Luciana Berger MP, JLM’s Parliamentary Chair recently said “There have been Jewish people in the Labour Party since it was founded. Soon we will celebrate 100 years of our organisation’s affiliation to the party. There have been Jewish Labour MPs since the early 1920s. There have been Jewish activists in the trade unions for as long as there have been trade unions. We are an integral part of the Labour family. This Labour movement is our rightful home, and we’re going to fight for it.”
Luciana is right. For over a century, the Jewish community and the Labour Party have been inextricably linked, with many of us in the Jewish Labour Movement (formerly Poale Zion) having been led to the Labour Party because of our Jewish values.
One of the most common anti-Semitic tropes is that of dual loyalty; that Jews have more loyalty to the State of Israel than we do to the United Kingdom. In a weird way, that’s what being in the Jewish Labour Movement has felt like for the past few years. Some in the Jewish community have accused us of being more loyal to the Labour Party than our religion, and vice versa, some in the Labour Party have accused us of being more loyal to our religion than our Party. Neither of these are true. For me, at least, both the Labour Party and my Judaism are core parts of my identity, one does not supercede the other.
I’ll say it clearly; Jewish people do not need to leave the Labour Party. I understand why some have chosen to, the clear baiting of Jewish members within CLPs, the near weekly high profile cases of anti-Semitism, and the lack of political will from our leadership to solve this quickly and effectively, even when our communal bodies have laid out the roadmap.
I may understand the decision of some to leave, but I do not believe that this is the right decision, morally or strategically. I have been a member of the Labour Party for decades. I’ve seen us at our highs, and our lows, in government and in opposition. I will always believe that the Labour Party is the best way to change our society for the better. I will not be bullied out, and I will not give up on my political home. We can only make change from within the Labour Party. If you don’t like the current policies or direction of the Labour Party, walking away cannot be the answer that ends in the changes you wish to see.
And we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour (excuse the pun). For three years it has often felt like being a mainstream Jew in the Labour Party was a hopeless cause, but having stayed, stood up and fought our case we are seeing allies, old and new, stand with us and people are beginning to listen. Politics is the art of convincing and we are convincing people every day of the challenge.
We triggered a renaissance in Jewish Labour activism, recruting thousands of Labour leaning British Jews. A feat not matched by any other part of the community. We awoke a sleeping progressive block of our community from all parts of our religious spectrum to wake up, stand up and get involved in this crucial battle for the health of our politics and democracy.
If anything – now is the time to sign up, join JLM, re-join the party and attend meetings. In many meetings, on our issues, crucial votes are decided by a handful of votes. By rejoining and attending, your vote could and in many places would be absolutely crucial to restoring our party.
Repairing the relationship between our community and political home will not be quick or easy, but is an essential and just pursuit. Without a real political choice where anyone in our community can vote for any of our potential party’s of government without fear is the aim – more than that, it is our emancipated right that we are fighting for. We are not there yet but this will not be achieved by abandoning the very Party that helped us gain equal rights in the first place.
Furthermore, the Jewish Labour Movement will not allow anti-Semtisim to become a political football, to be played as a card by those in other parties. Anti-Semitism is a vicious hatred, and one we will see the end of in the Labour Party. We don’t need others using it to bring our Movement down.
The Jewish Labour Movement has existed since 1903 to provide a home for the Jewish people in the Labour movements, and since 1920, within the Labour Party. That is the same today, in 2018. Join us. Join our fight to rid the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Join our fight to make the positive and progressive case for Jewish values and for Israel. Join us to have your voice heard.
I love my country. I love my religion. I love my party. None of these contradict the other, and they never will.
- Ivor Caplin is the National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. He is a former Defence Minsiter, serving as the Labour MP for Hove from 1997-2005.