On Wednesday last week, an organisation calling itself Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) held a meeting in Manchester, with a speech from co-founder Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi as the main attraction.
As the organisation’s chair, Jenny Manson, has admitted, JVL was founded in order “to tackle allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party”. It shares much of its core membership with an organisation called Free Speech on Israel, which was formed partly in order to defend Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone, and which organised the notorious Labour Party conference fringe meeting at which it was suggested that Labour members should be free to debate “the Holocaust, yes or no”. When the Labour Party voted on rule changes to make it easier to expel members for hate speech of all kinds, Ms Wimborne-Idrissi spoke against the changes. When British Jews demonstrated against antisemitism in Parliament Square, JVL organised a counter-demonstration. That is the sort of thing that JVL does.
Despite its name, the real purpose of JVL is not to provide Jews with a voice in the Labour Party: a voice that already exists via the Jewish Labour Movement. Its purpose is, rather, to provide an ostensibly ‘Jewish’ voice in support of the most extreme elements on the Labour left, which camouflage themselves as ‘anti-Zionists’.
While JVL claims to take no position on Zionism, Ms Wimborne-Idrissi devoted about a quarter of her speech in Manchester to attacking it. She also argued in favour of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which the Labour leadership has distanced itself from, and argued against the International Definition of Antisemitism, which the Labour Party has officially adopted. These positions put Ms Wimborne-Idrissi not only on the fringes of the Jewish community but also on the fringes of the Labour Party. As for Ms Manson, she has admitted that she only “began to identify as a Jew in order to argue against the State of Israel”.
But there are too many who take JVL seriously as an authority on antisemitism, despite its fringe status. At the meeting in Manchester last week, Ms Wimborne-Idrissi defended Unite leader Len McCluskey’s claim that antisemitism allegations are “mood music that was created by people who were trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn”, dismissed the disciplinary proceedings against Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker as “McCarthyism and witchhuntery that we can’t speak freely [about]”, and claimed (in the face of evidence suggesting the contrary) that the number of antisemites in the Labour Party is “infinitesimally small”.
Still more shockingly, Ms Wimborne-Idrissi attempted to blame mainstream Jewish organisations and Israel for antisemitism, claiming that it is their position that “causes people to confuse Jews, Israel, and Zionism, and leads to some expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment”; in essence blaming Jewish people for their own oppression. This violates the basic premise of all liberation movements: someone who blamed black people for causing anti-black racism, or gay people for causing homophobia, would never be accepted as a spokesperson for a left wing group. Why then does Ms Wimborne-Idrissi speak for JVL?
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s focus is on antisemitism, pure and simple. We don’t care whether Jew-hate comes from the right, the left, or the centre – we oppose it in every form. But JVL exists in order to persuade the world that the Labour Party doesn’t need to do anything about its antisemitism problem because Jews have said so.
It’s time for the mainstream media to stop giving JVL an audience.