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Don’t buy the line that Jewdas are all extremists

... but Corbyn’s Seder visit was a mistake.

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 Fawkes website, 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.  

Oz Katerji is a Middle Eastern writer, filmmaker and journalist and former Lesvos coordinator for British charity Help Refugees.​

CREDIT: PETER DAZELEY/PHOTOGRAPHER’S CHOICE
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The overlooked aspect of patient care: why NHS catering needs a revolution

The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

A friend recently sent me a photo from her hospital bed – not of her newborn baby, sadly, but her dinner. “Pls come and revolutionise the NHS” the accompanying text read, along with a plaintive image of some praying hands. A second arrived the next morning: “Breakfast: cereal, toast or porridge. I asked for porridge. She said porridge would be ‘later’. Never arrived. (sad face).”

Contrast this with the glee with which another friend showed me his menu at a Marie Curie hospice a few weeks later. He seemed to have ticked every box on it, and had written underneath his order for syrup sponge and custard: “extra custard please”. It wasn’t fancy, but freshly cooked, comforting food that residents looked forward to – “like school dinners”, he sighed, “but nice”.

To be fair, though budgets vary significantly between hospital trusts, a reliable estimate suggests £3.45 per patient per day as an average – only slightly more than in Her Majesty’s prisons, though unlike in prisons or schools, there is no legally enforceable set of minimum standards for hospital catering. As Prue Leith writes in the foreword to a 2017 report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, “this means hospital food is uniquely vulnerable to a race to the bottom in terms of food quality, and patient care”.

Plate after plate of disappointment is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb, but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process. Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay, especially as figures released in February suggest the number of hospital deaths from malnutrition is on the rise. According to Department of Health findings last year, 48 per cent of English hospitals failed to comply with food standards intended to be legally binding, with only half screening every admission for malnutrition.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report, meanwhile, revealed that only 42 per cent of the London hospitals that responded to its survey cooked fresh food for children – even though the largest single cause of admissions in five-to-nine-year-olds is tooth extraction. Less than a third of respondents cooked fresh food for adults.

Once the means to produce fresh meals are in place, they can save trusts money by allowing kitchens to buy ingredients seasonally, when they are cheaper. Michelin-starred chef Phil Howard, recently tasked by the Love British Food organisation to cook their annual lunch on an NHS budget, explained that this, along with using cheaper cuts and pushing vegetables centre stage, allowed him to produce three courses rather than the two he’d been asked for. Delicious they were, too.

Andy Jones, a chef and former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, who was there championing British food in the NHS, told me the same principles applied in real healthcare environments: Nottingham City Hospital, which prepares meals from scratch, saves £6m annually by buying fresh local ingredients – “I know with more doing, and voices like my small one shouting out, we will see real sea change.”

Unusually, it’s less a question of money than approach. Serving great hospital food takes a kitchen, skilled cooks and quality ingredients. But getting every hospital to this point requires universal legal quality standards, like those already in place in schools, that are independently monitored.

Nutrition should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of care. The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge