LONDON — The head of a controversial group which allegedly denies that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism is seeking nomination for candidacy in Britain’s most heavily Jewish parliamentary constituency.
Jenny Manson’s run for the Labour nomination in Finchley and Golders Green is backed by Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political ally and has already sparked a fierce row.
Last week, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, appeared at an event in support of Manson, who is co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour.
The meeting saw allegations of efforts to prevent Jewish journalists from attending and an attempt to burn an Israeli flag.
The event was organized by a local branch of the pro-Corbyn Momentum group. Before it commenced, attendees were also reportedly told no questions on Israel, Palestine or anti-Semitism would be allowed.
Momentum reversed an initial attempt to bar journalists from Britain’s two principal Jewish weekly newspapers, the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News. A group of Jewish students who were refused entry are said only to have been admitted after the intervention of a rabbi.
However, there were also allegations that some individuals with Jewish surnames were refused entry to the event, while a local Jewish freelance journalist was told at the event that his ticket had been canceled and he was forcibly removed from the venue by security guards.
Two prominent campaigners against Jew-hate, the blogger David Collier, and Euan Phillips of the Labour Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, were also blocked from attending the event, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
A video posted online by the Israel Advocacy Movement showed a small but noisy demonstration outside the meeting. In it, a pro-Israel activist alleges that an individual attending the meeting attempted to set fire to an Israeli flag which he had draped around his shoulders.
Labour held an event in the most Jewish borough of London. Anyone unfamiliar people with Jewish surnames appear to have been barred, someone tried to set a Jew who was refused entry on fire, journalists and constituents were physically ejected. We filmed it all.The event featured Jenny Manson and John McDonnell. Jenny is the co-chair of JVL (the radical pro-Corbyn group infested with antisemites) and is shamelessly trolling the Jewish community in her bid to become the Labour MP for Golders Green. Labour know they’ve lost this seat & this is their way of saying F*** YOU Jews.
Posted by Israel Advocacy Movement on Friday, 12 October 2018
Shadow Chancellor McDonnell described Manson as a “good friend” and confirmed he was “fulfilling a longstanding commitment … to offer her my support in seeking selection as a candidate.”
Anti-Semitism in the Labour party would be a ‘big story’
Manson has repeatedly argued that she has “never seen” anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
“I think if we had very solid information that said there was anti-Semitism in the country and in the Labour Party then it should be very big story,” Manson told an interviewer in June. “There might be very serious evidence. But I haven’t seen any of it.”
She also argued that the Corbyn leadership had “a good record on anti-Semitism” and that the Labour Party had been unfairly targeted by the Board of Deputies. “We didn’t consider the Board of Deputies had a right to pick on the Labour Party. It seemed an inappropriate thing to do.”
Manson also told the BBC in April that “none of us in my group has ever experienced any anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.”
“What we can’t have is a witch-hunt,” she argued. “What the Board of Deputies and the [Jewish Leadership Council] seem to be demanding far too often … is that people should be expelled from the Labour Party without due process.”
Earlier this month, it was reported that Manson had received a written warning from the Labour Party about her conduct after she allegedly compared the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism to notorious anti-gay legislation passed in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Section 28 banned the teaching of homosexuality in schools and was repealed when Tony Blair came to power in 1997. It is believed that Manson is not under any investigation or facing any disciplinary action by the Labour Party.
Manson appeared as a witness for the controversial former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, when he faced a Labour disciplinary hearing last year. In her testimony, she backed Livingstone’s claim that Hitler supported Zionism. She also described as “quite funny” a Facebook post shared by the Labour MP Naz Shah which suggested Israel be “relocated” to the United States, and called for “much more freedom of speech than we are currently having on the subject of Israel and the Jews.”
JVL meetings have seen platform speakers castigate Israel; assail the Jewish Labour Movement’s “pro-Zionist agenda”; and deride the “myth of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” and the “anti-Semitic smear campaign” supposedly waged against Corbyn and his supporters.
At the Labour Party conference last month, expelled Labour activists spoke at JVL’s fringe meeting. Manson described some of those disciplined by the party as victims of an “appalling … injustice.”
A ‘troll’ in London’s most Jewish district?
One in five voters in the northwest London constituency of Finchley and Golders Green is estimated to be Jewish.
