Jewish Voice stifled?

Dave Lister calls for a halt to the purge of Jews from Labour

The Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) group has made a submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and to the Forde Inquiry claiming that one result of the Labour Party’s efforts to counter antisemitism has been a purge of Jews from the party.

JVL state that they represent some 350 Jewish Labour Party members and that Jews have been disproportionately and unjustifiably investigated, with at least 40 investigations of Jewish party members for antisemitism having taken place. They describe this as “administrative persecution” and “a form of discrimination”.

JVL also assert that the party is only listening to the Jewish Labour Movement grouping within the party and to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They see this as acceptance of one view of Judaism, which includes support for the State of Israel, and a refusal to consider that there may be alternative views. They also point out that the Board of Deputies represents associated synagogues but not the large number of ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews and of secular Jews like myself.

The submission then documents a number of cases. It quotes a JVL officer as saying that “I don’t know of any precedent in which a group of Jews has been subjected to accusations of antisemitism”. The group accepts that there are cases where criticism of Israel has been antisemitic, but in other cases criticism of Israel has brought the wrath of the party down on individual members. Of JVL’s 17 officers and committee members, nine have been investigated for antisemitism and three are currently suspended. They quote from a blog by Mike Cushman that “[d]efence of Israel has been adopted, in contradiction to all Jewish theology, as a religious obligation… It is inappropriate for the Labour Party to attempt to adjudicate in a dispute between Jews on aspects of Judaism and views on Israel”.

There are really complex issues involved here. Is Judaism just a religion like Christianity and Islam or are the Jews also a people? The exclusive nature of Judaism is important here. Jews generally did not set out to make converts. I grew up in Edgware in a majority Jewish community and identify as Jewish as well as British, internationalist and socialist. When I had my DNA tested the result was that I am 95% Ashkenazi Jewish. However, Jonathan Freedland has made the point about secular Jews that, while members of my generation may identify as Jewish, if we do not practice the religion will our children necessarily feel the same way?

In my view Keir Starmer was right, when he became leader of the Labour Party, to take a strong stand on antisemitism, given the damage that accusations of antisemitism have done to the party. I also believe that it is wrong to deny that any Labour Party member has been guilty of antisemitism. However, it is important to have a clear idea of what antisemitism is. It surely primarily refers to racist comments about Jews and giving credence to conspiracy theories. Thus, there are some rich and powerful Jews, but most rich and powerful people are not Jewish. Clearly antisemitism has resulted in persecution and genocide, but in a Labour Party context we are mainly concerned with what people have written and passed on. The woman who wrote that “Jews have long noses and support Spurs LOL” was surely being racist, but criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is not racist unless it is couched in racist terms. I think that if we were to proceed along these lines there would be less conflict.

We are faced with a corrupt, extremist, incompetent Tory government. The Labour Party needs to be united and effective going forward if we are to combat them successfully.

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