You were never my Chief Rabbi, bruv

There is a queue of people waiting patiently in line: long forgotten Labour and Conservative figures, one-time respected journalists who have gone sour, barely repentant former racists and warmongers…

Yesterday, the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, reached the front of the queue. It was his turn to put the boot in to Jeremy Corbyn, as the crude attempt to weaken and isolate Labour’s leader continues, and Theresa May is surely pondering a snap election.

In a New Statesman “interview” – well, platform, really: interviewers are

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

supposed to probe and challenge – Rabbi Sacks thundered: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.” These were so significant apparently, and so offensive, that, as one commentator put it yesterday, they only took five years to notice them! They also needed to splice out two minutes from the video of Corbyn’s 2013 speech immediately before the allegedly offensive remarks, in order to completely distort the context.

Sacks condemned Corbyn’s remarks about Zionists and chose to read them instead as being about Jews. Either he was shown the ubiquitous doctored version of the speech by those who knew better, and he didn’t bother to look further, despite Labour’s Press Team pointing out the discrepancy within 24 hours, or he saw the full version and deliberately spun it as antisemitic for nefarious political purposes. Either way he owes Jeremy Corbyn a big apology.

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Corbyn being arrested on an anti-racist protest

Corbyn was clearly talking about certain Zionists who had berated the Palestinian Ambassador at a meeting in Parliament shortly before the event where Corbyn spoke. In those spliced out two minutes, Corbyn talks about Balfour in more depth, cites the progressive Jews who opposed the Balfour Declaration, and discusses Jewish progressives who played such a crucial role in the Labour Party and the trade union movement in London before Zionism became politically ascendant. It is absolutely clear that Corbyn is referring to Zionists not Jews in general. Ironically (and a lot of this incident hinged on understandings of irony), Corbyn may not have been aware that these particular Zionists, who specialise in disrupting pro-Palestinian events, include individuals who are friendly with, and freely mingle with, activists of the English Defence League and Britain First on Islamophobic protests – two organisations that still parrot Powellite slogans .

Who brought Corbyn’s speech to light? Step forward the Daily Mail, a newspaper that has done more than most to ensure that the poisonous legacy of Powell’s remarks endures in the current day.

Sacks described Corbyn’s alleged remarks as divisive and hateful. This, coming from the man who, as Chief Rabbi of the United synagogue – the largest movement of orthodox Jewry in Britain – refused on principle to attend the funeral of a much-loved and admired coScreen Shot 2018-08-29 at 11.11.30mmunal figure, the Reform Judaism rabbi, Hugo Gryn.  Rabbi Gryn served for 32 years at the West London synagogue – one of the largest Reform congregations in Europe (and incidentally where I was married).

Gryn was an Auschwitz survivor from Berehevo, then in Czechoslovakia, today in  Ukraine. His family arrived in Auschwitz in 1944 when he was 14-year-old. His 10-year-old brother was gassed to death on arrival. He and his mother survived. His father, weak and ill, died a few days after liberation.

Why did Rabbi Sacks refuse to honour Hugo Gryn? Because, a leaked letter revealed, Sacks saw Rabbi Gryn as part of a “false grouping” of “those who destroy the faith”. Gryn was a mentsh (a real human being). Sacks’ non attendance at the funeral and his “justification” for this action was hateful.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 11.15.03As Chief Rabbi he talked a lot about “unity” in the Jewish community but sowed the opposite. One of his first initiatives as Chief Rabbi was a Jewish unity walkabout in Hyde Park, only he got into hot water for his decision to exclude the Jewish Lesbian and Gay Helpline, which supported marginalised and discriminated against Jews, from participating in it. Nothing, if not consistent, he spoke out later against the right of gay men and lesbians to marry.

Earlier this year Sacks was criticised by many within and beyond the Jewish community for helping Donald Trump’s right hand man, Mike Pence, write a speech delivered in the Knesset coinciding with Trump’s disastrous and provocative decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Pence is an evangelical Christian, who holds hardline positions on gender equality, gay rights and abortion, demanding that public funds for HIV/Aids be redirected to “conversion therapy” for LGBT people.

It wasn’t Sacks’ most embarrassing moment in relation to Israel and Palestine. Those would come in 2012 and 2017. As Ha’aretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer reported, at the height of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November 2012, in which 174 Gazans were killed by Israeli bombing and many hundreds more wounded, Sacks completed another “Thought for the Day,” on Radio 4. Then this happened: “BBC presenter Evan Davis, addressing him familiarly as Jonathan, asked ‘any thoughts on what’s going on over in Israel and Gaza at the moment?’ Sacks sighed and said ‘I think it’s got to do with Iran actually.’ At this point, co-presenter Sarah Montague quickly whispered ‘we’re live.’ Sacks immediately reverted to a reverential tone offering a ‘continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but the whole region.’”

Cynical or what?

For many years, tensions in Jerusalem have reached a pinnacle in May/June when the

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March f the flags in East Jerusalem

annual “March of the Flags” (Israeli flags) takes place. Ha’aretz’s correspondent Bradley Burston describes it as “an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims”, in which marchers have “vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted ‘Death to Arabs’ and ‘The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,’ shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.”

Last year Rabbi Sacks extended a “personal invitation” to Diaspora Jews to join him on a trip to Israel which includes “leading” the March of the Flags on Jerusalem Day and “dancing with our brave IDF soldiers” in the  settler enclave inside Hebron.

