Calling Jewdas “bad” Jews won’t solve Labour’s anti-Semitism problem

Imagine the headlines had Corbyn pulled out of a pre-planned event: “Corbyn passes on Passover”, “Corbyn Jewdas Judas!”

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

It’s been a tough time to be a Jew and a member of the Labour party lately, but, to paraphrase D:Ream’s New Labour anthem (oh God, does that mean I’m a Blairite?), things have got a lot better.

Jeremy Corbyn has admitted there’s a problem, as has John McDonnell, Momentum, the parliamentary Labour party, prominent Corbynites, and even my cousin Michael (and believe me, if he's admitted it, there's definitely a problem). So now if you're a Labour member and you’re still saying it's all smears! Show me the evidence! then you are most likely part of the problem we're trying to tackle.

It hasn’t been easy to get here. Too many on the left slide instantly from the subject of anti-Semitism to the subject of Israel/Palestine, even as they denounce a pro-Israel lobby sliding instantly the other way. Too many still see the whole thing as a plot to attack Corbyn, even though he has himself acknowledged the problem. Hyper-Corbynites are in the interesting position of defending Corbyn by dismissing something Corbyn has admitted to as being part of a coup against Corbyn: “that Jeremy Corbyn – he’ll do anything to bring down Jeremy Corbyn!”

And then there’s Jewdasgate. After Corbyn attended a Passover feast hosted by the group Jewdas, the same people who had been shouting that if Corbyn was serious about tackling anti-Semitism, he had to get out there and meet Jews were suddenly shouting: “Hold on! Not those Jews!”. Or as Corbyn-lookalike Obi-Wan Kenobi might have put it: “These are not the Jews you are looking for.”

The cries of “how dare Corbyn go and meet those far-left Jews”, as if there are "good Jews” and "bad Jews", reminded me of an old Jewish joke about a man stranded for years on a desert island. When he’s finally found, his rescuers are amazed to see that he’s built two synagogues. He points to them and says “this one is the one I pray in. And the other one is the one I wouldn’t be seen dead in.” That’s Jews for you: two Jews, three opinions. Anglo-Jewry, if you’ll pardon the interdenominational metaphor, is a broad church. There are religious Jews, atheist Jews, leftie Jews, Tory Jews, Zionist Jews, anti-Zionist Jews, tall Jews, short Jews, Jews who are mainly in it for the food (guilty!), Jews who are mainly in it for the guilt (hello again!), Jews who like Coldplay and Jews who love Motorhead (I think I might need to update my musical references). That’s the Jewish community for you: there are synagogues you pray in and synagogues you wouldn’t be seen dead in, and plenty who don’t go to synagogue at all.

Corbyn should meet as many of these Jews as possible. Jewdas speak to a lot of Jews who don't feel part of mainstream Anglo-Jewry, especially younger ones. (Full disclosure: I once took part in an event for them a few years back on approaches to the Holocaust. It was fascinating. Corbyn wasn't there). They can be provocative (the clue’s in the name) and they can be funny. Sometimes I disagree with them, as I did when, in my view, they came out far too strongly in the anti-Semitism debate for #TeamSmear. Sometimes they make me laugh (as with their idea of solving Ken Livingstone’s inability to keep shtum by sending him into space). But they also have a history of tackling anti-Semitism on the left and right. They are definitely worth talking to.

Is it not possible that the Jewdas date was arranged a while back? Can you imagine the hoo-hah and headlines had Corbyn pulled out of the event? “Corbyn pulls out of Jewish event, the anti-Semite!”, “Corbyn passes on Passover”, “Corbyn Jewdas Judas!”. The timing wasn't great, especially given the Jewdas statement on anti-Semitism-in-Labour-gate. But this one was probably always going to be lose-lose for Corbyn.

It’s also good to see that Corbyn is planning to meet with the mainstream Jewish groups behind the demo outside Parliament: the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. I was concerned that these groups insisted on conditions before the meeting (this isn't a bar mitzvah, where you'll only attend if they get the right caterer), but Corbyn’s team have agreed to meet without any preconditions, which is the right thing to do. Those organisations don’t really represent me – I’d probably have stood equidistant between the demo and the counter-demo on that Monday night in Westminster – but it’s essential Corbyn speaks to them and they to him.

I'm not saying Corbyn is the Messiah. In fact, recent events have shown he's sometimes been a very naughty boy. As I debate another Labour anti-Semitism denier on Twitter, I’ve frequently wondered whether there’s a place for me in the Labour party. But I do believe that now, finally, the leadership realises it has a serious problem and is prepared to tackle it. Jew and non-Jew, leftie or not, we should all do what we can to help.

David Schneider is an actor, writer and director. Most recently he co-wrote Armando Iannucci's The Death Of Stalin.

Free trial CSS