Meet Mr Cor­byn’s de­voted de­fender ROSA DO­HERTY JENNY MANSON

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - IN­TER­VIEWS

TO SAY that the Jewish Voice for Labour group is con­tro­ver­sial within the Jewish com­mu­nity would be an un­der­state­ment. The group, launched in Septem­ber 2017, on the sec­ond day of the Labour Party an­nual na­tional con­fer­ence, has rou­tinely re­jected or down­played the party’s prob­lem with an­ti­semitism. Mem­bers of the main­stream com­mu­nity fumed as the group mounted a counter demon­stra­tion against the Enough is Enough protest, and were given equal billing by tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies.

The JC, it’s fair to say, has been pretty crit­i­cal of JVL. So I’m sur­prised when the group’s chair Jenny Manson in­vites me to her house for an in­ter­view. I’m cu­ri­ous to meet her, this softly-spo­ken lady who seems so con­fi­dent in her de­nial of the Jew hate that even her hero, Jeremy Cor­byn, now ac­knowl­edges.

I ar­rive at her large de­tached home in Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb, on a sunny af­ter­noon. Manson greets me at the door where, be­neath lay­ers of white paint, a small slanted bulge seems to sig­nify a mezuzah.

Sev­eral peo­ple have told me that — apart from her po­lit­i­cal opin­ions — Manson is a “very nice per­son.” And she’s warm and friendly as she of­fers me tea and pas­tries from a lo­cal kosher bak­ery, and we set­tle down to talk.

“I think if we had very solid in­for­ma­tion that said there was an­ti­semitism in the coun­try and in the Labour party then it should be very big story,” Manson tells me, sug­gest­ing that the whole thing has been thor­oughly over-ex­ag­ger­ated to smear the Labour leader. “There might be very se­ri­ous ev­i­dence. But I haven’t seen any of it.”

She tells me that she’s a pas­sion­ate an­tiracist. So how, I ask, can she jus­tify op­pos­ing a marginalised group of peo­ple who say they are vic­tims of racism?

“I do mind about that. But I sup­pose I would say that some of the al­le­ga­tions have turned out not to be true.

“If there are al­le­ga­tions they have to be in­ves­ti­gated by the Labour Party. I have ev­ery sym­pa­thy for peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­ence an­ti­semitism, but there has been an alarm­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion for this to drown out other is­sues.”

She re­jects my ex­am­ples out­right, say­ing there is no ev­i­dence that it is Labour mem­bers who carry out abuse on so­cial me­dia. In­evitably she sug­gests the prob­lem is worse in other par­ties.

“The Jews I know that were sus­pended [from the Labour Party] have had to be read­mit­ted.”

She seems gen­uinely hurt at the re­sponse that her ac­tions have drawn from the wider Jewish com- mu­nity. “Very of­fen­sive things have been writ­ten about me and my col­leagues,” she says, with some pas­sion. “What­ever you or any­one has to say about JVL, we do not pub­lish of­fen­sive things about other peo­ple.”

She is par­tic­u­larly up­set about a JC col­umn by David Aaronovitch, crit­i­cis­ing Leah Le­vane, Manson’s co-chair, de­scrib­ing her as Mr Cor­byn’s idea of a “re­ally good Jew.”

“We don’t call the Board of Deputies or the JLC, not proper Jews. We might dis­agree with them but we don’t per­son­alise it and we cer­tainly don’t ques­tion peo­ple’s Jewish­ness. In fact I think it is a strange kind of an­ti­semitism to do that,” she says.

“My style of pol­i­tics is not nasty and I’ve been in pol­i­tics for some time.”

In­deed, she has been in the Labour party for more than 50 years. Al­though —un­til the Cor­byn years — she has of­ten dis­agreed with its lead­ers. While at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity study­ing his­tory she joined a dis­af­fil­i­ate Labour group — an irony that is not lost on her.

“I sup­pose I have al­ways been some­thing of a rebel. The Labour party was be­ing mean to im­mi­grants at that time.”

A for­mer Labour coun­cil­lor in Colin­dale, Bar­net, Manson, 70, says she was in­spired back into to pol­i­tics af­ter Jeremy Cor­byn was elected Jenny Manson in her gar­den leader in 2015. “I have al­ways been a lit­tle bit on the right of the party when it comes to things like law and or­der. When I was a coun­cil­lor I worked very closely with the po­lice and got on very well with them in a pe­riod when Labour was be­ing very silly about po­lice. There was a sort of anti-po­lice thing go­ing on.

“But I have al­ways been left on the econ­omy and things like that.”

Her left wing pol­i­tics sprang in part from her ca­reer as a tax in­spec­tor for the In­land Rev­enue. She dealt with the oil sec­tor, bring­ing in lots of money for the ex­che­quer.

“It taught me a lot about in­equal­i­ties, tax avoid­ance and un­fair­ness,” she says. “It came to me nat­u­rally to be­lieve in higher tax­a­tion and a fairer education sys­tem. I was ter­ri­bly pleased when Cor­byn was elected as leader be­cause these sorts of things are im­por­tant to him.”

