Almost immediately after the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) announced its endorsement of Lisa Nandy for Labour leader, variations of the same post started circulating on Twitter. “This exposes the Corbynites’ lie that concern over Labour antisemitism was a fig leaf for opposition to Palestinians,” read one version, sent out by the editor of the JC “JLM has just nominated the chair of Labour Friends of Palestine.”
It’s absolutely true that concerns over antisemitism in Labour were not just an attempt to prevent criticism of Israel, as almost any Jew who has engaged with the party over the past few years could tell you. Unfortunately, it took less than 48 hours for some communal leaders to start undermining this argument – and it probably would have been sooner if Shabbat hadn’t fallen in the middle.
At a Board of Deputies meeting, two days after JLM’s announcement, President Marie van der Zyl announced that Nandy needed to issue “urgent clarification” on her support for a series of pledges from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), which included a non-specific commitment to recognise Palestinians’ “collective right to self-determination and to return to their homes”. Nandy received similar criticism from individuals across the Jewish community, including members of the Labour party, and last week the JC dedicated half of its leader to challenging her claim that she is an ally against antisemitism.
One of the arguments being used against Nandy is that antisemitism is rife in the PSC, and that by associating with the organisation she is implicitly supporting this. There is undoubtedly a problem with antisemitism among the rank-and-file of the Palestinian solidarity movement in the UK, but the idea that Nandy is endorsing this because she shared an image on Twitter is ridiculous. It rings particularly hollow coming from organisations which have previously defended or turned a blind eye to Conservative MPs who have used openly used antisemitic language, presumably because of their pro-Israel positions.
The other argument is that Nandy should not commit to a set of pledges from the PSC because it doesn’t support a two-state solution, or because it advocates for BDS and the right of return, both of which could undermine prospects for a two-state solution. Never mind the fact that Nandy has explicitly said she is a Zionist and opposes BDS, it is noteworthy how the two-state solution has been made into an antisemitism litmus test by individuals in our community who at best pay lip service to it.
The threat to a two-state solution does not come from a small, London-based NGO but from Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and Israel’s aggressive settlement-expansion, neither of which have received much criticism from Jewish communal institutions. Anyone who is concerned about the two-state solution needs to at least be consistent about defending it and direct their energy towards those with the ability to do something about it, not use it to target politicians who advocate slightly more radical positions on Israel-Palestine than they are comfortable with.
The fact is that Nandy has been one of our community’s staunchest allies in the Labour party over the past five years, and it is not just embarrassing for her to be attacked in this way but it only helps those who claim that the antisemitism crisis was simply manufactured to prevent criticism of Israel – the exact argument that many of Nandy’s critics were trying to rebut before she signed the PSC pledges. They are now openly conflating the issue of antisemitism in Labour with the party’s policies on Israel, providing ammunition to everyone who claimed that this is what the issue was really always about.
I know that there are many in the Jewish community who disagree with these attacks on Nandy, but those who are making them have sadly dominated the debate. It not only undermines efforts to tackle antisemitism in the party, it sends a terrible message to our allies in Labour by throwing one of them under the bus. That is why everyone who recognises how flawed and concerning these arguments are needs to loudly rebut them, and prove that these critics do not speak for the Jewish community as a whole. Nandy spoke out in support of us when it was difficult, the least we can do is now speak out in support of her.