Ha’aretz pleaded with Rabbi Sacks not to attend, saying, “one of the world’s most respected rabbis sends a message of normalization and acceptance of the occupation by the mainstream Jewish community. Many Jews in the Diaspora work hard to emphasize that being Jewish is not synonymous with supporting the Israeli government, and that supporting Israel’s right to exist is not synonymous with supporting the occupation. Rabbi Sacks’ actions risk undermining these messages.”

He ignored them and did help to lead the March of the Flags, together with the new Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who also enjoys putting the boot into Corbyn regularly, and whose dinner guests on the night before Theresa May became leader of the Conservative Party, were indeed Mrs May and her delightful husband.

That description of Sacks as “one of the world’s most respected rabbis”, certainly jars with me, given the hatred and division he has himself sown. You were never my Chief Rabbi.

So who did he draw respect from? Forty  years after Powell’s hateful “Rivers of Blood” speech, in 2008, Sacks made it up to number 30 in the Daily Telegraph‘s top 100 right wingers, a full 47 places above Theresa May (before she invented Hostile Environment), and well above John Redwood Lynton Crosby, Norman Tebbit, and that rising star for all Islamophobes, Douglas Murray.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 11.22.15When asked last year what were his four favourite books of 2017, Sacks included Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, which the “respected rabbi” described as “unsettling” and “disturbing”. Sacks continued: “Murray weaves a tale of uncontrolled immigration, failed multiculturalism, systemic self-doubt, cultural suicide and disingenuous political leadership. Accurate, insightful and devastating.” Lots of Powellite themes there, which Sacks found strangely attractive. Needless to say Murray included an apologia for and re-interpretation of Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.

But then again it wasn’t the likes of Rabbi Sacks, and the cushioned middle classes who experienced on the streets the fallout from Powell’s hate speech. It was predominantly the Asian and Caribbean communities facing vicious racial violence, including racial murders, and the anti-racist movements, abused and attacked by the far right forces Powell encouraged. Those communities, the anti-racist movements, the refugee communities today, in the face of brutal attacks, have continued to resist. And through those years of resistance they have known they can rely on solidarity from allies beyond their own communities. One absolutely constant and ever-present ally, at their side then and now, is Jeremy Corbyn.

 

 

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Staying close to our friends?

While the mainstream newspapers have tried to fill every space in the last few weeks with false and ever more ridiculous allegations against Jeremy Corbyn, and claims that he is an existential threat to Jews(!) , there is another story about racism that can’t help but push its way back into the crevices between some of those headlines, one that they can’t put a lid on because it is based on shocking truths, and it is about people who have faced, and continue to face a real existential threat.

A few days ago we read that 18 members of the Windrush generation will be receiving formal letters of apology from Home Secretary Sajid Javid for being “removed” (deported), “detained” (in the appalling network of detention centres that have a high suicide rate), or stopped (humiliated) at the border after returning from a visit abroad. Most of these 18 cases occurred under Theresa May’s racist hostile environment.

Read a little further beneath the headlines and you find these are merely the 18 clearest cases out of 164 that have been identified and are being seriously investigated at present. There are many more potential cases arising from complaints yet to be properly investigated.

The deep racism of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile environment is of course completely of a piece with the growing number of blatant cases of Islamophobia emerging from the Tory Party. But Boris Johnson’s hateful burqa remarks were only news because of who said it; many statements of this sort and worse have been said by  ordinary members of the Tory Party, including several candidates who were suspended just before the May local council elections. Yet every call for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Tory Party, whether from large Muslim organisations, lists of imams, or prominent Muslim personalities within the party, such as Baroness Warsi, has been swiftly rejected. May and her gang know they can get away with it. There is hardly going to be a daily media storm about it from the overwhelmingly pro-Tory press.

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Marie Van der Zyl and friend

When pressure was building up around this earlier this year, I tweeted Marie Van Der Zyl, who had just been elected (by its members, not the wider community) as the new President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, asking if she will be adding the BoD’s name to those organisations demanding such an investigation. No reply. No action. That in itself was a very clear message.

I was thinking about this especially this week, as now that Van der Zyl has fully settled into the her post, she felt confident enough to give an interview to the i24 Israeli news channel, and was asked some searching questions about British political parties. Apart from saying the most disgraceful, slanderous things about Jeremy Corbyn (without resorting to any hard evidence), she answered one question by saying: “The Tories have always shown themselves to be friends to the Jewish community”. (My emphasis)

It was an outstanding display of either utter ignorance or historical amnesia. After all, was it not the same Tory Party who passed the Aliens Act to keep Jews out of Britain when they were fleeing pogroms and persecution in Tsarist Russia? The same Tories whose harsh immigration and refugee policies stopped many German and Austrian refugees from Nazism getting sanctuary in the 1930s, and deported those who did not have the papers to prove their entitlement, with the same ugly determination as shown toward the Windrush victims? The same Tory Party whose backbenchers’ contribution to a debate about violence between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1930s was to say: “is it not a fact that 90% of those accused of attacking fascists rejoice in fine old British names such s Ziff, Kerstein and Minsky?”

Could it be the same Tories whose former Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, complained when Mrs Thatcher elevated three Jews to her Cabinet, that there were more old Estonians than old Etonians? The same Tory Party where an aspiring Jewish member, and later Home Secretary, called Michael Howard (original family name Hecht), had to traipse around 40 local Tory branches up and down the country, before he could find a branch (Folkestone and Hythe), that did not object to being represented in parliament by a Jew?

