Jewish Voice for Labour
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|Motto||Always with the oppressed; never with the oppressor|
|Formation||28 July 2017|
|Jenny Manson, Leah Levane|
|Membership Officer: Mike Cushman|
Information Officer: Jonathan Rosenhead
|Affiliations||Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance|
Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) is an organisation for Jewish members of the Labour Party. It was formed in 2017 as an alternative to the Jewish Labour Movement with the stated aims being to "tackle allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party", "to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities" and "opposing attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards, or discrimination against, Jews as Jews."
Premise and organisation
JVL was inaugurated in July 2017, and was officially launched on 24 September, during the second day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, with over 300 people in attendance according to JVL. The launch featured historian and Oxford University professor of international relations Professor Avi Shlaim, former Court of Appeal judge Sir Stephen Sedley and the Jewish Socialist Group's David Rosenberg.
Jewish Voice for Labour describes itself as a "network for Jewish members of the Labour Party" which "stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere". The organisation's founding statement advocated "making the Labour Party an open, democratic and inclusive party, encouraging all ethnic groups and cultures to join and participate freely", to support a commitment "to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism", and "does not make promoting the centrality of Israel to Jewish life a condition of membership". The organisation's motto is "Always with the oppressed; never with the oppressor" which paraphrases a quote by Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Uprising.
The organisation only admits full membership to Labour Party members who identify as Jewish. All other members are associate members, without voting rights as the constitution specifies that the organisation is led by Jewish people so only Jews can vote on its policies. By contrast, Manson indicated that the Jewish Labour Movement accepts full membership to both non-Jewish and non-Labour Party members. JVL's media officer Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi has said the organisation's "longer term aim" could be to affiliate to Labour. Although, the organisation has been endorsed by leaders of Labour-affiliated trade unions, namely Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union; and Tosh McDonald, president of ASLEF, and has affiliated to the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and to the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance.
In July 2017, Jenny Manson, an activist in Jews for Justice for Palestinians and a former Labour councillor, was elected chair. Manson has stated that the organisation's two purposes are to "tackle allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party" and "to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities."
Although JVL has been described as "anti-Zionist", Manson has said the organisation is "not anti-Zionist" but stated that it was "an alternative voice for Jewish members of Labour" who do not support the Jewish Labour Movement's "profoundly Zionist orientation", JVL's information officer, Jonathan Rosenhead shares the latter opinion. Committee member, Ian Saville clarified that "There is no ideological test to join" and it is "a group for Jews in the Labour Party that would welcome all Jews, whatever their attitude to Israel." Secretary, Glyn Secker wrote that JVL has "established a very different, authentic, radical, and socialist Jewish narrative to that promulgated by the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel." Wimborne-Idrissi wrote that one of JVL's roles "is to clarify the distinction between Jew, Israeli and Zionist so that people are less likely to fall into antisemitic generalisation when talking about Israel's role in Palestine", to offer "an alternative to the JLM's pro-Israel agenda" and "...we do not believe it has the right to speak as the Jewish Labour Movement on behalf of all Jews in the Labour party." Co-Chairs Jenny Manson and Leah Levane "contend that the JLM cannot represent all Jewish members of the Labour Party when it is committed 'to promote the centrality of Israel in Jewish life' as well as the wider Jerusalem Programme of the World Zionist Organization."
Len McCluskey called the formation of JVL a "positive move forward". David Rosenberg, author and founding member of the Jewish Socialists' Group, described JVL as "a broader, more inclusive, more open-minded group — not fixated on defending Israel..." The organisation has been described as controversial and the Jewish Labour Movement has called its views an "extreme fringe". Stephen Sedley stated that "...pro-Israeli groups such as the Jewish Labour Movement [are] seeking to drive out pro-Palestinian groups like the Jewish Voice for Labour by stigmatising them..."
JVL was reported by The Times of Israel in December 2017 to be closely linked to Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) which was founded in 2016, is non-Zionist and opposes the notion that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. However, Wimborne-Idrissi rejected this claim saying they are "two separate organizations with different aims and objectives."
At the 2017 Labour Conference, JVL supported Hastings and Rye Constituency Labour Party's proposal to change the Labour Party Rule Book to add a clause which makes it clear that antisemitism will not be tolerated, whilst clarifying that "hatred of Jews shall not be evidenced by non-abusive words or actions regarding Israel or zionism that are part of legitimate political discourse." The organisation opposed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's Working Definition of Antisemitism being formally adopted by the Labour Party at the 2017 Conference, which it sees as "attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards, or discrimination against, Jews as Jews". JVL sees the rule change, which was supported by Jeremy Corbyn, as an "anti-democratic restriction on political debate".
