Dangers that lie in the shadows


By the time Jeremy Corbyn tweeted a Rosh Hashanah greeting wishing the community a "sweet and Happy New Year" on Sunday afternoon, Jewish Labour supporters had already spent more than 24 hours attempting to come to terms with his election as leader of the opposition.

Senior Jewish figures in the party and across the community greeted his win with a mixture of shock, dismay and, in some cases, quiet acceptance.

While there were reports of some Jewish supporters rescinding their party memberships in the hours after Mr Corbyn's election, communal organisations adopted a wait-and-see policy.

On Sunday night, Ivan Lewis, the most senior Jewish shadow cabinet minister, was one of the first to be sacked. A former minister, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary had attacked Mr Corbyn's views during the leadership election as a "cause for serious concern" and said he had shown "very poor judgment".

Following the result on Saturday, Mr Lewis wrote on Facebook that he would never leave the party - and highlighted that he had "never accused Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism".

The Guardian reported that when Mr Lewis then spoke to Mr Corbyn on Sunday afternoon, he had offered to remain in his Northern Ireland role during the current crisis. He had also raised with the new leader his own experiences of antisemitic abuse during the leadership campaign.

Mr Corbyn was said to have agreed that the men should meet to discuss the issue. But five minutes later Mr Lewis received a text message from the leader saying he had been sacked.

A spokesman for Mr Lewis said no date had been fixed for the meeting to discuss antisemitism.

After Luciana Berger's appointment to Mr Corbyn's team, reports emerged of major disagreements between the party's Jewish MPs over whether to serve under the new leader.

The shadow cabinet has been stripped of almost all the Israel supporters it previously included. The departure of defeated leadership candidate Yvette Cooper, who had served as Shadow Home Secretary for almost five years, also deprives the party of a key figure who had worked with Jewish groups such as the Community Security Trust on issues including security and antisemitism.

She was replaced be fellow leadership loser Andy Burnham, who has previous experience of working with the community but whose links are tenuous.

Diane Abbott, a leading critic of Israel, was handed the Shadow International Development brief, which covers issues including aid for Palestinians. Hilary Benn continues as Shadow Foreign Secretary, a position he took up after the general election in May.

The new Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May during last summer's Gaza conflict to ask whether British people fighting in the IDF would be stripped of their citizenship and potentially pursued on terrorism charges, similar to those facing Britons who join Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

One senior Labour Israel supporter said efforts had been made for years to "cultivate" the party's new deputy leader, Tom Watson. It is now hoped that he could be a "go-to" figure and the potential counter-balance to Mr Corbyn and others on the front bench.

Another supporter would be Michael Dugher, a Labour Friends of Israel officer who was installed as Shadow Culture Secretary. Israel supporters including Liz Kendall, Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt will not be returning to work under Mr Corbyn.

One senior pro-Israel Labour supporter said the situation was "bloody depressing" but added that "a lot of good people" remained clear about "sensible positions" Labour should take on Israel. "We are up for the fight," the source added.

Communal anxiety around Mr Corbyn's election is pronounced. Last month, seven in 10 British Jews told a JC poll they were concerned about the prospect of him as leader, with more than 80 per cent worried about his potential foreign policy positions and links to Holocaust deniers.

Communal leaders reacted to Mr Corbyn's election with caution. Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said he had asked for an early meeting with Mr Corbyn to discuss key issues.

"We would like Mr Corbyn to affirm and implement a 'zero tolerance' stance towards racists, extremists, Holocaust deniers and homophobes," said Mr Arkush.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, also looked forward to meeting the Labour leader at the earliest opportunity.

The key fear, said one adviser, was that the new leader would take a previously fringe issue – Israel – and make it mainstream.

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