With party’s lingering anti-Semitism, who are the Jews running on Britain’s Labour ticket?
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UK general elections 2017

With party’s lingering anti-Semitism, who are the Jews running on Britain’s Labour ticket?

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, here is a look at the contentious constituencies where Jewish Labour hopefuls will be hashing it out

Clockwise from left: Fabian Hamilton (Courtesy), Margaret Hodge (Flickr/The Institute for Government), and Rhea Wolfson (Courtesy).
Clockwise from left: Fabian Hamilton (Courtesy), Margaret Hodge (Flickr/The Institute for Government), and Rhea Wolfson (Courtesy).

LONDON — After two leaders of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) decided to toss their hats into the ring to square off against two pro-Israel Conservative MPs in Britain’s June 8 general election, it looks like all bets are off.

Chairman and vice-chairman of the JLM Jeremy Newmark and Mike Katz are challenging Mike Freer and Matthew Offord in the adjoining London constituencies of Finchley & Golders Green — Margaret Thatcher’s old seat — and Hendon. Both seats are in the heartland of the northwest London Jewish community and the densely-populated community is likely to have a considerable impact on the final result.

In the year and a half since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour party leader, controversies about anti-Semitism in the party — including repeated remarks made by former London mayor Ken Livingstone — have dogged media coverage. Many Jews who were lifelong Labour voters say they can’t bring themselves to put a cross next to the Labour candidate’s name on the general election ballot.

But others are just as reluctant to allow the Tory juggernaut to roll on, sweeping all before it.

In Ilford North, to the east of London, there is another dilemma: the non-Jewish but passionately pro-Israel incumbent Labour MP, Wes Streeting, is challenged by the man he defeated last time — the Jewish Tory Lee Scott. Again, this battle takes place in a constituency with a high number of Jewish voters.

UK Labour MP Wes Streeting was elected in 2015 to represent the Ilford North district (courtesy)
UK Labour MP Wes Streeting was elected in 2015 to represent the Ilford North district (courtesy)

Attorney Jeremy Brier, in a fiercely-argued op-ed for the Jewish Chronicle, attacked Newmark and Katz for their decision to run against pro-Israel candidates. He believed it was “deeply unedifying when Jewish communal leaders make an active choice not just to stand for this Labour Party, but to do so against prominent Conservative friends of the Jewish community in relatively marginal seats.”

“Newmark and Katz — who make much of standing up for the Jewish community — seek to uproot our supporters and champions, whilst propping up a party led by a ragtag bunch of Jew-baiters,” he added.

University of London sociology professor David Hirsh takes a diametrically opposite view.

“The decision of the local Labour Party in Finchley & Golders Green to stand Jeremy Newmark against the Tory MP Mike Freer emancipates Jews, at least in this constituency, to vote as citizens. It relieves us from the humiliation of being forced to vote as Jews against anti-Semitism…

Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (YouTube screenshot)
Jeremy Newmark, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement (YouTube screenshot)

“Having a choice between Newmark and Freer makes me feel a bit more British; and I hate the way Brexit and anti-Semitism have made me feel less than fully British,” he wrote in a Jewish News oped.

As well as the Jewish candidates who face a tough time in the 2017 election, the so-called “Corbyn effect” is hurting two of Israel’s strongest non-Jewish supporters in Parliament. Chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, is nursing a tiny majority of just over 1,000 potential votes in the outer London seat of Enfield North. Former MP Nick de Bois may well take back the seat in this election. The LFI vice-chairman, Michael Dugher, has already announced he is leaving politics to become chief executive of UK Music.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the studio audience as he takes part in the 'May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10,' Sky News and Channel 4 event at Sky Studios in London, May 29, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Stefan Rousseau)
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn answers questions from the studio audience as he takes part in the ‘May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10,’ Sky News and Channel 4 event at Sky Studios in London, May 29, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Stefan Rousseau)

With the elections just days away, here is a look at the contentious constituencies where Jewish Labour hopefuls will be hashing it out.

Main battlegrounds for Jewish Labour candidates:

Bury South (north of Manchester)
Current MP: Ivan Lewis, former Labour Minister under Ed Miliband.
Held seat since: 1997.
Problem: Fired via text message by Corbyn after Lewis warned about anti-Semitism in the party, but tarred by Jewish community as toxic because he is Labour. He has been forced to tell the local Jewish newspaper “I’m not Ivan the Terrible.”

