Jewish Morality

As a passionate anti-racist for all of my adult life, as you can tell from my books; an admirer of Jewish culture; and with a huge sympathy for the Jewish people’s sufferings, alongside others’, throughout history, I still cannot find it in myself to forget or forgive the conduct of certain British Jewish agencies and spokespeople in libelling Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as ‘anti-semitic’ during the last British General Election. Apparently they’ve now started doing it to Bernie Sanders – himself a Jew, of course – during the American Democratic Primaries. Can it be a coincidence that both Corbyn and Sanders are self-proclaimed ‘socialists’? I’m reluctant to infer that it’s money that is the prime consideration here, because that might pander to a genuine anti-semitic trope that I’m reluctant to be associated with.

Besides, my understanding of Judaeo-Christian social morality – whose tradition I was brought up in – suggests that Corbyn’s and Sanders’s political principles are far more in alignment with that, than with the selfish late-capitalist anti-ethic that fuels both Trump and Johnson. Which is probably the reason for other  Jews’ resistance to the British Board of Deputies’ propaganda, and support for Corbyn; including that of Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the foremost historian of the Jewish community in Britain, and (I believe) one of Corbyn’s constituents. For a principled anti-racist to be accused of racism must hurt almost as much as accusing an innocent and loving father of paedophilia. It will take me a long time, on behalf of Corbyn and my Labour Party, to get over it, and to regard the Jewish community – though not, of course, my Jewish friends – as I once did. That is so sad; and must – if it’s a general feeling – do the cause of combatting genuine anti-semitism much harm. I don’t imagine for a moment that it was this ‘Jewish’ propaganda that lost Labour the election, though some Jews are boasting of this; but any influence it may have had must undermine Labour members’ previously close alliance with Judaism.

One result of this propaganda was to widen the definition of ‘anti-semitism’ to include opinions and attitudes that really should not have been part of it. The most notorious examples are support for Palestinian statehood, and opposition to Israeli colonialism (and its attendant atrocities) in the Palestinian territories. These are supposedly supported by an ‘international’ definition of anti-semitism which was never designed as a definition, and has been disavowed as such by its author, but which the Labour Party has been bullied – there’s no other word for it – into officially adopting. That has led to a number of Labour members being expelled for acting or speaking in ways that are supposed to contravene that definition, unjustly and – writing as an academic – irrationally. This has added to my personal pain.

One Labour member has confronted this by offering herself for expulsion, on the grounds that she, too, has criticised the government of Israel. Here is her letter, reprinted by the Jewish Voice for Labour, which I’ve recently become a (non-Jewish) member of. It has also been widely disseminated in Labour circles.

I’m thinking of following Natalie’s example. After all, I’ve criticised Israel too, in this small and insignificant blog.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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8 Responses to Jewish Morality

  1. Pingback: The Jacobin and the ‘Anti-Semitic’ Scandal | Porter’s Pensées

  2. Kate says:

    I think we should be asking the people who’ve said they’re experiencing it before telling them what their motives are. There’s been far too little listening in the Labour Party, to everyone – Jewish members, northerners, remaininers, ‘Blairites’ – everyone who raises an issue has been shot down as being part of an an anti corbyn campaign. And this is where it’s got us.


  3. Kate says:

    And Jewish voice for labour? Even Jon lansman, founder Momentum thinks it’s problematic. According to him JVL “is an organisation which is not just tiny but has no real connection with the Jewish community at all”


  4. Kate says:

    Maybe look at this for examples Jewish people didn’t feel comfortable under Corbyn.

    And yes, you’ve just alluded to one of the tropes. It’s uncomfortable reading. Declaring ones self ’anti-racist’ and ’a supporter of Jews’ does not abdicate oneself from being racist or antisemitic.


    • Thanks for forwarding all those complaints. If the Jewish community is being deluged with these, yes, I can see why it was uncomfortable with Corbyn. Examined in detail, however, they offer very little evidence of significant or institutional anti-semitism in the Labour Party. The tiny number of clear anti-semitic statements, by very minor Labour members, appears to have been dealt with by the Party. Others are statements critical of Israel, or of the Board of Deputies’ approach, which in my view don’t necessarily ‘mask’ anti-semitism. On the other side is a growing number of authoritative statements by leading British and American Jews who take my view of the whole campaign, as a means mainly of smearing the Labour Party: either because of its socialism, or (more likely, I think) because of its support for a Palestinian state. Natalie’s letter to the Party suggesting it considers her for expulsion because she has expressed the same views is being followed up by others; including this: It’s worth reading Professor Haim Bresheeth’s letter here. I may follow the lead of these two. All you’ve proved is the extent of the anti-Corbyn propaganda, not its justification. – Can I recommend a book by Greg Philo et al, Bad News for Labour?

      I agree that declaring oneself to be ‘anti-racist’ doesn’t necessarily prove that one is. But I’m just a little hurt that you should think that might apply to me.


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