Labour Is A Safe Space For Jews

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Cable Street commemoration in 2016

JVL Introduction

Jewish Dissident writes:

“The proposition that the election of a Corbyn government would result in a widespread exodus of Jews is as risible as it is hyperbolic. If the poll result speaks to anything, it is to the sterling job that The Jewish Chronicle and mainstream journalists in general have done in creating an atmosphere of febrile hysteria on the basis of distortions, innuendo and outright lies.”

Now read on…

This article was originally published by Jewish Dissident Blogspot on Fri 8 Nov 2019. Read the original here.

Labour Is A Safe Space For Jews

The Antisemitism Bandwagon Rolls On

It was predictable that once an election date was fixed the mainstream media would do a reprise of their “Labour Antisemitism” schtick.

From Ian Austin, sometime Labour right-winger and currently a trade envoy to Israel tearing up on Kay Burley’s Sky show, to earnest claims that Labour has an antisemitism problem even if Corbyn himself isn’t an antisemite, the press and TV have gone into overdrive this past week.

The Jewish Chronicle, which has played a leading role in whipping up the anti-Corbyn hysteria, has pulled out all the stops in its latest issue. The paper, which had an average weekly circulation last year of just 20,000 but is regularly quoted as an authoritative source by the BBC and other news outlets, included in yesterday’s issue an appeal “to all our fellow British citizens”. This included the claim that a recent opinion poll showed “nearly half (47 per cent) of the Jewish community” would “seriously consider” emigrating if Jeremy Corbyn wins on 12th December.

The proposition that the election of a Corbyn government would result in a widespread exodus of Jews is as risible as it is hyperbolic. If the poll result speaks to anything, it is to the sterling job that The Jewish Chronicle and mainstream journalists in general have done in creating an atmosphere of febrile hysteria on the basis of distortions, innuendo and outright lies.

Here’s my alternative prediction: if Labour wins a majority at the ballot box, the number of Jews who flee the country will be precisely zero. 

In practice no-one will have a problem distinguishing between a country like Hungary, to take one example, where you have a genuinely antisemitic government, and a Britain run by Jeremy Corbyn – in other words a functioning parliamentary democracy, with a left social democratic government, led by a lifelong anti-racist. Anyone who does have a problem distinguishing between the two might like to consider going back to school or seeking medical help.

But the hyperbole is useful. It is designed to shift attention away from the overt bigotry of Boris Johnson – his description of black people as “picaninnies” with “water-melon smiles”, his inability to distinguish between hijab-wearing women and letter-boxes, his characterisation of gay men as “tank-topped bum-boys”.  It also deflects attention from the Tory Party’s own well-documented Islamophobia issue, from the horrendous comments of Rees-Mogg and his cronies about the people who died in Grenfell Tower, from the government’s refusal to publish the report into Russian meddling with UK voting, and from their plan to destroy workers’ lives on the back of a hard Brexit.

In my opinion Labour’s leadership has exacerbated the problem by caving in to the media campaign rather than coming out fighting. The failure to tackle the appalling behaviour of MPs like Margaret Hodge, in contrast to the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth and other fine Labour activists on trumped up charges, has inadvertently lent credence to the allegations. Only this week the NEC blocked the selection of Chris Williamson as election candidate, on the back of a media campaign that completely distorted his comments about the way the Party has handled the antisemitism issue. This supine response by our leadership has completely backfired, and has effectively green-lighted further attacks.

To return to the main issue, whether bogus or not the “Labour antisemitism” narrative will undoubtedly be raised on the doorstep when Labour canvassers go out door-knocking. So I thought it might be worth briefly recounting my own experience as a Jewish Labour Party member who has been active in the movement for some 45 years.

I first went canvassing for the Labour Party at the age of 15, accompanying my father on the stump when we lived in Manchester in a largely Jewish area where we were generally well received. Both my parents were lifelong Party members, and although we often disagreed on specific issues – not least Israel – the grounding they gave me in basic socialist principles is something I’ll always be grateful for.

Bucking the trend of student radicalism, I was largely apolitical during my years at university. But when I moved to London in the early eighties I became an active member of Lambeth Labour Party and of my trade union NALGO. I worked for some years at the GLC, and was seconded by my union to work in Ken Livingstone’s Save the GLC campaign as convenor of the union sub-committee. During the miners strike and for the following decade I was drawn to a more revolutionary strand of left politics. But I have always worked closely with Labour Party activists and trade unionists, as well as alongside activists in a series of single issue campaigns. When Jeremy was elected leader of the Labour Party I became part of the ‘Corbyn levy’, and have been an active Party member ever since.

