Being a Jew on the Corbyn left is soul- crushing. In the name of the cause, you must excuse racism in all but its extreme forms. The presence of a real Jew in its midst provides the left with cover. But stray from the party line, and you are not a comrade having a legitimate disagreement. You are a Jew and only a Jew, a corrupted and illegitimate voice that has no place in left-wing discussions.
The compromises Jewish leftists must swallow can be seen in the faintly pathetic career of Jon Lansman. In theory, there is nothing pathetic about him. The founder of Momentum is the third most powerful man in the Labour movement, behind only John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. In the current issue of the Jewish Quarterly, Lansman insists he is not living a kind of lie but combining left-wing politics with a principled stand against anti-Semitism. ‘Having grown up as a north London Jew, the fight against anti-Semitism is core to my political roots. Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust were what brought me to where I am politically.’
Lansman went on to tell Guardian readers that, far from producing a charter for racists, Labour’s rewriting of the internationally agreed definition of anti-Semitism set a new ‘gold standard’. There was not one person on Labour’s National Executive Committee who did not ‘want to deal with anti-Semitism’.
Here are the gold standards Lansman must live by. This week, Peter Willsman, a Momentum member of the very National Executive Committee which Lansman said was united in its opposition to anti-Semitism in Labour, denied its existence: ‘I’ve certainly never seen it.’ In a voice filled with venom, he boomed that concerns about racism weren’t genuine but the malicious inventions of Jewish ‘Trump fanatics’. Labour MPs condemned him for propagating straight lies, but Lansman stayed silent, as did his patron, Jeremy Corbyn. At the time of going to press, Momentum was recommending that its supporters did not vote for Willsman in a forthcoming NEC election. Lansman was maintaining his silence, however, and keeping Willsman as a Momentum member.
In March, Christine Shawcroft resigned as head of Labour’s internal disputes panel after the Times revealed she had sent an email to Lansman outlining her opposition to the suspension of a Labour council candidate who posted a Facebook article which called the Holocaust a ‘hoax’. If you believed Lansman’s claim that rage at the genocide of European Jewry drove him into politics, you would expect him to have exploded with anger.
Momentum’s records in Companies House — for, rather marvellously, Lansman’s grassroots movement is a private company — show Shawcroft remains one of its directors. The accounts were updated on 24 June, three months after her resignation, so no outrage from Lansman on show there either.
In 2017, Labour suspended one Mike Sivier, a Welsh member who appeared on the Richie Allen podcast, a conspiracist show endorsed by David Icke. Elsewhere, Sivier said it ‘may be entirely justified’ to maintain Tony Blair had been ‘unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers’. When Sivier came before the Labour Disputes Committee, the Labour insider site Red Roar reported that Lansman defended rather than condemned him. Sivier then refused to attend the racism awareness course Labour offered as a slap on the wrist.
Lansman can show anger — against those who complain about left-wing racism. In a recording obtained by the Evening Standard in April, Lansman accepted that there were valid charges of racism, but most were ‘opportunistic’ because they had been made by the Campaign against Anti-Semitism. Lansman dismissed the campaign as ‘so right-wing’. In fact it has no political affiliation and is a registered charity.
In that same month, the Guardian said multiple sources had told the paper that Lansman and his comrades defended members accused of racism because ‘they were perceived to be sympathetic to Corbyn’. The evidence against them could be ‘overwhelming’. But the evidence didn’t matter. Sectarian manoeuvres trumped anti-racist principle. ‘It’s all about control: control of the party and control of the processes.’
Even when activists are expelled from Labour for their foul conduct, they are not expelled from Momentum. Labour kicked out Tony Greenstein after he called Labour members ‘Zios’, ‘Janus-faced whores’ and supporters of ‘Israeli child abuse’. Lansman wanted to expel Greenstein from Momentum but lacked the political courage to do so. He backed off because Greenstein ‘will make a big deal of’ the process, ‘possibly including lawyers’.
Do you begin to see a pattern emerging? When he talks to the outside world, Lansman is brave and firm. When he is in the fetid meeting rooms of the far left his valour disappears. ‘I have been vocal in calling out the blindness to anti-Semitism,’ Lansman boasted to Guardian readers. Yet when calling out may upset his comrades, Lansman falls silent. It may be that after a lifetime on the political margins, he thinks that ignoring the conspiracy theory of fascism is a price worth paying for a Corbyn victory. In his Jewish Quarterly interview, he talks of his anger at how Thatcher and Blair destroyed the old Labour movement and his delight that ‘enormous numbers of young people’ were now turning to old socialists. Why cause trouble when the world is moving his way?
But as someone who has been excommunicated from the left, I suspect a more craven motive. When Corbyn supporters cite the support of Lansman or groups such as the tiny Jewish Voices for Labour as evidence that accusations of left anti-Semitism are groundless, they argue in bad faith. If Lansman or any other Jew were to say they had gone too far and must change their behaviour, the left would denounce them.
When he challenged Corbyn’s appointee for the post of Labour general secretary, Corbyn supporters immediately told Lansman his views were worthless because he was ‘a Zionist infiltrator’, who puts ‘Israel above the left or even Britain’. In Leninist terms, the function of Jews on the modern left is to be useful idiots who can be dispensed with as soon as their usefulness ends. And in their frightened hearts, I suspect they know it.