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A complex time for Jews, the Labour party and the Left

Historically, Jews regarded the party as their natural home and a hugely disproportionate number of Jewish MPs represented Labour in Parliament.

    Is Labour unapologetically antisemitic? Is British Jewry merely a conduit for Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies?

    For some, those pro-Israel Jews who insist on remaining in Labour appear to be out of sync with the prevailing wisdom pervading both party and community. Caught in the crossfire of the breast-beaters, this is not an easy time for those already buffeted by Brexit, Donald Trump’s inanities, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition of the far-right — and the Corbynista closing of the progressive mind.

    Moses took the Jews out of Egypt, and now Jeremy Corbyn seems to have taken them out of the Labour Party.

    Historically, Jews regarded the party as their natural home and a hugely disproportionate number of Jewish MPs represented Labour in Parliament. However, the ability of British Jews to pull themselves up by their boot-straps often translated into a slow drift to the right.

    For many, their economic interests were now not best served by Labour policies. The advent of New Labour in the 1990s inhibited this move and many were attracted by Tony Blair’s social democratic, business-friendly, Israel-friendly, centrism.

    Under Mr Blair, socialism became the “s” word never to be uttered — and many Jewish party members could not relate to this abandonment of normative Labour politics.

    The crash of 2008 and the years of austerity created a chasm of anger for those whom society forgot. In 2015, the unlikely figure of Jeremy Corbyn was propelled from the margins to express this anger.

    Mr Corbyn, however, was not old Labour but far-left. His inner circle was composed of an elite of middle-class ideologues — many of whom had enthusiastically identified with the pro-Kremlin faction of the Communist party in the 1980s. Those who had been dismissive of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms, greater freedom of thought in the USSR, the prominence of human rights activists such as Andrei Sakharov and the desire of Jews to emigrate to Israel.

    The far-left had traditionally admired states in the developing world such as China which had lifted countless millions out of poverty. Or Cuba which had provided free education and medical facilities to the disenfranchised. Respect for a controlled command economy which liberated the impoverished took precedence over the authoritarian nature of such regimes.

    This fuelled Mr Corbyn’s willingness to turn a blind eye to reactionary views, when anti-Zionism tips over into antisemitism, and to associate himself with some unsavoury figures.

    The identification of an overwhelming majority of British Jews with Israel has proved an ongoing problem for the Corbynista inner-circle. Zionism is seen as wrong, not different. Yet as several surveys have indicated, the separation between “Jews” and “Zionists” for a majority is a fictitious construct.

    Like Lenin, Mr Corbyn preferred to favour unrepresentative Jews on the periphery rather than the Jewish masses. The Jewish faction of the British left however is not the same as the left of the British Jewish community.

    Despite his frequent talk about peace and justice, Mr Corbyn himself has made no attempt over three decades to act as a mediator and bring together the peace camps in Israel and Palestine. Instead, he has served as a propagandist for one side only.

    Many long-term Jewish members of the Labour Party understand these subtle complexities. The far-left will not relinquish its unexpected position of power — come what may.

    For younger Jewish party members, repairing today’s world is what matters. Yesterday is unimportant. In addition, Mr Netanyahu’s Israel provides neither inspiration nor involvement. Is it not easier therefore, more relevant, to campaign for a better NHS or the abolition of tuition fees in Britain instead?

    While ignorance and intolerance is ever present, the eternal Jewish dilemma — should we stay or should we go? — remains, for the time being, hanging in the air.

     

    Colin Shindler’s new book — ‘The Hebrew Republic: Israel’s Return to History’ — is published by Rowman and Littlefield

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