• Jo Bird

Do no harm

Updated: Mar 6, 2019

Jo Bird, of Jewish Voice for Labour, on antisemitism and what to do about it.


I was Labour candidate for Eastham, in Wirral South. On 4th May, I won 1500 votes, an increase of 65% (600) from last time.

I didn’t win the election, but our share of the vote increased from 24% to 36% – the best result on the Wirral. Nationally, Labour did great – gaining 79 seats and winning more than half of all council seats.

We all know Labour is the focus of media attention and establishment attack because it is the next government in waiting. And because of Jeremy Corbyn’s track record of standing up for social justice – from Hillsborough, Grenfell and Windrush, to Anti-Apartheid to Gaza. With this leadership, the Labour Party brings hope to millions of people in this country and around the world.

Jewish traditions

I am also Jewish. The Labour Party is a great home for me and other Jewish people. I’ve been made very welcome.

My great-grandparents fled murderous pogroms in Prussia. In 1905, the first anti-immigration Act effectively stopped much more Jewish migration to Britain.  My granddad was arrested for fighting Mosely’s fascists in Manchester and again fought fascism as a soldier in the second world war. He never met his extended family that remained in mainland Europe.

Me and my sister we were raised in a Jewish tradition of socialism not God, trade union stickers not mezuzahs, Woodcraft Folk not Hebrew school, internationalism not Zionism. I started and ran a co-op business to take study tours to Israel~Palestine to see the situation for themselves. We helped bring fair-trade Palestinian olive oil to the UK.

Given our centuries of persecution, we Jews are generally vigilant about antisemitism. We have a good idea what anti-Jewish hostility and prejudice looks like. Its always wrong. Its just as wrong as false accusations of antisemitism.

The Labour is far from perfect. Antisemitism, including holocaust denial, exists in the Labour Party just like anywhere else. But the Labour Party is not overrun with it. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research found antisemitism is much more common in the right and far-right. We’ve all see the election of racists like Trump, and overtly anti-semitic parties in central Europe. And close to home too. Luciana Berger MP has helped to put 3 far-right aggressors behind bars.

Which brings me to the question, “What can we do about the situation?”

I have four suggestions:

1. Do no harm

Don’t make the situation any worse than it already is. Don’t give our opponents ammunition, if possible. Educate ourselves about antisemitism and the way it is used as a weapon against us. Jewdas, with whom Jeremy Corbyn celebrated Pesach, have guidance notes at statements that starts with “the Jews this” or “all Jews that” such as Jews are rich or Jews support Israel. Generalisations erase the diversity of Jewish experiences.Ask for evidence for allegations. Call out allegations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.

In summary: (1) Behave decently, even when angry; (2) Don’t deny or minimise the holocaust; (3) Provide evidence for allegations.

2. Affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour

Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) was formed one year ago. It is a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party.

We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere.

JVL has a vital role to play in dealing with anti-Semitism and its allegations. We don’t receive money from the State of Israel. Unlike Jewish Labour Movement, we are not affiliated to Zionist organisations – and we are the only network where full members must be members of the Labour Party and Jewish.

To support JVL, you can affiliate if you are an individual member of Labour – or an organisation like a trade union branch. There is an affiliation pack on Jewish Voice for Labour website .

3. Speak up for human rights in Palestine~Israel

Jewish Voice for Labour is appalled, and condemns the Israeli government – without reservation – for the massacre of over 100 Palestinian protesters in Gaza recently. Including people such as 14 year old Azzeddin Musa Mohammed Al-Samak. Talking of doing no harm – the UK should immediately suspend its arms trade with Israel.

I lived in Derry, in Northern Ireland for 3 years. The trauma of Bloody Sunday and military occupation is clear to see. The resonance between Ireland and Palestine has long roots. In the 1920s, the British Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, used the North of Ireland as the model for colonialism in the middle east, aiming to establish “a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.”

I’m trying to show that not all supporters of Israel are Jewish, and not all Jews support Israel. For example, in Northern Ireland, there are more Protestant than Jewish people waving the Israeli flag and repeating Israeli government propaganda.

4. Fair Treatment within Labour

JVL is campaigning with others to overturn Marc Wadsworth’s unfair expulsion, clear his name and to defend Jackie Walker (who is black and Jewish) and others earmarked for the next phase in expulsions.

JVL is calling for disciplinary hearings to be paused until a due process has been established based on principles of natural justice. What I call Jew process. [I am sorry for any offence caused by my plays on words - that was not my intention.]

We support Chakrabati’s inquiry recommendations of a fair, prompt, disciplinary system based on principles of natural justice. Her report placed anti-Semitism where is should be – not on a pedestal but alongside other forms of racism.

I was disappointed that Shami Chakrabarti joined in ‘trial by media’ of Ken Livingstone, last Sunday. But the principles within her report remain fit for purpose.

If talking repeatedly while being a gob-shite was an expel-able offence applied fairly to all, there’d be quite a few vacancies in Labour. Not everyone can be as diplomatic as me. 😉

Seriously, one thing that worries me is the privileging of racism against Jews as more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination such as against black people, Muslim people and people who have crossed borders to this country. These abuses of power are measured in detentions, deportations and deaths – so lets have a sense of proportion and perspective in the current situation.

Every type of racism is different and needs a time and a place for discussion. And privileging one group over another group is divisive. It’s bad for the many as well as the Jews.

Lastly, I would like to say that:

We remember Carl Sargeant, a member of the Welsh Assembly for Alyn and Deeside who killed himself in November last year, just days after allegations against him were made public in a ‘trial by media’.

The Labour Party owes the accused, and the accusers, a duty of care – and fair treatment for all. I am looking forward to a credible disciplinary policy within the Labour Party. We all need it.

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