Jonathan Freedland

British journalist

Jonathan Saul Freedland (born 25 February 1967) is a British journalist, broadcaster and weekly columnist for The Guardian. He presents BBC Radio 4's contemporary history series The Long View. Freedland also writes thrillers, mainly under the pseudonym Sam Bourne, and has written a play, Jews. In Their Own Words, performed in 2022 at the Royal Court Theatre, London

Jonathan Freedland in 2013.



  • [M]any Jews do worry that his past instinct, when faced with potential allies whom he deemed sound on Palestine, was to overlook whatever nastiness they might have uttered about Jews, even when that extended to Holocaust denial or the blood libel – the medieval calumny that Jews baked bread using the blood of gentile children. (To be specific: Corbyn was a long-time backer of a pro-Palestinian group [Deir Yassin Remembered] founded by Paul Eisen, attending its 2013 event even after Eisen had outed himself as a Holocaust denier years earlier. Similarly, Corbyn praised Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Salah even though, as a British court confirmed, Salah had deployed the blood libel.)
  • Thanks to Corbyn, the Labour party is expanding, attracting many leftists who would previously have rejected it or been rejected by it. Among those are people with hostile views of Jews. Two of them have been kicked out, but only after they had first been readmitted and once their cases attracted unwelcome external scrutiny.
    The question for Labour now is whether any of this matters. To those at the top, maybe it doesn’t. But it feels like a painful loss to a small community that once looked to Labour as its natural home – and which is fast reaching the glum conclusion that Labour has become a cold house for Jews.
  • [Concerning a 2011 reissue of J. A. Hobson's 1902 work, Imperialism: A Study.] The foreword was written by Jeremy Corbyn in 2011. Across eight pages, the then Labour backbencher lavishes praise on the book. ... The trouble is, Hobson was not just an accomplished analyst of international politics – for the Manchester Guardian, as it happens – but an egregious anti-Jewish racist. ... And yet across the eight pages Corbyn wrote, there is not so much as an acknowledgment of the racism within that text.
    On the contrary, the bit Corbyn praised as "correct and prescient" was, in his words, "Hobson’s railing against the commercial interests that fuel the role of the popular press," which appears squarely in the section where Hobson’s target is "this little group of financial kings", these "cosmopolitan" men who he had already identified as Jews. (The chapter, incidentally, is called "Economic Parasites of Imperialism," with "parasites" an image recurrent in anti-Jewish propaganda.) This is not a mere aside by Hobson that might accidentally be overlooked in a skim-read by a busy politician. There are pages and pages of it.
    No one is arguing that Corbyn was obliged to denounce the whole book. He could simply have nodded to the problem with a tiny caveat: something like, "Despite some passages that read uncomfortably to the modern ear ..." But there is nothing like that. ... A Labour spokesman has said that: "Jeremy completely rejects the antisemitic elements of [Hobson’s] analysis." But if that’s true, why did he not say so when he wrote about it?


  • The catharsis lasted all of three hours. From 10am on Thursday morning until lunchtime, British Jews were allowed to feel a small measure of relief: after nearly five years of being dismissed as liars and dissemblers, deceitfully engaged in an elaborate smear campaign, a neutral legal arbiter had ruled that those who had sounded the alarm about antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party were, after all, telling the truth.
    Yet the pause for reflection that so many had hoped for expired before it had really begun. It was overtaken by word that Labour had suspended Corbyn for suggesting that the whole business had been "dramatically overstated". ...
  • [After referring to his March 2016 column cited above.] But these warnings were cast aside, dismissed as politically motivated smears rather than cries of pain and concern from a community that, for generations, had seen Labour as its political home. The dismissal came from the very top: when that column of mine appeared, Corbyn was filmed declaring it to be "utterly disgusting subliminal nastiness".
  • Whether it was his refusal to see what was wrong in a mural depicting Jews as hooked-nosed bankers making money off the backs of the poor; his suggestion that Jews might be born in this country but would never quite grasp "English irony"; his praise for a book that blamed 19th-century imperialism on finance houses run by "a single and peculiar race"; his warm embrace of a man who had repeated the ancient lie that Jews consume the blood of gentile children – pick your example – it was Corbyn who made British Jews feel an anxiety they had not known for the best part of a century. It was he who acted as a magnet, drawing in assorted cranks and bigots to join a party whose great name they soiled by their very presence.
  • [On his play Jews. In Their Own Words compiled from the testimonies of 12 people] The result is, I hope, a mix of stories and perspectives that will never have been heard before on the London stage. Among them is the first-hand testimony of an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew, recalling the day he was violently beaten on an English street. Or the odyssey of Edwin Shuker, who fled to this country in 1971 as a refugee from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Or the former MP Luciana Berger giving the most complete account yet of the journey she made from young Labour idealist to the target of a daily onslaught of racist, misogynistic and mortally threatening abuse, before losing the job she "lived and breathed and loved". ...
    The 12 conversations yielded all kinds of surprises. I did not ask every interviewee the same questions, except one. I wanted each of them to tell me where their grandparents or great-grandparents came from. The answers – Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Holland, Russia, Iraq and more – confirmed how much British Jewry remains a community of immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. When I put that question to [Margaret] Hodge, it elicited a family story that forms what might be one of the most moving passages in the play. After you have heard it, you will understand why Hodge’s father advised her always to keep a packed suitcase by the front door – and you might shudder when you remember the way that formative experience of hers was mocked when she recalled it during an especially rancorous phase in Labour’s civil war.
  • The Republican party’s shift away from democratic norms is no longer confined to one man, even if he embodies it and accelerates it. It is embedded in the ethos of the party now. Reversing that trend is a daunting prospect because of another shift, one that has been apparent for a while but which is taking especially vivid form in these midterm elections. It is the polarisation of information, so that Americans now exist in two distinct spheres of knowledge, each one barely touching the other. ...
  • This poses its own danger for democracy. Because there can be no collective decision-making – which is what democracy amounts to – without a collective, agreed-upon basis of facts. If we can’t first agree that the house is on fire, we can’t begin to talk about putting out the flames.
  • When it comes to Diane Abbott, two important things need to be said first. One is that as the first black woman elected to parliament, she will always have an important place in the political history of this country. The other is that, according to one study, she receives more abuse, both racist and sexist, than any other woman in parliament, and by some distance.
    Yet both of those facts only make her letter all the more dispiriting, even baffling. How could someone with such direct experience of racism show such little understanding of how it works for people who are not the same as her?
  • Some have taken this episode as a cue to assert that no one knows more about racism than Jews, that no one has suffered more than we have. This is to play Abbott's game, to assert that there is a "hierarchy of racism", and that my pain trumps yours. But this is not a competition; and if it is, it's not one any of us would want to win. Instead, we should join hands with those who, like us, have endured racism and hatred for a long time. Jews, black Britons, Asian Britons, Muslims, Irish people, Travellers – we have one big, sad thing in common. Those who hate one of us tend to hate us all.

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