Report of the Jewish Labour Movement conference

By Shlomo Anker

The Jewish Labour Movement had their annual conference on 3 September and you won’t be surprised to hear that being a Momentum member I felt quite uncomfortable. However there were some positive sessions and overall it was worth going to.

When I looked at the schedule I saw that none of the Jewish figures in Momentum like James Schneider or Jon Lansman were going to speak and that most of the speakers came from the right of the Party.

Jeremy Newmark claimed that the JLM represent Jews from all factions of the Labour Party, but that did not seem to be the case. During the first session, Newmark in his rather aggressive way of speaking made me feel even more uncomfortable when he attacked the new group “Jewish Voice of Labour” as having no legitimacy to speak for Jews, as they are not really members of the Jewish community.

My feelings then reminded me of the one and only time I visited a settlement and feared that if people knew that I was left-wing then I would get in big trouble.

However that does not mean that the conference was bad and one particular session I found very positive. This sessions was chaired by the Labour candidate for Hendon, Mike Katz, who spoke about how we can engage Jewish voters. He presented in a calm and non-hostile fashion the worries that Jewish voters in places like Hendon have when it comes to the Labour Party.

While us on the Left would agree that anti-semitism in the Labour Party has been used as a political football to attack us, nonetheless Jewish people are worried about anti-semitism in the party, and I would recommend for Momentum to hold similar sessions as if we are going to win seats with large Jewish populations then we need to understand their worries.

In terms of strategy Katz talked about how to deal with people who express snti-semitic views and he mentioned how the JLM engaged with Naz Shah after her offensive comments. Katz stated that by sitting down with her, not judging and just being honest that they were able to make her understand why her comments were offensive to them.

For me this strategy is what is needed in the Labour Party to deal with people who not only make snti-semitic comments but also Islamophobic or homophobic comments. For example if someone makes a homophobic comment at a Momentum meeting, we should not just shout at them and judge them but be friendly and explain where we disagree in a more compassionate manner.

Yet what happened later showed so clearly what is broken about the JLM. An audience member pointed out how Ken Livingstone mentions ‘Hitler’ way too often which makes so many Jews, even those like myself in Momentum feel very uncomfortable. Yet in the next session in the same room when the topic of Ken Livingstone came up, a rather aggressive lady in the audience shouted ‘Hitler’ and compared him to Livingstone. When the speaker on the panel argued against her she responded by again making the rather sick comparison between Hitler and Livingstone.

This is almost epic hypocrisy that at 11.30am I hear someone saying Livingstone is wrong to evoke Hitler yet a JLM member then does the same thing 30mins later. Furthermore during that meeting another member of the JLM made a crude racist comment about Arabs which was even more ridiculous as at the conference people are calling for disciplinary action against others (in the Labour Party) who make offensive comments yet at the same conference somebody made an offensive comment about an Arab and nobody complained.

When it came to the politics of Israel-Palestine the level of debate was as I expected. There was little to no criticism of the policies of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians and the critique of Netanyahu was weak.

However on the other hand there was no rampant pro-Israelism. People on the Left often believe that the JLM is a hard-line pro-Israel movement but that is false. Their dominant views on Israel I do not share, but there is still a huge gap between them and the pro-Israel hawks from within our community.

Overall I would say that the JLM is something that Momentum Jews should consider engaging with and people should attend their events. However unless the JLM make some reforms to open it considerably I cannot say that it is a home for Left-Wing Jews like myself which is a shame as the founders of the movement are some of my biggest political heroes.

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  1. It was interesting to read this report as we did not get to speak at the conference. I was Chair of the Conference Arrangements Committee for the JLM Conference and also arranged and planned the two panel sessions at last year’s Limmud Conference that Jon Lansman and others took part in. I think there was great warmth that some Momentum supporters did attend the JLM conference as was shown from the spontaneous round of applause given in the last keynote session to Holly from Barnet who introduced herself as a Momentum supporter. In my constituency (Enfield Southgate) there is a very wide set of views held by both Jews and Non Jews around Israel and Palestine. I think your observations around the fact that whilst most JLM supporters would disagree with your views on Israel they are also very against the current Israel government unlike the right of the Jewish Community. I suspect the better place to debate between our views woukd be at Limmud which is certainly Jewish safe space. I think the JLM Conference was more concerned at being a safe space in the Labour context. No excusing any participants who made unacceptable comments I hope they were pointed out and challenged.

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