It’s not easy to simultaneously be accused of being both Conservative shills and “nakedly pursuing…partisan favouritism” in support of Labour. But somehow this is the position the Board of Deputies currently enjoys.
A few short weeks ago, the leadership of the Labour Party changed.
We never kept quiet about our problems with Jeremy Corbyn, especially when it became clear he was not interested in fixing Labour’s antisemitism problem. His successor, Keir Starmer, in his first speech after his election, apologised to our community and expressed his determination to fix the issues which have plagued Labour over the last few years. Along with representatives of other Jewish organisations, we met Sir Keir to discuss this in more detail, making it clear that while warm words were welcome, concrete action was necessary.
But we did not stop there. We believe it is important for us to meet members of the new Labour Shadow Cabinet to discuss issues of concern to many British Jews, and to press home the point that they too will need to play their part if the deep rift between their party and our community is to be mended. And we believe it is important that you, the community, are aware of these meetings.
We are not naive. Some of these politicians have said things in the past which we disagree with, while others kept silent when they should have spoken up against antisemitism and antisemites. And we have made it clear that, in order for them to help mend the breach with our community, there are certain things we expect. For example, we made it clear to Lisa Nandy, the new Shadow Foreign Secretary, that despite her previous outlook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she would need to be even-handed in her new role, to reach out to the Israelis and be ready to hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions as well. The Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, has already made public his agreement with the decision to proscribe the Hezbollah terrorist organisation in its entirety, a position he also stressed in our meeting with him. And in a meeting with Steve Reed, Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government, we received a commitment that all Labour local council leaders will be written to, asking them to adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitism if they have not already done so, and making it clear to them that they are not to support actions which seek to delegitimise the State of Israel.
Due to our outspoken criticism of Labour’s handling of its antisemitism crisis under Jeremy Corbyn, we became a key target of the far-left, who accused us of being controlled by the Conservatives. These ferocious attacks still continue to this day.
This week, we are criticised for being in hoc to Labour, an accusation which is particularly bizarre given that we spent the last week challenging members of the Shadow Cabinet to fix their party’s problems.
We are not the Board of Deputies of British Jewish Conservatives, or of British Jewish Labourites. We are the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
We believe it is important for us to have a strong relationship with the Government. This is a relationship we are proud to have. This means praise where it is due and constructive criticism where it is not. But we also believe it is vital to ensure that the key party of opposition addresses the anti-Jewish prejudice in its ranks which made many Jews consider leaving the country.
Ultimately, our aim is to make both parties so strong on Jewish issues that Jews do not ever have to vote as Jews, but based on their individual socioeconomic views.
Occasionally, that might mean that members of one or other party will accuse us of bias so as to avoid engaging with our views.
That may sometimes be uncomfortable, but we will never apologise for advocating without fear of favour for the good of our community.
Marie van der Zyl is President of the Board of Deputies