For almost a century, the Jewish Labour Movement has been affiliated to the British Labour Party. On Wednesday night, its 2,000 members will decide whether or not that should continue.
At an extraordinary general meeting, held concurrently in London and Manchester, the JLM will discuss whether to sever ties over the party’s handling of antisemitic abuse, ahead of a formal vote next month.
Jeremy Corbyn has written to the JLM urging them not to go, expressing his “very strong desire for you to remain a part of our movement”’ and recognising the “enormous distress” the crisis had caused the Jewish community.
“These concerns must not be denied or dismissed. It is not acceptable for an atmosphere of hostility or bigotry to arise in any corner of our movement,” Mr Corbyn said.
But for many JLM members, it’s too little and far too late. The group was angered last month when Jeremy Corbyn claimed at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party to have reached out to the group to discuss their concerns.
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“That is entirely false,” the JLM responded. A senior source said that until very recently, there had been no contact whatsoever from Jeremy Corbyn or the leader’s office.
The anger within the movement was summed up in a thread of Twitter posts late on Tuesday evening by JLM national secretary Peter Mason.
You can read the whole thread here (and it is well worth a read), but he concludes with the dreadful dilemma now facing his organisation: “I’ve been asked countless times over the last two weeks what @JewishLabour will do tomorrow. The honest answer is that I really don’t know. I’ve been asked countless times over the last two weeks what I’ll do. The honest answer is that I really don’t know.”
Another JLM member I spoke to was equally as unsure, telling me “I think it could be close. Would have said stay definitely if you asked me 24 hours ago, but the way the leadership acted over (Chris) Williamson has seemed to have turned a lot of people.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the JLM believe, was far too slow in suspending Labour MP Chris Williamson after he said the party had been “too apologetic” over antisemitism.
The resignation from the party of Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger was also seen as a “watershed moment”.
“When Luciana quit,” one member told me, “I thought – ‘what am I doing here?’”
More than 100 Labour MPs, including Deputy Leader Tom Watson, have written to the JLM hoping to convince them to stay, acknowledging the party had “let our Jewish supporters and members down by failing to eradicate the antisemitism within our ranks”.
Louise Ellman, former Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, is hopeful members will decide to stay associated with the party. But she told me the movement had had a lot of new, younger members who “don’t have the historical ties” and who had been shocked by the spread of anti-semitism in the party.
Tonight’s meeting will see members air their concerns ahead of indicative but not binding votes into the group’s future relationship with Labour. Labour MPs I have spoken to, both Jewish and not, are quietly confident the group will choose to stay.
But the frustration within the JLM is palpable, and as Peter Mason has told members, “it will be for you to judge the sincerity of their content, and the record of the Leadership and Party’s actions.”