The Corbyn is not for bashing

“Since our last meeting,” Jonathan Arkush told the Executive Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, “I’ve met with President Putin, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. What order shall I tell you in?”

“Economic power,” came a suggestion from the floor.

The highly representative delegation to Downing Street has received plenty of coverage elsewhere. President Arkush fortunately turned down Putin’s offer of tea. That leaves Jeremy Corbyn.

This meeting was a resounding success. Getting it, in the first place, wasn’t easy. Then getting Corbyn to agree – for the first time – to recognising a secure State of Israel with recognised borders; to condemning anti-Semitism from across the political spectrum, not just on the right; to safeguarding our right to practise shechita and brit milah and to run faith schools – these were important steps forward.

After the meeting, statements were released by both Jeremy Corbyn and the Board of Deputies. The Board mentioned two areas where the Labour leader had not agreed to their asks: he did not promise that his party would continue its current opposition to boycotts of Israel, and he did not “address profound and real concerns about past meetings with people or organisations with extremist or anti-Semitic views”.

The latter complaint is slightly specious – Corbyn probably thought he was having a meeting about current and future policy issues, not being cross-examined on his past – but nevertheless, the balance of ‘things he agreed to’ versus ‘things he didn’t agree to’ seems an extremely positive one.

So the reaction from the community to the meeting’s outcome was ludicrous. Predictable, yes; hysterical, obviously. But completely ludicrous.

“Corbyn MUST DO MORE to address concerns, says Board of Deputies!” screamed the headline in the Jewish Chronicle. Even less diplomatically, various grassroots activists from the Friends of Israel groups reiterated their firm belief that Corbyn is a Nazi. Someone even criticised him for “not addressing Muslims’ paranoia about Jews”, said person obviously lacking a sense of irony.

All these people – from Sussex Friends of Bibi to Marcus Dysch from the JC – need to get a grip and try to remember that Jewish conspiracy theories are untrue and anti-Semitic. Contrary to what Lord Ahmed might assert, the Jews do not control the media, the judiciary and all three political parties.

However outraged our community is at how Corbyn did not adopt whatever policies Jonathan Arkush told him to, it is worth remembering that this is probably because it was Corbyn who was elected – in a landslide victory, indeed – to be Leader of the Opposition, and not Jonathan Arkush.

Just as the Prime Minister presumably didn’t agree to every single thing that our communal patriarchy asked of him, nor did Corbyn. And while that’s disappointing, it’s a disappointment we kind of let ourselves in for by choosing to live in a democracy without an all-controlling Zionist conspiracy.

In fact, we should be making it worth Corbyn’s while to have made the positive statements he did. He’s going to be getting major flack from his supporters on the left for recognising Israel, pledging to support faith schools, even for that most basic act of ‘meeting with the Zionists’.

I’m not fan of his but on this issue he showed courage and did what he did out of principle rather than populism. If, in return, all he gets from the Jewish community is renewed bile – and ‘renewed’ is all it can be, because he hasn’t done anything new that’s objectionable, just maintained his existing silence on two issues – is he going to take the risk of agreeing with so much of what we want again?

About the Author
Gabriel Webber is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College, London
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