Despite pressures from anti-Israel and anti-Semitic voices within her party, Louise Ellman is running for reelection to the post she's held since 1997. (courtesy)
Despite pressures from anti-Israel and anti-Semitic voices within her party, Louise Ellman is running for reelection to the post she’s held since 1997. (courtesy)

Liverpool Riverside
Current MP: Louise Ellman, active backbencher and chair of Transport Committee.
Held seat since: 1997.
Problem: Ellman has faced serious abuse from members of her local party, in part because of her activism as vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel, but also because of her opposition to Corbyn.

Liverpool Wavertree
Current MP: Luciana Berger, former director of Labour Friends of Israel.
Held seat since: 2010.
Problem: She is opposed to Corbyn. Liverpool has just elected a strong Corbyn ally as its city mayor. Berger was the focus of sustained anti-Semitic online attacks for which two separate people were jailed. Corbyn appointed her Shadow Minister of Mental Health last year, but she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in June 2016.

UK Labour MP Luciana Berger has been the target of strident anti-Semitic abuse on social media. (Emma Baum)
UK Labour MP Luciana Berger has been the target of strident anti-Semitic abuse on social media. (Emma Baum)

Leeds North West
Current MP: Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s Alex Sobel, once northern organizer for former Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Problem: In the current climate, Sobel, who has challenged Mulholland before in 2015, is unlikely to win.

Livingston, Scotland
Current MP: Scottish Nationalist Party’s Hannah Bardell.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s youngest candidate, Rhea Wolfson.
Problem: It is an uphill battle for the 26-year-old Wolfson — a former Jewish youth worker — because there is currently only one Labour MP in Scotland. Except for one Independent and one Conservative MP, all the rest represent the Scottish National Party. Wolfson is associated with Momentum, the far-left group which supports Corbyn.

Rhea Wolfson, standing for Labour in Livingston, Scotland. (Courtesy)
Rhea Wolfson, standing for Labour in Livingston, Scotland. (Courtesy)

Faversham, Mid-Kent
Current MP: Conservative Helen Whately.
Challenged by: Jewish Labour Movement’s Michael Desmond.
Problem: Desmond is a Labour councilor, but this is the heartland of Conservative politics and Whately is likely to retain the seat comfortably.

Fabian Hamilton. (Courtesy)
Fabian Hamilton. (Courtesy)

Leeds North-East
Current MP: Labour’s Fabian Hamilton
Held seat since: 1997
Hamilton is Jewish, and, to his surprise, was made Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament by Corbyn in October 2016. He has held his seat for 20 years and is likely to win again. Hamilton receives strong support from Jewish voters in the neighborhoods of Alwoodly, Moortown and Roundhay.

Walsall North
Current MP: David Winnick.
At 83, Winnick is the oldest Jewish politician, and has held his seat for 38 years. He’s a tough critic of both Israel and the Palestinians, and is also the politician who asked the Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct last year’s inquiry into anti-Semitism.
Problem: His age may count against him, as well as the Corbyn effect.

British Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walks out of the launch of the party's anti-Semitism report in London on June 30, 2016, after a Jeremy Corbyn supporter accuses her of controlling the media (screen capture: YouTube)
British Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walks out of the launch of the party’s anti-Semitism report in London on June 30, 2016, after a Jeremy Corbyn supporter accuses her of controlling the media. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Stoke on Trent North
Current MP: Ruth Smeeth.
Another former Jewish community staffer, Smeeth was director of public affairs at Bicom, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Smeeth, who won her seat in 2015, has also been the target of prolonged social media anti-Semitism. She left last year’s public launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s anti-Semitism inquiry in tears, after being verbally abused in front of both Chakrabarti and Jeremy Corbyn himself.
Problem: She’s no Corbynista, but may suffer because of her opposition to Brexit — Stoke voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe.

Former Labour party leader Ed Miliband (C) and his wife Justine Thornton arrive at Labour party headquarters in London on May 8, 2015, the day after a general election. (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)
Former Labour party leader Ed Miliband (C) and his wife Justine Thornton arrive at Labour party headquarters in London on May 8, 2015, the day after a general election. (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)

Doncaster North
Current MP: former Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has held the seat since 2005.
Problem: Miliband has an 11,000 vote majority in a natural Labour seat, but voters are angry with him for resigning so fast after the last election and making way for Corbyn.

Barking
Current MP: Dame Margaret Hodge.
The Egyptian-born Hodge has held her seat since 1994 and has seen off challenges from the extreme right British National Party, with the help of Jewish community, and UKIP, a right-wing anti-immigration party.

Last June she and another Labour MP asked for a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, which, though overwhelmingly backed, had no formal force.
Problem: Barking is another pro-Brexit constituency while Hodge is a fierce supporter of Britain staying in Europe.

Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge. (Flickr/The Institute for Government)
Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge. (Flickr/The Institute for Government)
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