In yet another painfully tough week for relations between Labour and the Jewish community and between moderates and the hard left, the election of Miriam Mirwitch as the national chair of Young Labour was a rare bright spot.
The 24-year-old LSE graduate admits she’s a “little shocked” to have triumphed following an exhaustive campaign but she is no stranger to politics or to Labour, having joined the party aged 16 at the end of the Gordon Brown era, as the Conservatives and Lib Dems went into coalition together.
“I started to notice the effects of austerity and cuts on my local community. I was angry. I saw an increase in homelessness, the effect on the NHS, and I wanted to get involved, especially when Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) was scrapped. I wanted to get out there and change things.”
The Jewish Labour Movement member – who was awarded as activist of the year recently – describes herself as “proudly, visibly Jewish”. Softly-spoken, she says: “I get a lot of anti-Semitism online. Also there’s sexism and abuse from the far-right, memes on eugenics and such. Some of it is because I’m Jewish, not all. I don’t really talk about Israel online but a lot of trolls obsessively make up my views on Israel. I just don’t interact with them.” She prefers, however, not to go into her views on Israel in detail
(“I know the trolls will attack me”).
But there is no avoiding the elephant in the room for Labour Jews at the moment amid continuing controversy over anti-Semitism in its ranks.
It comes in the week MP Chris Williamson, who has previously suggested that the many instances of anti-Semitism in the party were “dirty lowdown tricks used for political ends”, appeared alongside Jackie Walker, who once said Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade.
Williamson and his fellow travellers have made the case in the past year that anti-Semitism has been “weaponised” against Labour’s generally pro-Palestinian leadership.
“It’s really offensive,” she says. “You wouldn’t say any other form of oppression was being weaponised? It is right to call out prejudice, no matter what side of the political spectrum you find it on. I think we’re taking a harder line on anti-Semitism now and I think the last Conference shows that.”
So, does this member of New West End Synagogue think the party’s annual conference was a giant leap forward? If so, to what extent is this down to Jeremy Corbyn?
“Jeremy has taken amazing steps forward with the Jewish community,” she says, presumably knowing that this is going to be a hard-sell. “Things like the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) motion on the way in which anti-Semitism and other forms of oppression are responded to by the Party, that went through at Conference and he supported it, very publicly backed it. That was really powerful.”
She points out that Corbyn supported the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, and says she wasn’t surprised.
“I think he’s done really good work in the past year reaching out to the community but obviously we still need to do more. Jeremy’s supporting the JLM a lot more now. He even came to the Chanukah party!”
Will Corbyn ever endear himself to a Jewish community overwhelmingly supportive of the Israel? Will it ever be won over? “I think we will. I think we have been in a lot of areas… He’s been doing a lot of really positive work.” Mirwitch admits that there are “a few tests coming up which I think will be really important”.
What of her own progress? Does she see herself as an MP one day? “Who knows? I don’t know where my life will be in ten years’ time. Anything could change. And I wouldn’t want to be an MP for the sake of it.”
But she is far from the only young Jewish woman making waves. “I’m really positive about how many fantastic young Jewish women there are in the party, like Rhea Wolfson, Izzy Lenga, Ella Rose, doing fantastic work. They’re inspirations.” It’s a list to which we can add her name.
“That Young Labour elected a Jewish woman – who’s very visibly and proudly Jewish – as its leader, I think that says a lot about how far we’ve come.”