Was it the same Tory Party, whose members were giggling along with the Daily Mail’s BRITAIN-POLITICS-VOTE-ODD-CAMERONantisemitic jibes about Ed Miliband’s clumsy incident with a bacon roll, an incident referenced in the run-up to the 2015 General Election with a posed photo of David Cameron eating a hot-dog with a knife and fork?  Or, indeed, to bring things right up to date, could it be the same Tories who remain very closely allied through the European Conservatives and Reformists Group to the antisemitic and Islamophobic Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the Fatherland and Freedom Party in Latvia who enthusiastically support an annual parade to commemorate the Latvian Waffen SS members who lost their lives fighting for Hitler in world War 2?

Extraordinary. But also very disturbing. Many Jews I grew up knowing, and not just political contacts, had a hard-wired sense of affinity with other minority ethnic groups in this country, interested in their experiences and their wellbeing, and expressing their solidarity by a disproportionate Jewish involvement in anti-racist campaigning, and also in professional work as inner-city teachers, social workers, and immigration lawyers. The idea that the President of the Board of Deputies, who holds a pivotal place in the eyes of key political and media movers and shakers (even if we know their claims to “represent Jews” are extremely dubious), can state such a thing about the Tory Party and the Jewish community without any qualification regarding the treatment they dish out to other minorities, and to view this apparent friendliness, while others are clearly being treated so badly, as so unquestionably a good thing, is quite chilling.

At what stage did our “official” representatives become so insular, so unfeeling, and so forgetful? Has Conservative support for Israel (with everything that Israel has become under Netanyahu, and the seriously unpleasant political friendships it has consolidated with populist right-wing leaders in central and eastern Europe and in America), so powerfully trumped the affiliated Jewish community’s longstanding historical and psychological links of empathy with other minority communities? If so, that is not only very sad, but they truly are on a dangerous path.

A counterweight, though, is growing, especially among layers of younger Jews, who are finding ways to fight for social justice and support refugees and homeless people. Perhaps it is time for the more liberal, less insular Jews to really step up our practical work with other minorities and other struggling communities against the real threats, not the phantom threats, that ought to unite us in Brtiain today, and in a wider world where the likes of Trump, Orban and Netanyahu are making the running.

 

Who is stepping over a line?

Last night I was outraged by Margaret Hodge’s disgusting abuse of the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to shield her appalling behaviour over a political difference with labour leader jeremy Corbyn on how the Labour Party combats antisemitism.

Today I’ve been getting more and more wound up by her outrageous assertion in the same interview (or rather “platform” – because in an interview you might be challenged), that there is “a very thin line” between supporting Palestinian rights and antisemitism.

Margaret-Hodge-Jeremy-Corbyn-1004616She claimed that Jeremy Corbyn had crossed that line ( slandering him again as an antisemite, with the same lack of evidence but more self-control).

What an insult to the Palestinian people, living as refugees in exile or under occupation for so many decades, to believe that their assertion of their rights and their campaigning for human dignity might, at any moment, tip into antisemitism.

What a clear example of how the dubious IHRA examples will work in the Labour Party should they be accepted – any open campaigning for Palestinian human rights among Labour members will be forensically scrutinised, and have to continually prove that it wasn’t antisemitic. Guilty until proved innocent.

The only line connecting support for Palestinian rights and antisemitism should be a linewest-bankpalestinian-woman-israeli-soldiersrtr23635 of solidarity – for one, and against the other – as the fight against antisemitism and for Palestinian rights are actually part of the same fight… if you believe in equality.

But then again, I’m not convinced that advocates of Labour Friends of Israel such as Hodge and her backing vocalists Berger, Smeeth and Austin, and their transparent propaganda to defend the indefensible actions of the Israeli military under both Labour and Likud governments, have any conception of equal rights for Palestinians.

The Holocaust clearly features high in Margaret Hodge’s consciousness. It must do  because she keeps mentioning it in her political squabbles. I wonder, then, if she has heard of Marek Edelman, Jewish socialist, internationalist and anti-Zionist, second in command in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?

He fought against fascist hooligans in Poland before the war, was incarcerated by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought in the guerilla battles of the Uprising for three weeks, escaped through the sewers after the Nazis burnt the ghetto to the ground, and hid with non-Jewish Polish socialists in Warsaw until the end of the war.

He came out of hiding to fight alongside other ghetto survivors and with fellow socialist Poles in the ’44 Warsaw Uprising.

Staying in Poland after the war Edelman held fast to his principles of equality and internationalism and was a fighter for human rights not jsut for Jews but for all, for freedom and dignity for all peoples, until he died in 2009.

And he absolutely detested Zionism – what it did to the Palestinians and how it continued to oppress them. He made contact with Palestinian students in Poland, and through his professional life (as a cardiologist) with Mustapha Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian doctor and human rights activist in the Occupied Territories.

edlemanEdelman saw no distinction and no contradiction at all between fighting for peace with justice and full equality for Palestinians, and fighting to his last breath against any expression of antisemitism. He did both courageously to the best of his ability at every stage of his life.

His motto for Jews was “Always with the oppressed. Never with the oppressors”.

I wonder if Hodge would have dared to suggest to this Holocaust fighter and survivor that his support for Palestinians might at any moment cross “a very thin line” into antisemitism?

Terrorists and peacemakers in Tunis and Israel – what the papers won’t tell you

While controversies rage on over Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Tunis in 2014, and whether he was standing near the grave of Salah Khalaf (AKA Abu Iyyad), or not, one of the greatest advocates for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians, 94 years old Uri Avnery, lies unconscious after a severe stroke from which he may not recover.

So, what’s the connection?

