It has barely been a month since what were truly Extraordinary General Meetings of the Jewish Labour Movement in both Manchester and London decided to remain affiliated to the Labour Party.
One of the key things we heard again and again in the debate was that JLM had to “stay and fight” to make sure that we defended the public space for Jews to voice in the political arena, and that without a place on the left we would be denied recourse to do so.
Since then our current Chair has claimed there could be no conditions under which the JLM would ever disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Such sentiments are a Faustian pact that both represent a misguided political strategy and a betrayal of our founding principles. The fact his comments come after the announcement that JLM will no longer be used for anti-semitism training only serve to highlight the flaws in this strategy.
When JLM meets this weekend for its AGM to consider motions and elect its new executive it faces a real choice on whether it truly intends to put any substance to the promise of fighting if we are going to stay.
As an affiliate to the Labour Party, it is easy to imagine the Jewish Labour Movement, or Poale Zion, is just a caucus for Jews within the Labour Party. At the very least it served as a place for people within the Labour Party who had an interest in Jewishness to chew the fat about social justice over a bagel, and its best it was able to harness support for the Party within the wider kehillah.
But the truth of JLM is so much more profound than this. The existence of the Jewish Labour Movement pre-dates that of the Labour Party, and our affiliation to it was in recognition that it was the vehicle best suited to pursue our core aims.
Poale Zion’s philosophy was primarily driven by Borochov’s “Our Platform” which held that the Jewish participation in the class struggle was conditional on the liberation of Jews as a nation. Poale Zion’s vision was distinct from the much mis-loved Bundist tradition which rejected the need for a distinct Jewish national identity.
In the UK, our affiliation was based on the dual recognition by leaders of the Labour Party for that nation state and for the pursuit of equal rights for Jewish immigrants in Manchester, Leeds, and primarily the East End constituency which elected Keir Hardie. In short before we joined it is highly probable Jews were in no insignificant part responsible for the election of the first Labour MP.
In 2019 we are faced with the reality that sitting Jewish MPs and Councillors have made clear that they neither feel safe within the Labour Party, and nor can they give legitimacy to the Labour Party in its current state by remaining a member of it. The reality is that Jeremy Corbyn have forced a profound schism between people’s socialist and Jewish identities. People have been forced to choose between being a Jew and being Labour and between being quiet among the many or by standing out as part of the few.
This choice is simply unacceptable. We have been here before. We know our history, and the echoes are truly terrifying.
Outside of the crisis of anti-semitism, there is a growing discourse about the realignment of politics both here in the UK and in the US. The new dividing lines are about those that want to keep things open versus those that want them closed; to build those walls.
We know the world of closed. Cities closed to Jews. Trades union closed to Jews. Jobs closed to Jews. Sanctuaries closed to Jews. Golf clubs closed to Jews. Industries closed to Jews.
It is why on two counts many Jewish members of the Labour Party cannot with any confidence vote for a Labour MP knowing it might give Corbyn the keys to Downing Street. The responsibility for this is ultimately Corbyn’s, not just because he has allowed anti-semitism to take hold within the Party and allowed the Jew to be painted as the few, but also because of his complicity with Brexit – that allows fellow immigrants to be put in the same bucket.
That is why this weekend the JLM has an opportunity to make clear exactly what stay and fight looks like. For starters it demands stronger leadership. It demands we are chutzpahdik in the true sense of the word – that we find our strength.
No longer is it enough for people to say they are anti-racist, no longer is it enough to say it is unacceptable. Solidarity is an action not a sentiment. Words must be followed by deeds. To be clear if you are an MP, and you say you are with us, but turn a blind eye to the vile anti-Semitism in your own constituency parties, then you are on the wrong side of history. If you are an assembly member in Wales and think 6 weeks suspension for the anti-semitism of your colleague with little remorse is enough of a token gesture and welcome these people back into your group – you are on the wrong side of history. And if you allow yourself to get drawn into whataboutery or try to trade off Muslims and Jews – then you are no friend of peace, or either of our communities.
On Sunday JLM has to elect the team that will keep track of people’s behaviour, call these people out, ensure zero tolerance means ZERO tolerance and to make clear we have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
On Sunday to parenthesise the spirit of tikkun olam, we must before we mend the world, mend ourselves and mend our party.
- Joe Goldberg is an Executive Member of JLM, and former Labour Councillor in Haringey