In a high point of his speech to Labour conference last month, Jeremy Corbyn affirmed his solidarity with the Palestinian people.
To loud shouts of approval from the floor, Corbyn declared, “Let’s give real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion.
“And move to a genuine two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
This was not the only development as over 300 people attended a launch meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). It’s an organisation of Jewish Labour Party members who are opposed to any attempt to conflate anti-Zionism or criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
The meeting far exceeded the organisers’ expectations.
Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey and Aslef train drivers’ union president Tosh McDonald both attended the meeting. They said they would ask their unions to affiliate to JVL.
David Rosenberg from the Jewish Socialist Group captured the spirit of the event. He concluded his speech with the words of Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis. “To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, never with the oppressors,” said Rosenberg.
On conference floor, Jewish speakers who insisted Jews spoke with many voices were met with applause. Leah Levane from Hastings and Rye Constituency Labour Party (CLP) told the conference, “The Jewish Labour Movement have every right to organise in the Labour Party.
“The right they do not have is to speak for me.”
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi from Chingford and Woodford Green CLP in east London criticised the leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). The pro-Israel group has laid repeated charges of antisemitism against the left.
Wimborne-Idrissi said the JLM would have “a bit more credibility if it did not spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories”.
The leadership of the JLM continued their attacks on the left during conference.
Absurdly, JLM chair Jeremy Newmark demanded Wimborne-Idrissi be disciplined. He claimed that her comments about the JLM speaking to the Mail and Telegraph newspapers were antisemitic.
The JLM also attacked a fringe meeting held by Free Speech on Israel, where Israeli army veteran Miko Peled spoke. He dangerously suggested the Holocaust should be a subject of debate on grounds of free speech.
Peled is mistaken if he thinks free speech should extend to Holocaust denial, but it’s clear that he himself is no denier.
But the JLM was forced to radically modify a rule change proposal, which would have originally conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism. The JLM will clearly still seek to exploit the rule change to attack the left. But their position has been challenged both by the JVL’s formations and the left’s general advance.
The left need to fight to consolidate their position by further isolating the witch hunters over free expression on Israel and Palestine. And there must be unity against the real threat to all Jews—the far-right and fascists and the state-sponsored Islamophobia that fuels their rise.
That battle cannot be restricted to the Labour Party. It requires the building of a mass movement against all forms of racism, against the far-right and fascists.