JVL Introduction

Brian Robinson, Labour party activist until recently and long-standing signatory to Jews for Justice for Palestinians, writes to Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. What provoked him to do so was the article published that day in the Jewish Chronicle: Tom Watson says Labour’s antisemitism crisis ‘worse’ now

Tom Watson. Photo: Twitter

17 June


I’m disappointed in you.   Those to the left of me have long told me that my admiration for you has been grievously misplaced, but I couldn’t believe them.   Have  you seen this recent Guardian letter We must define antisemitism to fight it effectively – A group of prominent academics and other figures call for clarity about what constitutes antisemitism ?

Not long ago my own modest piece said much the same thing at Free Speech on Israel website:  Tell us what you mean when you say antisemitism

When you stood for the deputy leadership I went to your hustings in Milton Keynes and introduced my question from the floor as a (then) member of Unite the Union (‘Greetings, Comrade’, you responded) and I happily voted for you and was delighted when you won.  I really thought (much to the dismay of the aforementioned comrades) that you’d be a rock of sense anchoring any unrealistic flights of political fancy to the earth.  In many ways you have been.  In other ways, and this latest story is one of them, you’re challenging my credulity.

Do you really, truly believe that Labour’s “antisemitism crisis” has “got worse” over the past year?  Several things about Labour have “got worse” over the year, of which the most glaring is its increasingly unsustainable Brexit policy, but antisemitism isn’t one of them, nor remotely so.

If you want to play a part in ousting Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell from the leadership, then be honest about it, resign the deputy post and join the rank-and-file pragmatic PLP members and campaign on such demonstrably legitimate concerns as the political mediocrity of the leadership, its inability to crush the interminable, vicious media campaign waged upon it, its failure to reach out beyond a narrow, albeit laudably and passionately committed, fan base.

Personally, I regard it as verging on the criminally culpable that a united, confident Labour party isn’t at this moment surging ahead in public opinion, on the very edge of ridding the country of this arrogant, wicked, incompetent Tory government.  (I hate clichés, but can’t suppress ‘headless chickens scurrying about a farmyard’.)  It shouldn’t be neck-and-neck, 50-50, we should be way past the all-to-play-for stage by now, Labour should be 20, 30, 35 points ahead.  You really should have won the last election, not merely have done way better than anyone, including I guess you, expected.

Tom, you must know what real antisemitism is, of course you must.  And I can’t credit the notion that you deeply, seriously, sincerely believe that you’re seeing it in your party.  No-one is denying that true antisemitism still exists (as my late countryman statesman, the great liberal writer and thinker, Conor Cruise O’Brien once famously wrote, ‘Antisemitism is a very light sleeper’), it’s in Europe, it’s in Britain, and it’s not that long ago since it used to be proclaimed with Providential authority in churches.  But something else exists, with the unfailing encouragement and amplification of the Jewish Chronicle and other uncritically pro-Israel outlets, and it’s called bogus antisemitism.  It serves as a final common pathway for a diverse set of political ambitions joined in some sort of polyamorous, insidiously manipulative marriage of convenience:  City establishment, the military, defence contractors (with fearful eyes cast on a future Labour government’s policy re arms sales to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other such), journalists’ cushily secure jobs as little more than sub-editors of government and opposition press handouts, and much more besides

Much as I despair of the Labour party right now (I resigned my membership many months ago), I still desperately want it to win, I campaigned for it in the local elections and hope to do so again in any election.  I urge you to read Free Speech on Israel, go often to Jewish Voice for Labour.  “Bogus antisemitism” isn’t about antisemitism, it’s about defending Israel and maintaining that exceptionalism which is so dangerous for the middle east, for global peace, for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and not least for those of us who are diaspora Jews.

With good wishes

Yours sincerely

Brian R

cc  Some of your parliamentary colleagues

Dr Brian Robinson (Retired NHS psychiatrist)