An article about Jewish Voice for Labour and The Labour Party

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An article about Jewish Voice for Labour and The Labour Party

Post by Sassy on Sat Oct 07, 2017 9:35 pm

Jon Lansman rightly says that antisemitism is a problem throughout society and it would therefore be “extremely surprising if it wasn’t also present in the Labour Party, alongside other forms of discrimination.”

But Andrew Marr’s headline cited by LabourList on Tuesday distorts Lansman’s words and has him saying: “I know that Labour has a problem with antisemitism”.

The “problem with antisemitism” mantra, often translated for dramatic effect into a “problem with Jews”, has appeared repeatedly in reports and op-eds largely in the anti-Corbyn media for months. The allegation is that the pro-Palestinian left is motivated by hatred of Jews. Even some within the Labour Party seem to have spent more effort trying to paint Corbyn’s Labour as riddled with antisemitism, than to build a united opposition against a tottering Tory government.

Jewish Voice for Labour, a new group launched at a large and enthusiastic fringe meeting at the Brighton Conference, has a clearer idea of what our priorities should be. As one of the speakers at the launch David Rosenberg, said, we should be working to “rebuild Jewish support for Labour, which took a battering during what was mostly a manufactured smear campaign about antisemitism and the Labour Party, a campaign that targeted the Labour left, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, despite Corbyn’s total commitment to human rights, and his lifelong opposition to all racism and discrimination.”

JVL says that Jews cannot be assumed to attach their identity to Israel or the ideas of Zionism (though many do); nor can support for rights for Palestinians, including support for the boycott movement, be assumed to be motivated by hatred of Jews (although in a very few instances it may be). JVL members hold that Labour Party members must have the right to discuss all manner of different political philosophies, including Zionism.

Members at conference seemed to be broadly in agreement with this message, including Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey, who said: “The existence of JVL means Jewish members on the left of the party now have an organisation that represents their views – and that transforms the discussion into one of left vs right as it should be.”

Sadly some in the party still seem determined to link “left vs right” questions about Israel and Palestine with questions to do with the separate issue of antisemitism. Hence the emergence on Oct 3 of a petition from a pressure group “We Believe in Israel”, demanding that McCluskey retract his support for JVL.

The petition alleges that the JVL meeting “saw a call for expelling the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel.” Totally untrue. No such sentiment was uttered either from the platform or the floor. It seems that We Believe in Israel is getting its garbled facts from inaccurate media coverage of the Brighton conference, and then garbling them some more. It almost seems that they want to believe in a picture of a party dominated by antisemitic discourse.

One half-articulated sentence from a speaker at a fringe meeting (not ours) became proof of widespread acceptance of Holocaust denial. One leaflet handed out by one left grouping (nothing at all to do with JVL), which mentioned Nazis and Zionism, gave rise to a Times article bristling with demands for expulsions. Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian attacked McCluskey and also Ken Loach, who gave enthusiastic support to our launch meeting, insinuating that they were somehow responsible for (or even represented) a reservoir of antisemitism deep within the party.

These sensational stories are based on next to no fact but a deal of innuendo. Why portray Labour members as hostile towards the Jews among them, and so risk alienating Jewish votes around the country? These are quite disproportionate attacks damaging to the whole party. One would have to be quite naïve not to identify a factional agenda in play here, aimed at undermining Corbyn’s supporters and thus his leadership.

The Labour Party should be standing up for human rights and the oppressed. But this type of coverage generally ignores the plight of the Palestinians, while attacking as antisemites those members, many of them Jews, who seek to bring to attention the crimes committed against them. The views of the many Jewish members who dissent from the “problem with Jews” narrative are suppressed.

JVL speakers during the rule change debate at conference last Tuesday welcomed the inclusion of provisions against antisemitism, racism and all forms of discrimination in the party’s conditions of membership. At the same time they expressed concern about elements of the new rule Clause 2.1.8. which seem designed to make it easier to discipline members for “the holding or expression of opinions or beliefs” which clash with codes of conduct yet to be written.

One week later, an expulsion notice has been received by Moshe Machover, an outstanding political thinker and a Jewish veteran activist for social justice in his native Israel/Palestine. It cites his “association” with the Communist Party of Great Britain (he is not a member but has spoken at meetings) and puts him on notice that, should he ever wish to reapply for membership, he would first be investigated for alleged “creation and publication of antisemitic material.” The evidence offered is nothing more than one of Machover’s in depth articles, challenging the idea that anti-Zionism is equal to antisemitism.

We have just held a hugely successful, hope-filled conference which sent delegates back to their constituencies fired up and determined to build a movement capable of sweeping a Labour Government into power. Let us not endanger that movement with alarmist rhetoric that risks undermining it.

Jenny Manson chairs Jewish Voice for Labour and is the chair of Garden Suburb branch, Finchley and Golders Green CLP
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Sassy
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