As someone who has long been a vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics, heading home for Passover this year had me momentarily daunted, to say the least. The past few weeks have been uncomfortable for many Jewish Labour members, regardless of which “side” of the “antisemitism debate” you are on.
But as I sat down to begin the Seder, surrounded by friends and family with a variety of levels of religious observance, it transpired fairly quickly there was nothing to worry about. It was a given that all those I was breaking Matza with were still welcome at the table, and our views on the Labour leadership did not detract from why we were there.
It didn’t need saying that each of us were Jewish and abhorred antisemitism, as we came together to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt as found in our biblical text.
The Jewish community has a proud tradition of debate and disagreement; it’s an intrinsic part of our cultural and religious identity. Some 25 minutes is spent at the Seder reading about how three Rabbis (Akiva, Eliezer and Yose Hagalili) argued about the number of plagues that might have been inflicted on the Egyptians at the time of the Pharos, based on nothing more than the numerical value placed on a handful of words.
A quick flick through your history books will also expose you to the Jewish community’s rich, radical heritage – reading up on Bundism is a great place to start.
In “breaking” the story last night that Jeremy Corbyn attended a Jewish Seder in Islington, right-wing blog Guido Fawkes – and those still expressing faux-outrage at these latest “revelations” –have exposed how little they know or care about our community.
Staunch Corbyn critic John Woodcock MP declared Jewdas “extreme” and their Judaism not “ok” – despite the fact he isn’t Jewish.
Angela Smith MP reckons Corbyn’s attendance at the Jewish event showed “a blatant dismissal” of the need to tackle antisemitism. In her haste to whip up tension, she failed to even spell “Seder” right, and insulted Jewish people deeply. Anyone attempting to paint some Jews as good and some as bad needs to pause for thought.
“Jeremy Corbyn must engage with the Jewish community,” his critics shouted yesterday. “Not that part of the community; they don’t agree with us,” they shout today.
This morning Jonathan Arkush, the Chair of the Board of Jewish Deputies, declared Jewdas a “source of virulent antisemitism” and “a group that puts out racism”, despite the fact they’re a Jewish group of committed anti-fascists.
How a man who wasn’t long ago congratulating Bigot-in-Chief Donald Trump on his election to the White House can pass judgement is almost laughable – although it should never be claimed that his dodgy politics restrict him from being a part of the Jewish faith.
Jewdas are a Jewish group with bold and radical politics, sure, but they are very much Jewish nonetheless. Jewdas run anti-antisemitism workshops, turn up to protest neo-Nazis – they’ve even produced and distributed information on how to criticise Israel without being antisemitic.
Ours is a community proud of the diversity we represent, from our views on Israel to the recipe for the perfect chicken soup. The majority of people reading that Jeremy Corbyn attended Jewish festivities will rightly be feeling perplexed about this manufactured uproar.
Conversely, some think Corbyn should have cancelled his long-held plan to attend the Seder. “Hi, my Jewish constituents, it’s Jeremy here. I’m sorry I’m going to have to cancel plans to attend your Passover Seder tonight. Why? Because a bunch of non-Jewish people are going to say you are antisemitic. Happy Passover!”
Can you imagine the phone call? I think not.
Granted, if Corbyn had failed to engage with other Jewish groups in relation to antisemitism, there may have been some value in questioning his attendance, but he has responded to The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council; Labour has put out statements; and meetings are currently being arranged.
It’s quite possible that in the long-term, this nonsense story will serve some purpose for the Jewish community. Despite the fact that it was only reported recently that anti-Jewish incidents in the UK have reached a record high, a five-year-old post by Jeremy Corbyn reminded everyone antisemitism still existed in Britain.
Now after attending the Seder of some left-wing Jewish people, Corbyn’s actions have incidentally shown how far-right bloggers and some opportunistic anti-Corbyn MPs are really not our friends. Next year I’ll be sure to invite him round.
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