Jewish Labour voters have told how they are torn on whether to remain loyal to the party with Jeremy Corbyn at its helm, days before the General Election.
Iris Markson, in her 80s, who lives in Mill Hill, said she has voted Labour “ever since women were emancipated,” but said that, for the first time this year, she would likely not be doing so, citing concerns about Jeremy Corbyn.
“He doesn’t seem to be an anti-Semite,” she said, “but he, like many people, seems to be confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Israel. I have family in Israel, so it is very important to me, although the Israeli government does appear to be doing the wrong things. But who knows what [Corbyn] would do on Israel if elected.”
She said she respected the fact that Corbyn was “a champion of the poor” but said: “He doesn’t recognise that these days politics in international, not just national. You need to consider what is good for the rest of the world, not just us.”
The octogenarian also recognised that more needed to be done on social media, saying: “It’s a problem, allowing hate messages to come through. It affects us as Jews. I would like Jeremy Corbyn to stand up against that.”
Iris, a widow married to a Glaswegian, said it was not until the 1950s before she cast her first vote, because “in those days you had to wait until 21 years of age”.
She said: “I first became interested in national politics when Churchill was shocked by Clement Atlee’s win. I discovered the important role played in the development of Labour by the Fabian Society. They laid the foundations of England’s welfare state, a society based on fairness and justice for all.”
Asked who she would vote for if not Labour, she said the Liberal Democrats would likely get a cross in their box, but that she would need to read the manifestos first.
Another disillusioned Labour voter is Dulwich resident Joe Millis, who has previously worked for UJIA. He said: “For the first time in 30 years I’m seriously considering not voting Labour. That’s very tough for me.”
He said he had a “very good” constituency MP, Helen Hayes, who is a Corbyn critic, but added: “I just feel I cannot vote for her because of the leadership of the Labour Party and its attitude towards Jews and not understanding what anti-Semitism is all about. Also, their economic policies are a throw-back to the 70s.
“I don’t think anybody in the party leadership is an anti-Semite, I just think they don’t understand what it is. Because Jews are, for the most part, white and middle-class, we’re not seen as a minority, and we’re not really allowed to define for ourselves what we see as racism against us, whereas every other race is allowed to do so. I think they probably wonder what we’re moaning about.”
Millis said comments by some Corbyn supporters “doesn’t help,” nor did Corbyn’s own past comments about Hamas being “friends”. On the Labour leadership, Millis said: “Yes, they’re in favour of a two-state solution, which most British Jews are, and they criticise settlements, which most Brit Jews do, but this feeling that they don’t care about us, or have forgotten, that’s what is putting me off voting Labour.”
Millis says he had been a Labour member for almost 20 years but resigned this year in disgust over “the Livingstone debacle and the whitewash of the Chakrabarti report and Oxford”.
However, not all left-leaning Jews were put off by Corbyn. North-west London resident Daniel Vulkan, 48, a statistician who worked in communal organisations for eight years, this week said Labour would get his vote this year.
“There’s always been a deep connection between my political values and my Judaism, particularly the notion of social justice,” he said. “This means that, over the years, I’ve voted for different parties (Labour, Lib Dem and Green) but, at the moment, Labour feels closest to where I am.”
On the party’s leader, Vulkan added: “Jeremy Corbyn is not perfect, but no-one is, and he has been starting to look more and more like a potential Prime Minister over the course of the election campaign.
“I share his belief in the importance of standing up to injustice. He has been robust in his criticism of the policies of successive Israeli governments, but I certainly don’t believe that he or the Labour Party are anti-Semitic or are soft on anti-Semitism.”
Likewise, Rabbi Avroham Pinter from Stamford Hill, who was previously a Labour councillor, said: “Votes for Labour are not necessarily a vote for Corbyn. The vast majority of Labour MPs standing do not support him.”
He urged traditional Labour voters not to abandon the party just because they disagreed with the current leader’s stance on Israel, saying: “It is inconceivable for people to punish an MP who has been standing against anti-Semitism just because of Corbyn.”
He added: “We all know he is not going to be the next prime minister, so people really need to consider their candidates and where they stand on all the issues. It may be on austerity and how that will affect Orthodox families, who tend to have more than two children.”
Moreover, moderate Labour MPs were needed now more than ever if the party is to change direction, he said. “It’s those MPs who will ensure a change in policy and leadership. Ultimately, this country needs an effective opposition – not having one is very dangerous.”