Avnery, a prolific journalist, came to Palestine as a child in the 1930s when his family fled from Nazi Germany. He did not just talk peace: he put himself on the line by meeting with high up figures in the PLO including Yasser Arafat, at a time when governments and mainstream press outlets in Israel, Britain and the USA all cast Arafat as a terrorist, and leader of a terrorist organisation. In the late 1940s, Avnery was a member and activist of Irgun the same right-wing Israeli nationalist and terrorist body that Menachem Begin was so proud of being part of. But Avnery broke from their politics in the mid-1950s and never looked back.

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Avnery and Sartawi, London 1983

In 1983, for the first time in Britain, a high-ranking PLO official – a heart surgeon called Issam Sartawi – shared a public platform with an Israeli peace activist – Uri Avnery. The meeting took place at County Hall, then seat of the Greater London Council, now an aquarium. I was one of a dozen activists, mainly Jewish Socialists’ Group members and expatriate Israeli anti-Zionist leftists, who organised the meeting. We had been encouraged to undertake this initiative by Maxim Ghilan, founder in 1981 of the International Jewish Peace Union.

Like Avnery, Ghilan had come to Palestine as a youngster (via France his birthplace and Spain where he grew up), and joined an even more extreme right-wing Zionist group than Avnery – the Lehi of Yitzhak Shamir (also known as the Stern Gang). Ghilan’s switch though, from right to left politically, came earlier than Avnery’s. Imprisoned by the Labour Zionist government shortly after the establishment of Israel, he became an advocate for Palestinian rights after personally witnessing the sickening torture of Palestinian prisoners.

He moved back to France, from Israel, in 1969 and began the project of bringing together Israeli leftists such as Avnery and General Mati Peled with PLO members and officials in a secret dialogue in various European cities.  This dialogue was in part facilitated by another key contact of Ghilan’s – an Egyptian Jewish communist called Henri Curiel.

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Henri Curiel

The event in London in 1983 was electric. Around 300 people attended, the majority sympathetic to the aims of the meeting, but a few dozen on either side – Far Right Zionists and Palestinian rejectionists – determined to physically disrupt it. I was among the stewards in this testing situation. There were also armed police present, as Sartawi was convinced there were operatives who for some months had been seeking an opportunity to assassinate him. Just six weeks later he was gunned down in the lobby of a hotel in Portugal where he had been attending a conference of the Socialist International. Ghilan was in Spain at the time and Sartawi had invited him to meet him in that hotel lobby, but Ghilan was called back to Paris to attend to an urgent matter. He was convinced later that he would have been gunned down too, for the same reasons.

The night before the County Hall meeting we gathered in a private house to confirm every practical detail of the meeting. We hadn’t yet decided who should speak first. Sartawi said Avnery should speak first. Why? “…because you were a terrorist before I was a terrorist”. Avnery had been part of Irgun’s activities in the 1940s; Sartawi had been one of the Fedayeen (Palestinian guerillas) who survived the Battle of Karameh in 1968. Both Avnery and Sartawi were now completely focused on dialogue and peace with justice.

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Salah Khalaf with Yassir Arafat

Which brings me back to Salah Khalaf/Abu Iyyad, believed to have masterminded the horrific Munich massacre of Israeli athletes, and now buried in the Palestinian Cemetery in Tunis. When I heard his name mentioned in connection with the Corbyn in Tunis story, I remembered his name from the conversations with Maxim Ghilan in the early 1980s, but at the time I was unaware of his connection with the Munich massacre. This morning I read an interview Ghilan gave in 2004, a year before he died suddenly in Tel-Aviv, in which he recalled the main Palestinian contacts he had made in the 1970s and 80s, and who were engaged in, or facilitated, the secret dialogue activities. He listed four people in particular from the PLO leadership. The first name was Abu Iyyad’s.

Abu Iyyad had apparently undergone a similar process to Avnery, Sartawi and Ghilan.

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Maxim Ghilan

At the time of his murder in 1991, he was not a terrorist but a fighter for peace, a strong advocate of dialogue with Israelis, and mutual recognition. Indeed that was probably why he was murdered, rather than as revenge 19 years later for Munich.

One in-depth newspaper report just after he was assassinated in 1991 said:

Salah Khalaf, 57, was born in Jaffa. He was…considered the organization’s (PLO’s) main ideologist and strategist. He was the key person behind the idea of a secular state in Palestine, in which Jews and Arabs would live together. That idea replaced the original PLO ideology, which saw no place for Jews in Palestine. In recent years, Khalaf encouraged meetings between Palestinian leaders and representatives of the Israeli left.

…he was the key figure behind the initiative two years ago to declare an independent Palestinian state, which implied recognition of the State of Israel. Khalaf had a PLO career that ranged from most bloody to conciliatory, even a voice of moderation. He was a founder … of the terrorist Black September organization, … responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics… But he was also the man who made a videotaped address to Israelis calling for peace.

…In February 1989, in an address which was smuggled into Israel and presented at a Middle East peace symposium, Khalaf called for direct talks with the Israelis, with a goal of signing a peace agreement and then taking it to an international conference… Khalaf’s statements in the address to (this)… symposium… were praised by Israeli doves.

‘I look forward to a future in which our meeting will be face to face and we can discuss the future of our two peoples as well as of real peace,’ he told startled Jews and Arabs at the symposium, which was organized by the International Center for Peace in the Middle East… Everything that has happened to the Palestinian and Israeli people — the blood which has been spilled, the victims, the maimed — has moved us to react to the call of every Palestinian and Israeli child, so that we can take a serious step toward peace… There can be no peace without two states which will co-exist side by side… and which will be able to say to the entire world: the war in the Middle East has ended, and the tragedy is over.’

