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 he 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?”
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
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.