A RECENT academic survey indicated that 93 percent of British Jews believe that Israel forms some part of their identity. Given the crisis of anti-Zionism in Labour, this poses a dilemma for Labour Jews ‒ where does their loyalty lie, to their Jewishness or to their party?
While Jews have historically been prominent in leftist movements, it is also true that a ”Jewish national left” and the “Jewish faction of the left that marginalizes Jewish concerns” are not one and the same. It is often the difference between those Jews who vehemently oppose BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and those who support it.
Occurrences when anti-Zionism tips over into anti-Semitism have certainly become more frequent. Though Sadiq Khan was feted by communal leaders when he attended a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration the day after being sworn in as mayor of London, some Labour Jews had abstained from voting for him, while others voted through gritted teeth because of his past association with reactionary Islamists. This, he explained, had been due to his role as a human rights lawyer.
For many Labour Jews, there is a distancing from the party of its current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but not a clean break with it. On one level, it is tribal. On another, a determination to fight – if the kitchen is on fire, you attempt to put out the fire.
Corbyn is seen by many Jews as an albatross around Labour’s neck and this will lead the party to defeat in the 2020 election. There is also resentment that, while he preaches peace in the Middle East, he has never acted as a mediator to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in more than 30 years as an MP.
Unlike American Jews, British Jews who wish to better themselves often move to the right when successful. A core in the Labour Party, remain faithful to the universalism within Jewish tradition and seek to help those who are unable to help themselves. While they applaud individualism, they do not ignore the collective.
For many Labour-voting Jews, the alternative parties are far worse in that a narrow self- interest ranks high while tikkun olam (repairing the world) is low. Former Conservative premier Margaret Thatcher was certainly pro-Israel ( while being anti-Likud), but her comment that “there is no such thing as society” jarred.
Many Labour Jews believed that a trickle-down economy never helped those at the bottom, but only further enriched those at the top. For them, Thatcher was an impenetrable “Iron Lady” who never listened.
While Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has made great efforts to cultivate the Jewish community, Labour Jewish voters are reminded that the current attacks on Britain’s revered National Health Service are symbolic of why they can never prostrate themselves before Conservative idols.
Jews in the main are not attracted to the right-wing populist UK Independence Party and its Conservative fellow travelers who wish to leave the European Union. They remember the narrow nationalism and instability of the previous century – and the havoc it wreaked.
Many Labour Jews remain in this twilight zone and are waiting to see what the future holds.
(from a roundtable) Jerusalem Report 11 July 2016