The Left and the Jews

JVL Introduction

Brian Klug has published a substantial article in Jewish Quarterly dealing with the furore over antisemitism and the Labour party this summer. The article ranges widely as Klug critiques the IHRA definition but tries to understand why so many in the Jewish community dug in, making it a “sacred text” to be defended at all costs. He finds the roots of this in a disquiet going deep, in a long-term demonising discourse about Zionism found among the left, one which flattens it and loses sight of its origins as a philosophy of liberation, a response to centuries of oppression of the Jewish people in Europe. All without endorsing Zionism, either as an ideology or as a political project, nor denying any aspects of the oppressive character of the Israeli state today.

Klug notes further that the Jewish leadership today seems to have two agendas which it has dangerously conflated: confronting antisemitism and toppling Corbyn. He is deeply concerned about the effects of  “the Jewish community” being seen to range itself against someone who is “a symbol of hope for millions of people in this country who suffer from the austerity measures of those same Tories of whom the Board of Deputies president speaks so warmly.”

Klug’s article makes uncomfortable reading and is certain to provoke a lively debate, both among radical Jews and among the more vociferous defenders of the stance taken by the “Jewish leadership” over the summer. We are keen to encourage contributions to this debate from those (like Klug himself) with an interest in the success of the Corbyn project.

The Left And The Jews

Labour’s Summer of Discontent

We reproduce the opening section of the article below. See the full article here.

The summer of 2018 has been the Labour Party’s season of discontent. In July, an initiative announced by its governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), sparked a storm of public controversy and led to the party being charged with antisemitism. Given the scale and intensity of the rage directed at the NEC, you might have thought that it had proposed banning circumcision or shechita or the sale of kosher meat. Not so. The NEC’s “crime” consisted of drafting a code of conduct to tackle antisemitism in the party. There was, of course, more to this counterintuitive fact than meets the eye. It is a classic case of the tip of an iceberg – or, more appropriately, the vent of a volcano. But before delving into the volcano and examining the “crime” in more detail, consider the furore it unleashed.

You did not have to be Jewish to point a finger at the NEC. Nonetheless, the charge was led by Jewish organisations, especially those who either see themselves as speaking for “the Jewish community” – or are so perceived by the general British public. These included the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. They were ably abetted by a number of Jewish (and non-Jewish) Labour MPs and public intellectuals.  Referring to the NEC code, the Jewish Chronicle denounced “a cynical exercise in Jew hatred” and described the party as “institutionally antisemitic”. Sixty-eight rabbis jointly signed a letter to the Guardian declaring that “antisemitism within sections of the Labour party has become so severe and widespread that we must speak out with one Jewish voice”.

One Jewish voice? The last time that happened was at Mount Sinai, shortly after the exodus from Egypt, when the Children of Israel answered Moses “with one voice” (Exodus 24:3). In the same rare spirit of accord, three leading Jewish newspapers overcame their rivalry and published an identical front page, warning darkly of “the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government”. Their joint headline read: “United we stand”. So, we have gone from “two Jews, three opinions” to “three Jewish editors, one opinion”.

And that’s no joke. When any group thinks with one mind and speaks with one voice, it runs the risk of surrendering its critical faculties. Moreover when such a premium is placed on unity, dissenters become pariahs. For both these reasons, the strident consensus that sprung into being was not only surprising but alarming. It was also false: there were Jewish groups and individuals (such as myself) who welcomed Labour’s initiative – and not out of complacency. There might be no such thing as “the Jewish community”, a collective with a unified voice, but there is a community of concern felt by many of us, as Jews, about antisemitism on the left.

Read the rest of the article here