Column for Jewish News February 12 2019
Last week, as if she didn’t have enough on her plate, the MP Luciana Berger was gently exhorting people to observe Time To Talk Day, an initiative relating to mental health, her special interest.
It struck me that “time to talk” might be a useful mantra for some of our community leaders — not least in the light of what has been happening to Ms Berger.
For those who have been living in a cave over the past week or so, the extraordinarily courageous Liverpool MP — who is eight months pregnant with her second child — found herself facing two motions of no confidence from her local Wavertree constituency Labour Party.
Among all the frothing and background complaints on social media and beyond, two things stood out for me: the responses of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and that of Labour’s General Secretary, Jennie Formby.
McDonnell, briefly praised for agreeing that antisemitism had to be stamped out — Jeremy Corbyn, of course, was nowhere to be seen or heard — suddenly showed his true colours by telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that effectively Berger had brought the resolutions on herself. If only, he opined, she would quash the rumours that she was seeking to leave Labour and start another party, all would be well.
Meanwhile, Jennie “Antisemitism-can-never-be-completely-eliminated” Formby insisted that, contrary to a plea from Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, there was no provision for suspending Wavertree CLP.
In the end, the resolutions against Berger, and the emergency meeting called to debate them, were cancelled. The word went out from the leadership: nothing to see here, no antisemitism, move along.
Presumably the word had also gone out from the leadership to tell Wavertree CLP that if it wanted to get rid of its stroppy, high-profile MP, this was neither the time nor the way to do it.
I think we have some lessons to take away from this distasteful episode. First, thank heavens for Tom Watson, apparently one of the few normal people left at the top of the Labour Party, although one shudders to predict for how much longer.
Second, lessons for our community. In the last three years, since the foul antisemitism stain erupted in Corbyn’s Labour Party, there were still opportunities for Labour and Jewish leaders to sit and talk.
That Rubicon, however, has been well and truly crossed. Since April 2018, Labour has sat, metaphorically, on its hands and hoped the Jews would go away while it did nothing.
But the days of the Jews kissing up to Labour — even supposing the need to keep channels open if Labour should form the next government — should be over.
Having “secret” meetings with Jennie Formby, or a formerly suspended member of the Welsh Assembly who wondered why Jews needed extra security, is not only pointless but counter-productive.
As John McDonnell clearly indicated, this is always going to be our fault. So what is there to discuss?
Here is something to discuss: a question of unity from the leadership of the Jewish community. The Corbynistas want nothing more than to exploit a split and some among us are giving them the opportunity tied up with a red ribbon. Forget sideshow distractions such as Neturei Karta and Jewish Voice for Labour. We need to be sending a message to Labour loud and clear – that we will not tolerate your behaviour to our community.
And as for “time to talk” — we will decide.