The organisation has defended former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone who was suspended from party membership for bringing the party into disrepute, supported Jackie Walker, deemed accusations of antisemitism against Moshé Machover as "ill founded", and opposed and condemned the expulsion of Marc Wadsworth as being "punished in advance of investigation and hearing of the case."
The organisation has challenged "unjustified allegations of antisemitism" which are "used to undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership". In March 2018, JVL organised a smaller counter-demonstration, attended by around 30 people, according to The Independent, at a protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party, held in Parliament Square, London. In a statement, JVL said it was "appalled" by the Board of Deputies of British Jews' letter and that "They do not represent us or the great majority of Jews in the party who share Jeremy Corbyn's vision for social justice and fairness. Jeremy's consistent commitment to anti-racism is all the more needed now." Manson defended Corbyn on BBC's Daily Politics, saying he had taken "enormously strong action" to deal with the issue in his party. Corbyn has said JVL are "committed to fighting anti-Semitism and making sure there is a Jewish voice in the party. We already have the Jewish Labour Movement. JVL was established last year and I think it is good that we have organisations within the party that are giving that voice to people." In April, Manson on BBC Radio 4's Today programme referring to a survey conducted by Campaign Against Antisemitism said: "Evidence including very recent evidence commissioned by a Jewish body suggests the very worst antisemitism is still on the right, on the far right and always has been".
In the same month, JVL issued a statement saying they "strongly condemn the Israeli army's violent response to the Land Day demonstration in Gaza, killing 15 Palestinian civilians and wounding hundreds more" and called "for an unconditional end to Israel's inhuman siege of Gaza and its brutal occupation of the West Bank which has destroyed the lives of generations of Palestinians."
In May, JVL with members of Free Speech on Israel produced a definition of antisemitism as: "Antisemitism is a form of racism: hatred, hostility, discrimination or prejudice against Jews because they are Jews. It may be manifested in violence; denial of rights; direct, indirect or institutional discrimination; prejudice-based behaviour; or verbal or written statements. Such manifestations draw on stereotypes – characteristics which all Jews are presumed to share."
In July, JVL said in a statement about Labour's code of conduct that defines antisemitism which was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) for the purposes of disciplinary cases brought before the National Constitutional Committee that it "offers a constructive framework for moving forward in this difficult area" and it encouraged "free speech on issues to do with Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, and with Zionism" but "much will depend on how this code of conduct is applied in practice, particularly in disciplinary cases. We are cautiously optimistic."[better source needed] In the same month, the organisation was a signatory of 41 Jewish organisations in 15 countries, including six based in the UK criticising the IHRA definition. In August, the organisation called for support of Labour's code of conduct and for the NEC to resist adopting the IHRA examples of antisemitism as it fell short of providing "a clear and unambiguous statement based on attitudes to Jews as Jews, not attitudes to a country, Israel".
In August, JVL complained to the BBC director-general Baron Tony Hall and news and current affairs director Francesca Unsworth by criticising and demonstrating against the BBC's "lack of impartiality and inaccuracies" and "biased" coverage of Labour MP Margaret Hodge's allegations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn.
In September, JVL jointly with Free Speech on Israel published a declaration on antisemitic misconduct. JVL contributed to the consultation on Labour's code of conduct rejecting suggestions that comparisons between Israel and "features of pre-war Nazi Germany" or apartheid-era South Africa were "inherently antisemitic", arguing that "Drawing such parallels can undoubtedly cause offence; but potent historical events and experiences are always key reference points in political debate. Such comparisons are only anti-Semitic if they show prejudice, hostility or hatred against Jews as Jews." Their guidelines on antisemitism include questions of Israel and Zionism such as "Jews, Israelis and Zionists are separate categories that are too frequently conflated by both supporters and critics of Israel. This conflation can be anti-Semitic. Holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government is anti-Semitic. Many Jews are not Zionist." The organisation also questioned whether "discussion and education, rather than a formal disciplinary approach" could be more appropriate in some cases of antisemitism.
In September, at the Labour Party Conference, JVL hosted two fringe events: "Israel/Palestine: Antisemitism" and "Fighting The Far Right". JVL also organised and hosted the premier of the documentary film The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker where 200 people were evacuated after a bomb threat. In a statement the organisation said the film "is an incisive and chilling exposé of attempts to silence critics of Israel, in particular those who support the socialist project of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. It connects the global struggle against racism and the far right with the Palestinian cause."
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Levane, who is a member of the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Labour
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the fiercely anti-Zionist (and pro-Corbyn) Jewish Voice for Labour
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The controversial left wing Jewish voice for Labour carried placards reading “freedom of speech on Palestine”.
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Harrow East’s Constituency Labour Party (CLP) backed a controversial Jewish group at its annual general meeting this week.
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Stephen Marks, a member of controversial group Jewish Voice for Labour, is thought to be one of the choices Momentum is not inclined to back.
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