Corbyn’s home turf shows concerns — but also support for the Labour leader

The JC speaks to members of the community in Corbyn's Islington North seat


HULL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn steps off a train from Leeds as he tours the North of England by rail today on September 3, 2018 in Hull, England. Labour under Mr Corbyn are proposing a 'Crossrail for the North' linking the North East and North West of England with a new rail line. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The Labour candidate for Islington North in London is its long-time MP, Jeremy Corbyn.

Sadly, the Labour leader would not grant an interview. So instead the JC decided to go for a coffee with Rabbi Mendy Korer, the constituency’s top Jewish minister who is on good terms with Mr Corbyn.

Rabbi Korer would look like any hipster were not for his kippah. His long beard and pedal bike is the uniform for the creative freelance types that populate the Islington cafe where we met.

It would be fair to say the Chabad Islington rabbi was apprehensive about our meeting. As the main Jewish representative in Mr Corbyn’s constituency and someone who has maintained a professional relationship with the Labour leader over the past nine years, he is cautious about media interest.

He has maintained an apolitical stance publicly, something that has brought him criticism. Over the years he has declined to comment on antisemitism or Mr Corbyn’s proximity to well-known antisemites.

But he agreed to speak about how the local Jewish community is feeling about the election in the context of Labour’s antisemitism crisis.

“One of his [Corbyn’s] strong points has been his commitment to supporting the local community as a constituency MP,” Rabbi Korer said.

He added that the Labour candidate, who won the constituency in 2017 with 72.8 per cent of the vote — a majority of 33,215 — has attended Jewish events in the borough “come rain or shine”, including the menorah lighting that now attracts the second biggest crowd after Trafalgar Square.

“Most Jews here are living an integrated lifestyle and they are more likely to encounter crimes like phone snatching or knife crime than antisemitism.”

For Rabbi Korer, politics was off limits: “My role on a local level is about nurturing the community and making Judaism proudly available to anyone that chooses.”

But it is not an issue that he ignores and, although he did not say it, he gives the impression it troubles him. Asked if the decision not to speak out about politics is something he struggles with, the rabbi drew breath and took a long pause. His eyes darted downwards before he answered.

“We need to appreciate the kind of borough Islington is. The people here are cosmopolitan, international and entrepreneurial and they might not have the same concerns as other Jews.”

One member of his community who does have real concerns is Celia Fridzon, 53. She has lived in the constituency for 20 years and suddenly feels isolated as a Jew surrounded by neighbours with Labour posters in their windows.

“What has happened in the Labour Party has soured my friendships with people I live side by side with,” she said.

“They know I am Jewish and I care about antisemitism in the party but they believe it is all a conspiracy and propaganda to stop Corbyn from winning.”

Ms Fridzon said: “I go to work with people who are cheerleaders for this Labour Party and come home to people who do the same. It can be very isolating. I can’t have real friendships with these people.”

Were it not for Mr Corbyn, Ms Fridzon said she would always support a Labour government. “I am passionate about social issues but I can’t bear to see him get anywhere near government. Antisemitism has got in the way of all the other issues I care about.”

Over in Tufnell Park, 24-year-old Joanna Phillips was looking forward to voting for Mr Corbyn. “Labour policies represent a real change for the country and equality,” she said.

The Labour member, who was a member of Jewish youth movement BBYO, said she felt frustrated how “people on either side of the antisemitism debate have become entrenched in their views”. Antisemitism was not a defining issue for her, she said, adding that she had “enormous concerns” about the environment and the rental market.

Islington born Kaya Comer-Schwartz is the council’s Executive Member for Children, Young People and Families. As a Jewish resident and Labour representative on the council, said she understood why Jewish people in the constituency were concerned about antisemitism but added she meets Jews in the borough who are upset “by how Jeremy has been treated because they have close relationships with him nurtured over many years, and how he is portrayed is not how they experience him to be”. She is one of them, having known him since she was six — and considers him a family friend.”

Hoping to tear votes away from the Labour Party, as they did in this year’s European elections, is Lib Dem candidate Nick Wakeling, also an Islington resident of many years.

When asked if he had done much to engage with the local Jewish community he said he had not yet. “I did go to the last menorah lighting but beyond that I don’t know much about the local community.”

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