In conversation with Jewish Voice [EXCLUSIVE]

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Stephane Savary, journalist for Scisco Media, met with Ariel Moshe and Yoni Higgsmith from Jewish Voice, a progressive and socialist Jewish organisation supportive of the Labour Party.

Ken Livingstone making comments about Hitler; Gerry Downing being openly anti-Semitic: is it easy to be Jewish and member of the Labour Party?

Ariel Moshe: No, no more so than any other party. Left wing anti-Semitism is an issue, it has been for many years and certainly pre-dates Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Many of the anti-Semitism stories during the Miliband era were sat on (perhaps Miliband’s Jewish heritage made it dangerous ground for the media) and then very cynically brought up shortly after Corbyn took over as leader. We are of the opinion that anti-Semitism is being weaponised by opponents of Corbyn, and the Labour Party more generally.

There is a debate on anti-Zionism being some sort of anti-Semitism, but some left wing members believe that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Do you agree with them? Do you believe that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are not the same? 

AM: They aren’t the same, let’s put that to bed from the get go.

Yoni Higgsmith: Not all Jews are Zionists but most Zionists are Jews; the distinction is important but also the relationship is too.

AM: However, there is a discussion to be had, about the language used in “anti-Zionist” discourse. Zionism has become a dirty word, to be Zionist is to be a racist, a supremacist. That simply isn’t fair. We must remember that in the 1930s Europe’s Jews faced a grim choice – Zionism or death. Understandably many chose Zionism, had they not done so the 6 million or so that died in the Shoah (Holocaust) may have been even higher. That context is important when we’re looking at Zionism today. Now that is not to say Zionism should have impunity, Zionism for the Palestinian people has meant displacement, hardship, persecution and even death. We must look at Zionism not through a single lens, but rather through a number of perspectives in order to come to a point where Zionism is able to be criticised without demonising and furthering hatred.

YH: Just as there are legitimate forms of anti-Zionism so too are there legitimate forms of Zionism. Claiming otherwise adds to the problem, as the majority of UK Jews do feel kinship with Israel so it can become an attack on their identity.

AM: Anti-Zionism strays into anti-Semitism through problematic language. Many anti-Zionists are not anti-Semites, but their language is anti-Semitic. As left wing Jews critical of Israel we seek to educate on how criticism of Israel and Zionism can be done legitimately without straying inadvertently into anti-Semitism in the form of power tropes and media conspiracy theories.

YH: Zionism is also not properly understood by many who are ‘anti’ it and through misunderstanding the terms they allow hatred. In the UK, Zionism is more akin to Patriotism for Israel. Most UK Zionists don’t intend to leave Britain and go to Israel as Zionism meant 100 years ago. But we do wish to celebrate the success, culture and technology of the country. When we are faced with language and anger saying that our patriotism for Israel is racist, that is problematic.

Even within schools of Zionist thought there are criticisms of other schools of Zionist thought. When anti-Zionism tries to paint all Zionists as the same that is another part of the problem. Some of us would prefer that anti-Zionists explain what it is they are against specifically, for example, racism within some quarters of Zionism or expansionism as found in more right wing Zionism. If we could be clearer then we could stop alienating our own allies in the movement, such as anti-occupation Zionists.

Let’s talk about the current leadership election. The last few months have been awful for the Labour Party, from the Shadow Cabinet mass resignations to a bruising leadership election. Some have suggested that the Labour Party should split. What’s your view on that?

AM: No, it should not and will not split. We’ve seen evidence that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) can unite, at the latest PMQs when Jeremy tore apart May on the ridiculous grammar school policy. She had no defence, even her own MPs looked uncomfortable at how she handled Corbyn’s forensic questioning. It shows that we can be an effective opposition and take on the Tories. Who would a split benefit? Certainly not the disadvantaged… poor people, sick people, working families, they would all suffer from a split in the Labour Party. It would effectively cement 20-plus years of Tory government which would set us back to the 1950s.

Jewish Voice has a been strong and vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn during this leadership campaign. Can you explain why you support Corbyn over Owen Smith?

AM: Corbyn was elected with a huge mandate 12 months ago, that’s no time at all in politics. In that time, he’s won victories in by-elections, mayoral elections, u-turns on tax credits… his short time in the position has been dogged by infighting, sabotage and smears. In spite of all that, Jeremy has remained composed, respectful and committed to fulfilling his mandate from the membership.

What has Smith offered? He talks of unity, but says if Jeremy wins he won’t serve in his Shadow Cabinet. His policies are virtual carbon copies of Corbyn’s. I also find Smith to be impulsive, someone who shoots from the hip. He speaks without thinking and then later backtracks when challenged on ridiculous statements he’s made. The idea that Smith would unite the party and lead us to electoral victory in 2020 is, to put it bluntly, delusional. He’s little more than a PR man and given his gaff-prone antics not even a very good one.