That report was filed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a widely respected news bureau created just over 100 years ago in the Hague, by Jacob Landau, as the Jewish Correspondence Bureau. Then, just as now, its mission has been to collect and disseminate news to Jewish newspapers across the world. Today it operates from New York as a not-for profit corporation.

If the more serious media today, beyond the gutter press, weren’t afflicted with willful amnesia, in their efforts to tag-along on the relentless and dishonest anti-Corbyn bandwagon, they might have uncovered the much more interesting story about the controversial individual who was buried in the cemetery that Corbyn visited. Corbyn, with his lifetime of commitment to peace and internationalism, had gone there to honour 73 people – mostly Palestinians but also Tunisians –  killed in 1985 in an act of state terrorism by Israeli forces, an act unequivocally condemned by the UN, and even by Corbyn and the Labour left’s nemesis, Margaret Thatcher.

 

 

Labour’s centrists can’t ignore the threat from the Tory right and their far right allies any longer

Jacob Rees Mogg’s open support for Boris Johnson after yet another of his outrageous racist statements, is a calculated move. And it is not only about throwing down a challenge to Theresa May at a time when she is clearly floundering on a host of issues, not least Brexit.

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Temporary UKIP leader Gerard Batten with permanent far right moron, Tommy Robinson

The forces of the right and far right are re-aligning. UKIP has openly shifted towards a more fluid relationship with the menacing street forces that have coalesced recently around the “Free Tommy Robinson” Campaign. As a result it is experiencing a revival in its cross-class support.

In response to this, Johnson and Rees Mogg are deliberately seeking to strengthen support among Conservative voters for the openly racist right-wing of the party, and reassure those considering ditching the Tories for UKIP, that the space for their views and the policies they inspire not only exists within the Tory Party, but it is getting wider.

At a time when American alt-Right figurehead Steve Bannon is dashing around Europe establishing a very well-funded foundation to strengthen similar-minded movements and parties on our continent, Johnson and Rees Mogg want to create a closer alignment between the Conservative Party and those same forces.

May is being presented as the “moderate” here, yet we know that she promoted and presided over the scandalous hostile environment that resulted in such disgraceful treatment of Caribbean citizens in Britain, a number of whom were deported to their countries of birth where many are now destitute. New and shocking cases continue to come to light. And May continues to allow the tortuous regime in detention centres such as Yarls Wood to persist.

We know too, though the media very rarely remind us, that she remains absolutely committed to the Tories’ alliances with some ugly right-wing parties in Europe, that were cemented by David Cameron when he helped to found the European “Conservatives and Reformists Group” in 2009. This group includes openly antisemitic, Islamophobic and anti-Roma parties. The Conservatives make up the largest contingent but their principal ally remains the Polish Law and Justice party – who have seriously upped the ante on antisemitism in the last two years.

Hungary’s Fidesz Party, led by Orban, remains outside that alliance though there is an

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Anti-Soros poster blaming Soros for migrants

increasingly close and sycophantic relationship between the Polish and Hungarian governments, each reinforcing the other’s populist authoritarianism. Orban’s recent decisive election victory owed much to his openly antisemitic propaganda campaign about George Soros, alongside his scaremongering about refugees and Muslims. His election victory was gushingly welcomed by Johnson.

One of the very few Labour politicians here who seems cognisant of the growing threat posed by populist racist parties in Europe is Jeremy Corbyn who has taken opportunities on visits to Europe over the last two years to warn of these dangers. But he is engulfed in the crisis here where his political opponents not only outside the party, but also many within, are waging an unrelenting war on him, purportedly over the Labour leadership’s positioning on a definition of antisemitism that comes in a package with a contentious set of examples. Ironically several of the countries whose governments have signed up to this definition – promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – are those where the forces of antisemitism and other racism grow by the day nurtured by these same governments. For many of Corbyn’s opponents though, it is little more than a smokescreen behind which a proxy war against him is fought.

Those outside the party, mostly for their own narrow political purposes, will try to keep the heat on that issue. But inside the party it is really time for the Labour Party across the spectrum of left to right to pause for a moment, for all our sakes, put things in perspective, and wake up to the urgent need to confront the right and far right in Britain and continental Europe.

That doesn’t mean abandoning genuine arguments of principle, strongly felt, around approaches to antisemitism. Of course they should continue to be debated, through branches and other democratic party forums, and through the NEC,  in a calm and respectful manner, rather than the bullying, headline-grabbing way that elements of the Labour Right have adopted.

The Labour Party, as a result of its openly declared progressive, anti-austerity, anti-racist politics, is currently bucking the trend in Europe, where social democratic parties are struggling and in decline. But this is a critical moment, which means that the party needs to give itself much more space right now to discuss how it can develop as clear and unified an approach as possible to tackle the much greater and more pressing threat from the right.

The Tories are allied with parties in Latvia and Bulgaria who organise annual marches respectively for local Waffen SS fighters and pro-Nazi generals. That is a little more serious than a hyperbolic tweet about Israel, or an allegation of guilt by association at an  almost forgotten event.

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March to honour Latvian SS, supported by Tories’ European allies

If the likes of Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, Ian Austin and Ruth Smeeth, are not willing or able to help unify the party against this threat, because they are obsessed above all with toppling the Labour leadership, then wiser individuals in the centre and right of the party, who have a broader and more open and constructive perspective, need to step up. They will need to push themselves forward in order to discuss matters with the left in a civilised way that respects democratic norms, for the benefit of the party as a whole.

