Jonty Leibowitz
Jonty Leibowitz

Jews on the left deserve better than this sorry mess

Do not forget that plenty of British Jews want a Labour party to call home.

As the relationship between Anglo-Jewry and the Labour Party reaches yet another low, perhaps it is time to recall the words of August Bebel, a Weimar-era German politician who declared that “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.” Yet this crisis is no laughing matter- it is an all-out catastrophe. That our communal leadership is now essentially at war with Her Majesty’s Opposition is unprecedented in the history of Anglo-Jewry.

The crisis comes not simply from Jeremy Corbyn’s support of an obviously anti-Semitic mural in East London, but also the fact that his response was utterly tone-deaf: reflective of a man who has had many chances to act over this issue but has taken none of them. He mentioned the “pain” this latest incident has caused, but that too would be putting it mildly- “pain” does not cover the slightest of it.

The drama invites hand-wringing on all sides, yet the “pain” is surely felt most acutely by the 26% of British Jews who voted Labour at the last election. We stand as the proud inheritors of a long tradition of Jewish socialism in Britain, a radical strand tracing back to Poale Zion, to Cable Street, and through to today’s Jewish Labour Movement. For us, this moment encapsulates the profound personal tragedy of the Corbyn leadership: that over the last three years our identities as Jews and Labour members have at times felt as if they are alien, or even incompatible.

When we have tried to address anti-Semitism within our party, we have been accused of leading politically-charged ‘smears’, motivated by supposed hatred for Jeremy Corbyn. The fact that the ironic hashtag #PredictthenextCorbynSmear was trending within hours of the saga erupting is a terrifying portent inside the mind of many on the hard left.

That they could see the legitimate grievances of Jewish Labour members only through the prism of political tribalism reflects the sickness within the party. Jews within the Labour party come in all shapes and sizes: some on the ‘right’, and many on the party’s ‘left.’ Across the board, we ask for nothing more than the same rights given to all Labour members: to be able to campaign and fight for socialism without feeling as if we have to compromise our identity along the way. If your reaction to people complaining that they face oppression is to shout ‘smear!’, then you are no comrade, nor are you a socialist. Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters could do with learning this lesson, and fast.

By the same token, it is also a disservice to Jews on the left if our struggle is co-opted by voices within the community who have little interest in making the Labour Party a safe space for Jews. The Board of Deputies and JLC are right to demand that ‘Enough is Enough’, and unite the community on this issue, yet they must also refuse to let it become a partisan moment. The aim of calling out anti-Semitism within the Labour party must never be to diminish the link between the community and the party, but to strengthen it.

That the communal leadership have indicated that they would follow the lead of Lord Sacks and not even meet with Jeremy Corbyn is a real misstep, creating an impression that this is more to do with airing political grievances than having a sustained dialogue about anti-Semitism.

It is imperative that the communal leadership enters a dialogue with the Labour party that puts Jewish Labour members first. Too often it seems that those around the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council intimate that the solution to this crisis is for Anglo-Jewry to become a one-party community, safely ensconced within the arms of the Conservatives. To make this claim not only discounts the active voice of one in four Jewish voters, but risks marginalising the collective power of Anglo-Jewry to full participate in all forms of British political life.

There can be no doubt: the mural was anti-Semitic, and Jeremy Corbyn’s track-record of proximity to this toxic evil demands a moment of change. But as this debate moves forward, we must remember that the partnership between the Jewish community and the Labour party is a proud and historic one, and one which will surely survive the iniquities of a Jeremy Corbyn or Ken Livingstone. Judaism and socialism are joined at the hip, and no anti-Semitism mural can tear that asunder.

  • Jonty Leibowitz is a Jewish Labour activist
About the Author
Jonty Leibowitz is Jewish Labour activist
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