Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party affiliated to Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) at its meeting on 25 October 2018.
Sadly, that cannot be seen as a prefigurative act of solidarity with Jewish communities facing such things as the gun attack on a Pittsburgh (USA) synagogue on 27 October as well as more everyday suspicion and abuse.
The problem is with the politics of JVL, especially some of its committee. At the launch meeting of Labour Against Racism and Fascism on 15 October, JVL secretary Glyn Secker spoke against a proposal to include antisemitism (alongside Afrophobia and Islamophobia) in the group’s definition of racism.
Antisemitism he said, is not an issue in Britain! He “as a white Ashkenazi Jew” experiences no discrimination as Muslims and black people do. The charge of antisemitism has been used by the right to undermine Corbyn, and so anti-racists should steer clear.
But the increase in reported antisemitic incidents is real. The security guards outside synagogues and Jewish schools are there for a reason. That Jews in Britain do not suffer discrimination in employment or housing or such does not wipe out those facts.
JVL was launched at Labour Party Conference in 2017 by Jewish Labour members who announced their aim as countering the “false antisemitism witch hunt”. The group poses itself as a pro-Corbyn Jewish organisation alternative to the longer-standing Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). JVL says that the JLM seeks to undermine Corbyn and opposes JLM's Labour Zionism.
JVL has focused almost entirely on opposition to the Labour Party’s adoption of the IHRA text and on defending members who they believe have been targeted for their anti-Israel views.
At the Hornsey and Wood Green meeting, speakers in favour of JVL affiliation stated that JLM does not represent them as Jews, and that CLPs should back JVL in order to show solidarity with the Palestinians and allow criticism of Israel, which they say the IHRA text has curtailed.
No affiliated CLP will have a say in what JVL does or says.
Some speakers against the motion said that affiliation would be divisive. JVL represents only a tiny fraction of Jewish opinion. Most Jews in Britain, including most Jews involved in the Labour Party, are in some sense Zionist, i.e. they have some connection to Israel and consider the existence of an Israeli state a part of their identity.
Criticism of and campaigning against the government of Israel is not precluded, nor even discouraged, by the IHRA text.
Being “divisive” should not necessarily damn a policy: we shouldn’t shy away from controversy when it is necessary to shape politics capable of transforming society. The problem with JVL is in fact its politics.
Jeremy Corbyn is right when he says that antisemitism is an issue on the left and must be rooted out. JVL undermines the efforts, limited and inadequate so far, to tackle this problem.
The left should not continue to ignore the fact that some criticism of Israel is being misused to promote antisemitism.
There are people involved in JVL who recognise Israel’s right to exist and would condemn the misuse, but the campaign itself is harming the fight against antisemitism on the left.