Meet the Jewish Corbynista who says ‘communal leaders do not speak for me’

Meet the Jewish Corbynista who says ‘communal leaders do not speak for me’

Stephen Oryszczuk talks to Newham’s new outspoken councillor Joshua Garfield, about feeling ignored and isolated by the community's leadership

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Joshua feels isolated by Jewish leadership
Joshua feels isolated by Jewish leadership

Like many politically-active Jewish twenty-somethings, Joshua Garfield newly-elected as a Newham councillor, feels ignored and isolated by the community’s leadership. As he bluntly puts it: “The Board of Deputies, under its current leadership and present political stances, does not represent me and in no way speaks for me as a British Jew.”

Garfield is just the kind of Jew the Board needs to speak for to stay relevant. Smart, active, funny, politically-engaged, going places and non-judgmental, he is the tanned face of the next Jewish generation. The tan comes from his Greek-Cypriot (non-Jewish) dad. “Once, in school, a boy asked ‘Miss, was Jesus black or white?’ She said ‘Well he was Jewish, so probably Josh’s colour.’”

He is a joy to speak to over a pint in a Camden pub. Born and raised in Stratford, he had a very Orthodox grandfather, a less Orthodox mother, and goes to Sandy’s Row near Liverpool Street for the high holy days. He’s thoroughly Labour, just like mum Judith, a councillor in Redbridge, and a signed-up Corbyn fan to boot (“I was on the phone banks in 2016”), but you can tell he’s annoyed at the time it’s taken for the anti-Semitism penny to drop. Ideologically, he’s to the left of the party, talking about his gripes with Tony Blair and “the neo-liberal agenda”, but he’s no Marxist.

At 23, after two years teaching English in Spain, he’s now at university in London studying politics and international relations, but has already had more jobs and careers than most: retail, call-centre, bartender, drama teacher, Jewish summer camp in the US, now helping vulnerable young people as a youth worker. In between, he’s set up an LGBT group, so he isn’t a sit-at-home type. Politically, he did his first door-knocking aged 15, when Gordon Brown was PM.

Where is he on Israel? “On the current Israeli government, I’m appalled, heartbroken. It’s not the Israel it should be, or anyone wanted it to be, in the slightest. It obviously has the right to exist and to defend itself, but in recent decades it’s not always been defensive, it’s been offensive and attacking. The treatment of Palestinians, particularly in the Gaza Strip, has been indefensible. Many Jews share that view.”

On anti-Semitism, he has his issues with the working examples in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, as others do, saying (as did the Home Affairs Select Committee) it needs tweaking to allow for criticism of Israel. On an individual level, he argues if someone perceives something as anti-Semitic, it should be treated as such, as per the McPherson Report.

If you recognise Garfield’s name, it could be because he made the national press last month when he quit Newham Momentum, alleging “deep-seated prejudices” towards Jews by fellow members. “I have witnessed more anti-Semitism in the past week than I ever have in my eight years of Labour Party membership,” he wrote. What did he hear? He won’t be drawn, citing an ongoing investigation.

Where now for Corbyn and Labour, given the delay in implementing change? “There were people in the party who didn’t think it was a very big issue. That’s changed. The leadership wants it rectified, they want to regain the trust of the Jewish community and make it clear they take it seriously.”

Even if he flushes out Labour’s anti-Semitic minority, would the community ever vote for Corbyn, given his stance on Palestine? Not so fast Mr Journalist, he cries – Jews don’t vote as a bloc. How true. How very remiss of me.

“People vote for different reasons, on different issues. I doubt there are many Jews sat at home planning to vote solely on that. Yes, Jeremy has been critical of these very right-wing Israeli governments who have waged war on often defenceless civilians, but there are many Jewish people have been critical of the same thing.

“So while it is always going to be a problem for some people, what he’s doing is making his position clear, on Israel-Palestine, anti-Semitism and other issues, then letting the Jewish community decide whether they want to support the party. I hope they do.”


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