Manson was born in Harpen­den, in 1948 and says that hers was the only Jewish fam­ily in the Hert­ford­shire town. “And the only fam­ily that voted Labour,” she says, proudly. “My fa­ther used to get news from Amnesty and CND de­liv­ered.

“I went to the lo­cal school and was treated like a tro­phy by my friends be­cause it was very un­usual to have a Jew among them.”

The fam­ily were not re­li­gious, but they marked Passover and Yom Kip­pur and she has been hurt by peo­ple who ques­tion her Jewish­ness.

“My fa­ther’s fam­ily were mem­bers of Be­vis Marks. Dad was put off sy­n­a­gogue be­cause my grand­mother Nina, who was a He­brew scholar, tried to teach him He­brew (and he found lan­guages hard un­like his elder broth­ers) and made him sit through long ser­vices.

“It is a cliché but be­ing Jewish was still very im­por­tant to him, he used to tell me all about it and read bits of the bi­ble. I wouldn’t say some­one wasn’t a proper Jew be­cause they don’t go to sy­n­a­gogue.”

Her mother Miriam es­caped a pogrom in 1914 and went from the Ukraine to Pales­tine, be­fore com­ing to Eng­land. “She lived in Haifa un­til she was 15,” Manson ex­plains.

It was her fam­ily’s con­nec­tion to Is­rael that in­flu­enced her own views on the re­gion and the con­flict.

“I hate the word jour­ney but my views on Is­rael and Pales­tine have moved quite a lot in the last 20 or 30 years, like many peo­ple I sup­pose.” She has vis­ited Is­rael twice, once for the first time in 1966 on her gap year where she stayed with her cousins on a lead­ing left-wing kib­butz.

“I was shocked then by the way Arabs were talked about in Is­rael. I was most happy on the kib­butz be­cause they had di­a­logue with Pales­tini­ans. I re­mem­ber them com­ing in for se­cret con­ver­sa­tions in the night.”

She re­calls feel­ing “des­per­ately fright­ened” for Is­rael dur­ing the 1967 war. “I don’t think as a fam­ily we dis­cussed or ques­tioned Zion­ism. It had sort of just hap­pened.”

Manson has said JVL is “not an­tiZion­ist” but ad­mits that it was de­signed as a plat­form for Jews who do not sup­port what she called the Jewish Labour Move­ment’s “pro­foundly Zion­ist ori­en­ta­tion.”

As a long stand­ing mem­ber of Jews for Jus­tice for Pales­tini­ans, she vis­ited Is­rael for a sec­ond time two years ago with the left-leaning Is­rael ad­vo­cacy group, Yachad.

“We met with groups like Break­ing The Si­lence and got a wor­ry­ing im­pres­sion from them that they were fear­ing for their se­cu­rity from other Jews for speak­ing up against the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

“I was most moved by a visit to a Pales­tinian vil­lage in the West Bank where a man just asked us for help. There was a real sense of im­po­tence.”

Now re­tired, she chairs Bar­net Car­ers Cen­tre.

She’s also — and this sur­prised me — writ­ten a book on con­scious­ness which led to an in­vi­ta­tion from the As­so­ci­a­tion of Jewish Refugees to talk to Holo­caust sur­vivors.

“When I left uni­ver­sity one of the things I liked the most is dis­cov­er­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween hu­man be­ings. I de­cided I would use that in­ter­est in peo­ple’s thoughts about them­selves to do some­thing.

“Ev­ery­one has an in­ter­nal life that is very much pri­vate to them, but once you start talk­ing to peo­ple you dis­cover that they can feel quite in­se­cure, they want to be liked and un­der­stood and that is what the book is about.

“I fight hard as a po­lit­i­cal woman, but I have a soft spot for ba­bies, chil­dren and hu­man re­la­tion­ships.”

And with that I’m even more con­fused —how does some­one so seem­ingly aware of other peo­ple and their in­ter­nal strug­gles, shut down when it comes to their ex­pe­ri­ence of an­ti­semitism?

“The Cor­byn lead­er­ship has con­stantly voted against racism,” she in­sists. “I wel­come the way they treat peo­ple from all races and in my view they have a good record on an­ti­semitism.

“We didn’t con­sider the Board of Deputies had a right to pick on the Labour Party. It seemed an in­ap­pro­pri­ate thing to do.

“Shami Chakrabarti did an ex­cel­lent re­port but no other party has had a re­port. Is­lam­o­pho­bia is a much big­ger prob­lem and so is ho­mo­pho­bia.

“There has been no cov­er­age of the rise of an­ti­semitism on the right.”

When I point out that the JC has reg­u­larly cov­ered the rise of right wing an­ti­semitism she responds. “I’ve seen noth­ing about the links of the Con­ser­va­tive Party to right wing par­ties in Poland. The only sto­ries that don’t die are the sto­ries about the Labour party.”

I am left won­der­ing if per­haps there is some­thing in Manson’s un­con­scious that just does not want to see the things with which she dis­agrees.

I have al­ways been a bit on the right of the party

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.