The seven (now eleven, including a few ex-Tories) British MPs that left the Labour party this week to form the Independent Group should be applauded and supported for their bravery.
Luciana Berger, a Jewish MP who represented Wavertree near Liverpool, was bullied, received death threats at times and faced bigotry everywhere she spoke. Of course, she had every right to leave Labour, whose leadership did too little, too late to help, and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to quit the party she had been with for nearly two decades.
To the dismay of many, Jeremy Corbyn has led the Labour Party down a route where antisemitism (cleverly disguised as antizionism) is widespread on social media and almost acceptable in some constituencies, plus he has shown weakness on tackling big issues such as Brexit.
So I was somewhat surprised to read a letter in the Guardian calling Corbyn’s Labour an “ally in the fight against antisemitism”, signed by over two hundred members of the Jewish community. This letter seems to be badly-timed, out of touch with current events in the UK and Europe, and does not represent the view of the majority of British Jews.
I actually recognise a number of the names that signed the letter – Walter Wolfgang, David Goldberg and Michael Rosen – are all well-respected members of my old synagogue, the LJS in St John’s Wood. In fact, many of those that signed are quite elderly (and wise), and although I have the highest respect for them, I fear they have misjudged Corbyn. If they truly love Labour, they should take a stand against its current leadership.
I have a deep respect for Liberal Jews or anyone that speaks out against Netanyahu and the far-right politicians of Israel such as Naftalti Bennett (who I call ‘Fanatic Bennett’). However, by writing a letter to the Guardian championing Corbyn as a voice in fighting antisemitism and islamophobia, they have made a grave mistake.
There’s no way (based on so much evidence and his own quotes from the past) we can say Corbyn is a crucial ally in the fight against antisemitism. That’s laughable.
I fear many of the people that signed this letter are not fully aware of Corbyn’s views, the implications and simply signed due to peer pressure. The letter reminded me of the character, Finkler, in Howard Jacobson’s novel The Finkler Question who starts a group called ASH (Jews ashamed by Israel).
Now, don’t get me wrong. Corbyn may not be a rampant anti-Semite anymore but he does represent a certain breed of people who have a disproportionate hatred of Israel or Israelis (who they often call Zionists). What these anti-Zionists don’t understand is that there are many people in Israel that disagree with their current right-wing government and also long for peace.
I know where Corbyn’s views are rooted. He was Chair of the Stop the War Coalition. I attended meetings of the Stop the War Coalition in London and Brighton back in 2002/03 when Bush and Blair were about to start a war with Iraq. I remember how the meetings and protests, which were supposed to be about Iraq, would always, without fail, be hijacked by anti-Israel factions and slogans. Corbyn is aware of these voices and has allowed them to become part of the modern Labour party.
No doubt, Israel has committed terrible atrocities under Netanyahu and back then, under Ariel Sharon. The Gaza Wars were awful and, as someone raising a small family in Tel Aviv, it deeply saddened me. But the suicide bombings and constant rocket fire on Israel from Hamas is often overlooked in these heated discussions.
Putting Israel aside for a moment, it’s also very clear that Britain needs a more moderate party. Labour under Corbyn has opened up to outdated extremism and the Tories are being pulled further right all the time. So, I welcome the Independent Group and wish them well. Britain has been dominated by Labour and Conservative powers for too long. The 21st century needs a more compassionate, considered, approach to bring people together to face the complex challenges ahead. We should welcome this new branch of independent MPs. As they state on their website, politics is broken.
Ironically, just yesterday in Israel, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz united their centrist parties creating the biggest challenge to Netanyahu’s Likud in years. America also needs a shift to the centre and a more compassionate form of politics, but let’s not talk about Trump here.
In short, criticising the Israeli government is one thing but when a party allows anti-Semitic bullying and abuse, then something is clearly wrong at the top. In the case of Corbyn, I’m afraid the Liberal Jews who wrote to the Guardian from St. John’s Wood, opposite Lord’s Cricket Ground, are, for once, wide of the wicket.