The stakes are high

JVL Introduction

Glyn Secker, secretary Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), and Graham Bash, JVL committee and Briefing editorial board, look behind the headlines in this article forthcoming in September’s Labour Briefing


A simple lesson in political logic

Labour Briefing, forthcoming September 2018

You can subscribe online to Labour Briefing here.

BOARD OF DEPUTIES PRESIDENT Marie van der Zyl claims in an Israeli TV interview that Jeremy Corbyn has “declared war on the Jews”. Margaret Hodge calls Jeremy “a f…ing antisemite”. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, claims Jeremy deserves “unequivocal condemnation”. And three Jewish newspapers – the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph – refer in a joint front page editorial to “an existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government.”

What on earth is going on? Much of this hyperbole has centred on the debate about whether the Labour Party should accept the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, together with its examples. But in truth this avalanche of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn has little to do with antisemitism in the Labour Party – something which exists on the margins, no doubt, but which is totally exaggerated – and everything to do with silencing critics of Israel and supporters of Palestinian rights, and just as much to do with undermining and overthrowing Jeremy Corbyn.

The joint editorial statement of the three Jewish newspapers gave the game away. “Had the full IHRA definition with examples relating to Israel been approved, hundreds, if not thousands, of Labour and Momentum members would need to be expelled.” And that is what this is about.

They were talking about the activists in the branches, fighting for the socialist vision that Corbyn represents. These editorial writers are in tune with the right wing of the Labour Party, almost all of the national press and media and of course the powerful conservative interests, both inside and outside the Tory Party – all of whom are out to get Jeremy because they regard him as a threat to the establishment.

There is yet a further dimension: the IHRA definition is a wedge to introduce by the back door a quasi-law to restrict freedom of speech throughout the public sector, in trade unions, in educational institutions, in faith and social communities. These institutions impact widely on most people’s lives. This will set a precedent which can be deployed by other groups – something which is downright dangerous.

At the core is example ‘g’ of the IHRA definition which states “Denying the Jewish people their right to self- determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour”. At first sight this seems a non-sequitur: what has a racist enterprise to do with the principle of self- determination? For Jews like us, who had never thought about our identity as having anything to do with Israel, let alone it being at our core, it took some unpacking.

But for the advocates of the IHRA definition there can be no negotiation, no concessions. If we are allowed to speak freely we can only describe the ethnic clearance of over 700,000 refugees in 1948 – and Israel’s military rule over millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – as a “racist endeavour”. How else do we describe the fact that the Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories live under Israeli civilian law, while the Palestinians live under Israeli military law, and are forbidden to use the interconnecting settlement highways. Or that the siege of Gaza is an illegal collective punishment of its entire civilian population.

So for those whose identity is bound up with this enterprise, any insistence by the Labour Party of its right to question and challenge the basis of the Israeli state poses – in the words of the joint editorial -“an existential threat.” No wonder that, whatever concessions are made to them, they will not “take yes for an answer”, as Len McCluskey explained. Hence Labour leaders, critical of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian struggle, become “antisemites” and must be deposed. A topsy turvy, but ineluctable logic which Alice, of Looking Glass fame, would recognise.

And this is the problem for those trying to square the circle – trying to accept the IHRA definition, existing side by side with the NEC code of conduct. The NEC code asserts the right to free speech on Israel and the IHRA examples are designed to close it down. As they stand, they are incompatible.

In 1897 Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, penned in his diary that no true Jew could be an anti-Zionist. Today the Jewish Labour Movement’s values and objectives are “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”, and “to maintain and promote Labour or Socialist Zionism as the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people within the state of Israel”. There is a long tradition of merging into one, Israel, Zionism and Jew – of conflating antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

But like any other community, Jewish people are diverse – divided on lines of class, politics and ideology. There are other traditions within the history of the Jewish people – and they are alive and fighting. One is that of socialist internationalism and anti-racism, exemplified by the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Another is disputation, debate, disagreement – all of which are under threat from the IHRA examples.

This battle within the Labour Party is a test case with implications far beyond its boundary. Both free speech and the future of a socialist programme are at stake. There are millions of people, driven into poverty, whose hopes rest on a radical Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

We must not let them down.



Comments (2)

  • Teresa Steele says:

    As ever a level headed take on what’s really happening. Here’s hoping this sensible approach isn’t drowned out by those who are allowed a voice.

  • Rick Hayward says:

    An excellent summary of the issues – vital issues of which so many have absolutely no concept. in this climate of manufactured ignorance.

    This is the true ‘existential threat’.

Comments are now closed.