Those, like the Jewish Labour Movement, who think that despite the threat from the right/Alt-Right/far right, the most important thing to do as the 2018 Labour Conference opens, is to demonstrate against their own party over the antisemitism row, with numbers swollen by Tories and Right wing Zionists, need to be urgently challenged, not least by their friends.

The stakes could not be higher.

Time to call their bluff

It is surely getting near to the time when Jeremy Corbyn will need to call their bluff. Whose bluff? The self-proclaimed and self-important leadership of the Jewish community, who don’t want to talk to Jeremy at all – they just want to talk at him. When Jesus said “It is better to give than receive”, the Board of Deputies thought he was talking about “advice”. They want to humiliate him. They want to drive him from office, to save Theresa May’s bacon (or salt beef, if you prefer), and keep us all nervous about discussing the rights of Palestinians.

But he’s got to speak to Jewish leaders – we elected them. Didn’t we? No, very few of us Jews did that. Jewish Leadership Council? Unelected. They just announced themselves. Chief Rabbi? No, appointed not elected. Campaign Against Antisemitism? Where the hell did they come from? Completely unelected. Ah, but the Board of Deputies – some of them are elected. No? Well, in theory, yes. If you are a member of a synagogue you might get a vote, but in some synagogues not if you are a woman. How many elections are contested? What percentage of voters take part? When did your synagogue last change its deputy? What – as long ago as that? And then there are a lot of Jews are not members of synagogues. Hmmm, that’s a problem. And, at the end of the day, decisions of the Board are made by paid officers not ordinary elected members.

They talk in such portentous tones. But for them it is a sick game. Make a statement about this. Apologise for that. Get rid of this person from the Labour Party. Disown that one! ….antisemitism, antisemitism, antisemitism. Probably the least of their nefarious activities is how they have cheapened and devalued that term to the point where ordinary people outside the community are getting dangerously tired of hearing about it and might not react to actual cases.

There have been so many ridiculous allegations against Corbyn – the latest one about how offensive it was for Jeremy Corbyn to release his statement just a few hours before the Sabbath! (A bit like the Jewish Chronicle every week.) When I heard that one I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I think I actually cried.

I cried for the ordinary people of Britain, who include a significant number of Jews, struggling to get by as the wealth gap increases. And I cried even more for the real have-nots, the growing number of homeless I pass in the street. The people in one of the richest countries in the world looking at the future with hopelessness and desperation.

I have heard Jeremy say on more than one occasion that if he becomes Prime Minister hefood-bank-2015 would want to be judged first and foremost on what he had done for the homeless. Sadly he will have been the first Prime Minister to have had that priority. How criminal would it be, if this autumn there was an election, but the current government of Foodbank Britain, Grenfell Tower, zero-hours contracts, the Windrush Scandal, of Yarls Wood Detention Centre etc. etc etc…(together with its bribed bigots of the DUP), continued to be in office because enough people had been brainwashed into not voting for Jeremy – the “fucking antisemite and racist” as one of his own MPs disgracefully called him? Or because so much possible campaigning time was wasted on the false outrage of a few loud, but actually unrepresentative, self-defined Jewish leadership bodies, who are a bit top-heavy with Conservative supporters in any case.

Those “leaders” could have met Jeremy last Friday at mid-day at the Jewish Museum (I was invited too). The Museum agreed after a little wobble, but as one of the main culprits, Jewish Chronicle editor, Stephen Pollard gleefully claimed in a tweet, many of them were emailing him to say they would boycott the museum if the meeting went ahead there.

Many more Jews, beyond those “leadership ” bodies could have met Jeremy to discuss matters three months ago, but the very same people complaining “But he won’t meet us”, made it clear that they wouldn’t attend if certain other Jewish groups (who they might have disagreed with) attended. The whiff of hypocrisy is in danger of becoming a stench.

I have this fantasy that Corbyn does meet these “leaders”, and they agree that he can set the agenda. He puts foodbanks at the top, then he poses the question: “What is the Jewish community’s view on foodbanks? Are they good or bad? What might be the best way of reducing the need for them without harming those who rely on them? And then he brings up transport, and asks for the Jewish  community view on renationalisation of the railways, to which these leaders reply: “I don’t know really, we would need to talk to our communities, gather different views…”

And then he says quietly, “But you seem to know very well, without any consultation at all, what ‘the community’ believes about the IHRA examples, their attitude to Israel/Palestine, don’t you?”

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in the middle of the Jewish bloc on the refugee demonstration september 2015

Well it is just a fantasy. But it reveals a truth. There is a very great deal of point to Jeremy meeting with, and listening to, the issues and concerns of ordinary Jews, especially those Jews who he can find at least some common ground with. There are a lot of us about.

I can remember the day he was elected leader in 2015. Within minutes of the result being announced, he rushed off to speak at a huge demonstration on an issue that has been close to his heart for decades – supporting refugees. I may be wrong but I don’t recall his detractors (Hodge, Austin, Berger, et al) being there. But I do remember being part of a very large Jewish bloc on that demonstration, with a huge contingent from Liberal and Reform synagogues, especially younger people.

I know many of those Jews who have shared the same desire that Jeremy has displayed throughout his political career, for social justice, for community, for human rights, would relish the opportunity to sit down with him and give their range of  perspectives on the issues that are being talked about in such a narrow and destructive way. For all the well publicised stories of Jews leaving the Labour Party, I know many Jews who have joined Labour since he became leader.

Back in April he had a very relaxed encounter with 100 young Jews. He spent four hours at a Seder night to mark the festival of Passover with them, and a few older ones (like me). But for his troubles he was denounced as an antisemite, and seen as particularly reprehensible by the Daily Mail for sitting on the same table as me (a “left-wing author”, no less.)

