OWEN JONES

FIGHT­ING HA­TRED

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - IN­TER­VIEW OWEN JONES BY ROSA DO­HERTY

TO SAY that Owen Jones’s de­ci­sion to speak at a Jewish Labour Move­ment event has caused dis­sent doesn’t re­ally come close.

The in­flu­en­tial left-wing columnist has re­ceived death threats and been ac­cused of op­er­at­ing as a “stooge” for the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment since he agreed to give the in­au­gu­ral memo­rial lecture in honour of his friend and JLM stal­wart, Henry Smith.

But Mr Jones, who backed Jeremy Cor­byn’s cam­paign to be Labour leader two years ago, says he will not be bul­lied by el­e­ments on the left who are de­ter­mined to put him off speak­ing at Sun­day’s event.

An open critic of Is­rael, the Guardian writer is billed to talk about an­tisemitism and the Mid­dle East. He says he “faced a huge amount of ag­gres­sive re­sis­tance, some of it quite in­tim­i­dat­ing” when it was an­nounced he would give the lecture.

He tells the JC: “My view is the left has to bat­tle to rid it­self of any­thing that is fa­tal to what it ex­ists to do — and that is to build an in­clu­sive so­ci­ety for all.”

Mr Jones — best friend of for­mer JLM chair Mr Smith’s son Ste­fan for more than 15 years — says it “hor­ri­fied” him to learn that Jews no longer feel the Labour move­ment is a place for them.

It was hear­ing about Mr Smith’s fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence un­der the Nazis that helped Mr Jones de­velop his un­der­stand­ing of con­tem­po­rary an­tisemitism and the ex­pe­ri­ence of Bri­tish Jews to­day. He ex­plains: “With­out sound­ing like a cliché, a lot my friends are grand­chil­dren of Holo­caust sur­vivors and Stef’s fam­ily were killed in their dozens in the Holo­caust. “Once, we spent a week­end in Ber­lin and we went to a track where many of his fam­ily were trans­ported to be killed. That sort of ex­pe­ri­ence has un­doubt­edly in­formed my knowl­edge.” Mr Jones, who has at­tended Fri­day night Shab­bat din­ners with his Jewish friends, says he wants to “speak out about an­tisemitism” be­cause of their ex­pe­ri­ences.

“They have ed­u­cated me,” he says.

The left must act in sol­i­dar­ity with Bri­tain’s Jews, he be­lieves, af­ter a “collective fail­ure of the lead­er­ship of the Labour party to deal with an­tisemitism.

“I am not Jewish and it is not my ex­pe­ri­ence, but the test for me is to ask, ‘do they feel the left it is a wel­com­ing place for them?’ And un­til the an­swer is yes, it is a fail­ure.”

Mr Jones ac­knowl­edges Labour’s de­ci­sion to com­mis­sion an in­quiry into an­tisemitism last sum­mer, but adds: “A lot of the dam­age had been done al­ready.”

If the party is to avoid a “calami­tous de­feat”, Jeremy Cor­byn should stand down in ex­change for some­one else, “who sup­ports tax justice, pub­lic own­er­ship and a just for­eign pol­icy.

“The polling speaks for it­self. If he doesn’t [step down], right-wing pop­ulism which is sweep­ing the na­tion will be em­bold­ened, and that can’t be al­lowed to hap­pen.”

The 32-year-old, who lives in Is­ling­ton, north Lon­don, says those on the left who re­spond to an­tisemitism by ques­tion­ing the poli­cies of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, are part of the prob­lem.

“You get this clas­sic blam­ing thing when you talk about an­tisemitism, and peo­ple go ‘well what about Is­rael?’. It is just wrong.”

Mr Jones — whose own con­dem­na­tion of Is­rael dur­ing the Gaza con­flict of 2014 made head­lines — says it was ridicu­lous for his crit­ics to sug­gest he should not talk to sup­port­ers of Is­rael. “Lots of my friends who are Jewish de­scribe them­selves as Zion­ists. They are sup­port­ers of Is­rael but that does not mean they don’t criticise the gov­ern­ment.

“What do peo­ple want? For me not to stand with any Jews in Bri­tain? Or have a di­a­logue, un­less they are part of the one per cent of the Jewish com­mu­nity who don’t de­scribe them­selves as Zion­ists?

“It is ridicu­lous.”

Mr Jones, who has never been to Is­rael, has been in­vited to visit a friend in the coun­try and says he looks for­ward to ex­plor­ing both Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

He does not sup­port aca­demic or cul­tural boy­cotts, be­cause there was a dan­ger “you end up in­dis­crim­i­nately tar­get­ing Jewish peo­ple”.

“I’ve never been in­volved in BDS, but I do sup­port boy­cotts of prod­ucts from il­le­gal set­tle­ments. I think those set­tle­ments shouldn’t be there and they are a dis­grace.”

He adds that pro-Pales­tinian move­ments have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­front the “small mi­nor­ity” within them who “are sus­cep­ti­ble to in­dulging in an­tisemitic tropes,” par­tic­u­larly at demon­stra­tions.

“My Jewish friends of­ten feel un­com­fort­able and it is not be­cause they un­crit­i­cally sup­port the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment or don’t sup­port Pales­tini­ans.”

PHOTO: PA

Owen Jones

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