Anti-Semitism - readers letter

Dear Comrades, 

At a time when charges of anti-Semitism have become a major weapon for attacking Corbyn, it is important for socialists not to retreat on the issue for fear of inflaming tensions. Doing so cedes ground to the Right and to Israel’s apologists. As Chris Williamson MP has pointed out, the Labour Party should stand by its excellent record of anti-racist campaigning. By retreating before the orchestrated campaign of smears, these lies have been allowed to become the dominant media narrative. It is useful, therefore, to deconstruct the myth that the Jewish ‘community’, as apparently represented by the Board of Deputies, has been offended by Corbyn and Labour.

According to a Jewish activist, Shraga Stern, who belongs to the Satmar group of Charedi (ultra-orthodox) Jews in Stamford Hill north London, there are 263,000 Jews living in the UK (2011 census). Of these, 50,000 are Charedi, many of whom are anti-Zionist for religious reasons, support Corbyn and believe that the vilification of Labour as an anti-Semitic party is a smear campaign “with a Zionist agenda”.

A letter last year, signed by 29 rabbis, praised Corbyn and pointed out that criticism of him by the Board of Deputies did not represent the opinion of most British Jews. According to Stern, this self-appointed Jewish community body does not represent the Charedi communities. Nor does it represent the roughly 100,000 mostly secular Jews who do not attend synagogue. As voting rights on the Board of Deputies are reserved almost entirely for mainstream synagogue representatives, Stern estimates that overall 181,000 out of the total 263,000 Jews are not represented by the Board of Deputies. There is clearly no such thing as a homogenous Jewish community in Britain.

 Stern has received death threats for daring to challenge the Jewish establishment. The Jewish Chronicle (“Israel’s candid friend” according to its editor Stephen Pollard, ex-Daily Express) and other media have tried to dismiss the rabbis’ letter, by saying the rabbis were not fully aware of its content when they signed it. Stern, however, has countered this, pointing out that some of the signatories suggested amendments of their own. Some have been so intimidated and upset by the reaction to their letter that they are, understandably, refraining from further public comment.

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation (UOHC), which represents many Charedi congregations, has publicly supported Stern over the issue. More recently, in March 2019, another letter to the Jewish Chronicle signed by 12 British Jewish Holocaust survivors stated that they did not “believe that any prejudice against or hostility towards Jews is being perpetrated by Labour.” Predictably, the newspaper tried to discredit them, expressing doubts that some were bona fide ‘survivors’ – a smear that has since been comprehensively refuted.

MPs such as Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger, who have attacked the Labour leadership for its “toxic anti-Semitism”, have failed to convince a large number of other British Jews that this is the case. 

Tracey Lindner, London N16