JVL Introduction

Annie Cohen of Jewdas was invited to give a talk on antisemitism to Dulwich and West Norwood Constituency Labour Party. She did, and she explains in a letter to The Forward  exactly what she said.

That didn’t stop the Jewish Chronicle from reporting snidely on the event – its prerogative – but also malevolently and lyingly headlining its story: “Jewdas activist compares Zionism to Nazi Ideology.”

Annie Cohen screen grab from UJS Presidential Campaign video, 2017


I Tried To Explain Anti-Semitism – And Was Accused Of Comparing Zionists To Nazis


A few weeks ago I was contacted via a friend by the chair of Dulwich and West Norwood Constituency Labour Party, which represents the London Borough adjacent to the one in which I live. The individual asked me if I would run a training session for them on anti-Semitism.

Aside from my extensive involvement in Jewish activism, one of my jobs is in Holocaust research, and another is teaching in a synagogue. I spend so much time reading, talking and arguing about anti-Semitism that giving some time to address the issue in the Labour Party, something I feel so strongly about, seemed like a no-brainer.

I at no point claimed to be an authority on anti-Semitism or a spokesperson for the Jewish Community. In fact, I opened my talk last week by stating, “I’m definitely not going to claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish community. I’m definitely not representative of the political views of the majority of the Jewish community — I don’t think anyone could claim to be that… but I was brought up a liberal Zionist… and I do feel that I have a good understanding and quite a lot of sympathy for opinions within the Jewish community which I do not share and which I am going to try to represent.”

Indeed, when it comes to anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, I have found myself often treading an awkward middle ground those who seek to use anti-Semitism to discredit the Party leader and his supporters, and pro-Corbyn activists, Jewish and otherwise, who can be too quick to dismiss accusations of anti-Semitism as mere slander.

I can understand both points of view. My position has always been that incidents of anti-Semitism are real and they are worrying, but with the right conversations and willingness to learn, in most cases, they can be dealt with.

It is for this reason, I believe, that I was invited to speak at this particular branch, where there have been frequent clashes over the issue between pro- and anti-Corbyn activists.

Having given the above disclaimer, which, along the rest of the talk, was recorded, I went on to describe my own experiences of anti-Semitism — on the left, on campus, at work and also within the Jewish community. I gave a deeply personal account of my own experience with the pro-Palestine left, my views towards the state of Israel as they developed and the emotion which this carries for me and other Jewish people.

Having stated that what I wanted to do was not provide an authoritative “last word” but simply share my own experiences and thoughts in the hope of they might illustrate and help people to better understand and address the issue, I did not for one moment expect that I would come under attack.

Yesterday, I was at work in a Holocaust archive preparing documents for a display when I got a message from a friend telling me to check the website of the Jewish Chronicle.

On the day before I gave the talk last week, they had published a fairly bland article about it, clearly trying to make me look stupid with a photo of me in a Pikachu onesie and citing my failed UJS presidential campaign. I expected something similar.

Shocked doesn’t cover what I felt when I saw the headline: “Jewdas activists compares Zionism to Nazi Ideology.”

It didn’t help that a moment earlier, I had been holding a copy of a telegram sent by a mother to her daughter moments before she was deported to Auschwitz. Theirs is one of the many families whose letters I’ve been poring over during recent weeks, watching their stories unfold as they tried and failed to escape to Britain and the US.

I’ve been working on a tight deadline, and I haven’t really had the time to process the emotions I’ve had during this project. So I guess it’s no surprise that after reading that JC headline, I had to quickly excuse myself and go outside to cry.

I spend so much of my life fighting Nazism and researching how this hateful ideology rose to power, and here a Jewish newspaper is claiming I minimized the ideology under which members of my own family were murdered.