As a Jew who is horrified by antisemitism in my party, this is why I'll still be voting Labour

I struggle when well-meaning commentators, ex-party colleagues and members of the Jewish community tell me that I am on the ‘wrong side’ for doing so. The choice at the ballot box isn’t that simple

Peter Bradley
Wednesday 27 November 2019 10:41
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General Election 2019: What you need to know

I am a member of the Labour Party and I’m Jewish. I share the despair over the obscenity of antisemitism in my party and understand why many have withdrawn their support because of it. But I want to explain why I shall vote Labour on 12 December.

I shouldn’t have to establish my credentials, but I’m the son of refugees from Nazi Germany and the grandson of those who remained behind. I don’t take antisemitism lightly.

I joined the Labour Party 40 years ago in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory. I was one of many of my generation who recognised that the trauma of that defeat and the internal divisions it exacerbated were placing the party at existential risk.

If it were lost, not only would the values I held dear be marginalised, but our national politics would be impoverished and our democracy damaged. I joined precisely because the party was not as it should be.

Throughout the 1980s, I was one of those who fought against the entryists whose ideological fervour brought with it ideas and attitudes which alarmed many of Labour’s natural supporters, including members of the Jewish community. In 1985, shortly after Jeremy Corbyn was first elected to parliament and when Ken Livingston was still Leader of the GLC, I wrote an article which The Times headlined Why Labour is Losing its Jews. Last year, 33 years later, I felt compelled to write its sequel.

But throughout those Militant years, I voted Labour and represented the party as a councillor because I believed in what it has historically stood for, for what it could achieve in government and because I had faith that, even as others defected to the SDP, the moderates who remained steadfast would in the end prevail.

And when we did, I was elected to parliament in the 1997 landslide. For the next 13 years, a Labour government fulfilled its promise, making life immeasurably better for the majority of people in this country. It fell short and it made mistakes, some of them grievous, but its balance stands very much in credit.

Over the last decade of Conservative austerity, the people we helped most have suffered most. Should the Tories win again, those people will continue to suffer. They need a Labour government.

But there is no doubt that antisemitism contaminates the Labour Party. No number of demands for evidence from deniers and revisionists can obscure that which already exists. The claims of some on what is known as "the left”, that the protests of Jews and their supporters are all part of a Conservative-enabling conspiracy to “smear” Labour and its leader, are as revealing – and, yes, ironic – as they are insulting.

But I struggle when well-meaning commentators, ex-Party colleagues and members of the Jewish community – people I respect – tell me that if I vote Labour, I am facilitating antisemitism and that I must decide whose side I’m on. I don’t believe the choice is that simple.

When I vote Labour on 12 December, I will be voting for the party for which I fought in the 1980s and am fighting for again today, an open, tolerant, social democratic party committed to its traditional values. I embrace its manifesto. I want to see Labour delivering it in government.

Do I fear that Labour is so institutionally antisemitic that, as some suggest, Jews should emigrate if it’s elected? No. Do I believe that Corbyn is an antisemite? I don’t know. But he certainly can’t escape judgment for the bad company he keeps.

I find the obsessive anti-Zionism of many on the left deeply troubling. But while I accept that many Jews also find them threatening, I don’t believe that they are tomorrow’s storm-troopers.

Most of them are fools. Above all, they are political inadequates, indulging in factionalism as a substitute for meaningful activism because they can’t cope with the challenge of real political responsibility.

They are lifestyle radicals, eager to support everyone else’s revolution, but lacking the conviction and the courage to foment their own. Instead, they devote their energies to the struggle with enemies closer to hand: the Blairites, the Centrists, the neo liberals…the Zionists. In their weakness, they believe that refusal to compromise is a strength. They lack understanding, empathy and appeal. If we lose the election, they will bear a heavy responsibility.

But are they died-in-the-wool antisemites? Some, but few. If I were to withhold my vote because of them, who would gain? If my hands were clean, who will get them dirty, as we did 40 years ago, in cleansing the party we love and the country needs? Will withholding my vote and making a Conservative victory that much more likely magic away Labour’s antisemitism?

Labour is an ideal greater than its leadership, its MPs, even its members. We have to keep the faith, atheist, Christian, Jew and Muslim. If the party is broken, we must renew it.

Perhaps it is I who is the fool. Perhaps, like my grandparents before me, I do not see the writing on the wall. But I want to continue to live in hope. That is my affirmation. It's why I joined Labour all those years ago. And it's why I remain.

Passions run high on both sides of this divide. That is a large part of the problem: everyone has made up their minds; you are pure or you are compromised; you are with us or you are the enemy. As in so many other arguments, particularly on social media, there is little basis for the respectful engagement on which reasoned, democratic debate depends.

Zionism is not the enemy of socialism and Labour is not the enemy of the Jews. If we were to commit ourselves to finding the common ground, as we have before, most anti-Zionists and most Jews would be able to acknowledge these truths.

So, as strongly as you may feel about the worst of the Labour Party, don’t try to stop me from believing in the best. And, though others will make different choices, don’t condemn me for voting Labour on 12 December.

Peter Bradley is a former Labour MP and, in the 1980s, was political secretary of Poale Zion, the predecessor to the Jewish Labour Movement as an affiliate to the Labour Party. He tweets at @petercsbradley

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