Why a Jewish Voice for Labour? – Part 1

Stephen Marks, JVL member
11th January 2018

The concluding part of this article was subsequently published here on 26 January.

“There are many socialist societies affiliated to Labour, all with a unique perspective and all fighting for a fairer Britain. Explore the societies and see how you can get involved.”

Labour Party website

Why does Labour need a Jewish voice? The question does not have a timeless answer. But today’s global political crisis and its reflection within a rapidly changing Labour Party, gives it a new urgency, and requires a new response.

Labour has a number of recognised internal structures to reflect and represent the priorities of different self-defined minority groups among its members. BAME Labour grew out of ‘black sections’ to articulate the distinctive needs of people of colour within the party. It is open to all Labour members who identify as BAME.

Labour Party Irish Society, according to its website, is ‘a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party. The aims of the society are to promote the interests of the Irish community to and within the Labour Party and to promote the Labour Party to Irish citizens in Britain. The Society is open to all people of Irish heritage and anyone who simply has an interest in Irish affairs’.

LGBT Labour is also an affiliated socialist society open to all LGBT Labour members, with supporting membership open to others.

But there is no equivalent structure for Labour members who identify as Jewish. Instead the party treats the ‘Jewish Labour Movement’ [formerly Poale Zion], also an affiliated Socialist Society, as if it were the equivalent body for members who identify as Jewish.

But it is not. Being Jewish is not a requirement of membership but members must share JLM’s stated purpose, to “maintain and promote Labour or Socialist Zionism as the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people within the state of Israel,” and its belief in “the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”. Membership is not an option for anyone, Jews included, with a different view of Zionism or Israel. Yet JLM claims quite illegitimately to speak for all Jews in the Labour Party, and to be treated as such by Labour.

JLM says it organises within the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), whose goals include establishing Eretz Yisrael as a greater Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, including the whole of Jerusalem. WZO’s Settlement Division actively supports settlements in the Occupied West Bank, although both the Occupation and the settlements are illegal under international law.

JLM claims to work for a “two-state solution” under which Palestinians would have their own state with its capital in East Jerusalem. This is Labour Party policy. But the JLM’s involvement with WZO, and also with the Israeli Labor Party which has backed the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land for decades, puts it in conflict with this policy. What is extraordinary is that there is nothing on its website indicating any opposition to, or even disapproval of, Israel’s oppressive policies; still less of any active campaigning against them.

For Labour to deal with JLM as if it were the equivalent for Jewish party members of BAME Labour or Irish Labour is simply unacceptable; especially in view of JLM’s close links with the Israeli Embassy and opaque sources of funding. It denies to Jewish party members the opportunity of a collective voice without a prior ideological and institutional commitment to the Israeli state. It is as if Irish Labour demanded as a condition of membership adherence to a particular position on Irish unity, and was officially linked to an Irish party such as Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail or the Irish Labour Party. If Jews were discriminated against like this in any other context it would be regarded as institutionally antisemitic.