Anti-semitism and the Labour Party (1) - Jeremy Corbyn’s statement
Our Party was founded on the principles of solidarity and equality. We are proudly anti-racist, and at our best when we work together, uniting people in hope and against fear and division.
This week, Jewish leaders wrote to me to express their anger and upset about antisemitism in the Labour Party.
I want to assure you that prejudice against, and harassment of, Jewish people have no place whatsoever in our Party.
It's important to develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes antisemitism.
Often it takes familiar forms, but newer forms of antisemitism have also appeared, sometimes woven into criticisms of the actions of Israeli governments.
Criticism of Israel, and support for the rights of the Palestinians, is entirely legitimate. Support for justice for the Palestinian people should provide no one with the excuse to insult, harass or encourage hatred of Jewish people.
And abuse and personal attacks of any kind, on social media or in person, are never acceptable.
I am committed to ensuring our Party is a welcoming and secure place for everyone. I offer all Jewish members my assurance that this applies equally to them. I want all of us to hear Jewish voices and listen.
If you are not Jewish, I want you to better understand the importance of this issue and what we can do together to ensure our Party remains true to our values.
Zero tolerance for antisemitism means what it says. We will not accept it.
We have to get this right, all of us. Because divided societies cannot achieve justice.
As we head into elections in May and look towards the next General Election whenever it might come, let's take the lead in building a society free from prejudice. One that enables everyone to realise their full potential, and cares for all.
Thank you for supporting Labour.
Leader of the Labour Party
Anti-semitism and the Labour Party (2) - Jeremy Corbyn confirms that he is still looking to meet with the Jewish organisations that have criticised his handling of anti-semitism in the Labour Party.
Responding to a letter from the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies, Jeremy Corbyn reaffirms his determination to “address the anguish and distress caused to many people in the Jewish community”.
He accepts a “responsibility to give a strong and continuing personal lead” in the fight against antisemitism within the party and more broadly.
Corbyn goes on to confirm that he is seeking an “early” meeting with the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies to address the concerns expressed by parts of the Jewish community.
The Labour leader suggests that new general secretary Jennie Formby would “value being part of such a meeting”, and says he would place “no limitations” on the topics discussed.
This is the full text of Corbyn’s letter to the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies.
Dear Jonathan and Jonathan,
Thank you for your reply to my letter of March 26.
Let me straight away reaffirm that I appreciate and understand the anger you express, and reiterate my determination to fight antisemitism within the Labour Party and society at large. As Leader of this Party, I accept my responsibility to give a strong and continuing personal lead in this fight and – along with the General Secretary – I recommit to doing all I can to address the anguish and distress caused to many people in the Jewish community.
As I said in my reply to your initial letter, I would welcome an early meeting with your organisations to discuss the issues that you have raised. I am a strong believer that engaging in meaningful dialogue is crucial to finding effective solutions and resolving disputes and I am clear that such a meeting would be just the start of a fruitful ongoing exchange on eradicating antisemitic behaviour and discourse within the Labour Party.
It is my belief that such a meeting could easily be held without any preconditions, given that we are all on the same side as the essentials of the matter. In any event, my door will remain open to all Jewish organisations to discuss how to deepen our cooperation in the fight against antisemitism.
My offer to meet you unconditionally still stands. I place no limitations on the points you would wish to raise and am happy for the agenda to cover the issues you’ve already outlined. Our new general secretary Jennie Formby takes office today, and would value being part of such a meeting, as she will be taking immediate action to address many of the concerns raised around disciplinary cases.
I recognise the full legitimacy of raising concerns about antisemitism whether that is done by MPs or ordinary party members. I remain resolutely opposed to the abuse of MPs, or anyone else. While local Labour parties benefit from discussing current political concerns, such discussions should always take the form of comradely dialogue on understanding and compassion and should never be a forum for threats, intimidation or abuse.
Allow me to conclude by expressing once more my desire to cooperate with your two organisations in a spirit of partnership and goodwill to address the concerns of Jewish people in Britain, who will always be a cherished part of the labour movement and our wider national community.
Leader of the Labour Party
Anti-semitism and the Labour Party (3) - Jeremy Corbyn celebrated Passover with us. It’s a simple good news story, say Jewdas
Jeremy Corbyn’s Passover meal has aroused much interest, some of it ill-informed. Two days ago, the Guardian Online carried this explanation of what they are about by the organisers, Jewdas. As it hasn’t so far appeared in print, we thought Camaraderie readers might be interested to learn more.