It was important that Jeremy has now made a public statement in his own voice on the painful current disputes. I have small quibbles with it, but in general I think it was a very good statement. It reassured Jews who wanted to listen. It set out in a very clear way his commitment to them as citizens, as members of a minority community, and as Labour Party members. It acknowledged communal diversity and the significant input of non- and anti-Zionist Jews in the party alongside those committed to Zionism. It argued forcefully that the perspective of Palestinians in the party should not be censored or penalised, and that anti-Zionism did not equal racism. He spoke of the recent killings of Palestinian civilians, and condemned the new Nation-State Law in Israel that has formally turned Palestinians and other non-Jews into second class citizens.

He openly acknowledged that the party faced some genuine issues around antisemitism but put it in perspective. The complaints – which must be fairly heard and more speedily – involve less than 0.1% of the membership. (Note to the press who talk of hundreds of incidents – these are complaints and allegations that have yet to be tested for the evidence).

I would have liked to have seen him develop the point near the end of the statement

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Recent far right demonstration in London

where he referred to the common threat to Blacks, Muslims, and Jews from the Far Right, here and in Europe. We urgently need to have strategy discussions on this among the threatened groups. Though if you saw how reluctant our “leaders” were to sit in a room with other Jews they don’t control politically, they would no doubt be even more nervous of groups outside the community.  I can think of many Jews from a number of organisations who would jump at the chance to take part with the Labour leadership in constructive anti-racist discussions with representatives of other minority groups.

So my plea to Jeremy and his supporters for how we go forward from here, is quite simple: Get back to discussing and promoting Labour’s core issues over which it is at war with the Tories, in public meetings and open air rallies around the country, and, in the meantime, start to meet with those Jews who are sincere and not playing power games or using diversionary tactics that seem designed only to help Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Stephen Pollard’s crocodile tears about the threats to Jews

The Jewish Chronicle editor, STEPHEN POLLARD, portrays himself as a great defender of the Jewish community against all antisemitism. He has shown a sharp eye  for any antisemitism that he can try to link in some way to the Labour Party and its twice elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. On Friday 27th July he was especially proud that three Jewish newspapers, of which his was the biggest partner (though with a significantly declining circulation), all published the same front page leader claiming that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country” in their print and online editions. I presume that as the senior partner in this venture, these words are his.

How would it look if an example came to light of a member of the Jewish community who faced a real existential threat from neo-Nazis, and the actions of Stephen Pollard increased the danger to him and his family, rather than acting to protect them?
What if the evidence showed that he had been privately asked by that family to take one small action that would mitigate this threat, and he refused point blank to do so?


I know of such a case. It happened to our family. It was one of our sons who faced death threats from neo-Nazis. We did not go public at the time because we were worried that doing so would place our son at greater risk. In the light of Pollard’s claims about an ‘existential threat to Jews”, our son has decided to make this public in the last few days.

This is his testimony

“Back in 2011 the Jewish Chronicle ran a piece on me, which also included mention of my parents and their politics, and my childhood and education, none of which had any bearing whatsoever on the story. One of the consequences of them running this piece is that my parents and I were profiled by far right racists and fascists. Some fascists got hold of my parents’ address, and some details about all of us were shared on extreme far right forums like Stormfront. I received death threats, while my parents had to find ways to secure their home. In all cases these threats were explicitly linked to us being identified as Jewish, by far-right antisemites. At the time my parents and I wrote to the editor, Stephen Pollard, and requested, given these grave antisemitic threats, that the article be removed from the Jewish Chronicle website (it had already gone out in a print edition.) He refused and the article remained online.
So excuse me when I can’t quite believe my ears, when you protest there is an ‘existential threat’ to Jews. The one time in my life I was profiled and violently threatened by known antisemites because I was Jewish, you refused to help. It turns out safety should only be guaranteed to the ‘right’ sort of Jews, and only when it serves your political agenda.”

Commentary: It was the Jewish Chronicle‘s editorial decision to report this case in such a way that it gratuitously provided details of other family members and their left-wing political views.  It was the decision of the editor, Stephen Pollard to leave the report online, after it became apparent that neo-Nazis were using it to make threats and incite acts of violence against us. In an email dated 14th August 2011 we wrote to Stephen Pollard, copied to two members of the Board of the Jewish Chronicle (Richard Burton and Jennifer Lipman), which said “under the circumstances we would request that you urgently remove the article from your website”. On neo-Nazi websites they had published photos of our son with the crosshairs of a target superimposed on his face. We had also pointed out factual inaccuracies in the Chronicle‘s report. Pollard fixed these and wrote an email back to us on 15th August saying: “You do not point to any other inaccuracies in our piece and I see no reason to remove it.” Neither of the Board members copied in responded to us.

Just a few weeks before this incident, a Norwegian neo-Nazi, Anders Breivik had massacred 77 people, mostly children at a socialist summer camp, having been inspired by online hate material. Pollard’s argument for keeping the material there was that it was factually accurate. And yet by doing so once he was aware of the threats, he was increasing the danger to us.

As a left-wing Jewish family, we knew that we were definitely not at one with Pollard politically. In 2006 he had written that in the “battle to preserve western civilisation” , the “Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy” (https://archive.li/Vp7Sr). We were aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s he was a leader writer for the Daily Express and wrote sometimes for the Daily Mail at a time when both newspapers were being heavily criticised by anti-racists for repeated scaremongering stories against immigrants and refugees. Nevertheless we were and still are very shocked that the editor of the leading community newspaper could have behaved like this in response to a clear case of a murderous antisemitic threat against a member of the Jewish community.

