Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

The wrong kind of antisemites on the JVL Forum

Posted on: August 5, 2019

An account called JVL Watch has done the heavy lifting in exposing an organization called Jewish Voice for Labour, which sprang fully-formed from the group  Free Speech on Israel, at the Labour Conference of 2017. Their original purpose was to defend Jeremy Corbyn against charges of antisemitism, but JVL has gone further, defending anyone accused of antisemitism from what they regard as a witch hunt, perpetrated by Zionists and even by non-Zionists, such as Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum.

The unique selling point of Jewish Voice for Labour is their claim to be Jewish while being firmly opposed to the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish Leadership Council, Labour Friends of Israel and of course the Israeli Embassy. They also hold in opprobrium such MPs as Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, John Mann and the Labour deputy Tom Watson. They admire Richard Burgon, Laura Pidcock and Chris Williamson and many on their forum express warm feelings towards George Galloway and Ken Livingstone.

Anyone in Labour accused of antisemitism becomes their protegé.

I have been following the public JVL forum on Facebook, which resembles other Labour forums in making the perceived wrongdoings of Israel and ‘Zionists’ their principal concern. In point of fact, Israel and Jews are the only topic on JVL. It is, after all, ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’. Its Chair and media officer are Jewish, anti-Israel activists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, possibly because he provides stronger opposition to Israel and Zionism than any previous Labour leader.

Their mission statement from 2017 appears almost blameless.

We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere. We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.

At a time of profound divisions in Jewish communities, JVL offers a space to explore and debate the many questions (personal, social, cultural, political) that are important to us as progressive Labour Jews.’

Like Mr Corbyn himself, they self-identify as pursuing justice, fairness and peace.

No wonder Ken Loach and Len McClusky attached themselves to JVL from its inception – as supporters not members, because JVL insists that only Jews are granted full membership. The disputed Jewish status of Jackie Walker and Sally Eason is not a problem for JVL and, when they write to the press, they include signatories who would possibly fail to satisfy a Beth Din, whether orthodox or progressive.

The Facebook forum is a fairly busy hub of activity with 5.9 thousand followers. It expresses its mission statement thus.

Jewish Voice for Labour is a new organisation for members of the Party who believe that the Party must listen to a range of Jewish voices including those that support Palestinian rights and oppose witch hunts.

Original posts do not come from named individuals but from the collective term ‘JVL’. Many posts cast doubt on the probity of politicians and journalists who campaign against antisemitism. The defence of Jeremy Corbyn is axiomatic.

JVL have extended their brief to defending anyone within Labour accused of antisemitism. In this way they have an affinity with Labour Against the Witch Hunt.

They share articles from the online Corbynist websites, The Skwawkbox and the Canary, particularly those which target prominent Jews.

The names of the most active contributors to the JVL forum are familiar to me from numerous Facebook Labour Forums characterized by their demonization of Israel, Zionism, Jewish activists, organizations and press. Some may have been suspended from Labour for antisemitism which they do not believe exists in Labour.

Over the last few months, I have made numerous screen shots of diverse threads on the JVL forum.

It does not exactly surprise me but I do feel occasionally perplexed when I think that the original JVL members must look at the comments on their forum and see the extremely negative perception of Jews and of Israel that they have encouraged among their following.

My contention is that, while JVL draws support from both borderline and unambiguously antisemitic supporters of Mr Corbyn, it is not trusted by many of those in the Jewish community who are aware of its existence. It is therefore not appropriate for the Labour leadership to turn to JVL for purposes of liaison vis-a-vis the Jewish community or to appoint JVL members to provide education for Labour members  deemed by Labour officials to have a poor grasp of the manifestations of antisemitism.

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