In the Spring of 1984 the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine held a conference at County Hall, London. Among the speakers were Peter Tatchell and Richard Balfe MEP. One of its main demands was for the breaking of links between Poale Zion, the British branch of the Israeli Labour Party and the UK Labour Party. Poale Zion changed its name to the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) in 2004.
The Chair of the Conference was Jeremy Corbyn, who fully supported the principal aims of the conference. Further to Baroness Royall’s recommendations, JLM will be ‘training’ Labour student clubs to recognise ‘anti-Semitism’ – which in JLM’s view is opposition to the Israeli state and Zionism. (Source: Tony Greenstein).
In The British New Labour Party and Political Zionism: Continuity of an Essential Dilemma, by
Ian Martin Nelson (A Doctoral thesis, Durham University, 2001-2008) Nelson writes – of the early years of Poale Zion (now JLM) -,
As a `socialist’ Zionist party, affiliated to the Second International, Poale Zion was able to retain not just an influence at the highest levels of the Labour Party, but crucially, as the evidence from Palestine of the existence, resistance and negative consequences for the Palestinians of the Zionist agenda for a Jewish state gradually emerged, along with the growing realities of the nationalist, colonialist and paramilitary character of political Zionism, it was Poale Zion which assisted in retaining the notion among Labour figures – largely ignorant of the actual realities of Palestine and political Zionism – that what was being attempted in Palestine by the political Zionists was indeed socialism being undertaken by socialists; and significantly, that the responses of the Palestinians, where they were know about at all, arose from nothing more than the provocations of the elitist, land-owning `feudal and reactionary leaders of the Palestine Arabs. ‘
The inauguration of the British Branch of Poale Zion in 1905 occurred at the same time that the Parliamentary Labour Party came into existence in the 1906 General Election, winning 29 seats. On the basis of perceived common origins and a shared socialist ideology, relations between Labour and Poale Zion blossomed until by 1920 Poale Zion had not only become a World Confederation, but more significantly – in terms of its ability to influence Labour figures and the party’s decision and policymaking process, had become officially affiliated to the Labour Party.
[…] In addition to the links Poale Zion had acquired within Labour and the Trades Union movement, the British branch of this socialist Zionist party had maintained important close links to what became the World Zionist Organisation (WZO), as well as the Histadrut (Federation of Jewish Labor in Palestine – the Zionist equivalent of the British Trades Union Council, TUC). Gomy states: `Poale Zion had become an organised and effective lobby, producing information leaflets and campaign evens from the onset of the war in 1914; Local Secretary J. Pomeranz and the Jewish Times Editor Morris Meyer were vociferous activists responsible for making the Labour Party and trade union movement aware of Zionist aspirations, and in establishing contact with leaders of both organs.’
[…] The Labour Party had to develop its policy in practice, not in abstract, to respond to the evolving external context. In particular, World War I, the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, the often violent resistance of the indigenous Palestinian Arab population to political Zionist colonisation, the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe and the Holocaust of World War II, all acted to force the Labour Party to develop its policies towards political Zionism and Palestine itself. These external determinants of Labour policy were matched by internal determinants. The perceived common origins, related religious philosophies and shared socialist ideologies initially combined to act upon individuals within the Labour Party and create an essentially pro-political Zionist consensus within the party, and more particularly, within the Labour Party leadership. The leadership was also aware of the electoral importance of British Jewish communities and the need to be responsive to the appeals of Jewish Zionist organisations like Poale Zion and the Zionist Organisation. The Palestinian Arabs, in contrast, had no lobby voice within the party. Where Labour Party policy deviated from its political Zionism, it did so as a result of the exigencies of government, as opposed to the relative freedom of opposition benches.
Pro-Israel lobby groups within Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, thrived during the Blair era, when Ian Martin Nelson concluded his thesis:
The evidence remains predominantly supportive of the primary assertion in this thesis, that, despite the decades of evidence to illustrate the inherent ideological contradiction posed by a socialist Labour Party’s relations with political Zionism in the wake of the realities of both political Zionism and Palestine, relations have been maintained. They have not only been maintained, but are still prevalent and perfectly able to influence positions and policy even though such positions are contrary to almost every principle of New Labour. And regardless of New Labour’s pledge to introduce an ethical dimension to foreign affairs and to apply the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, and despite the devastating consequences of Israel’s occupation policies for the Palestinians, and the role of the Israeli Labor Party in formulating and applying those policies in violations of international law and UN resolutions, many Labour figures remain – as a result of the common origins and the psychological aspects – instinctively sympathetic and supportive of Israel, despite the ideological contradictions and the resulting essential dilemma.
