“We are losing Jews from the Labour Party”

Submitted by AWL on 7 November, 2018 - 9:30

Adrian Cohen spoke to a local Workers’ Liberty supporter.

S: Our CLP [Constituency Labour Party], Hornsey and Wood Green, with one of the largest memberships in the country, voted at its October meeting to affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour [JVL: a group concerned to reject complaints about antisemitism in the Labour Party as spurious]. Now we have a letter from people in the local Jewish community to the CLP calling for the affiliation to be stopped. Adrian, you are the chair of the London Jewish Forum and a Jewish Labour Movement delegate to the CLP, and a signatory to the letter in your capacity as the deputy for Highgate Synagogue to the Board of Deputies (BoD). I spoke and voted against JVL affiliation, but I think the letter poses things wrongly. It is an attempt to try and overturn the Labour Party vote by external pressure, not to continue and change the discussion. Just saying that JVL is “divisive” can only get you so far. The issue is the politics they stand on.

A: We are about the last surviving people in the [Labour] party from the mainstream community. Most of the people in my synagogue in Highgate think I am barking mad to still be involved. Things are at a real impasse. JVL oppose the adoption of the IHRA text [on antisemitism] and continue to support people who are expelled or, in the case of Livingstone, have left the party. I could have said JVL are a pernicious astroturf organisation that gaslights people. I chose not to. People identify with some of the JVL supporters as “our Jews”.

They end up being hostile to the majority of Jews because we are the “wrong kind of Jews”. Then they invert that, and say the people in the mainstream community pick on them and tell them they are the wrong kind of Jews. The politics get sunk in an argument about who are the right kind of Jews. The letter is not a Labour Party response. This is Jewish residents of Haringey and representatives of the two synagogues saying a mess has been created. It takes one fool to drop a stone down a well and eight wise men to pull it out. What do we want to happen?

Logically we want the resolution revoked, but I realise that is not going to happen. I’m not sure what I want to happen. With Naz Shah [a Labour MP charged in April 2016 with having made an antisemitic comment on Facebook], the heat was taken out of it very fast by her accepting she had made a mistake and talking to the JLM and the community. JVL are too niche, obsessed by one particularly narrow aspect of the issue.

The other notable thing about them is how few young people are involved. I am not going to resign from the Party. I feel very invested in it. I joined in 1982 and I still want to be involved. I have no plan to give up on the GC meetings. It wasn’t a staged walk out after the vote. I was very annoyed and David (the other JLM delegate) was very upset. He is a local rabbi.

He has to explain what has happened to the local community. The mainstream community believe that JVL is being used to try to silence them. I think that this feeds into a Stalinist culture within the movement: the cynical use of arguments when it suits your ends.

What do you think can be done by the national Labour leadership?

The official answer (to which I subscribe) is what the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said when they met with the leadership and Seumas Milne in April. There has been no progress on those points. The IHRA text was adopted, but will it stay put with the new National Executive Committee?

What is the situation with the outstanding cases (e.g. Jackie Walker) and the fact that Chris Williamson MP shares platforms with them? I don’t think things will move forward until those issues are addressed. That is where things are officially.

Unofficially, we are losing Jews from the Labour Party. Particularly young left wing Jews, especially those who are involved in organisations like Yachad and who have more radical politics on Israel-Palestine. They are the ones leaving. People like me, the “centrist dads”, will stick around! I don’t want to do the bidding of the people who might try to drive me out. This generation of Corbyn and his milieu can only keep a grip on all of this for so long. Some of the newer people and the younger people will be fed up by this and will want things to change. I am sceptical we can achieve much in the short term.

Even with the adoption of the IHRA text, Corbyn had his last stand with his “free speech” clause. I can’t see Seumas Milne shifting. Jeremy just hasn’t read the memo.

What did you think of Emily Thornberry’s speech at Labour Party conference [condemning antisemitism]?

That was very well received, but not so much in the Jewish community. Because of the line about “fringes of the movement”, it doesn’t ring true.

Solidarity has approached leading members of JVL to offer them a chance to explain their stance, but all so far have declined.

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