It is bad enough that the “Jewish Labour Movement” (JLM) falsely proclaims itself the sole representative of Jews in the Labour Party. Most of the many Jews I know in the Labour Party are not members of JLM and disagree with them on many issues. But if its AGM today is anything to go by, its delusions of grandeur are becoming even bigger, even as the size of its AGMs get smaller (I noticed that one of its votes was carried by 81-67. OK some may have abstained but that’s barely 150 people form an organisation claiming to have 2,000 members). One of its resolutions declared that “a Labour Government led by him (Jeremy Corbyn) would not be in the interests of British Jews.”
So we all have one common set of interests now? That’s interesting. And the JLM knows what it is, so it says.
Of course they are not the only ones who make such claims. In official figures the British Jewish community, mainly based on synagogues and involvement in official Jewish institutions, plus guestimates, comprises around 290,000 people. Unofficially it is surely bigger, but the Jewish Chronicle regularly proclaims what “the Jewish community ” thinks, wants, or condemns. Yet it is in serious decline from a circulation of 80,000+ less than 20 years ago, its 2018 circulation were little more than 21,000 and a third of those were free copies.
At a basic political level the JLM might speak for pro-Zionist and increasingly right-wing Jews in the Labour Party, at a time when the party has swung to the left, but it certainly doesn’t speak for the many non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish Labour Party members I know. And by the relative absence of the JLM from most anti-racist and anti-fascist mobilisations in recent years, it certainly doesn’t “represent” those Jews most actively engaged in this area of work. I have far more frequently seen Jewish Voice for Labour members on such mobilisations, or Labour members who are also members of the Jewish Socialists’ Group, both marching and speaking on platforms.
I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of “the Jews”, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services. I have known many of them.
Would it really be accurate to describe a Corbyn-led Labour government as not in the interests of many Jews who work in the NHS, social work or social care sectors, or the education services, where all such workers have been struggling with the double whammy of Tory cuts and privatisation. And what about self-employed Jewish shopkeepers struggling to keep their businesses afloat under a government that favours big capital over small?
It strikes me also as the arrogant kind of statement made by someone who actually accepts the antisemites’ stereotypes that all Jews are rich.
A few months ago I was privileged to attend a book launch in the East End where the author had interviewed several elderly locals about their experience as women in the East End in the 1930s and ’40s. Most of the women who spoke at the event were Jews who had lived in the East End all their lives. It was very clear from their presentations what their values and concerns were. What kept them awake at night was not an over-the-top social media tweet or Facebook post someone had written about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but whether they will get the repairs they need to their council accommodation, whether they can expect to continue getting the same level of NHS support, whether they could afford to keep up with the cost of living – in other words the same set of concerns that their non-Jewish working class neighbours were facing.
Of course they had some additional concerns. Those who lived there through the 1930s and the terror brought by Mosley’s movement are aware that the far-right are becoming a growing menace again. They certainly know that they won’t find the answers to that on the right-wing of British politics. For them Labour has always been the party of equality. But why doesn’t the JLM care about them?
Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him have already created a revolution in the Labour Party, moulding it into a consciously anti-austerity force, trebling its membership and putting equality, health, education, housing, workers’ rights and anti-racism at the very centre of the Labour Party’s concerns. They are not satisfied to be just a little nicer than the Nasty Party. The gap between the parties has widened under Corbyn’s leadership, and it is surely Labour that is clearly on the side of the people most in need of economic security and social support. That may not include every Jew – probably not Jewish Tory-supporters, or the very comfortably off such as Lord Levy or Alan Sugar – but it includes a hell of a lot of other ordinary Jews.
Some other Jews have made it very clear they do not welcome a Corbyn-led government; those such as Luciana Berger, who have turned their backs on Labour, joined with those who voted for austerity, and work explicitly against Labour now. Is it any wonder that at the same JLM conference where they showed such contempt for working class interests, that they praised the turncoat Luciana Berger?
The Tories’ days are numbered. They are split and severely weakened. Labour has won several parliamentary victories over them. This is the time for maximum Labour Party and Labour Movement unity and for all who want a better and fairer society after years of austerity, to keep our eyes on the prize. Maybe nobody told the JLM. Unfortunately their antics will simply produce a couple of days of more anti-Corbyn headlines to take the heat off the Tories. It won’t be those who need a better and fairer society, including many Jews, who will be thanking them.