardian “Opinion is free” page and to the Jewish Chronicle [on 27th March]. Whether it gets printed is open to question.

However here it is. Please share far and wide.

As Jewish members of the 2 Haringey Labour parties, we are concerned that media reports of antisemitism have increased recently. However these accounts aren’t of physical attacks on Jewish owned buildings or communities, although worryingly these are still happening, but about antisemitism within the Labour Party.

Even more bizarrely, the perpetrators identified in these stories have for the most part themselves been Jewish. From Glyn Secker, Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour who was suspended then reinstated, to Jewish members of Haringey Labour, (Sunday Times, 18 March).

We think it’s important to try and understand why this new development should be of concern to everyone of Jewish heritage.

It’s difficult to talk about one dominant set of ideas or beliefs in Judaism with its diversity of beliefs, cultures and ethnicities. The exception is a collective sense of our long history of persecution. Unless you are brought up as a Jew, it’s hard to comprehend how this awareness shapes us as individuals.

Remarkably one result of this long and brutal persecution is that Judaism has had a positive influence throughout history on the arts, philosophy, business and on politics.

We’ve almost always chosen the path of active resistance to oppression rather than going under. When unable to find employment due to legal prohibitions, we developed new trades and skills. Instead of closing our minds and focussing on what we knew, we opened them, challenged accepted ideas and developed new ones. We built a sense of community and solidarity, rather than competition, so we could thrive together. From this has grown a tradition of debate, argument, freedom of speech and thought and humour.

Where we could leave the ghettos we’d been forced into, these ideas and values placed many of us on the progressive left of politics, where we found a sympathetic space for our traditions.

Many of us started a leftward political journey because of what we learned in gatherings of family and friends at the Friday night dinner table, where food was served up with a healthy dose of vigorous political argument. Here ideas were never silenced, but forced through an examination of logic and evidence, bringing the religious tradition of interrogation of the scriptures into the home.

This tradition is central to who we are. It’s bound many of us together through periods of intense persecution. It’s guided us to become a diverse and vibrant community with a disproportionately positive effect upon the history of humankind. Not a dominant force, but an intelligent, warm and humane influence based on open-mindedness and freedom of expression, because Jews know better than most where not following this path leads.

That’s why this recent trend of denouncing fellow Jews for antisemitism is so worrying. The root cause appears to us to be differences over Palestine. The majority of Jews identify with the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Most British Jews are also concerned about the plight of Palestinians and finding a peaceful and just solution. This dichotomy has long generated intense debate amongst Jews. However, even in the very personal family arena, no matter how heated the argument, rarely will anyone attempt to close down discussion about this and deny someone’s right to speak.

Jewish traditions prevent that. And with good reason. If we stop discussion and argument, we move away from what has served us so well.

This tradition of tolerant debate no longer seems to operate for some Jewish members of the Labour Party. Jews who’ve advanced a pro-Palestinian argument are being accused of antisemitism by fellow Jews.

All allegations of anti semitism should be fully and fairly investigated under a transparent laid down agreed procedure. Yet where this has happened and the person investigated and the complaint dismissed, this is not sufficient for the accusers.

The Sunday Times article mentioned above is a good example. The article mentions that someone was investigated and cleared, and yet this is still mentioned seemingly in the hope of giving credence, to other allegations.

The other events mentioned in the article took place over a period of six years and are themselves a mix of misquotes, half truths and comments taken out of context.

In the article it is alleged that Haringey Labour party is not a safe space for Jews. The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. There are many Jews in Haringey’s Labour parties. We just don’t need to constantly identify ourselves. Falsely calling Jews out as antisemites doesn’t make that any more likely.

Even so, of course there are antisemitic comments made in the Labour Party. This should be rooted out and there should be no tolerance of it when it happens. However this is no different nor more frequent than in wider society and upon inspection, they come from both the left and right. More pertinently it comes from deep seated ignorance.

It has been said that the Labour Party should strive to be better than wider society, and it should, but being better doesn’t come from making ill thought out attacks, clouded in distortion and a lack of due process. The way to deal with ignorance is to educate and to enlighten the ignorant so they learn to improve. Where poor judgement is found it should be met with fair judgement. This is not just the traditional way of Judaism, it is the way of any progressive organisation or society.

Phil Rose, Bruce Grove Ward, Tottenham CLP
Zena Brabazon, Tottenham Hale Ward, Tottenham CLP
Alan Stanton, Tottenham Hale Ward, Tottenham CLP
Sue Hughes, Hornsey Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Dana Carlin, Hornsey Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Monica Gort, Muswell Hill Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Charley Allen, Crouch End Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Miriam Levin, Crouch End Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Amnon Baron Cohen, Fortis Green Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Beth Miller, Fortis Green Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Astrid French, Alexandra Ward, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP

Comments (13)

  • Well said. Honourable and balanced

  • Treez Steele says:

    Thank you so much for giving a wise account of the last week. It’s been terrible, and I am trying to make sense of it all. Hopefully things will get back on track.

  • John says:

    I will be amazed if The Guardian – Britain’s most pro-zionist rag – were to publish this letter.

  • Jo says:

    A very welcome read

  • Robert Wyatt says:

    I am not a Jew. But being born on the day that the Soviet army liberated
    Auschwitz has set me off on a lifetime of egalitarian politics. and apart from any moral consideration, i think that prejudice against Jews is —sort of bonkers . Mad. Stupid.Especially given, as you rightly point out ,the enormous contribution to all our lives in so many areas . Mine’s music, and the 20th century Jewish influence is absolutely crucial from the most challenging 12-tone music to the brilliant pop music of Leiber+stoller,and all the others-far too many to name here- and of course jazz, which reached its greatest heights when the material used for improvisation came from the very Jewish-inspired musicals : the great american songbook. so its deeply hurtful to sneered at as being antisemitic because i think Palestinians are being punished for a holocaust not of their making : we all dump our collective guilt on them, and that is so shameful,in my opinion.The many Jews i know agree totally.