As a radical Jewish collective, we were delighted Corbyn came to our seder. To claim we are not ‘real’ Jews is offensive and antisemiticWe are a group of British Jews who are deeply proud of being Jewish. We have always put humour and satire at the heart of what we do – because, frankly, politics and religion are far too dull otherwise. But don’t be mistaken: we are completely serious about what we do.
Since 2005, we have attempted to build a community based around activist, socialist and diasporist Judaism in the UK. While most of us are also active in our local synagogues and other Jewish cultural organisations, only together have we felt able to build the kind of freethinking, traditionally radical Judaism that is needed in the 21st century.
Over those 13 years we have held many events. We have hosted Rootless Cosmopolitan Yeshivas, and Jewish study nights, where participants learn about Talmud, philosophy, and Jewish poetry. We organised the East London Sukkah – a week-long festival in Hackney City Farm, packed with music, film and interfaith events. We coordinated a film festival at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, showcasing a documentary about the long tradition of Jewish socialist and anarchist activism.
We organised a concert of classical Judeo-Arabic music in a synagogue, harking back to a rich tradition of Jewish-Islamic co-operation. We have regularly called out, condemned and marched against neo-fascists, such as when far-right groups attempted to demonstrate in Stamford Hill and Golders Green. We have regularly spoken out against antisemitism on both the right and the left. We organise Friday night dinners, festival gatherings and community celebrations.
We created the organisation Babel’s Blessing – a radical language school that teaches diaspora languages and uses the profits to offer free English classes to migrants in the UK. And we have organised a large number of life-affirming and deeply Jewish parties attended by hundreds of young Jews and their friends – from the legendary Punk Purim in 2005, to our most recent Purim Queer Cabaret, only a month ago.
Many young Jews have told us that without our activities they would have left Judaism altogether, dismayed by strands in the Jewish world which grow ever more rightwing, closed-minded, and nationalistic.
We are one chain in a long historical tradition of radical Judaism, both in Britain and abroad. We particularly celebrate the heritage of the Jewish Labour Bund, the great Jewish socialist organisation that had a huge following in Russia and eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Last night we paid tribute to an old Bundist friend – Chaim Neslen – who died only days ago. We hope to uphold the traditions that Chaim and others built.
One event that we organise every year is a Passover seder, demonstrating the importance this Jewish holiday has for all of us. We have always tried to blend traditional rituals with radical commentaries, following the traditions and practices of progressive Jews for well over 100 years. A socialist understanding of the seder is deeply in keeping with the traditional texts that we read, particularly the famous Aramaic declaration Ha Lachma Anya: “This is the bread of oppression that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and share our Passover”.
Initially small-scale private events, these have grown every year as more people wanted to come, attracted by the joyful atmosphere, warm community and serious religious and cultural reflection. Around 100 people attended this year, almost all of them Jewish.
When this year a friend and constituent of Jeremy Corbyn invited him to attend, he accepted the invitation. He came, bringing horseradish from his own allotment for use on the communal seder plate (the horseradish symbolises the bitterness the Israelites experienced as slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt). He sat attentively through a four-hour event, agreeing gamely to read the Elijah’s cup section when asked. He participated fully, and chatted afterwards to many attendees. We were very happy to have him as a guest, and he was happy to join us.
In a normal situation, you might think that the leader of the opposition attending a seder with a group of 100 young, committed Jews might be a simple good news story. But if you’re determined to brand Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite, it seems that literally any story will do.
We have grown used to being smeared as self-hating Jews. But labelling us a source of “virulent antisemitism” as the Board of Deputies leader, Jonathan Arkush, did today is seriously scraping the barrel. The truth is, we love Judaism and Jewish culture, as every one of our events demonstrates.
The idea that there is a “mainstream Jewish community” is a fiction, promoted by a group of self-selecting individuals and institutions who have run out of ideas. There are approximately 300,000 Jews in Britain, with a huge diversity of religious and political ideas represented among them.
No single organisation can speak for us all. To claim that we in Jewdas are somehow not real Jews is offensive, and frankly antisemitic. Chag Sameach to everyone – wishing you all a happy Passover. May we use this festival to liberate ourselves from all oppression and stand up for justice everywhere.
Extracted from Guardian Online 3rd April 2018. Jewdas is a radical Jewish collective based in the UK