by Sarah Sackman and Mike Katz, Vice-chairs, Jewish Labour Movement
Its been a challenging few weeks for Jewish members of the Labour Party.
Yet, as we go about our day-to-day political activity as councillors, candidates and rank-and-file members, there is a surreal quality to the debate about Labour’s attitude to anti-Semitism.
Within the community, the Board of Deputies added heat to the situation last week when its president, Jonathan Arkush, warned that British Jews “can’t trust Labour”.
No one doubts the seriousness of antiSemitism, but such language is unhelpful, even dangerous, in mischaracterising the true nature of the problem. By seeming to urge a wholesale severing of ties between the Jewish community and the Opposition, these comments do little to help anybody. If we are to deal with anti-Semitism on the Left and in British politics generally, we need to focus on the facts and engage with those in all political parties who are working hard to tackle it.
Since the General Election, Labour’s membership has more than doubled, so there is perhaps a statistical inevitability that this increase in numbers means there will be more cranks and haters within our ranks than was previously the case. This is deeply regrettable and must be tackled robustly.
However, the problem should not be overstated. Both of us have been involved in Labour Party, at the grassroots, in local government and as candidates for many years. As Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green at the last election and its GLA candidate in the upcoming London elections, respectively, neither of us has ever experienced any incidence of anti-Semitism from within the party.
No party is immune from racism. We want to see our communal leaders engage with all major political parties and hold them to the same standards.
As Jewish Labour Movement Chair Jeremy Newmark pointed out in debate with Jonathan Arkush on LBC this week, not so long ago the communal bandwidth was dominated by talk about former Tory MP Aiden Burley’s Nazi-themed stag party – an incident which was never satisfactorily dealt with by his party. Or former Conservative Minister Sir Alan Duncan’s remarks that too many Jewish groups blindly defend Israel and ”warp all argument by unreasonably accusing people of anti-Semitism”.
Of course, this shouldn’t be a game of tit-for-tat. Gerry Downing and Vicki Kirby deserve our condemnation as much as Burley and Duncan. The same is true for Baroness Tonge and David Ward of the Liberal Democrats.
In the cases of Kirby and Downing, the Labour Party took swift action against them within 24 hours of problems being reported. A senior Labour peer has been appointed to investigate the activities of the Oxford Labour Club and other problematic figures such as Tony Greenstein have been suspended. These are welcome first steps and a reflection of how seriously party officials take the issue.
There is, of course, more to do. The Jewish Labour Movement is at the forefront of working to ensure that anti-Semitism is stamped out and that the party delivers on the collective aspirations of the Jewish community. Rather than walk away, we are seeking reform from within.
It would be especially unfortunate if Jews turned their backs on Labour at a time when in Sadiq Khan we have a London Mayoral candidate who has done so much to reach out to our community.
No modern political party is monolithic. Sadly, this wasn’t represented in the Board’s remarks. It is true that some Jews have left the Labour Party in recent months.
But it is also true that many have joined. At JLM we have seen a flood of new applications for membership from people who recognise that the best way to oppose anti-Semitism within British politics is from the inside. If we leave a vacuum it will soon be filled by others.
Our message to Jewish Labour members and supporters is clear: we’re not going anywhere and neither should you.
We won’t be bullied out of the party; nor will we allow Labour to become stereotyped by communal leaders who should know better.