FREE SPEECH ON ISRAEL (FSOI) was founded in 2016 as assertions about a rampant UK antisemitism began to proliferate and threaten freedom of expression in the public domain.
Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) grew out of FSOI the following year when it became clear that the Labour Party itself was to become a major site of struggle in which antisemitism would be the baseball bat of choice for internal as well as external attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his project. JVL is now far larger than its parent, and it needs to be. The past month has seen the raucous attacks reach a new crescendo. The starting pistol was the revival of an old news story - that Jeremy in 2012 had without sufficient attention to detail defended a piece of street art that at the time raised no concern by the Jewish Chronicle, but which now, under intense examination, has generated a consensus that it is antisemitic.
A demonstration outside Parliament was called at short notice by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) to protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party. Neither of these staunchly pro-Zionist organisations has a democratic mandate from British Jews, whose views are far more diverse. Their leadership is well to the right. The JLC President until recently was Sir Mick Davis, Treasurer and now CEO of the Conservative Party.
On March 26th probably over a thousand gathered to listen to speeches of denunciation. Luciana Berger spoke, and more than a dozen Labour MPs (among them John Mann, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall and John Woodcock) attended. And there were Tory notables such as Sajid Javid, Norman Tebbit and Eric Pickles, and also a DUP representative.
JVL decided that despite our lack of resources this was a challenge we could not duck. We called a counter- demonstration at only one day’s notice and put it out on social media. We attracted over 200 supporters. With hand-held megaphone and hand-drawn placards, we were a contrast in every way. We attracted vicious name-calling from the more extreme elements of the main crowd. We also attracted media attention, at a time when no other opposition to the BoD/JLC narrative was being heard. We stood up to be counted, and we are still standing.
Since 26th March JVL membership has grown by a third. On one day our website took 250,000 hits. We have had to increase our bandwidth, both technically and politically.
is Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics, and Chair of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine