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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 8, 2019 a new By Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA)--Even before he was old enough to vote, Justyn Trenner was already a sup- porter of Britain's Labour Party. Trenner, now a 54-year- old financial adviser from London, had felt at home there thanks to Labour's mild socialism and anti-racist agenda. That had made it a favorite for many British Jew- ish voters like him. But he and other Jews have become politically homeless. Trenner feels like he's been driven out of Labour by the proliferation of anti-Semitic hate speech in the party ranks following the 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. Corbyn, far left and anti-Israel, is accused of helping to spread anti- Semitism. Scarcely better for Trenner are the increasingly right- wing positions of the ruling Conservative Party, which is committed to taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union despite hav- ing no clear strategy with the deadline just weeks away. Lastweek, though, Trenner found a new political home: the Independent Group. The new centrist movement was founded by eight former Labour lawmakers who hope to recalibrate the polarized politics in Britain. He wants the Independent Group to do for moderates there what the party of Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, did for their French counterparts in 2017. "I was thrilled," Trenner said of the Independent Group's Feb. 18 creation. "No one knows how this will play out, but I think it's a de- velopment that could change British politics and give avoice to a lot of people who had lost it along the way." Since its surprise launch by Labour defectors includ- ing Luciana Berger, a Jewish lawmaker who quit the party over anti-Semitic abuse on- line for criticizing Corbyn, the Independent Group has been joined by three Conservative lawmakers. Constituting the biggest Labour split in decades, the Independent Group's 11 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons make it the fourth- largest faction there along with the 31-year-old Liberal Democrat Party. The split has further hurt Corbyn's Labour by prompting another one of its lawmakers, Ian Austin, to leave over anti-Semitism on Friday. Neil Nerva, a Jewish La- bour politician from the London borough of Brent, shares Austin's concerns about Labour, which Nerva said has become "institu- tionally anti-Semitic" under Corbyn. But Nerva is staying in Labour for now, he said, at least until his many foreign constituents have more clar- ity on Brexit, which is due to happen next month. "It's the overriding priority now," Nerva said. "There will definitely be a recalibration in Labour after that." Another 20 lawmakers are on the brink of leaving La- bour over anti-Semitism and Corbyn's perceived inaction to prevent Brexit, according to The Guardian. Many of them are seeking Labour support for a second referendum on Brexit. Corbyn had resisted this pressure until the In- dependent Group walkout but announced his support for a referendum on Monday. Austin, the ninth Labour lawmaker to leave, was joined by David Hirsh, a prominent scholar and author on anti- Semitism. "I was just waiting for a time to leave when leaving could have the most impact," Hirsh, who is not a politician but had been a Labour mem- ber throughout his adult life, wrote about his decision to terminate his membership. "I have been driven out of my party by antisemites," he wrote. Berger, as its highest- profile Jewish member, may attract many Jewish support- ers to the Independent Group. She echoed Hirsh's sentiment in announcing the split at a news conference with the others who quit Labour. "This has been a very diffi- cult, painful but necessary de- cision," she said about leaving. "I have become embarrassed and ashamed to remain in the Labour Party. I have not changed. The core values of equality for all. Opportunity for all. Anti-racism against all. And social justice." The 37-year-old Berger, who is pregnant with her second child, is something of a hero for many British Jews regardless of where they stand on Labour. Although she hails from London's affluent Wembley area, she has become quite popular in the impoverished Liverpool constituency where she ran for Parliament. She won 79 percent of the vote there in the 2017 elections, a 10-point increase over 2015. Berger, who entered l~arlia- ment in the 2010 elections, was Labour's point person for mental health issues. An unwavering critic of the British far right, she has spoken out with the same determination against the rise of anti-Semitism among Corbyn supporters, who often conflate Jews with Israel and propagate conspiracy theories about Jews. As a former chair of the Labour Friends of Israel group, she has been targeted incessantly in such verbal attacks. Her rebuke for such rheto- ric earned her even more vi- cious harassmentby members of her own party. But Berger has not wavered, criticizing Corbyn last year for defend- ing an anti-Semitic mural in London in 2013 that portrayed Jewish bankers playing Mo- nopoly on the backs of black people. She called a Corbyn spokes- person's defense of the artist's right to free speech "wholly inadequate. It fails to under- stand on any level the hurt and anguish felt about anti- Semitism. I will be raising this further." Berger has inspired hun- dreds of hate messages on social networks and beyond, prompting police to assign her agents for her own protection at a Labour event last year. On Twitter, a post wished for her death, "so a real Labour MP can take her place." The former chief rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, last year said that Corbyn was an anti-Semite. Corbyn has denied the claim, pointing to his ban of some Labour members over anti-Semitic hate speech--others who spoke similarly were either unpunished or allowed back in--and citing the support he has from some Jews on the far left of the political spectrum. In 2009, Corbyn called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends.He laid flowers on the graves of Palestinian terror- ists in 2014. In 2015 he said that British-born "Zionists" don't understand British irony. He has called to boycott Israel and applauded a speaker who called for its destruction. Berger's principled stance against such behavior has earned her the admiration of Jews and non-Jews from her left and right. Daily Telegraph columnist Zoe Strimpel on Sunday called Berger a "brilliant poster girl who Jews can get behind." "I may not cleave to Lu- ciana's lefty lingo," wrote Strimpel, who is Jewish. But, she added, "I've watched her over the years with interest and gratitude, which peaked last week on seeing her bravely--and with fabulous hair--resign from Labour because of an institutional- ized and unstaunched culture of antisemitism/' Among hard-left Jewish voters, too, Berger commands more respect than others who have fled Labour. "I think I'm