Head of new Jewish Labour party: We should be focusing on Islamophobia, not punishing Ken Livingstone

Jenny Manson expressed her support for Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingstone has been punished enough, says Jenny Manson

Friday, October 6, 2017

Jenny Manson is chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, a movement which launched last month. You can find out more here.

The Labour Party has been a huge part of my life for 50 years, since I was a student in the late 60s. I have been a parliamentary candidate in Hendon, but I realised that, as I was a tax inspector by profession, you couldn't combine that with a parliamentary career.

I retired in 2011 and worked for a couple of years in my husband's publishing company. I finally retired for good in 2014, which gave me more time to concentrate on politics.

Since retirement I have been chair of a trustee body, and I’ve got involved more with Labour Party and the beginnings of Jewish Voice for Labour.

Why did I set up JVL? Well Jewish members of the Labour Party have been unrepresented in recent years. I'm hoping that we will become the voice of Jewish Labour Party members and we will be able to say what we think about issues like racism, free speech and Israel-Palestine.

JVL inaugurated in July, and launched on Monday September 24, during the Labour Party Conference. Newspapers have claimed that the Israel-American speaker Miko Peled made his comment about free speech and the Holocaust at our meeting. He did come to our meeting but I can tell you he didn't raise that.

In fact Miko asked whether we are Zionist or not, and I said we do not have a policy on that. We have members who are progressive Zionist, anti-Zionist, people for whom Israel is not their daily concern. We stand against racism in all forms and we have our definition of anti-semitism, which is hostility towards or abuse of Jews – so not a criticism of Israel in itself.

There is no reason that we would condemn Zionism, or promote Zionism. Our members can decide. The issue of whether or not we are Zionist is not an issue to us, unlike other groups like the Jewish Labour Movement, which requires that members sign up to the World Zionist Organisation vow that Israel is central to their lives. We don’t have that.

What people tend to forget is that there are lots of different definitions of Zionism. If Zionism was about the belief that Israel should retain the Palestinian Territories, I wouldn't personally agree with it. but most people view it much more loosely. As I say, members are free to decide what they want.

Jeremy is right

They’re also free to decide how they feel about Jeremy Corbyn. I know that many members support him, and I share  his view on Israel-Palestine – at least, as far as I know of it. We don't support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but we support Palestinians’ right to take that sort of action and we don’t believe it is anti-semitic.

Does Labour have a problem with anti-semitism? Well a lot of people seem to think so, but I don’t. You could take any big organisation apart - BBC, British Rail - you might find isolated examples. But I suspect there is less in the Labour Party than organisations of comparable size.

Personally, my definition of anti-semitism is hostility towards Jews. If people say Israel is doing something wrong for a specific reason, that’s ok. If they said Israel was wrong because it was run by Jews, that’s not ok. It’s a fairly simple line to draw, and I don’t believe the Labour Party is falling on the wrong side of it.

Ken Livingstone, to take one particularly high-profile example, is not an anti-semite. I feel he has been punished enough. Instead of being banished from the party, he should be reintegrated, allowed to stay on in a background position or retire gracefully from the party.

His comments have received plenty of coverage, but I don’t think any of the things Ken’s said are anti-semitic, so let’s let the matter rest. He's not a wicked man. He's never hurt anybody. He's a confirmed anti-racist, and he should be allowed to retire with dignity. 

Instead, however, we’ve got this culture of revenge, this desire for revenge on people, and it must stop. I thought Judaism and other religions believe in compassion and forgiveness!

Apologising is a new fashion; people are asked to apologise for everything. There’s a tendency to take that too far. We’re all offended from time to time - I've been offended by things that have been said by the Daily Mail and other papers about anti-semitism in the Labour Party. But I've never expected an apology.

There's hurt being dished out from all sides. Jewish people don't have a monopoly on being hurt, we should remember that.

Look at all these stories about Muslims. People publish these articles about terrorism, and then say 'oh but the majority of Muslims don't support this.' Of course they don't! We should be focusing on that, and not punishing people like Ken Livingstone time and time again.