Jewdas has defended its record of campaigning against antisemitism “on the left and right” after Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for attending its Seder on Monday evening.
The organisation, a left-wing anti-Zionist group of British Jews, is made up of outspoken critics of both Israel and the mainstream British communal establishment.
Now it has released a statement insisting that its members fought antisemitism “way before it was popular”, citing anti-antisemitism workshops in Marseille and London, and pointing out its literature on how to criticise Israel without being antisemitic.
Mr Corbyn – who has been under pressure since last Monday’s protest march against antisemitism at Westminster – chose to attend the Jewdas Seder, to some dismay across the community.
This was enhanced after it emerged that Jewdas had claimed last week’s antisemitism row was “the work of cynical manipulations by people whose express loyalty is to the Conservative Party and the right wing of the Labour Party”.
Today, Jonathan Arkush, the President of the Board of Deputies and one of the organisers of the March 26 protest, said that that Jewdas was a “source of virulent antisemitism”. Mr Arkush also claimed that not all the group’s members were Jewish.
In its passage relating to the reason for holding the Seder itself, for example, it reads: “We tell the story to remind us that we are still not free and our struggle is not over, so that we should continue to struggle for our freedom and bring about a revolution.”
It is written in a somewhat glib tone and includes a number of expletives, as well as references to Communism and pop culture.
A mocked-up image of Mr Corbyn attending a Jewdas Torah study group also features.
A number of individuals and organisations, including the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Jewish Labour Movement, criticised Mr Corbyn for his decision to attend the Seder.
But in a humorously-worded statement, Jewdas responded: “While we remain opposed to the monarchy, we were delighted that the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn accepted our invitation to join the Jewdas community Seder. Jeremy was a 10/10 guest and provided delicious maror from his allotment.
“In 1812 the British Government designated Jewdas to be the sole representative body for British Jews. We fulfil our role of being the voice for Anglo-Jewry by writing funny tweets, holding great parties and passing on the memes which we receive from God, via Geoffrey Cohen.
“We are not happy with the Jewish Establishment, but we remain deeply involved in many synagogues and communal organisations (although this is mostly for the free food).
“We are unhappy with the pervasive antisemitism that still remains on the Left but continue to remain very much involved because we are committed to a better world and a better Left, and believe that the only way to tackle antisemitism is to keep fighting for our rights in the diaspora.”
The group had previously courted controversy when it tweeted in December that Israel was “a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be disposed of”.
It also accused the Board of Deputies and the JLC, which have led the challenges to Mr Corbyn’s record on antisemitism, of “playing a dangerous game with people’s lives”.
In the past Jewdas has pointed out that it called for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party, and that many of its members hold paid or voluntary positions within the Jewish community.
It has also promoted Jewish East End history and culture, the Yiddish language, as well as Jewish traditions of socialism and anarchism.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn confirmed that he attended last night’s Seder, at St Peter’s de Beauvoir church, near to his Islington North constituency, in north London. This was said to be in a personal capacity, rather than as the Labour Party leader.
According to the event page on Facebook, the Seder, billed as an “anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist” event, was attended by 69 Jewdas members.
Writing in the JC today, Charlotte Nicols, one of the attendees, defended Mr Corbyn, saying that he was “part of the entire Seder, the dramatic re-enactment of the Exodus story, boisterous singing in Yiddish, whipping each other with spring onions - the full works”.
She wrote: “Those who have attacked Mr Corbyn’s attendance because he’s not speaking to the “right Jewish people” only legitimise Jewdas’s existence.
"That said, Jewdas does not exist entirely outside of the Jewish mainstream - many people in attendance were fully paid-up synagogue members, active in their communities, and even in the Rabbinate.
“Jeremy accepting an invitation to celebrate a Jewish festival with young Jewish people should be applauded, as part of a wider programme of engagement, learning and reflection on his part.”
One of the founding members of Jewdas is Joseph Finlay, a popular Jewish musician and former choirmaster of Hendon Reform Synagogue, in north west London.
The JC understands Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi of the Reform Movement, arrived in a personal capacity, having been invited by a relative. Upon discovering that Mr Corbyn was in attendance, she left.
Rabbi Janner-Klausner said she was unaware of the statement the group made on last week's protest against Labour Party antisemitism.
She said: “That statement was disgusting and had I known about it there is no way I would have gone.”
Rabbi Janner-Klausner called on the Jewish community “to stop infighting", adding that “Jews attacking Jews is not acceptable.
Earlier today Mr Corbyn defended his attendance at the Seder, telling journalists in Swindon that he "learned a lot" from the traditional Pesach meal.
He said: "(It was) a celebration of Passover, which I celebrate with young Jewish people from my own community and my own constituency.
“It was very interesting talking to a lot of young people about their experiences of modern Britain and I learned a lot. Isn’t that a good thing?”