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We are meet­ing the Labour leader to try to re­build the trust of the Jewish com­mu­nity

The Observer - - News - Jonathan Gold­stein & Jonathan Arkush

It is up to Cor­byn to elim­i­nate leftwing an­tisemitism

Three weeks ago, we took the un­prece­dented de­ci­sion to call upon our Jewish com­mu­nity to go to West­min­ster and pub­licly protest against an­tisemitism in the Labour party. In truth, 72 hours be­fore the protest, we had not se­ri­ously con­sid­ered such a thing, but over the quiet con­tem­pla­tion of the Jewish Sab­bath, some­thing snapped in both of us, part of the sud­den mood swing we felt in our re­spec­tive syn­a­gogues and around our Fri­day night din­ner ta­bles.

Al­most ev­ery day of the pre­vi­ous week, there had been some story re­lat­ing to Labour’s poor han­dling of the an­tisemitism al­le­ga­tions that have dogged the party since Fe­bru­ary 2016. The last straw came when it emerged that Cor­byn him­self had sought to de­fend a mu­ral that he has sub­se­quently ac­knowl­edged to have been an­ti­semitic.

With just 24 hours’ no­tice, our protest was at­tended by up to 2,000 peo­ple from all sec­tions of the Jewish com­mu­nity, and be­yond. The mood was more of be­muse­ment, sur­prise and shock than anger. Be­mused in­di­vid­u­als who had never been to a protest were won­der­ing what you are sup­posed to do once you get to one. Sur­prise that so many had turned up, de­spite press­ing Passover prepa­ra­tions. Above all, ab­so­lute shock that it had come to this.

When peo­ple ac­cuse the pro­test­ers of be­ing anti-Labour, they could not be more wrong. Many of those who came to the protest iden­tify deeply with Labour and that is why they feel so be­trayed. From the plat­form, coura­geous Labour MPs spoke with great pain, hon­esty and in­tegrity about the prob­lem. We knew, as did most of the crowd, the huge risk that these MPs were tak­ing for be­ing there. It is these MPs and many other coun­cil­lors and mem­bers who are now the most vi­tal op­po­nents of an­tisemitism. In­evitably, the MPs are now fac­ing a per­verse back­lash for op­pos­ing an­tisemitism and for car­ing about their party. Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship in de­fence of them will now be a cru­cial com­po­nent of his promised com­mit­ment to com­bat­ing an­tisemitism.

The stages of this saga in­cluded: the res­ig­na­tion of the pres­i­dent of the Ox­ford Univer­sity Labour club over an­tisemitism con­cerns; the buried Labour stu­dents’ in­quiry into it; Baroness Roy­all’s half-buried in­quiry; the sus­pen­sion of the MP Naz Shah (who ex­cep­tion­ally sought to un­der­stand an­tisemitism and make good); Ken Liv­ing­stone’s re­peated out­bursts; Shami Chakrabarti’s com­pro­mised in­quiry; Labour party con­fer­ences; and too many dis­ci­plinary cases to note, many with in­ex­pli­ca­bly le­nient out­comes.

It is an ex­haust­ing list, but it is nowhere near ex­haus­tive. Each twist and turn has led only to fiercer de­nun­ci­a­tions of our or­gan­i­sa­tions and our main­stream Jewish com­mu­nity. Above all, we are ac­cused of “smear­ing” Cor­byn. The shadow home sec­re­tary, Diane Ab­bott, who has her­self faced un­ac­cept­able racism and so should be a nat­u­ral ally in this fight, is among those who have made the charge.

We are not merely be­ing de­nied the most ba­sic prin­ci­ple of an­tiracist be­hav­iour – sol­i­dar­ity – but are vi­ciously ac­cused of smears, of dirty tricks, of lies. Our com­mu­nity has seen the havoc wreaked by an­tisemitism upon Euro­pean Jewish com­mu­ni­ties post-2000, but there are many who con­sider them­selves to be on the pro­gres­sive left who have never shown an ounce of pity for such things, not even with French Jews flee­ing in their thou­sands to Is­rael, Lon­don and North Amer­ica.

These peo­ple claim to be “crit­i­cal” (not “ob­ses­sively hate­ful”) of Is­rael, but op­posed to an­tisemitism. If that is the case, why are Jewish con­cerns not merely ig­nored but so pas­sion­ately at­tacked?

There is, how­ever, an im­por­tant so­lu­tion to this and Cor­byn has al­ready said it in his let­ter of re­ply to us, a re­ply that did not duck our orig­i­nal open let­ter to him. Cor­byn’s let­ter laid out a recog­ni­tion of our con­cerns and of the speci­fici­ties of leftwing an­tisemitism. It gave us the grounds to or­gan­ise a meet­ing with him to try to build mu­tual trust and to at­tempt a con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion that di­min­ishes Labour an­tisemitism rather than wors­ens it. It should deal with is­sues of lead­er­ship, of ed­u­ca­tion, en­sur­ing an ef­fec­tive, trans­par­ent and just dis­ci­plinary process and tack­ling a cul­ture of “vic­tim-blam­ing” that has se­verely com­pounded mat­ters.

That meet­ing is now agreed for 24 April. Last month’s protest was a nec­es­sary mo­ment of cathar­sis, as painful for Labour as it was for our com­mu­nity, but we can­not now re­turn to “busi­ness as usual”. We need this to be a gen­uine turn­ing point and will do ev­ery­thing we can to make it so. We can achieve this to­gether if Cor­byn can ful­fil his pledge to be our “mil­i­tant ally” in the fight against an­tisemitism and demon­strate his un­der­stand­ing that what is now needed is firm ac­tion and not just words.

Jonathan Gold­stein is chair of the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil and Jonathan Arkush is pres­i­dent of the Board of Deputies of Bri­tish Jews

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