Jewish Voice for Labour: response to Jewish Labour Movement antisemitism training

Wed 16 Jun 2021

[Extracts]

JLM as antisemitism trainer

The sessions were largely delivered by JLM’s National Organiser, Rebecca Filer, with introductions by Chair Mike Katz and – for the June 14 session – by Deputy Party Leader Angela Rayner. They were delivered in Zoom webinar format in which the speaker and a series of slides were visible, but attendees could not be seen or heard. There was almost no time for questions, and those that were chosen were read out by a presenter. It was a hyper-controlled environment and the large numbers involved allowed no scope for interaction between participants. There was no indication that other forms of education were planned where this would be possible.

The resulting one-way transmission of statistics and information has its place if the intention is to instruct participants on how to think and act, but it is not a substitute for education. When it is delivered by an organisation with its own very particular ideological standpoint – one not shared by large numbers of Jews and very many other members of our movement – it is particularly questionable.

The JLM was introduced to participants as the Labour Party’s Jewish affiliate. There was no mention of its core principles which “promote the centrality of Israel to Jewish life” and seek “To maintain and promote Labour or Socialist Zionism as the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people within the state of Israel.”  JLM therefore brings with it to the training process the assumption that the diverse communities of UK Jews share one point of view about Israel and Palestine. There is no room for non-Zionist Jews or for those orthodox Jews for whom Judaism, rather than Israel, occupies the centre of their Jewish life.

This is the background to the role JLM has played in the party’s factional politics over the past five years,

[…]

There can be – and indeed there are! – raging controversies about how antisemitism is defined. More than 300 eminent academics in relevant fields of study, most of them Jewish, have endorsed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as an alternative to the IHRA working definition promoted by the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists. The Declaration can be found here. There was no mention of this by the training presenters, nor any reference to the battles fought over the working definition in 2018, when it was alleged that failure to adopt without question all 11 examples attached to it was itself evidence of antisemitism – an allegation used to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Party members have been suspended for arguing against the IHRA definition. Yet there was no discussion about it, only an assertion that it placed ‘an important emphasis on context’.  The trainer did not offer any explanation as to why many party members have been disciplined without any reference to the context of their statements or social media postings.

Members were told not to use the terms Jew, Israeli and Zionist interchangeably – advice with which we agree. But in certain contexts it may be understandable for people to commit this error without any malign intent, since supporters of Israel make this elision all the time. It is unjust for a Labour Party member employing the word ‘Zionist’ to be accused of really meaning ‘Jew’ and find themselves facing disciplinary charges.

This example illustrates how important it is to recognize the relevance of intent – not mentioned during the JLM training – when deciding if a statement is antisemitic or not. The Party recently published a Complaint Handling Handbook including the NEC Code of Conduct on Antisemitism which states: “even contentious views … will not be treated as antisemitism unless accompanied by specific antisemitic content (such as the use of antisemitic tropes) or by other evidence of antisemitic intent.” Many members have suffered from bad faith complaints against them that ignore this, as highlighted in the ongoing legal action by Labour Activists 4 Justice.

Being Jewish in the Labour Party

 The way the presentations were framed was particularly tendentious. A number of politically partisan assertions were made at the beginning and end of the sessions, include serious misrepresentations of the situation for Jewish Labour Party members.

Participants were told the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report concluded that the Party was not a ‘safe space’ for Jews. It did not reach any such conclusion. There were no findings against Jeremy Corbyn, no finding that antisemitism was widespread in the Party, and no finding that the Party had victimised anyone for being Jewish.

Overview

Although billed as “Antisemitism Awareness Education”, these JLM-run webinars bear no relation to awareness-raising sessions encountered elsewhere. While posing as authoritative, they too often relied on superficial, unsupported assertions. Issues that have been intensely controversial in the Labour Party were glossed over. The selection of material was slanted in a way that exaggerated the threat to Jews in the UK – a stance more likely to generate panic and alarm than engagement.

Oft-repeated allegations, such as about the bullying of Jewish MPs apparently by the left, were asserted without any evidence or context being given. We will be looking in detail at these and other examples in a separate analysis in the coming days.

The stated intention to make the Labour Party a welcoming place for Jews is hard to take seriously when at least 25 Jewish members have been investigated, given reminders of behaviour, suspended or expelled under the regime that JLM helped to usher in and consolidate. Awarding the training franchise to JLM is part of the same sectarian policy as the refusal to allow any alternative voices on the Party’s Advisory Board on Antisemitism.

Jewish Voice for Labour does not do training. We do education. You can find out about it here.

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