So my experience as a grass-roots activist has included stints both inside and outside the Labour Party, as well as in a plethora of campaigns and of course in the trade union movement. During my life as an activist I have lived in London, Yorkshire, Lancashire, the East Midlands and Bristol. I have always been completely open about and indeed proud of my radical Jewish heritage. So you could say that I’ve been around a bit and have a reasonable grasp of how the land lies.

During 45 years of activism I have never encountered any serious antisemitism in the Labour Party or the labour movement.

Of course that doesn’t mean that low-level antisemitism doesn’t exist in that milieu, just as it does in the wider world. In any walk of life people can make ill-judged comments or questionable generalisations about a cultural or ethnic group, including Jews. On the few occasions that’s happened to me in the movement or the Party, I’ve found that a few well-chosen words and a willingness to patiently educate and explain is all that’s been needed. What I haven’t found is any evidence of widespread, conscious or systematic antisemitic feeling. So in my own experience, there is simply no ‘hard’ antisemitism problem in the Labour Party or the wider labour movement. Fundamentally I just do not recognise the party described in so much of the mainstream media.

In fact, the one place where I have felt completely safe as a Jew is on the left. The labour movement has been my home, whether on the radical left, in the unions, or in the Labour Party. My comrades in the movement have been my staunchest allies, the one set of people I could always rely on if I was faced with prejudice, hostility or worse. For me, Labour and the left in general really has been and continues to be my personal ‘safe space’. I become impatient when I see it consistently misrepresented by those with a hostile agenda.

But just how typical is my experience? I’ve spoken to many fellow Jewish activists, both inside and outside the Party, usually informally and in a context – swapping stories over coffee or a few drinks – where we were able to speak openly and honestly. And I have to say that without exception their experience echoes my own. Like me, they simply haven’t experienced hostility around their Jewish identity.

So where does the perception of Labour antisemitism come from? Is it purely an invention of the mainstream media?

As I’ve documented elsewhere on this blog, it’s in the conflation of antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli state that we find the root of the problem. To put it bluntly, anyone – Jewish or not – who equates sympathy for the Palestinian cause with antisemitism will find plenty of grist for their mill in the modern Labour Party. Particularly at the grassroots level there is widespread support for a just and equitable solution to the Palestinian question. But if that is the same as antisemitism, then Jews like myself who deplore Israel’s excesses – and there are a growing number of us – are antisemitic ourselves. It is an absurd conflation of two completely distinct propositions, and should be rejected as such.

Whether we’re talking about Jeremy Corbyn or about the Labour Party in general, it is this conflation of sympathy for the Palestinians with the odious phenomenon of antisemitism that lies behind the accusations.

The noted Palestinian-Jewish activist Tony Cliff  had a wonderful catchphrase: “Don’t tell it outside this room”. I’m tempted to use the same words myself in ending this blog post. For all the media hype and the carefully constructed expressions of faux outrage, for all the engineered outbursts of hysteria and bogus reportage, the simple fact is that Labour doesn’t have an antisemitism problem. But hey folks, whatever you do – don’t tell it outside this room!

Comments (6)

  • Jennifer Joy-Matthews says:

    Thank you, so much for writing this. It is so refreshing!

  • Ann Jungman says:

    I so agree with what Tony says! Having been in he Labour Party even longer than him, I have never experienced anti-Semitism and I am sensitive to it. If I print this piece out and give it to people campaigning for Catherine West, would that be O.K.

  • Nick says:

    Thanks for this. But I can’t help but note that the author remains anonymous, which suggests that s/he fears reprisals, which is a terrible indictment of the toxicity of this debate (I speak as a non-Jewish person who has received abuse and threats for politely questioning a charge of anti-semitism on social media)

  • Mark Francis says:

    The Jewish Labour Movement – affiliated to the Labour Party, yet tells people not to vote Labour. How are they not expelled?

  • Gilian O'Connell says:

    I’m so grateful to have read this clear and intelligent analysis of the reasons for the current anti-Corbyn hysteria.
    Ive been searching for such an article for three years. Thankyou

  • Steve Emsley says:

    Of all the people and banners I have seen on anti racist demonstrations, over several decades, It is a conservative banner or poster that I have never ever seen. When a variety of groups stand up against racism, why do they not stand together united as one nation?

Comments are now closed.