If you’re in the Labour Party, you now have more than half a million comrades. It’s difficult to meet them all, though you can try. I probably see more than most, as I am a performer (a Socialist Magician, since you ask) and I’ve been going around the country, performing at comedy events organised by the wonderful Stand Up for Labour.
If you can’t meet all of your Labour Party colleagues, you can at least try to meet those with whom you have something in common. There are groups that people belong to: Chinese Labour, BAME Labour, the Fabian Society, the Socialist Environmental Resources Association. Some of them are ideological, others are about community.
I’m Jewish, so when I joined the Party, I looked around for the groups I could join. There was the Jewish Labour Movement, which looked likely. But it is an affiliate of the World Zionist Organization, which supports the Jerusalem Program that aims to consolidate the state of Israel.
I belong to a significant minority of Jews who doesn’t see Israel as central to my life, or think that we all should work for Aliyah (the aspiration to emigrate to Israel). I’m very happy for those who do think that to organise as they wish, but when I contacted them they confirmed that if I’m not a Zionist, the JLM is not for me.
That led me to help set up a group for Jews in the Labour Party that would welcome all Jews, whatever their attitude to Israel. We decided to call it Jewish Voice for Labour. Over the ten months or so that we have been in existence, we have attracted hundreds of Jews to our organisation. There is no ideological test to join – you just have to be a Jewish member of the Labour Party. There is also an opportunity for non-Jews to become “associates”, but the constitution specifies that we are Jewish-led, in that only Jews can vote on our policies.
We have members who are active in their synagogues, and who are well integrated into their communities at all levels of religious life. We also have many members who are not observant but proud of their Jewish culture. And we are interested in Jewish culture and history, in its rich diversity, whether we are talking about the Sephardi or Ashkenazi traditions, early Zionism or the radicalism of the Jewish Bund.
It is rather surprising, and somewhat galling, to read uninformed commentary that says we are not really Jews. For those whose relatives went to concentration camps particularly, it is pretty awful to find the dreaded word “kapo” – the term used for those Jews who acted as accomplices to the Nazis in the concentration camps – bandied around in reference to us. I have had to read this in posts addressed to me on more than one occasion, and it always comes as a shock.
A myth seems to have grown that we do not recognise that there is antisemitism in the Labour Party. Of course we recognise that there have been, and are, antisemites in our party. We challenge the “Rothschild” libellers and the conspiracy theorists wherever we see them. All antisemitism is incompatible with the principles of socialism on which the Labour Party rests. If it has gone unchallenged in the past, then that was an egregious mistake, and we will hold the party to its clear commitment to root out such ideas in the future.
We in Jewish Voice for Labour want our party to grow. We want Labour to gain power and usher in those policies of equality and fairness that fit so well with Jewish thought and understanding, and that offer a bulwark against racism and antisemitism. Labour can speak with a Jewish voice. It can speak loud and clear, and it can speak the language of human rights for all.
Ian Saville is a Jewish member of the Labour Party, a Socialist Magician and a member of the Jewish Voice for Labour committee.