much more sympathetic to her and her views than to other Labour centrists," said Keith Kahn- Harris, a Br.itish Jewish sociologist. He cited Berger's work on mental health. More than other members of the Independent Group, Kahn-Harris said, discourse by Corbyn supporters about her leaving Labour "has been particularly venomous precisely because Berger can't simply be dismissed" as Conservative-light. For now, Berger's Inde- pendent Group isn't even of- ficially registered as a political party. It has not published a manifesto or platform beyond a short, 11-point document that speaks broadly about investing in health infrastruc- ture, national security and bi- lateral relations. Remarkably, it does not mention either Brexit or anti-Semitism. This vagueness may be necessary as the movement recruits new members, who will be invited to shape its platform. The new entity does not have a leader, either, presumably for the same reasons. Despite assets like Berger and growing voter disdain for Britain's old parties--the Independent Group's tagline is "Politics is broke. Let's change it"--the movement is up against a two-party sys- tem that is entrenched in the British constituency-based electoral model. Trenner noted that the Liberal Demo- crats have been vying in it for decades with limited success. But France's political sys- tem appeared equally in- hospitable to independent movements before 2017, when Macron's centrist La Repub- lique En Marche smashed the widely discredited Republi- cans and Socialists, as well as the far right and far left, to make him president and head of the ruling party. Kahn-Harris does not be- lieve that a meteoric Macron- style rise is in the cards for the Independent Group. "What could happen is that they win enough votes to become, perhaps with the Lib- eral Democrats, kingmakers in coalition talks," he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In Britain, politicians are not elected directly. Instead, voters elect parties, which at times need to negotiate alli- ances with other parties to form coalitions. Trenner said "there's some hope" for the would-be party to pull offa Macron-like upset. But if the Independent Group merely ends up pre- venting Corbyn from becom- ing prime minister, he said, "then that's good enough." That prospect, he added, "for the first time in my life is creating a serious discussion among British Jews about leaving this country." By Jonathan Feldstein I've been called many things in my life, but never black. Until recently. I was visiting with a friend who is a black pastor in Chi- cago and at one point he burst out "you must be half black." He meant it as a compli- ment, and I received it as such. Since then he's invited me to speak in his church as an Orthodox American-born Israeli Jew about black Jewish relations later this month, Black History month. I agreed immediately and enthusiastically. It's one of the most meaningful and important invitations I've ever received. Unlike my children who were raised in Israel, growing up in the U.S. my identity is unavoidably linked to the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. I'm proud of the fact that Dr. King himself recognized the unique Jew- ish participation in the civil rights movement. "Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice." (March 25, 1968) Growing up I never had many close black friends, but inevitably I was friendly with black people from my diverse public high school and private university. This is not to use the clich~ "some of my best friends are black" which, in fairness, was not so growing up. But is the case now. While I may not have had close black friends growing up, I also never participated in or understood discrimi- nation based on one's skin color. Part of that is the same inability to understand or ac- cept anti-Semitism. And from a Jewish perspective growing up in America, I understood the common orientation of both Jews who experienced slavery in biblical times and which remains a part of our consciousness, and African- Americans who were enslaved in much more recent times that remains a blight on American history and is a part of their consciousness. And I am well aware that still today, in America and around the world, Jews and blacks remain discriminated against. Though I grew up in Amer- ica and spent my first 40 years there, I approach black Jewish relations from a unique Israeli perspective. I will never forget the conversation I had with my Polish born and very tra- ditional grandmother about the fact that I would happily marry an Ethiopian Jewish woman. For her, this concept was simply foreign. Sadly, in Israel we have our share of racism as well. However, when I looked at the history of black Jewish relations from Israeli perspec- tive, I am inspired by Israel's dynamic relationships with black Africa. I hope it will inspire other Jews and blacks to look at this as a positive model for our shared future. This month, Israel repa- triated the first of what is anticipated to be more than 1000 Ethiopians of Jewish descent. Hopefully this is the beginning of completing the rescue of an ancient black community of Jews, and their absorption at home in Israel. Personally, it's no coinci- dence that the same week I at- tend a black church in Chicago, my daughter will participate in a humanitarian mission among the remainder of Ethiopia is Jewish community. The Ethiopian Jewish com- munity was separated from the rest of the diaspora Jews thousands of years ago. They maintained ancient biblical traditions. Because they remained isolated they were not privy to the thousands of years of rabbinic Judaism, and even certain holidays celebrated by the vast majority of world Jewry. The remaining 9000 people who are awaiting their op- portunity to come home to Israel are largely descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert. But in a trib- al society, they were never ac- cepted fully as Christians, and were discriminated against widely as Jews. Because they Ethiopians making aliyah. are not Jewish according to Jewish law, the time it's taken to prepare to help these remnants of an ancient Jewish community come to Israel has taken longer. In the meantime, unlike previous waves of immigration from Ethiopia, these people have moved from their tribal lands, living in temporary com- munities, essentially refugee camps. The difference is that in these communities they are taught Hebrew and rab- binic Jewish traditions as well as learning aspects of modern society so that when they ar- rive they are more prepared to be absorbed into Israeli society. But Ethiopia is a poor country, and these are the poor of the poor. Profound medical and nutritional needs exist as more than 50 percent of young children are malnourished. On a very personal level, the airlift of some 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in May 1991 had a profound impact on my life that I will speak about in Chicago. However, seeing the Ingathering on page 14A