For the Times of Israel posted June 5 2017
LONDON — After two leaders of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) decided to toss their hats into the ring to square off against two pro-Israel Conservative MPs in Britain’s June 8 general election, it looks like all bets are off.
Chairman and vice-chairman of the JLM Jeremy Newmark and Mike Katz are challenging Mike Freer and Matthew Offord in the adjoining London constituencies of Finchley & Golders Green — Margaret Thatcher’s old seat — and Hendon. Both seats are in the heartland of the northwest London Jewish community and the densely-populated community is likely to have a considerable impact on the final result.
In the year and a half since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour party leader, controversies about anti-Semitism in the party — including repeated remarks made by former London mayor Ken Livingstone — have dogged media coverage. Many Jews who were lifelong Labour voters say they can’t bring themselves to put a cross next to the Labour candidate’s name on the general election ballot.
But others are just as reluctant to allow the Tory juggernaut to roll on, sweeping all before it.
In Ilford North, to the east of London, there is another dilemma: the non-Jewish but passionately pro-Israel incumbent Labour MP, Wes Streeting, is challenged by the man he defeated last time — the Jewish Tory Lee Scott. Again, this battle takes place in a constituency with a high number of Jewish voters.
Barrister Jeremy Brier, in a fiercely-argued op-ed for the Jewish Chronicle, attacked Newmark and Katz for their decision to run against pro-Israel candidates. He believed it was “deeply unedifying when Jewish communal leaders make an active choice not just to stand for this Labour Party, but to do so against prominent Conservative friends of the Jewish community in relatively marginal seats.”
“Newmark and Katz — who make much of standing up for the Jewish community — seek to uproot our supporters and champions, whilst propping up a party led by a ragtag bunch of Jew-baiters,” he added.
University of London sociology professor David Hirsh takes a diametrically opposite view.
“The decision of the local Labour Party in Finchley & Golders Green to stand Jeremy Newmark against the Tory MP Mike Freer emancipates Jews, at least in this constituency, to vote as citizens. It relieves us from the humiliation of being forced to vote as Jews against anti-Semitism…
“Having a choice between Newmark and Freer makes me feel a bit more British; and I hate the way Brexit and anti-Semitism have made me feel less than fully British,” he wrote in a Jewish News oped.
As well as the Jewish candidates who face a tough time in the 2017 election, the so-called “Corbyn effect” is hurting two of Israel’s strongest non-Jewish supporters in Parliament. Chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, is nursing a tiny majority of just over 1,000 potential votes in the outer London seat of Enfield North. Former MP Nick de Bois may well take back the seat in this election. The LFI vice-chairman, Michael Dugher, has already announced he is leaving politics to become chief executive of UK Music.
With the elections just days away, here is a look at the contentious constituencies where Jewish Labour hopefuls will be hashing it out.
Main battlegrounds for Jewish Labour candidates:
Bury South (north of Manchester)
Current MP: Ivan Lewis, former Labour Minister under Ed Miliband.
Held seat since: 1997.
Problem: Fired via text message by Corbyn after Lewis warned about antisemitism in the party, but tarred by Jewish community as toxic because he is Labour. He has been forced to tell the local Jewish newspaper “I’m not Ivan the Terrible.”
Current MP: Louise Ellman, active backbencher and chair of Transport Committee.
Held seat since: 1997.
Problem: Ellman has faced serious abuse from members of her local party, in part because of her activism as vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, but also because of her opposition to Corbyn.
Current MP: Luciana Berger, former director of Labour Friends of Israel.
Held seat since: 2010.
Problem: She is opposed to Corbyn. Liverpool has just elected a strong Corbyn ally as its city mayor. Berger was the focus of sustained antisemitic online attacks for which two separate people were jailed. Corbyn appointed her Shadow Minister of Mental Health last year, but she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in June 2016.
Leeds North West
Current MP: Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s Alex Sobel, once northern organiser for former Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Problem: In the current climate, Sobel, who has challenged Mulholland before in 2015, is unlikely to win.
Current MP: Scottish Nationalist Party’s Hannah Bardell.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s youngest candidate, Rhea Wolfson.
Problem: It is an uphill battle for the 26-year-old Wolfson — a former Jewish youth worker — because there is currently only one Labour MP in Scotland. Except for one Independent and one Conservative MP, all the rest represent the Scottish National Party. Wolfson is associated with Momentum, the far-left group which supports Corbyn.
Current MP: Conservative Helen Whately.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s Michael Desmond.
Problem: Desmond is a Labour councilor, but this is the heartland of Conservative politics and Whately is likely to retain the seat comfortably.
Current MP: Labour’s Fabian Hamilton
Held seat since: 1997
Hamilton is Jewish, and, to his surprise, was made Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament by Corbyn in October 2016. He has held his seat for 20 years and is likely to win again. Hamilton receives strong support from Jewish voters in the neighborhoods of Alwoodly, Moortown and Roundhay.
Current MP: David Winnick.
At 83, Winnick is the oldest Jewish politician, and has held his seat for 38 years. He’s a tough critic of both Israel and the Palestinians, and is also the politician who asked the Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct last year’s inquiry into antisemitism.
Problem: His age may count against him, as well as the Corbyn effect.
Stoke on Trent North
Current MP: Ruth Smeeth.
Another former Jewish community staffer, Smeeth was director of public affairs at Bicom, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Smeeth, who won her seat in 2015, has also been the target of prolonged social media anti-Semitism. She left last year’s public launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s anti-Semitism inquiry in tears, after being verbally abused in front of both Chakrabarti and Jeremy Corbyn himself.
Problem: She’s no Corbynista, but may suffer because of her opposition to Brexit — Stoke voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe.
Current MP: former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has held the seat since 2005.
Problem: Miliband has an 11,000 vote majority in a natural Labour seat, but voters are angry with him for resigning so fast after the last election and making way for Corbyn.
Current MP: Dame Margaret Hodge.
The Egyptian-born Hodge has held her seat since 1994 and has seen off challenges from the extreme right British National Party, with the help of Jewish community, and UKIP, the right-wing anti-immigration party.
Last June she and another Labour MP asked for a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, which, though overwhelmingly backed, had no formal force.
Problem: Barking is another pro-Brexit constituency while Hodge is a fierce supporter of Britain staying in Europe.