Why does Labour need a Jewish voice? – Part 2


A Jewish Voice for Labour? – concluded

Stephen Marks, JVL member
26 January 2018

Part 1 of this article was published on 11 January 2018 – see Why does Labour need a Jewish voice?

But why does Labour need a Jewish voice in the first place? What needs do Jewish Labour Party members have which would be met by a specific recognised or affiliated self-organised group and which cannot be met through existing channels as individual members?

The role of existing self-organised groups is to bring together and promote within the party the specific experiences and needs of actually and historically oppressed groups as they themselves define them and to ensure that they are adequately represented and addressed within the party’s structures This is not in order to fragment the party into segregated sections in the interests of the primacy of ‘identity’ but on the contrary in order to maximise unity by identifying and countering specific oppressions which would divide us if not addressed.

To what extent are Jews in Britain today an oppressed and under-represented group whose voices and needs would go unheard or distorted without the facility for self-organisation? It is easy to make the case that there is no such need. Most Jews in this country are white – and, for those who are not, it is as people of colour that they experience racism first and foremost rather than as Jews.

Jews do not face institutional racism in the labour market, or in their treatment by state institutions. Nor are they specifically disadvantaged or under-represented within the structures of the Labour Party.

None of this means that antisemitism does not exist and may well be growing. It has three main sources:

a] traditional far-right antisemitism which has always been there and has always been emboldened when Israel is in the news for doing bad stuff.

b] social media: The decline till recently of traditional socialist ideologies leaves a vacuum easily filled by simplistic conspiracy theories about ‘globalists’ and ‘international finance’ which often leads into antisemitic themes, references to ‘Rothschild banks’ etc. And just because antisemitism is not the most significant kind of racism in British society, many well-intentioned activists fail to recognise such references on Twitter or Facebook. These can then be quoted by Zionists and enemies of Corbyn’s leadership as evidence for their scare about ‘antisemitic Labour’.

c] some elements within Muslim communities who see Palestine through a religious lens and express hostility to Israel as hostility to Jews. This is not helped by the uncritical support for Israel from official Jewish community leaderships which encourages an easy conflation of Jews, Israelis and Zionists.

However all three pale into insignificance as major forms of racism in western societies, by comparison with white racism and Islamophobia: manifestations of which are growing with economic insecurity and political and social crisis.

As right-wing and centre-left parties of government increasingly make concessions to these racisms they legitimise them and facilitate their more explicit expression in openly racist currents. These are then further legitimised from above by right-wing populist politicians such as Trump, Orban and the Law and Justice government in Poland.

Increasingly these currents incorporate antisemitic themes into their discourse – at the same time as expressing open sympathy for Israel as an ethnically based state – thus increasing tensions and fractures within diaspora Jewish communities and between these communities and the Israeli state.

So in Charlotteville white supremacists march chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us’ and some of them are described as ‘fine people’ by Trump.

In St Louis ‘black lives matter’ protesters are batoned off the streets by a racist police force actually trained in Israel, as are many of the most murderous racist police forces in the US. They are given refuge in the city’s main synagogue, which is then teargassed by the police, who later celebrate on Twitter with the hashtag ‘gas the Synagogue’.

Less than a year after 9/11, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs began sponsoring exchanges for various departments within the US government. US police, ICE officials, border agents, and FBI personnel receive ‘counter terrorism’ training in Israel by the Israeli Army, Border Patrol, national police, and the country’s secret service. Israeli military personnel also travel to the United States to collaborate with American police departments and government agencies

So when ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists march with Palestinian flags this creates growing division among US Jews, who were the only white demographic to vote heavily against Trump.

In Warsaw tens of thousands marched on Polish independence day behind banners of fascist groups which flaunt Islamophobic and antisemitic slogans. Some claim that Europe is being flooded by waves of Muslim immigrants as the result of a deliberate conspiracy by international Jewish bankers to destroy the white Christian nations of Europe and establish Sharia law. The same conspiracy is apparently also responsible for promoting homosexuality in order to destroy the white Christian family.

Instead of condemning them, Ministers in the Polish ‘Law and Justice’ government praise these ‘patriotic’ marchers in the same ambivalent language as Trump uses of the Klu Klux Klan in Charlottesville.

Antisemitism still has little independent mobilising power compared with islamophobia and white racism. But far-right and neofascist currents arguably require antisemitism, as the traditional ‘socialism of fools to connect the dots and deliver a false ‘anti-systemic’ populism.

Clearly it is difficult for an organisation such as JLM with umbilical links to the Israeli state to give a lead in resisting currents which combine antisemitism with admiration for Israel.

Indeed there are many examples of Israel’s defenders deflecting criticism of right-wing national populists with antisemitic associations (such as Orban and Kaczynski) on the grounds that they are ‘friends of Israel’. JC editor Stephen Pollard is one notable example. While Israel now bans organisations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, War on Want and the Quakers because of their support for BDS, there is no ban on Polish, Hungarian and Austrian far-right politicians with antisemitic records from visiting Israel and expressing their admiration and support.

Meanwhile there is increasing evidence both here and in the USA that knee-jerk uncritical loyalty to Israel is in decline, especially among the young. As Moshe Machover puts it ‘This trend is not fully reflected in the various polls and surveys that purport to show much Jewish support for Israel. The reason is that these polls suffer from an inbuilt statistical bias. Since there is no database listing all Jews in Britain, the samples used by the polls miss out on the very large number of persons of Jewish background who are not affiliated to any synagogue or other official or semi-official Jewish organisation. And it is those not included in the sample space who tend to be less inclined to Zionism and attachment to Israel.’

So what should be the tasks of an organisation such as JVL? Not primarily to oppose Zionism and JLM – but rather

* to give priority at all times to a socialist and anticapitalist opposition to white supremacism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism including antisemitism
* to work closely with all those targeted by racism and Islamophobia
* to enable the voice of all those who define themselves as Jewish to be heard within Labour, without prior ideological or organisational preconditions. Anyone Jewish enough for the Nazis and Jewish enough for the “Right of Return” is entitled to be heard.
* to oppose the Israeli state’s actions and its defenders insofar as they are obstacles to that

JVL affiliation to the labour Party is not currently on the cards as it requires a number of years previous independent existence and audited accounts. Our immediate priorities must be

  • to enable ourselves to insert an alternative voice into Labour’s decision-making procedures.
  • to demand implementation in full of the Chakrabarti Report recommendations,
  • to resist delegitimisation by JLM

All this involves a counter-narrative to the false panic about a ‘wave of antisemitism’ while being firm against manifestations of the real thing – and if necessary preparing educational material on the real thing to run parallel with and if necessary oppose the misleading version given by the JLM-organised ‘training sessions’.

We should also provide a space for those interested in developing a contemporary application of Jewish values to contemporary issues based on universal prophetic values which many see as central to Jewish identity – not only or even primarily with regard to Palestine but also to racism, global warming and peace.