Living through a protracted witchhunt and purge, it is very easy to get bogged down in the details and to lose sight of the bigger picture. So the opportunity to see this condensed into a two-hour drama is a useful and salutary reminder of the enormity we have been experiencing.
One of the remarkable features of this purge is the disproportionate targeting of Jewish members of the Labour Party. Figures compiled earlier this year by Jewish Voice for Labour show that Jewish members are ten times more likely than non-Jewish members to be expelled for alleged antisemitism; members of JVL are 54 times more likely to be expelled; and members of the JVL executive an astonishing 462 times. In fact, every single member of the JVL executive has faced investigation and some form of disciplinary sanction.
If a process whose purported aim is to eradicate alleged antisemitism from the Labour Party is targeting Jews themselves in such a massively disproportionate manner, we need to ask what the real purpose is, and why these and other Jews have been so shamefully maligned. A new play, The Wrong Sort of Jew, is an attempt to address this.
Described as a “verbatim play”, this work is based on long interviews with thirty of the hundreds of Jewish victims of this antisemitic purge. All of the words spoken in the play, except for those in the framing device of behavioural scientists explaining how to defeat a perceived socialist threat posed by a left-inclined Labour Party, were taken from these interviews. Through these, we encounter a fascinating diversity of family experiences – children of Rabbis and children of communists, veterans of the fight against fascists in Cable Street and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, exposure to racism in schools in Britain and the kibbutz in Israel, English middle class and Holocaust survivors – which led so many Jews to support for Palestinian rights and for a Labour Party committed to radical social change. We also hear how these people became activists for Palestinian rights, their hopes for a socialist future, and the petty and shameful bullying they faced from the right-wing Labour Party machine.
Most of the dozen characters presented in the play are amalgams, under fictional names, of those interviewed, though many of the audience could recognise the voice and experience of friends who have been subjected to calumny and kangaroo courts. One, however, appears under his own name. Mike Howard, whose parents and grandparents fled pogroms in Lithuania and Poland at the beginning of the twentieth century, joined the Labour Party in 1970, and was a Labour councillor in Hastings. In 2020, he was suspended from the party under the false charge of antisemitism because of his Facebook posts in support of Palestinian rights. Mike died in 2021, still suspended from the party; his widow Dee continues to fight for his exoneration.
The production also paid tribute, both at the beginning and the end, to Riva Joffe, who died before she could be interviewed, Riva, a veteran of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, a pioneer ecosocialist and a trans-friendly therapist, was a close friend and political ally of many ACR members. She too died while suspended from the Labour Party facing defamatory antisemitism charges, but not before she managed to send the party a scornfully defiant response.
The morning after watching the play, I visited our local community kitchen. One of the volunteer cooks there, an east European Jew in his 70s, told me that he had just been expelled from the Labour Party after false allegations of antisemitism because he attended a Labour Against the Witchhunt meeting in 2019 – two years before it was proscribed. This man’s mother fled Nazi genocide; his father was executed in a Stalinist purge. And now he has been expelled from the Labour Party for antisemitism. This is just one of many similar stories not included in The Wrong Sort of Jew, which validates and amplifies the shame and disgrace which it recounts. A Labour Party so deeply antisemitic that it is wholesale expelling Jewish members for not conforming to the party’s prejudiced view of what a Jew is and is not allowed to think and say. For being, indeed, The Wrong Sort of Jew.
The Wrong Sort of Jew is available to watch online until 28 April. Don’t miss this moving play!
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