Basic facts blunt JLC chair’s surprising rebuke

Danny Rich
Danny Rich

In the era of social media and in the febrile atmosphere of the Jewish community, it is perhaps both unsurprising and appropriate that newspapers should seek to explore nuance and subtle differences in the views of the various participants in Jewish communal debate.

It was, nevertheless, a little surprising that, what I considered to be a perfectly moderate call, namely that I suggested there was “an obligation for the Jewish community to work very closely with the Labour leadership; the situation today is very volatile, and working closely with those who might form the next government does not mean that when one sees antisemitism, it shouldn’t be called out…” would elicit a rebuke from the much respected Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein.

I appreciate that he refused to personalise the issue but his suggestion that ‘Holding the Jewish community accountable for the current impasse has the danger of becoming a form of victim-blaming…’arises, I think, from a misunderstanding of my position.

Be that as it may, let me declare a number of interests.  I am a descendant of a Jewish family who landed in England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.  My grandfather taught at the Jewish Free School and was captured in British infantry uniform by the Germans at the Battle of Cambria in 1917.  His son, my late father, flew in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and, in common with British Jewry, I have thrived thanks to my ancestors’ generations bravery and loyalty to this country.  Both were among the founding generations of Liberal Jews, and I have committed my life to the same cause, such that I now serve as Liberal Judaism’s senior professional.

Liberal Judaism seeks to promulgate its views and practices, and, in responding to issues of the day, it does so regardless of their origin.  Liberal Judaism remains scrupulously party-politically-neutral.  Thus I personally worked with the last Conservative-led Coalition Government on Same Sex Marriage and was an early critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s slowness in dealing with Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.  Similarly the Liberal Judaism Chairman led a delegation to the ‘Enough is Enough’ rally at Westminster, and Liberal Judaism through the efforts of its Board of National Officers, its Clergy Conference and its communities has nothing to apologise for in its principled and robust stands on matters which directly affect the Jewish community and on wider questions too.  I repeat that at all times and in all circumstances: Liberal Judaism remains scrupulously party-politically-neutral.

It is also true that, having been a member of the Labour Party for nearly 40 years, I was, last May, elected as a Labour Councillor for the West Finchley ward in the London Borough of Barnet.  I am a member of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) (and was of its precursor, Poale Zion) and, for the record, I am not a member of Jewish Voices for Labour (JLV) despite demands for me to resign from so being!

Is it possible for me to be both a committed and professional Liberal Jew and a local, voluntary and dedicated representative of the Labour Party?  There are many who believe that the conflicts of interest are unresolvable and that the line between ‘Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism’ and ‘Labour Councillor for West Finchley’ is unfeasible to draw and impossible to understand.  Time, of course will tell, but from a unique position it remains my view that, if members of the Jewish community and the Labour Party are able to engage in a genuine dialogue and deal with the issues not the people, then it will be possible to arrive at a place where British Jews will feel they have a genuine choice to make at the next election whenever it may be called.  That is surely of benefit to both the Jewish community and the Labour Party!

About the Author
Rabbi Danny Rich is the senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism
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