Senior Labour figures fear party’s Jewish vote may have collapsed

Harriet Sherwood
3 June 2017
The Guardian

Suspension of Ken Livingstone for allegedly antisemitic remarks and perception of failure to root out racism leads to ‘certain amount of stick on the doorstep’

After a year of torrid headlines and the suspension of Ken Livingstone over allegedly antisemitic remarks, senior Labour figures fear that the traditionally strong Jewish vote for the party may have collapsed.

Mike Katz, the Labour candidate in the north London constituency of Hendon and vice-chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said he had “come in for a certain amount of stick” on the doorsteps from Jewish voters who feel betrayed by the party’s perceived failure to root out antisemitism among its membership and properly to deal with offensive comments made by Ken Livingstone.

“There is a feeling of growing distance between the community and the Labour party,” he said. “The perception is that the Labour party is no longer a home for Jewish people.”

Hendon has the second highest proportion of Jewish voters in the UK, at 17%, after neighbouring Finchley and Golders Green. The Tories took it from Labour in 2010, and sitting MP Matthew Offord is defending a slim majority of 3,724.

But antisemitism was not the only issue raised by voters, said Katz. “On the doorstep, lots of people want to talk about bread and butter issues. And there is no great love for the Conservatives.”

Rabbi Charley Baginsky of Liberal Judaism said there was animated discussion in her community about the election and “anecdotally I’m picking up a real split among Labour supporters.

“There are those [who] feel socially they have a responsibility to vote Labour but people are also really concerned about antisemitism. They feel they’re stuck between two loyalties.”

Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to Reform Judaism and a long-standing Labour party member, said there was no “Jewish way to vote … Some Jews are concerned at this point about the Labour party but loads of Jews will vote Labour and for Jewish Labour candidates. Things aren’t binary. And the thing about Jews is that we’re British first; we’re concerned about housing, education, the NHS just like other people.”

At the ultra-orthodox end of the spectrum of Judaism, Rabbi Avrohom Pinter said Labour had a problem with antisemitism, which he had experienced in his local party in Hackney. “But there are other issues out there, such as austerity. The policies of the present government are going to have a terrible effect on our community. We have people with large families and low incomes, and the natural party of the Charedi [ultra-orthodox] community should be the Labour party,” he said.

Jews represent 0.5% of the UK population, concentrated in north London and Greater Manchester. In Finchley and Golders Green Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, is campaigning to win the seat from Tory MP Mike Freer, who is defending a 5,662 majority. Jewish voters account for 21% of the electorate.

In Bury South, where Jews make up 10% of the electorate, Labour MP Ivan Lewis is defending a 3,292 majority.
 
 
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