Manson’s effort to win selection in the seat has already come under strong attack. One leading Jewish community figure suggested: “If the Labour Party leadership are serious about tackling anti-Semitism, and if they want to persuade the Jewish community that is the case, then a person with Manson’s views should be unsuitable to be a Labour MP, in a ‘Jewish’ seat or anywhere else.
“The fact that she has McDonnell’s support will lead a lot of people to conclude that his strong words about anti-Semitism in Labour are just lip service,” said the community leader, who asked not to be named. “It’s another example of how the role of JVL in the whole story of Labour and anti-Semitism is entirely toxic.”
A Labour insider, who likewise commented on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely, argued: “It seems Jewish Voice for Labour are stepping up their efforts to troll the Jewish community. It is difficult to think of a more inappropriate candidate to represent Labour in Finchley than Jenny Manson.”
In a statement, Manson said: “Of course anti-Semitism exists in the Labour Party, as it does in every political party and across society, and it must be tackled.
“I, like many Jewish people, support the campaign for justice for the Palestinian people. I find the accusation that I am not a proper Jew hurtful and also anti-Semitic,” she said.
JVL’s media officer, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, told The Times of Israel: “Neither JVL nor any of its officers takes the view that there is an ‘absence of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.’ We believe that anti-Semitism is prevalent everywhere in society, along with other forms of racism, and that the threat to minorities from the spread of bigotry and intolerance of all kinds is serious, and growing, and needs to be addressed.”
But, she continued, the focus on the Labour Party is “a distraction from tackling racism on the far right where the real threat lies.”
Wimborne-Idrissi also defended those who had supported Livingstone.
“Members of JVL who supported Ken Livingstone at his disciplinary hearing did so because he was a high profile victim of a deeply flawed disciplinary process, currently undergoing a much-needed overhaul to introduce basic principles of natural justice and transparency,” she argued.
“He was denounced in the media as an anti-Semite — a charge which could not be proven — and eventually forced to resign in an atmosphere of hysterical personal vilification. Standing up for someone in those circumstances is not something a prospective parliamentary candidate need feel ashamed of,” she wrote.
The Jewish group where Zionism is off the table
In last year’s closely fought general election, Labour came within 2,000 votes of winning the seat from the Conservatives, making it a key target for the party at the next scheduled national poll in 2022.
However, anger at the ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party appears to have cost it dearly in local elections earlier this year. Labour lost seats in the London borough of Barnet, which includes Finchley and Golders Green, despite a strong performance elsewhere in the capital.
The chair of Finchley and Golders Green Labour Party moved swiftly to distance it from Manson’s efforts, underlining how her candidacy might split the local party.
In a statement, Matt Staples said: “Finchley and Golders Green Labour Party would like to confirm that it is not connected in any way with the meeting between Jenny Manson and John McDonnell…
“We stand foursquare behind the mainstream Jewish community in Finchley and Golders Green, and have worked and will continue to work with synagogues, Jewish charities and community groups in fighting anti-Semitism. We will continue to work with the Jewish Labour Movement, to which the Finchley and Golders Green Labour Party is affiliated, in supporting a solution in the Middle East which seeks a safe and secure Israel alongside a democratic Palestinian state.”
Manson has long denied that JVL is anti-Zionist, telling the Guardian newspaper last year: “Our statement of principles makes no mention at all of Zionism. Rather our objective is simply to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities… You need hold no position on Zionism — for, against, or anything else — to join and work with us.”
Manson’s campaign team denied any suggestion that Jews were excluded from last week’s meeting with McDonnell.
“Of the four who stood on the stage inside the meeting three are proud Jews — to my knowledge John McDonnell was the only one who isn’t — around half of all those who spoke from the floor are Jewish, and a colleague has estimated that may be as many as half of all attendees were also Jewish,” Manson campaigner Carlos Soto told The Times of Israel.
There were, he added, “administrative and security reasons” why some individuals were refused entry to the event, noting that “we used our discretion and some known disruptors of meetings plus others who made multiple orders using the same name had their orders cancelled.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referenced a report in The Daily Mail stating that Jewish Voice for Labour was asked to provide anti-Semitism training to the Labour Party. JVL was not issued that request, and the article has been updated with the reference removed.