Michael Goldstein: Corbyn's Labour “did not want to understand” the Jewish community

Remarks made at a JLM conference where Goldstein appeared alongside Liberal Judaism's chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich, and Noeleen Cohen, chair of Alyth and Leo Baeck College


Michael Goldstein, the newly elected president of the United Synagogue, has revealed he was a long-time supporter of the Labour Party – but  admits he “struggled” over who to vote for in the most recent general election.

Appearing on a panel at the inaugural JLM conference on Sunday alongside Liberal Judaism's chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich, and Noeleen Cohen, chair of Alyth and Leo Baeck College, Mr Goldstein said that he feared Labour under Jeremy Corbyn “did not want to understand” the community.

In a fascinating debate, Rabbi Danny Rich also told of his own “personal dilemma” of representing a 30,000 strong Liberal community while at the same time standing as a Labour candidate in next year’s local government elections.

Discussing the background to his attraction to Labour Party politics Mr Goldstein cited his grandfather’s interest in former Prime Minister Harold Wilson as an early inspiration.

He was so inspired by Tony Blair’s leadership of the labour Party that he began working as a volunteer supporting his office in the run-up to his election as PM.

Outlining his “left of centre” beliefs and their relationship to his Judaism, Mr Goldstein said: “In terms of my own personal beliefs I think there is this balance between Judaism standing for Tzedakah and a supportive community and also there being the ability of a free market.

“ I think the free market is in my view equally strong. And in my view that is where left of centre politics has the strongest interest for me.

"That balance between social welfare and support within a free market type environment, that for me is what Judaism stands for than anything else - trying to get that balance."

Mr Goldstein,54,  revealed he had never actually been a member of the Labour Party – and he considered the US have a broad spectrum of political allegiances among its membership.

But he spoke openly of his belief that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had become an unattractive proposition for his membership.

He said: "I just think that Tony Blair understood the community and from what I can see the current leadership just do not want to understand it in terms of its needs and what's important to it.

"There doesn't seem to be any effort being made to show why the statistics are showing the kind of support they are for the Labour Party.

"Under Tony Blair he worked very hard so that there was a perception and a reality that he understood the community.

"It is the complete opposite under the current leadership."

Mr Goldstein said there was “100 per cent” agreement across the US on Israel’s” fundamental right of existence" and that the issue of faith schools had become “incredibly important” especially in London.

He said he "suspects it is difficult" for any US rabbi to be a member of a political party.

In a surprise admission to panel chair and JLM conference arrangements chief Andrew Gilbert, Rabbi Danny Rich said he would have to weigh up the impact of his possible election next year as a local councillor in the West Finchley ward.

The Liberal Rabbi, and JLM member said "I know my movement is not a party political movement and therefore I do not yet know if I were to be elected as a Labour councillor how that would have an impact whether I will remain in my post.

"I have to make clear, having spent 30 years building up my movement I'm not prepared to see it being destroyed...

"I'm not prepared to see my members say we are not giving you money because you are a prominent person who is now a Labour councillor.

"I don't know whether that will happen.

"Some of them think this is a peculiar time for prominent Jews to be involved within the Labour Party.

"The role of the rabbi is to be a Jewish and moral teacher. The rabbi should be suspicious of all political parties.

"The question for me is once I'm identified so closely with Labour - could I still do my job?"

Rabbi Rich said his own long-term support for Labour began when he was campaigning for Alf Dubbs in Battersea South in 1979, and he recalled what he said  was “a clear switch” within the community from supporting Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair.

He believes there will be a "similar switch" to Jeremy Corbyn because many in the Jewish community "for very good reasons" like being close to power.

He said the election of Mr Corbyn had been "challenging" for his community but said he did not believe the new leader was an antisemiite - but he had made it easier for things to be said within the party that "shouldn't be tolerated."

Ms Cohen said she came from a very different background in South Africa where her politics and Judaism came together.

She said: "There are three and half thousand views in community - a real diversity of opinion.

"In terms of my own politics I grew up in activist politics. But we didn't speak as a community in South Africa. On the Labour Party, I am probably a little bit confused.

"I confess to being a lapsed member of the Labour Party, so that probably says a bit about where my politics are."

She added that the "progressive world" was open-minded politically and had to accept there were different views held within it.

When questions were opened up to the JLM audience Mr Goldstein was forced to condemn allegations made by a female attendee who said she had been abused and called “Jewish traitor” by members of Kinloss synagogue after she displayed a Vote Labour poster on the window of her flat close to the shul.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive