The relationship between the Labour party and the Jewish people has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, although the Labour Party certainly – and indeed the international socialist movement – wouldn’t be where they are without Jews. This week, millions of Jews around the world will be sitting down with their families to celebrate Passover, the holiday of passage from bondage to freedom, the holiday of spring, new beginnings and recharging spirits and hearts. It seems that in 2017 Passover cannot come more quickly; rejuvenation and freedom have never felt more absent from international news agenda.
I have always loved Passover. For a politically aware teenager, who joined the International peace and human rights movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people at 14, it was a time for pausing and thinking about where we are going and what we need to rethink. My own family’s passover meals were always jubilant and fun and were carried through in three languages (English, Hebrew and German). It was a for me the marker of thinking of international solidarity. In the “Hagada”, the story of escape of the people of Israel from under Pharaoh’s bondage, there is a segment which calls to “throw your anger at the gentiles”. My late grandfather, who I never met, always omitted that part, and I grew up never reading it. It was clear to me that the way forward is in solidarity not anger; in togetherness not division.
The great thinker (though small in magnitude!) Rosa Luxemburg famously wrote: “freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”. The joke according to which in every company of 3 Jews you can find 4 different opinions resonates with that sentiment. And 2017 calls for this freedom of opinion and diversity more than ever. In an era of fake news, in which everyone is a historian for 5 minutes and claims access to the absolute truth, we need more exchange of ideas, less stifling of debate; more openness and discussion and less decisive single minded arguments. Hegemony and authoritarian approaches have never helped anyone. We need not read about Pharaoh for that. Attacks on freedom of speech within all political creeds are volatile and should be fought with all power.
Moreover, Passover is a helpful moment to be reminded of that well known statement that no one is free until everyone is free. Jews have stood at the forefront of anti- racist campaigns from the Civil Rights movement in the USA to the Anti- Apartheid movement in South Africa. So it is of little surprise that radical Jews from Karl Marx to Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman shaped the international left as we know it today. Growing up on the Israeli left meant that celebrations of freedom were more than anything a reminder of the struggle still ahead on behalf of our sisters and brothers across the border.
So, in 2017, more than ever, I hope you join me in celebrating the freedoms already achieved and in fighting for the freedoms still ahead.