Definitions are tricky things, aren’t they? By definition, I’m a Labour voter. But by birth, I’m a Jewess. And I'm finding those two things hard to reconcile right now. One, I can walk away from. The other, not so much.
To recap, ever since Jeremy Corbyn has been at the helm of the Labour party, there have been allegations of rising antisemitism in the party. One big lumbering example is Ken Livingstone, the ex-Mayor of London and good pal of Corbyn’s, who has repeatedly said that Hitler actually supported some Jews. He was suspended from the party for two years, and then quit, which means he was never properly accountable for his stupid remarks. It was during one of his day-long tirades that I quit as a Labour Party member. I was already feeling disenfranchised when not one of the women I voted for as Mayor, deputy, or leader (Tessa Howell, Stella Creasy and Yvette Cooper) made it near the top of the ballot, and I no longer wanted to pay subs to a party that fell below par in its representation of women and its treatment of Jews. But I still felt, in the face of the Conservatives' increasingly damaging austerity policies, obliged to vote Labour. I voted for them in every single local and national election since 2012 (I even voted for Livingstone when he was up against Boris for Mayor). Then, last month, the ruling body of the Labour party, the National Executive Council (NEC) voted for a new definition of anti-Semitism.
Instead of taking on the widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s 11-point definition of anti-Semitism, which the UK government took on two years ago in a bid to help stamp out anti-Semitism, the NEC voted to drop three points, saying they’re not examples of racism
• accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations
• claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour
• comparing Israelis to Nazis
Swiftly in response: firstly, if it were suggested that a person of any other race also protected under the Race Relation Act had more loyalty to their ancestral homeland than the place they are citizens of, that would be racism.
Secondly, Israel exists so that Jews of all types - those with Jewish heritage like me, or religious Jews who actually worship, or both - can always have a safe place in the world. Jews have long been, and continue to be persecuted: the Community Security Trust claims it is recording over 100 incidents of anti-Semitic abuse per month. This increase of hate crime has in part been put down to Brexit – which in itself in an extreme call for change driven by a post-financial collapse anti-immigrant populism (sound familiar?) - and in part put down this very same anti-Semitism row.
Though the Israeli authorities treat Palestinians abysmally it is defeatist and racist to suggest that Israel is a racist endeavor. We have to hope for, and try for, better: a two-state solution (which Corbyn at least says he backs). It is a re-writing of history (and yes, also racist) to suggest that of all of the groups the Nazis killed: Jews, Soviets, Serbs, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled people, ‘asocials,’ homosexuals, political prisoners and the rest, it is only the Jews and their descendants who have become like their oppressors. What kind of weakness of character must we have to become such turncoats?
Yet, despite these ample reasons to criticise Corbyn, there are accusations from within and outside the party that any criticism – even when it comes from Deputy Leader Tom Watson – is done in bad faith. That every new bit of information uncovered about Corbyn (say, laying a wreath at the grave of those suspected of the Munich massacre of 11 Israeli Olympians and one West German police officer) is held back by the media until the right moment, to hurt him the most. It’s a conspiracy, you see, to oust Corbyn by any means possible (conveniently forgetting that if accusations of anti-Semitism really were enough to bring a Labour leader to his knees, Corbyn would have been out aeons ago). And it’s this casting of Corbyn as the plucky underdog in all this is, using #WeAreCorbyn online, or suggesting that he’s better than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenhayu so he must be fine, that has really exposed the sinister underbelly of anti-Semitism for me – a non-worshipping British Jew.
There’s the constant gaslighting – when I mention Labour’s anti-Semitism on Twitter, even with my modest following, I’m met with reply suggesting that Jews are overreacting. It is frustrating, and denying someone else their truth is the work of tyrants.
And then there’s the implication that I’m not Jewish enough to have an opinion. One Jewish commentator - a huge Corbyn fan who has since disappeared from social media following allegations of sexual misconduct made against him - once suggested that I didn’t have any right to be upset about Labour’s anti-Semitism issue, because I don’t practice. The thing is, just as I don’t have to practice every facet of Judaism to be Jewish, the Labour party doesn’t have to have shown racism towards every single ethnic minority in order to be found to harbour racists.
I don’t go to schul each week. I don’t eat Kosher. I don’t observe any Jewish holiday apart from the one where you get to eat apples with honey. I last went to synagogue three years ago and even then it was a literal drumming circle outside a Reform synagogue in Cape Town. And I’m not an expert on Israel, because, well, why is it incumbent on every Jew to be but not every non-Jew? I guess I’ve got the hubris to think I can hold all these opinions in my tiny little head concurrently: both Israel and Palestine should exist, the Holocaust was a unique evil, Jews shouldn’t be abused and the Israeli government acts against both Palestinians and liberal Jews and Israelis.
Despite my goy leanings, it takes more than my mum’s 100% Ashkenazi Jew result on ancestry site 23andMe for me to know I’m Jewish. I live with the inherited trauma that comes from being born into a family that has seen half its number decimated and dispersed by the Holocaust. I see daily how much it upsets my mum, a life-long Labour supporter, a retired teacher and long-time single parent who worked directly for Labour authorities for the majority of her life, to see a party that she always thought would stick up for her, that did stick up for her under New Labour, disrespecting her people so callously.
I know that my family’s history and countless others’ needs preserving and respecting and safeguarding, and that Israel is the best shot at doing that. I know that not all Jews are filthy rich media puppeteers otherwise, sorry, I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be on a yacht using my incredible manipulative sway to ensure that, you know, maybe huge social media websites get rid of the actual Nazis who use it to promote their hatred of Jews, Muslims, black people, women, and the rest.
Most sorely, I know subsequent Conservative governments have left us in a dire situation thanks to their harsh austerity measures and now a disastrous Brexit, and no-one’s coming to save us. I don’t want to not vote Labour, Labour is my natural homeland - my fantasy cabinet is formed of Labour MPs. However, I can’t countenance voting for a party that can’t simply stamp this anti-Semitism out. Not only is it hurtful, it also reeks of a terrible disorganisation. If they can’t - or won’t - get their house in order on this, what else could they muck up?
When Corbyn is righteously indignant towards the Conservative government’s mistakes, I believe in him. The way his voice squeaks with anger when berating Theresa May for stripping back the NHS, depleting welfare, the Windrush scandal, the slow economy, the amount of people turning to foodbanks, shows true passion, a desire to change things. If only he could find the same rage for the anti-Semites in his own party, for those who are gaslighting every single Jew who says his party’s treatment of us, our histories, our presents - and perhaps even our futures. Accusing Corbyn of anti-Semitism isn’t political point-scoring, it’s truth-telling.
And if he can’t see this, and take measures to do something about it, I’m afraid I identify not only as a Jew but as someone who’s going to start spoiling her vote. So long as anti-Semitism is rewritten by its leadership and denial of its existence festers in the Labour party, my decision isn’t going to be an easy pick between Labour and Conservative, it’s going to be a long struggle over how many times I can scrawl 'oy vey' onto my ballot paper before I run out of space.