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SOCIALIST Jews are challenging Labour leadership candidates for supporting a 10-point pledge by the right-wing Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) “to tackle the anti-semitism crisis.”
The BoD’s requests include accepting in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism, which has received criticism from Palestinian-rights groups for silencing valid criticism of Israel.
In a letter to the leadership hopefuls, made public on Monday, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) expressed grave concerns over the impact of the pledges on the party’s independence and ability to show solidarity with Palestine.
All of the Labour candidates — Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips — gave their full backing within hours of the BoD’s announcement on Sunday.
The BoD said that deputy-leadership candidates Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler were absent from the list of those who had agreed, along with unsuccessful candidate Clive Lewis.
Among the demands is that Labour engages only via the Jewish community’s “main representative” groups, excluding “fringe groups” such as JVL.
JVL’s co-chairs Leah Levane and Jenny Manson, who penned the letter, said this would silence hundreds of their members and those who hold views that differ from the BoD.
“We remind you that the Board does not represent all Jews,” they wrote.
“Most significantly it does not represent many thousands in the fast-growing Charedi community, most of whom do not believe that the Labour Party is riddled with anti-semitism and have put on record their alarm at the suggestion that it is.”
Under the pledges, Labour would be required to hand over its complaints procedure to an “independent body,” give life bans to people accused of anti-semitism and suspend anyone who supports them.
But JVL said handing over such procedures would undermine the independence of the party.
As to why every candidate was so quick to sign up to the pledges, JVL member Mike Cushman said: “Some who fear the mass progressive membership of the party will see the pledges as a way of excising many dedicated socialist members.”
“Others have long histories of excusing Israel’s crimes and see the pledges as a way of defending Israel from criticism.
“Others will have signed under the delusion that if they sign up they can put a stop to the relentless demonisation of the party.”
JVL expressed fears that the pledges will silence any criticism of Israel.
A blog posted on the JVL website claimed that supporting the pledges would reverse steps made under current leader Jeremy Corbyn towards a progressive foreign policy.
At the party’s conference last year, members voted to end arms sales to Israel.
“Any ethical foreign policy must addresses the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis,” Mr Cushman explained.
“It is clear that the effect of the BoD’s ten pledges is to make people fearful of speaking out on this issue — for fear their words may be misconstrued as being anti-semitic.
“The Labour Party needs to allow open debate if it is to play a useful part in moving towards a future for all in Palestine/Israel based on universal human rights and freedom from fear and oppression.”
In 2018 the BoD blamed Hamas for the slaughter of 100 Palestinians by Israeli soldiers demonstrating at the Gaza fence in the March of Return protests.
The board received criticism from many Jewish groups for its one-sided reaction to the violence.
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