Last night I got an irate call from a disgruntled Jewish anarchist. Although this is not an unusual occurrence for me, this call was slightly out of the ordinary.
“F**king Jeremy Corbyn is here,” they exclaimed. “Where?” I asked, expecting a thoroughly mundane answer. The response, however, was anything but mundane. “The Jewdas Seder!”
The call came from a close ally; someone I marched with against neo-Nazis when they turned up on the streets of Tottenham. Someone who has never shied away from criticising the Labour leadership’s position on a host of issues from anti-Semitism to Syria, and from Russia to Brexit.
Jewdas you see, have never normally been hesitant to confront left-wing anti-Semitism. They have a long and proud history of it, including attending pro-Palestine demonstrations to hand out literature condemning anti-Semitism. They were one of the few far-left groups calling for Ken Livingstone’s expulsion from Labour, something Jeremy Corbyn himself has refused to do. The picture painted of the group by the Gudio Fawkeswebsite, which broke the story about Corbyn’s attendance, is not only inaccurate, it is also unfair.
In and of itself, attending the Jewdas Seder should not be seen as controversial, and referring to Jewdas as “anti-Semites” is completely off the mark. They certainly aren’t representative of the mainstream, but that’s no reason to misrepresent their positions.
Yes, they are a group that are deliberately satirical and provocative, they are unapologetically radical and openly anti-capitalist. They make no apologies for their explicit condemnation of the State of Israel and their support for a one-state South Africa-type solution to ending the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine. But even if the language they use is needlessly inflammatory, this is no justification for implying that they are extremists.
With all that in mind, those attending the Jewdas Seder, like the wider Jewish community in Britain, cannot be neatly pigeonholed into the bitesize reactionary narrative that Guido Fawkes have attempted to push on the public.
To my friend and many others, Corbyn’s appearance was a disappointment – as was the Jewdas statement that downplayed the severity of the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
As with most political debates in the UK, this nuance is generally thrown out of the window in order to make score political points.
But here’s the thing, those angry at Jeremy Corbyn for attending the Jewdas Seder have a point.
Corbyn’s position on the anti-Semitism crisis engulfing the Labour party has been woeful. It is not just that his response to anti-Semites within the party has been laboured and unconvincing, nor that many of the active anti-Semites in the party claim to be Corbyn supporters, nor his history of referring to reactionary sectarian terrorist organisations as “friends”, nor his habit of ending up sharing platforms with a host of unsavoury figures. It is the combination of these things, coupled with the repeated dismissals of Jewish concerns that have caused alarm amongst the wider British Jewish community.
The decision made by members of the British Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, to protest the leader of the opposition outside Parliament is entirely unprecedented. It represents a remarkable and startling deterioration in the once unshakable relationship between the Labour party and British Jews.
These are not normal times. It is not normal for Labour to have three holocaust deniers running for local council positions. In fact, it’s an abject disgrace that stains a party that is supposed to pride itself on its anti-racist credentials.
If Jeremy Corbyn was still a Labour backbencher, very few people would bat an eyelid at him spending an evening with a group of joyfully belligerent hard-left activists. But he isn’t.
Corbyn is not a protest politician anymore, his decision to attend the Jewdas Seder will be interpreted by many as a middle finger towards many of the British Jews marching on Parliament in protest of what they see as an unprecedented and unacceptable rise in anti-Semitic views under Jeremy Corbyn’s watch.
Corbyn cannot expect people to find the sincerity in his admissions of failure, if it’s immediately followed by a meeting with a group that have explicitly dismissed many of the allegations he just conceded to.
The Jewish Labour Movement succinctly sums up how this would inevitably be received.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to spend his evening with an organisation that said “F *** you ” to Jews who have serious and well-founded concerns over anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, has truly topped off the worst week on record of awful relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community,” the group said in a statement. ”When we called on the Leader of our Party to show moral leadership, and take decisive action to stamp out antisemitism, this is not what we had in mind.”
I am sure the Jewdas Seder was a blast, I’m sure the vast majority of those in attendance are good people. But the leader of the opposition should know better than to associate with a group that take pride saying “Burn down parliament” or would release a statement dismissing the issues raised by the Parliament Square protesters as “cynical manipulations”.
It seems that, even after two years, Corbyn has not yet learned the difference between being a protest politician and a potential Prime Minister. More startlingly, he seems to show very little ability to learn from his mistakes, and displays a belligerent stubbornness to adapt, even when his attitude is alienating potentially hundreds of thousands of Jewish voters he hopes to someday represent.