The fight against antisemitism must not define the Jewish Labour Movement

You know, the literal meaning of the word Chanukah is ‘dedication’. And that is what we are all here to celebrate tonight: dedication to a set of values and principles that have come under attack over the last couple of years. And dedication to our ideology in this movement as committed Socialist Zionists. And I want to take a moment to explain why I think that really matters, especially now, especially at Chanukah.

You know the miracle of Chanukah that we teach our kids is the story of the oil; everybody knows it, that lasted for seven extra days. But if we go back to the texts, especially the Book of the Maccabees, the real focus of the Chanukah story wasn’t quite so child friendly. It was the gory, bloody military victory of the few against the many. Without doubt this was a fight against tyranny, a fight for religious and cultural freedom and a fight against a Syrian oppressor for the future of the Jewish nation in the very land that we all hold dear.

However, over the years, the Rabbis did their own bit of political spin doctoring. They shifted the essence of the Chanukah message and the Chanukah narrative away from the military struggle and towards the story of the oil. And their intent was very clear. Jews must not let the fight define us. However necessary it may be.

Those rabbis also embedded a very political message and dare I say a very Labour message into the Chanukah story. The Maccabee mantra of ‘the few taking on the many’ really wasn’t a reversal of Labour’s most compelling strap line. It was actually an early precursor to John McDonnell’s economic policy. Bear with me, because the Macabees were actually a poor family from a small isolated village. They were a family of priests but they were disconnected and they felt disconnected from the establishment. Their leadership actually reached and resonated with the masses. Representing unheard voices, peasants and small landowners abused by the Greek Government who had raised taxes to a crippling level to fund military expansion and to pay off the Romans. Sounds familiar? At the heart of Chanukah is a profound message of revolutionary economic liberation and perhaps a message for us all.

And the message for us as Jewish Labour activists is equally clear. The fight against anti-Semitism matters. But it must never define who we are, because we are not victims.

I didn’t stand for election nearly two years ago as chair of JLM to allow myself or this great Movement to be defined by a fight against anti-Semitism, because we are about so much more. And tonight, as we light the second Chanukah candle here, in Labour Party headquarters with our leader, I wanted to take a moment, in the spirit of those Rabbis who formulated the Chanukah narrative as we now know it, to reflect upon who we are, and what our story is. And for me, very briefly, it is something like this.

We are the people who stand on the shoulders of the giants of Poale Zion who played a seminal role in founding our party. And we are the people who occupy the space where Labour values and Jewish values come together.

We are the people who want to see a Labour Government because we know Labour is the Party which will deliver for the vulnerable and deliver for the needy.

We are the people who campaign tirelessly for Labour because values like community, social justice, equality of opportunity and equal access to hope, all sitting at the heart of our politics.

We are the people who are pilloried and attacked as traitors within our own community and within our own communal media for doing all of this because the relationship between our Party and our community is fractured.

We are the people who remain committed to fixing that facture however complex and however difficult it may be.

We are the people who campaign for a better future for Israeli and Palestinian children. And we are the people who refuse to see the Israel Palestine conflict as a zero sum game.

We are the people who are pilloried and attacked as traitors and fascists within our own Party despite all of this because we want to see just socialist values reflected in the solution for the Israel Palestine conflict.

We are the people who became involved in the anti-fascist Movement to fight the far right. Not to have to campaign against anti-Semitism in our own political back yard.

And we are the people who Ken, Ken and Len and so many others dismiss as liars and weaponisers; who Jackie brands as racists and who tens of commentators on the Labour Party Forum seek to demonise on a daily basis.

We are the people who live in the complexity of all this and it is complex. We are the people whose lives are rooted in our Party and in our community. And we are the people who refuse to run away from that struggle, or, as I said before, to let it define us.

We are the people who despite all of this, serve our party as MPs, and councillors, CLP officers and branch officers, on regional boards, on national committees and as candidates in local and general elections.

And we are the people who have assiduously worked to build allies and coalitions across our party, because it is not for the targets of anti-Semitism to fight it alone, and it is not for others to make assumptions about the politics or positions of our members.

We are proud of the variety, we are proud of the diversity because we are the people who are proud that our annual conference spontaneously applauded the member who stood up, and made it clear she was both a member of momentum and JLM, one of many, by the way.

And because of all of this; and so much more, we in JLM are the people who are the real Jewish voice of Labour and the voice of Labour within our own community.

But also because of this, right now, we are looking for the reassurance of Jeremy and the leadership of our party that there is still space for us, that people like us remain welcome within our party, reassurance that our party understands anti-Semitism in the same way that we understand anti-Semitism. And reassurance that those of us who see our Socialist Zionism as illegitimate will hear a loud and a clear and an explicit message from our leadership that people like us will always have a home in this Party.

And I hope, Jeremy, it is wonderful to have you here with us today and we hope that you as our leader will feel able to use this platform, to give us perhaps those reassurances, to recommit to working in partnership with us to get things back on track. That is why I will end my remarks here and am genuinely incredibly pleased to have the opportunity to ask you to address us this evening.

  • Speech given by Jeremy Newmark at the Jewish Labour Movement’s annual Chanukah Party, attended by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

Watch Jeremy Corbyn address the Jewish Labour Movement here:

About the Author
Cllr Jeremy Newmark is Leader of the Labour Group and Principal Opposition Leader at Hertsmere Borough Council. He is also an elected member of the European Jewish Parliament and the General Council of the World Zionist Organisation
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