We have a democratically elected leader with a huge mandate, this “leadership contest” has been a distraction and we look forward to it being over. Then we can go back to defending the vulnerable from this callous Tory government.

The right of the party, led by Saving Labour and Progress (political Centrists), are claiming that Corbyn is failing to deal with abuse in the party. Do you agree with that?

YH: There is a legitimate concern about how we deal with abuse in the Labour Party, one we share. Corbyn has done more than any other leader to attack this head on – if he was a Progress candidate they would sing his praises. For Saving Labour and Progress to attack Corbyn for this, is factional weaponisation of a serious issue – and it doesn’t make anyone safer.

Corbyn acknowledged a fault in the Labour Party rulebook – something the Jewish Labour Movement have been aware of for some time. There is no specific rules about what kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It meant, for example that the word ‘Zio’ was used for years in hard left discourse as an insult. The Corbyn-commissioned Chakrabarti Inquiry spells out that this term, among others, has no place in Labour. Under Corbyn’s leadership we have seen Ken Livingstone suspended – something no other leader ever pursued even though there have been many occasions to do so.

We have Naz Shah’s apology which was genuine and an example to follow. We have Angela Rayner standing up and saying that the Chakrabarti recommendations must be put into place in full and calling for zero tolerance on abuse. All of this is happening, not because of Progress and Saving Labour, but because of Corbyn and his team, who are time and again registered as being supportive when Jewish members face abuse.

AM: Look, politics is emotional, people let anger get the best of them. Politics brings out the best and the worst in all of us. Corbyn has consistently said personal abuse has no place in politics and he has demonstrated that commitment during the leadership campaign. While Smith has attacked Corbyn, even going so far as to imply he is a “lunatic” (he backtracked later, but he does that a lot after he puts his foot in it), Jeremy has stuck to debating policy and putting forward his vision for a fairer society. I think to hold Corbyn personally responsible for every abusive Tweet, email, Facebook post, etc. is ridiculous.

Owen Smith has accused Jeremy Corbyn of letting ‘left wing anti-Semite and entryist organisations’ join the party and has publicly accused the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) of being anti-Semitic. Do you agree with him?

AM: The AWL is criticised by many on the left for being pro-Israel, so the idea that they are anti-Semitic is frankly absurd. Owen’s advisors are clearly ill informed and Owen himself has a habit of speaking without thinking. As for the entryist idea, we recently did an interview with the AWL following comments from Tom Watson on this issue, we invite people to watch that interview.

Let’s now talk a bit about Israel. Do you have the impression that Israel is increasingly becoming Netanyahu’s “Fortress of Judaism”?

AM: First of all, let me say that Netanyahu’s brand of Judaism is far removed from ours. Binyamin Netanyahu frequently uses Judaism as a shield for his mistreatment of the Palestinian people. His vision for the “Jewish homeland” is entirely different from our own. He seeks to pigeon-hole the entire Jewish people (both Israelis and the diaspora), as though we were somehow a singular, homogeneous entity incapable of independent thought. I often think Binyamin would like Jews across the world to be like the Cybermen from Doctor Who, working in singularity towards his warped vision of Israel as the home of the Jewish people. The reality is, Jews have always been diverse. From the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe to the small in number but vibrant Jews of Africa. Netanyahu’s vision of Judaism and Israel is very ‘white’. You only have to look at Israel’s horrendous treatment of Ethiopian Jews to see that.

To finish, why members of the Jewish community should consider joining Jewish Voice?

AM: There’s many Jewish media outlets: Jewish News UK, The Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish Telegraph. They’re very pro-Israel, politically conservative and present only one section of our community. We are seeking to provide a voice for left wing Jews, Jews who may or may not be Zionist but who are critical of the status quo in Israel and are pro-Palestinian rights.

YH: There is a long tradition of Jews being involved in the Labour movement, as is well documented regarding Cable Street, and before that when Jewish East End tailors took in London dockworkers during the mass strike that ended sweatshops in the UK. With the revival of worker’s rights politics, it is natural for left-leaning Jews to participate and become more vocal.

AM: We welcome anyone who wants to write for us (either as a guest or regular contributor) or help in any other way they can, we are a growing group and we are always looking for bright, talented and passionate people to join our team and give a voice to the section of the Jewish community that is largely ignored.

Ariel Moshe is a student from Salford in northern England. He is a political activist and supporter of left wing social justice movements. He is also interested in Judaism and Jewish history. He is a co-founder of Jewish Voice and regular writer for the website.

Yoni Higgsmith is a filmmaker, Zionist, Pro-Palestine, a Jew, a British Humanist and a Labour Party member. He also holds dual citizenship of Israel & UK. He is a co-founder of Jewish Voice and regular writer for the website.

Find out more about Jewish Voice on their website.


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