A 1999 Masters degree thesis by Deborah Osmond (embedded below) provides another fascinating insight into the history of the Labour movement and Zionism. The views of the writer are not necessarily shared by the Free Speech on Israel network.
Osmond writes that,
By 1920, Labour accepted the Jewish Socialist Labour Party, Poale Zion, for affiliation. Active in Britain and abroad, Poale Zion had the strongest ties to Labour up until the post-war period. In Palestine, Labour also praised Jewish trades unions, settlements and co-operatives as the best solution for championing the schizophrenic Middle Eastern economy. Jewish Socialists in Palestine were lauded for combining the interests of the Yishuv (Palestinian Jewish community) and of the Arab masses in order to create the greatest socialist nation, second only to Soviet Russia.” In the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, Labour also envisioned Palestine as the home of a great utopian working-class experiment. Paul Kelemen explains that “[in] the Labourist discourse on Palestine, the Zionism of the Jewish labour movement, to which the Labour Party felt greatest affinity, was largely cleansed of its nationalism and was portrayed as an extension of working-class politics.”‘
[…] “The New Jew” discussed in the British press painted a favourable portrait of Jewish settlers in contrast to the communities in the Diaspora. Jews involved in the Labour movement and Histraduth were “remarkably cool and collected in derisive comparison to the “effervescent. noisy, and excitable lot” of European Jewry.” The “New Jew” of Palestine – a fulIy Zionist and working-class king – was also placed in an arguably more distinguished position at times than the ‘finest of English labourites.'” Even the future Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, when speaking to Richard Crossman, a Labour MP and member of the post-war Anglo-American Commission, made a distinction between the Jews of Palestine and those “you have in London.” The Labour ‘New Jew’ was exclusively Palestinian: either a recent immigrant or a native to the soil.
[…] Labour’s conception of the Jew had spiritual and political qualities which could only be rejuvenated effectively through a return to a Jewish homeland.
Throughout the l930’s, Poale Zion acted as a pressure group within British Labour and the trade-unions.’ Poale Zion also had the strong support of certain Labour MPs and members, including NEC member Harold Laski and the chairman of the Party, George Ridley. In reality, however, Poale Zion’s leadership did not reflect the majority view of Anglo-Jewish Britons, nor was it ever more than a small component of the Zionist movement. Even at the end of 1945, it attracted the support of less than 7 percent of the total Jewish population in Britain. As Levenberg himself acknowledged, trade unions were a tremendous political force with an efficient machinery equipped to take on the Zionist cause, but in 1941 he confessed to fellow members of Poale Zion that “the participation of the rank and file is extremely limited.’
Headquartered in the Hague and affiliated with Labour by 1920, Poale Zion represented only one small facet of Jewish labour activity in Britain. […] By the outbreak of the war, the movement pamphleteered and canvassed for Palestine among London’s rank and file, and put a ‘responsible man in every important centre.'” By 1941, however, Poale Zion considered its relationship to the Jewish working class so tenuous that it started to focus only on its support base in London, and suspended work in the provinces.” Despite all his efforts, Levenberg resigned himself to believing that Anglo-Jewry had adopted in public life the inefficiencies of their surroundings, which included the inability of local political parties to create a mass movement. Somehow, Poale Zion, nevertheless, maintained a strong though abstract affiliation with the PLP and had much less success mobilising the support of British Jews at the local level where it was most needed.
Discussing the Palestine question and Zionism in 1926, PLP Executive Member Josiah Wedgewood, declared that “there is a fine spiritual bond between Jews all over the world. When you speak to one you speak to all. The answer will be the same.”‘ Wedgewood’s view of this invariable blueprint of Jewish identity captures one of Labour’s fundamental illusions about the Zionist cause. The party and the Movement’s own understanding of Jewishness, and enthusiasm for the ‘New Jew’ presaged some of its most capricious policy-making.
Labour leadership and intellectuals, however, firmly believed they had captured Zionist interests and the complexion of Jewish life in their fable-like imaginings of a homeland. Confused and often contradictory impressions of Jewish identity–both in Britain and abroad–were actually a greater force and determined, from an ideological standpoint, that Labour would have a puzzling and volatile relationship with the Zionist movement. Moreover, the party’s relationship with Zionism, and its impressions of ‘Jewishness’ at home, and in Palestine, were continually redefined and reordered by shifting notions of ‘labour’ identity pre-dating initial contact with Zionists. Labour’s visions of Jewish ‘labour’ came from many different origins, and had no official genesis; although, at various points during the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, Labourites were inspired to take on Zionism as a socialist cause.