There has been an impasse in dialogue between Labour and the mainstream community since the JLC and Board of Deputies met Jeremy Corbyn in March for talks, described as “a disappointing missed
Speaking to Jewish News, Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism and himself a Labour councillor, said Anglo-Jewry “is in danger of being accused of only desiring regime change in the Labour Party – and there is not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening”.
He believed, he said, that there was “an obligation for the Jewish community to work very closely with the Labour leadership. The situation today is very volatile, and working closely with those who might form the next government does not mean that when one sees antisemitism, it shouldn’t be called out”.
He added that a Labour government did not only mean the prime minister, and that it should be possible to establish good working relationships with many ministers.
But he said the current level of “no discussion” between the Jewish community and Labour was “not helpful” to either.
“Those Jews who are still members of Labour ought to do everything they can to encourage dialogue,” he added.
But JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein, told Jewish News from LA: “Holding the Jewish community accountable for the current impasse has the danger of becoming a form of victim-blaming. It is important to remember that this isn’t a fight the community wants to have, it is one we have been forced into.
“We have engaged with the Labour leadership in good faith and set out a series of reasonable steps for them to take to reduce levels of antisemitism in the party. That was six months ago – not only have they failed to deliver on a single one of those steps, they have bunkered down. All the evidence points to the fact that the Labour leadership is either incapable or unwilling to change.”
At the end of March, following the “Enough is Enough” rally near Parliament, the JLC and the Board of Deputies wrote to Corbyn setting out a series of steps he could take to address the situation.
These included bringing outstanding and future antisemitism cases to a swift conclusion under a fixed timescale. The two Jewish bodies asked for “an independent, mutually agreed ombudsman” to be appointed, and asked that MPs and councillors should not share platforms with suspended members. Anybody who does should themselves be suspended from membership or lose the party whip.
Goldstein said their key recommendations had not been addressed; there is still said to be a large backlog of antisemitism cases to be finalised and there have been numerous cases of platform-sharing that have not led to suspension or the loss of the party whip.
Relations were further soured after Labour failed to consult with the Board and JLC before initially adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism without all its examples –a decision since overturned.
In response to Goldstein, Rich said: “I do not want to personalise the issue or blame anyone, but it seems to me a great tragedy that the two great communities of which I am proud to be a member, the Jewish community and the Labour Party, are not talking to each other.”
In the interview, Rich described Jewish Voice for Labour chair Jenny Manson as a “very decent woman” but insisted he was not supporting her run for parliament.
He classified himself as a religious Zionist member of the Labour Party. He said he felt warnings of Labour as “an existential threat” were “exaggerated nonsense. But that does not mean Labour should not take seriously that there are people who are frightened and want to leave”. But, he said, such talk meant “the people we need to persuade go into siege mode”.
He said Labour “needs to get its act together and throw out the antisemites as soon as possible,” adding that on both sides of the divide “people find it hard to apologise”.