Our terrifying experience tells us that Stephen Pollard, despite publicly claiming to be in the front line today of the fight against antisemitism, will only act to defend certain Jews, and he is prepared to leave others endangered. There are very few possible answers to the question of why he acted in this way towards members of his own community, and none of them are very edifying.

I really haven’t got the words to describe this cynical and inhumane attitude and his behaviour over this case, but perhaps those people who read this testimony will treat his utterances now with the contempt they deserve.

The “wrong” sort of survivor?

The controversies that emerged this week, over the  harsh words about Israel uttered by

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Marek Edelman

a Holocaust survivor at a meeting eight years ago, have made me think about Marek Edelman, the last surviving member of the command group who led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  He died in 2009. I was fortunate and privileged to meet him briefly at a conference in Warsaw in 1997. In the current “debates” I have no doubt that in some people’s warped minds he too would be derided and disdained as the “wrong kind of Holocaust survivor”.

Edelman was a Bundist (Jewish socialist) – a lifelong anti-nationalist and internationalist,

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Mustafa Barghouti

and opponent of Zionism. He remained in Poland – his homeland – after the war, fought against the post-war Stalinist regime from a left-wing and democratic position, and continued to struggle for a better and more humane world. His work in this regard included befriending Palestinian students in Poland, and making professional contacts (he trained as a cardiologist) through international conferences, with Palestinian doctors, especially Mustafa Barghouti, a founding member of the the secular left-wing Palestinian National Initiative. They corrersponded about the possiblity of intiating a joint civil society project towards Palestinian and Israeli coexistence with equality and justice.

During the post-war decades, Edelman suffered appalling treatment by Israeli leaders, spokespersons and media for daring to remain an opponent of Zionism, and criticise its increasigly brutal rule, and for daring to declare that in the ghetto he and his comrades had “fought for dignity and freedom, not for a territory nor for a national identity”.

In 1945, he wrote a gripping and astonishingly detailed account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Polish. It was published in Yiddish and English in 1946. It took another 55 years to be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli publisher.md805326772 (1)

When Israel hosted the Eichmann trial in 1961, a key event in recording the horrors of the Holocaust, but in a manner that emphasised Israeli ownership of Holocaust history, many key witnesses were invited to Jerusalem. But not Edelman. Accounts of the Eichman trial were translated into more than 20 languages, but not Yiddish, the language of the people who were incarcerated with Edelman in the ghetto.  For several decades in Israeli schools students learned about Zionist resisters, and not of the more numerous non-and anti-Zionist resisters.

At various times he was nominated to receive honorary degrees from Israeli universities, but that was blocked by key people in Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance establishment. When Edelman came to Israel to visit fellow Holocaust survivors he had stayed in touch with, his presence in the country was often greeted with very hostile press campaigns.

Back in Poland his clashes with the Stalinist authorities often led him to boycott official ceremonies of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and he began a tradition of alternative ceremonies that continues today.

By the time the 50th anniversary commemoration for the Warsaw Ghetto came around, though, in 1993, Poland was a liberal democracy under the presidency of former trade union leader, Lech Walesa, who knew Edelman very well. Under Walesa’s premiership there was no need for Edelman to hold an alternative ceremony, but Walesa knew Edelman principally in the Polish context and hadn’t realised he had stepped into a minefield when he invited a delegation from Israel led by then Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the commemoration.

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Ghetto resisters’ monument, Warsaw

The Israeli delegation told Walesa they would refuse to participate if they had to stand alongside and meet the anti-Zionist Marek Edelman. This was the attitude of Labour Zionists to a hero of the Jewish reistance to Nazism. Walesa was astonished but didn’t want to get embroiled in an internecine Jewish quarrel so he sought a diplomatic solution. Before the platform speeches took place, he performed a very public wreath-laying ceremony at Warsaw’s striking stone memorial to the ghetto fighters. He walked towards the memorial with arms linked on the one side to Marek Edelman and on the other side to Edelman’s grandchild. It was a very powerful moment. And then Rabin, without having to meet or shake any anti-Zionist hands, took his place among the platform speakers.

The Israeli delegates included left-winger Shulamit Aloni, who had a less jaundiced view

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Yitzhak Rabin

of Edelman. During the visit she persuaded Rabin to have a private meeting with Edelman – which he did – and, according to Aloni, he emerged very struck by Edelman’s personality. Before he left Warsaw, Rabin had met Edelman again, over breakfast with Walesa. In the conversation Edelman reminded Rabin that, from his reading, he knew that Rabin himself had a Bundist uncle from Vilna. Rabin looked a little uncomfortable. He then urged Rabin to make a proper peace with the Palestinians. Edelman recounted later that Rabin gave an embarrassed smile.

The threat that Edelman posed in the eyes of Zionists like Rabin was a challenge about how the past might more authentically be read, after it had endured a Zionist makeover, but it was even more so a challenge in the present. He legitimised the continuity and integrity of an anti-Zionist perspective, which he emphasised in a memorable interview when he said that to be a Jew means “always  being with the oppressed never with the oppressors”.

Zionist ideologues, and the crass “Israel right or wrong ” brigade here, who dominate the political institutions of the Jewish community in Britain have chosen to defend the indefensible. They have chosen the side of the oppressors. That they also seek to use their narrow nationalist reading of the Holocaust to deny the struggles for Palestinian human rights in the present, is beneath contempt. Small wonder that they face a growing challenge from dissident Jews in many countries, committed to social justice and their counterparts within Israel itself.