It Wasn’t Always This Way

Colin Shindler tracks Britain’s Labour Party’s journey from ‘uber-Zionists’ to the Zionophobes of Camp Corbyn, in a preview of JQ’s Summer 2016 issue:

During the 1960s there were between 35 and 40 Jewish Labour MPs in different parliaments – a totally disproportionate number, given the percentage of Jews in Britain. It was a party where Jews felt at home.

Labour leaders had witnessed the fate of European Jewry in the 1940s. Richard Crossman visited Dachau just after VE Day and it proved a salutary experience for him and his contemporaries. Figures such as Nye Bevan, Jennie Lee, Harold Wilson and Anthony Wedgewood-Benn became uber-Zionists because of their wartime experience. They also respected the fact that the Jews had climbed out of the lime pits of Dachau and were attempting to build a socialist society in Palestine – and they understood that it was the responsibility of all on the Left to assist them. Such post-war revelations deeply affected even those Jews who formerly opposed Zionism – Trotskyists, Stalinists, Haredim, assimilationists. They now performed ideological acrobatics to enable camp survivors to go to Palestine – albeit without formally endorsing Zionism.

Crossman’s colleagues came to power in Harold Wilson’s governments. Wilson knew all the members of the labour Zionist elite in Israel. His son stayed on kibbutz Yagur while Gerald Kaufman was his contact with the Israeli Embassy. Up until the Six Day War in 1967, Israel could do no wrong.

Crossman’s successors saw things profoundly differently. The Corbynistas came of age during the era of decolonisation – the epoch of Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. They understood the embryonic struggle of the Palestinians in the context of the liberation movements of the 1960s – and this was several years before the settlement drive on the West Bank.

Yet for Jews who were born after 1945, they know that, but for the English Channel, their parents and grandparents would have been rounded up and deported ‘to the East’ like their European cousins. It is this inherited memory that separates British Jews from Jewish Britons. Its centrality in Jewish identity separates the Jewish national Left from the Jewish section of the British Left.

This is an excerpt of an article that features in the upcoming Summer 2016 JQ. The featured photograph is of the Harold Wilson cabinet. 

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