Tributes pour in for Lawrie Nerva, who has died at 98

The Poale Zion stalwart was described as "an inspiration"


Tributes have poured in for one of the stalwarts of the Jewish Labour Movement following the death of Lawrie Nerva, aged 98.

A former chair of Poale Zion – the socialist society founded in 1903 and now flourishing as the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) –  Mr Nerva retained a devotion to the community and to the Labour Party he first joined in 1945, throughout his entire life.

His son Neil Nerva, himself a Brent Labour councillor and leading figure in JLM, announced his father’s death on Saturday evening, tweeting that he had led an “amazing life”.

Dame Louise Ellman, the former Labour MP who was herself an active member and vice-chair of the Labour Zionist organisation Poale Zion told the JC: ”Lawrie was a great inspiration and a good friend.

“His dedication to the Labour Party was outstanding. He never deviated from his socialist and anti-racist principles.

“His commitment to Poale Zion and JLM enabled new generations to maintain their Jewish identity in a Labour Zionist context.”

Tom Watson, the former Labour deputy leader, also paid tribute to Mr Nerva, having first got to know him while working as a political organiser in the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union in which he printed out the Poale Zion newsletter.

Mr Watson said: ”I am deeply saddened to hear that Lawrie Nerva has passed away.

“Lawrie was a great servant to Labour Party which he joined in the days of Attlee. We first met through my work for AEEU where he was the driving force behind Poale Zion.

“I will remember him with great affection. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and many friends.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also tweeted how he was "deeply saddened" to hear of the passing of Mr Nerva. He was joined by other senior party figures including shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, and Georgia Gould, the Camden Council leader who paid their own respects.

As a  former Board of Deputies member and as a member of the Mosaic Liberal Synagogue in Harrow, Mr Nerva - who is survived by his wife Ruby, their son and daughter Anne – was always an active member of the community.

Board President Marie van der Zyl said on Sunday the Mr Nerva's "contribution to the community was outstanding."

His passion for politics saw him become chair of social services at Brent Council in the 1980s, a councillor on Brent Health Authority and chair of Brent North Labour Party.

He  was given the Merit Award for “outstanding service” to Labour at the party’s annual party conference in 2012.

In more recent years he was outspoken in his criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle antisemitism in the party – although like many of his friends he refused to leave.

In a statement after the BBC Panorama in July 2019 which exposed the party's failure to tackle antisemitism, Mr Nerva attacked Labour’s failure to respond to the charges to that were aired and wrote that “anti-Jewish racism” was “not always understood”.

But he said he and his wife Ruby would not quit Labour because “the current difficulties are a phase” and that “inevitable changes” would bring “enlightenment.”
In the later stages of his life he also gave valuable advice to the current leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement – an organisation which has grown to over 4000 members.

Mike Katz, JLM’s national chair, said: ”Lawrie played an indispensable role in JLM. Not only did he carry out all the important officer roles at one point or another, for much of the 1990s and 200s he kept the show on the road with his energy and dedication – and thank goodness he did.

“He was a proud socialist and Zionist , but more than that he was warm and generous always wanting to encourage the next generation of activists. He was an absolute mensch.”

Peter Mason, JLM’s national secretary, added:” Lawrie was such a fixture of our movement, leading us over such a long period, and overseeing our modernisation from Poale Zion to JLM. His memory will be a blessing to generations of activists who take forward what he built and cherished.”


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