About this Archive
Introduction to the Jewish Socialist archive
by Julia Bard, one of the founder members of the Editorial Committee
Jewish Socialist magazine was conceived in 1984 on a sunny day in Victoria Gardens, Westminster in London, UK, where a group of us from the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) met up after a demonstration. I remember the astonishment on everyone’s face when I suggested that we produce a publication; then I had to convince them that we could – and needed to – develop our editorial skills so we could share our ideas on our own terms.
In every single issue – usually between 28 and 36 pages – we have published writing by authors, Jewish and non-Jewish, who are new to Jewish Socialist, alongside regular writers. The topics covered are wide-ranging, and include history, political analysis, poetry, humour, investigation and news. As a rare reward of having to use Zoom during the pandemic, we have built links with and amplified the voices of political, cultural and human rights activists across the world, as well as focusing in on complex questions facing progressive Jews and other minorities here in Britain.
The first issue, produced with cow gum, Letraset, galley proofs and scalpels, with lines of type getting lost on the floor, came out in spring 1985, and it was ground-breaking. At that time, although most Jews still voted Labour, the activist Jewish left was tiny and fragmented. The Jewish Socialists’ Group was the only radical Jewish organisation in Britain with an overarching politics, and our activism overlapped with small campaigns focused on specific issues, such as the Jewish Feminist Group, the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group and some small religiously oriented progressive initiatives.
Before Jewish Socialist, writing about our deep-rooted and militant progressive Jewish tradition rarely broke out of newsletters or academic journals to reach a wider audience of both Jews and non-Jews. Some debates occasionally made it into the Jewish Chronicle which, though politically well to the right of us, was at that time still widely read in the community.
During the 1980s we were virtually alone in promoting, reflecting and celebrating the history, culture, languages and struggles of Jews in communities across the world. We had an enthusiastic reception which has never waned, because we have always articulated the real, diverse experience of people who were pushed to the margins or even out of the Jewish community because they didn’t conform to how Jews were – and continue to be – portrayed by our own “representative organisations” and media, and, as a result, by the surrounding society.
It was this assertion of diaspora, even more than taking dissident positions on Palestine, that generated most anger and aggression from the self-proclaimed representatives of Britain’s diverse Jewish community – the religious and Zionist leaders (often one and the same). So from that time, we, and many people we work and campaign with, have had to withstand the experience of being attacked and targeted that has exploded into more public view over the last six years.
The upside is that in recent years we are seeing a wonderful blossoming of confident Jewish radicalism and a flourishing Jewish counterculture, particularly among younger generations. From groups like jewdas and Na’amod, campaigning in Britain for social justice across the board and to shift public opinion within and beyond Jewish life, to the Shministim, school leavers refusing military service in Israel/Palestine, Jewish Socialist now finds itself among a constellation of progressive initiatives that are reflected in our pages.
You can subscribe to Jewish Socialist and read a sample of articles in the current issue at jewishsocialist.org.uk.