Brown condemns Labour’s ‘moral’ failures over Israel in late historian’s book
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Brown condemns Labour’s ‘moral’ failures over Israel in late historian’s book

Former PM writes foreword to republished work by the late David Cesarani, sounding warning about the need for strong leadership by Keir Starmer to tackle antisemitism

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Former PM Gordon Brown and David Cesarani
Former PM Gordon Brown and David Cesarani

An initial briefing paper on the rise of left-wing antisemitism prepared for former Prime Minister Gordon Brown by the late historian David Cesarani is to be republished in book format.

The Left and the Jews, the Jews and the Left  and the Left was written by Holocaust expert Cesarani at the request of the Labour leader after he attempted to understand the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment which infected the British left ahead of the Iraq war.

Brown, then chancellor, was particularly concerned by the 2002 cover of the New Statesman magazine which depicted a golden Star of David piercing a Union Jack flag, with the headline ‘a kosher conspiracy’ and previous comments by then Labour MP Tam Dalyell alleging the existence of a “Jewish cabal.”

In a new foreword to the book Brown writes:” David’s warning to all of us then – that ‘there are signs that in treating Jewish fears about anti-Jewish sentiment as merely a device to muzzle criticism of Israel … [the Left] is in danger of repeating the historic error of those … who dismissed hatred of Jews and threats to their well-being as merely a delusion and the symptom of an ephemeral conflict’ – should have been heeded by the Labour Party itself.

“Had it been, this would have headed off the morally and politically catastrophic growth of antisemitism within the Left.”

The former PM then suggests that only “strong” leadership from Sir Keir Starmer will successfully tackle the antisemitism of the left, that found a perfect partner in former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer REUTERS/Yves Herman

Recalling how he funded the Holocaust Educational Trust and his pride in Labour’s record in areas such as security at Jewish schools during the years the party were in power between 1997 and 2010, Brown writes: “In September 2018, I spoke at the Jewish Labour Movement’s conference.

“I wanted to show the Jewish community that there were those of us in the Labour Party who were determined to make a stand and try to right the wrongs then being inflicted on the Jewish community.

“The fight we were engaged in was, I said, one for the very ‘soul of the Labour Party’.

“The battle against racism is ‘about who we are. Our conscience means we don’t just stand up for the rights of some people, some of the time, it means we stand up for the rights of all who are oppressed, all of the time.’

“If in recent years Labour failed to build resilience against antisemitism in our politics, we must correct this now under Keir Starmer’s strong leadership.”

In her own foreword to the book Cesarani’s widow Dawn recalls how her late husband had first been contacted about the briefing paper.


David Cesarani’s book cover

“I remember very clearly when David put down the phone after speaking to Brown’s advisor one Thursday evening,” she writes.

“‘Gordon Brown wants a briefing on antisemitism on the Left’ he reported. ‘He needs it by Monday. I think we’ll have to alter our plans for the weekend’.”

Dawn also admits her husband, who died in July 2016, would have been vital in continuing to tackle the rise of antisemitism in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

I wanted to show the Jewish community that there were those of us in the Labour Party who were determined to make a stand and try to right the wrongs then being inflicted on the Jewish community

“I am giving the hesped (Hebrew for eulogy) at David’s stone-setting in July 2016,” she writes.  “On that sunny afternoon at the cemetery, I reflected on the time since David had died: ‘A favourite tweet came earlier this year at the height of the row about antisemitism in the Labour Party. You’ll remember the uproar when Ken Livingstone said that Hitler “was a Zionist”. The tweet read “Where is David Cesarani when you most need him?”’

David Cesarani

“Of course, I wasn’t right that the Livingstone episode was the height of the row about antisemitism in the Labour Party. Not by a long chalk.

“But the sentiment expressed by the journalist (who had been at Cambridge at the same time as David) on Twitter was spot-on.

“I have often thought since what a shame it is that, at the moment it was most needed, David wasn’t there to help us better understand and challenge the growth of antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

Despite starting out as a briefing paper, Cesarani’s work, published now by No Pasaran Media, runs to 100 pages, and remains riveting and relevant thoroughout.

Few have managed to analyse the impact of Karl Marx’s infamous work the Jewish Question better than Cesarani.

The book also traces the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with the left – touching on issues such as traditions of tzedakkah or charity for the poor and needy which Cesarani says functioned as mini welfare states.

I have often thought since what a shame it is that, at the moment it was most needed, David wasn’t there to help us better understand and challenge the growth of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

But also on the impact the French writer Voltair in driving views of the Jews as being “money- loving and shifty” during the Enlightenment period.

And crucially, Cesarani also writes on how Israel drove a even greater wedge between British Jews and the left stating:”Social change, ethnic politics, and the increasing impor- tance of Israel to Jewish identity drove a wedge between Jews and socialism.

The New Left in particular appeared to threaten not only the economic interests of middle class Jews but what was increasingly becoming a central tenet of their identity: Israel.

“Partly in response, Jews drifted towards the right during the 1970s and 1980s.”

Cesarani adds:”While much of the rhetoric employed since 2000 has been directly related to the Israel/Palestine conflict, it draws on tropes that are embedded in socialist ideologies stretching back to pre- Marxist socialism.

“Criticism of Israeli government policy in relation to the Palestinians, and on other issues, is totally legitimate, but some parts of the Left have not broken free of the nineteenth-century Marxist dogma that the Jews are merely a religious group and not a people that has  a right to national self-determination in its own land.”

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