Jewish Voice for Labour: We weren’t founded to “tackle antisemitism allegations in Labour”

Jenny Manson and Leah Levane

Joshua Garfield’s recent LabourList article brings together many frequently repeated and often unchallenged myths and misrepresentations about Jewish Voice for Labour and its positions in relation to issues of antisemitism in the Labour Party. We were shocked to read these on LabourList, which in general attempts to be discerning and fair in its coverage of Labour issues.   

JVL was not founded to “tackle allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party”. We have never denied that antisemitism exists in the Labour Party and must be opposed; our own founding Statement of Principles can easily be found on our website.

Joshua Garfield claims that we oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism “on the grounds it restricts criticism of the State of Israel” without mentioning that these reservations have been expressed by a wide range of legal and other opinion, including Kenneth Stern, who actually wrote the document.

In fact, the IHRA definition itself is not controversial, although it is worryingly weak. As Jews, we want something that covers the variants of antisemitism that have been used over the years so virulently. We have published a declaration on this, jointly with Free Speech on Israel, called antisemitic misconduct: what it is – and what it is not.

The issues arise in relation to the attached ‘examples’ in the IHRA document. These are too imprecise to serve as an off-the-shelf definition that would be applied directly in disciplinary cases. They are introduced with such imprecise phrases as: “To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations”; “Manifestations might include”; and “Contemporary examples of antisemitism… could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to”.

Clearly, before the ‘definition’ can be applied by disciplinary bodies, a code of guidance is needed. Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) is still in consultation about its draft of such a code, widely incorrectly described when originally adopted as an ‘alternative definition’.

Nor is it true that “JVL have given platforms to people expelled from Labour for making racist remarks” or that “the organisation spends a lot of time dismissing antisemitism as a “smear” against the Labour leadership”. Undoubtedly, some of the Labour leadership’s critics have been cynically exploiting and exaggerating the incidents of antisemitism that do occur. But that is in no way the same as denying or “dismissing” the antisemitism that does exist.

Nor have we insinuated that “the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) exists to undermine the Corbyn project”, even if many of the actions of its leaders seem aimed to achieve that effect. We simply contend that the JLM cannot represent all Jewish members of the Labour Party when it is committed “to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life” as well as the wider Jerusalem Programme of the World Zionist Organisation.

JLM is also affiliated to the World Labour Zionist Movement, which encompasses the Israeli Labor Party and its supporters in the diaspora. The Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay has turned the party into an ethno-nationalist oriented party, embracing views that are abhorrent to Labour’s mainstream  – for example capitulating on the issue of secular education, issuing an absolute rejection of ever partnering with Palestinian Israeli parties (“We have nothing in common with them”), and threatening to expel his party’s only Palestinian Member of the Knesset. Gabbay is committed to the settlements, saying he would not evacuate any settlement as part of a peace deal, contrary to Labour policy. In 2017, he ordered the party to support a bill to allow the deportation and indefinite detention of asylum seekers living in Israel.

While Irish, BAME and LGBT members have a channel for their concerns through affiliated organisations such as Irish Labour, BAME Labour and LGBT Labour, there is no such affiliated organisation open to all party members who identify as Jewish. To some Jewish Labour Party members, this has been felt to be a form of discrimination and there has been a remarkable surge of support for JVL from people who have wanted their voice to be heard.

Jenny Manson and Leah Levane are co-chairs of Jewish Voice for Labour.

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