New Year’s Resolutions: Labour and the Jewish Community

A new year brings fresh political opportunities and given the Labour hierarchy is undertaking a leadership reboot, they may wish to include a plan to improve relations with the Jewish community.

Though 2016 was a difficult year for the party across the board, the unrelenting sequence of “anti-Semitism allegation, media attention, leadership response” was damaging and entirely avoidable. The hat-trick of inquiries were a torturous process and the debate over their recommendations even more so.

Whilst fully aware that I must sound like a pound-shop agony aunt, a relationship that is defined by a cycle of embarrassments and apologies, interrupted only by denial that there is a problem at all, is doomed to fail. And such a sequence has unfortunately determined the relationship between the Party, some of its activists, and the Jewish Community.

Any aspiring party of Government cannot be associated with prejudice. As such, it is right that any unresolved issues, such as whether to expel former Mayor Ken Livingstone, are dealt with decisively. One can only hope that the angst over the inquiry into anti-Semitism at Oxford’s Labour Club does not become par for the course in 2017.

However, any aspiring party of Government cannot hope to win elections by only meeting such basic expectations. Labour must surely be striving for more than having the basic decency to act upon racism in its own ranks.

The Party Leadership must develop a comprehensive offer that will bring minority communities, such as the Jewish Community, to support it.

Will this be an easy process? Of course not. But establishing a Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities was a welcome start, and I really hope that the position will be used for more than messages of ‘Never Forget’ in January and ‘Happy Chanukah’ in December.

The Party leadership would do well to complement the work of its local MPs by visiting Jewish schools, care homes and cultural organisations. Our day-to-day concerns are just as much about underfunded social care, unaffordable childcare, and unflinching desire to preserve our cultural identity as they are about protection against anti-Semitism.

In addition to visits, there is no shortage of opportunities to engage positively through writing in the community’s media. Jews have doggedly kept up their commitment to reserving one day a week for rest and religion, and many will use the time to read the papers that assiduously keep tabs on Jewish life in the UK. It would be wise for the leadership to use those papers to actively spell out that it has our best interests at heart.

Lastly, the Party must not be scared to ask the community to be forthcoming with its own engagement.

Whilst I do not believe we are at the stage where the United Synagogue will be organising canvassing sessions for Labour, I believe that Jewish policy organisations are more than willing to give the leadership a hearing.

My experience from working in one of those organisations has taught me that they can be a fantastic resource to anybody wanting to better understand the community. Their staff acts as a pivotal support network for British Jewry, and contrary to certain recent ‘documentaries’, do not provide the means or harbour ambitions to meddle with British foreign policy.

The latest Survation polling tells us that Labour starts 2017 with around 8% support from the Jewish community. It’s a mountain to climb, but a concerted effort to turn things around could kickstart a new chapter in this historic relationship.


About the Author
Jay is a National Executive member, Jewish Labour Movement
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