  • Robert Wyatt says:

    I am not a Jew, but I cannot imagine my life;s work-in music-without the enormous Jewish contribution especially in the 20th century. I am so greatful fo all that.
    The jewish tradition i am aware of is basically a Yiddish speaking legacy.
    And so are the great radical political ideas that have burst through the dense layers of scorn and oppression under the mighty european empires .
    The Jews i know best are deeply humantarian and empathetic to the sufferings of others. And maybe that’s what’s got you into hot waters since the modern Hebrew speaking state was established.
    Einstein was worried that it would fall into the hands of neo-fascists, and it looks increasingly as if he had a point . . . .

    • Dave says:

      Assuming you are the real Robert Wyatt – and on social media one never knows – fantastic to hear from you as a fan of yours since the 1970s. I often say to people:

      You’re proud of being middle class (meaning upper class)
      You say you’re self sufficient (but you don’t dig your own coal)

      I think that what you’re frightened of more than anything
      Is knowing you need workers more than they need you

  • Lucy Craig says:

    An excellent letter. Thank you…. it’s just the voice of reason we need in these awful and terrifying McCarthyite times.

  • Tony Booth says:

    Last Monday, I stood with others from JVL who opposed the demonstration against the alleged lack of action on Anti-Semitism by the leadership of the Labour Party. I was there to uphold a tradition of dialogue as a means to understanding differences of view which is eloquently expressed in the letter from Haringay comrades. I had long conversations with those who saw me as not having grasped a truth. These generally started with them shouting at me and including a script of statements or questions that they had used many times to identify another as Anti-Semitic. I faced familiar insults of being called “a self-hating Jew”. I asked for dialogue; for respect for my views as a Jewish person, developed over many years, about politics, racism and Anti-Semitism. I wanted them to see how wierd it seemed to me for them to claim to be combatting Anti-Semitism while dismissing the views of Jews who felt as deeply, as they did themeselves, that their way of thinking and being related to their Jewish heritage; to realise that we could talk about differences of opinion without trying to get each other thrown off the planet. I wanted to get to the point where on ending our interaction we could shake hands with each other. I did not succeed with one woman, whose outlook was hardened by the loss of family in the Holocaust. She could not bear to hear anything that I said and I didn’t find the words that would show my solidarity with her while opening her ears to a different view of politics and the attribution of Anti-Semitism to the Labour Party. She called over her shoulder as she left: “may God strike you dead.” She was the only one who refused to shake my hand. I had particular success with one young man studying politics who had also been “trained” to recognise Anti-Semitism. He started by shouting me down and ended by thanking me for a good conversation. I had tried a similar tactic with the Jewish Board of Deputies at the end of 2016 when I complained about their treatment of Jackie Walker, a person whose views on Anti-Racism they should see as close to their own. I had not met her at that point. Before I wrote, I reviewed for myself all the evidence I could find about what Jackie had said and the contexts she had given to it and as a consequence, felt that I should stand with her. I found this a learning experience particularly in facing up to the dimension of the genocide involved in the slave trade. I asked for my correspondent from the Board of Deputies to recognise our tradition for talking over a meal and invited him to my home. He ended the correspondence at that point. I will not be daunted. I take strength from Haringay comrades.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    Tony Booth: have you seen this article Jackie Walker Responds to Accusations of Antisemitism

  • Tom Davidson says:

    Before I was effectively forced out of the Labour Party for not being sufficiently ‘Blairite’ or ‘on message’, I knew and was a friend of many of the signatories of the Haringey letter, some of whom were fellow councillors in Haringey. In my 40 years on and off relationship with the Labour Party, and indeed Haringey generally, apart from the odd pub bigot, I have never heard or sensed a hint or whiff of anti-semitism.
    Even my Islamic friends, some of whom are Semitic themselves, while being vehemently opposed to the policies or very existence of Israel, are not anti-semitic, in the sense of being anti Jewish. Nearly all of them knowingly engage in business with Jews, and many have Jewish friends.
    I may live a sheltered life, but I am simply not aware of widespread anti-semitism in the Labour Party or elsewhere.
    The letter above encapsulates the great qualities of the Jews that I admire so much in politics especially: The ability to debate anything; disagree fundamentally; but remain friends. Tony Booth writes in such a vein.
    It is partially why I personally favour the dismantling and renegotiation of Israel into what would be a ‘one state’ solution. Because I can only see the continued existence of Israel as leading ineluctably to the catastrophe and annihilation which, paradoxically, is given as the very reason for its existence, but which no right-thinking person would want.
    If true peace is to come to the region it will have to be based on mutual respect between Jews, Muslims, Christians, Maronites, Druzes, etc. etc., not armed stand-off, or rather armed stand-off against an emasculated so-called ‘independent’ dis-armed Palestine.
    If they truly respect each other then they will have no difficulty living together in the same state.
    For some reason Zionists fear peace, and are deliberately conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism in order to subvert it.

  • dave says:

    I see That Jewdas is now antisemitic too. Not my view. This is really getting daft now.

  • Greg Bailey says:

    Thanks so much for this.
    These relentless attacks on Corbyn and our party are making me quite unwell.
    And as I am not Jewish I feel unable to comment for fear of inadvertently supplying yet more anti-Corbyn propaganda.
    So, the voices of JVL, Jewdas and other Jewish comrades offer at least some comfort and encouragement to this very troubled Labour Party member.

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