Labour front-bencher Barry Gardiner has apologised to British Jews on behalf of the Party, saying “we have let you down,” during a House of Commons debate on antisemitism on Wednesday.
The shadow secretary of state for international trade made the emotive admission as Labour’s own MPs challenged him on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in tense exchanges, during which it was revealed that former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Lord Falconer had agreed to help Labour’s National Executive Committee deal with the scourge.
Gardiner also revealed that he had lodged a formal complaint with Labour General-Secretary Jennie Formby about hard-left militant Derek Hatton and tweets he has posted, suggesting that all Jews were responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.
The debate took place just two days after several Labour MPs resigned from the Party citing a failure to tackle Jew hatred, and just a day after thousands marched through France protesting an increase in antisemitism across the Channel.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire reminded the House that the surge of antisemitism online was a “particular concern,” up 54 percent in the past 12 months, adding that a forthcoming White Paper would consider laws to crack down on it.
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, herself a victim of antisemitic abuse, suggested the £13.4 million grant to the Community Security Trust for distribution should be a multi-year grant, rather than a year-by-year settlement, to ensure that the Jews are protected regardless of the political affiliation of the Government of the day.
Brokenshire, who said he would consider it, recognised that three quarters of Britons saw antisemitism as a big problem and reassured Jewish communities as “an intrinsic part of what makes this country great,” quoting former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who described antisemitism as a virus in a warning that viruses mutate.
“However it evolves, it is still hatred and bigotry, and we should not be afraid to call it out,” he said. “In standing up for Jews, we’re standing up for all communities… This is a mission bigger than politics, bigger than any party.”
Yet it was Gardiner whose comments were most eagerly awaited. He said antisemitism was “a unique evil” and described how he visited Auschwitz-Birkenau shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall how it “etched itself into my consciousness… That antisemitism is on the rise should appal us. We have to act to stop this disease poisoning our society.”
He said there were 23 antisemitic incidents in Gardiner’s own Brent North constituency, which includes JFS, in the past year, adding: “This is the lived reality of the Jewish community.”
He then asked: “How can it be that we [Labour] are struggling so badly to eradicate antisemitism from our own membership… No party has a monopoly on virtue, but in Labour we are learning a bitter lesson.”
He said: “For all the strength and passion that we have derived from the mass influx of new members, we have not had adequate procedures in place to act swiftly and decisively to react to that small minority who have expressed sometimes ignorant, but often vicious, dangerous and vile antisemitic views”.
He continued: “On behalf of my Party, I want to publicly apologise to the Jewish community that we have let you down. We know it. We are trying to do better. We are trying to become the Party we always aspired to be. We will not stop working until we once again become a safe political home to people from the Jewish community, as from every other.”
Taking questions from the floor, Gardiner said Luciana Berger had been “bullied by antisemites to the point that most of us would not have had the strength to bear,” but Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman asked: “Why does he think Labour allowed the bullying to continue? The problem is Party members, not the people of Liverpool.”
Fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “We’ve lost a very good colleague because we failed to stop what was essentially constructive dismissal. So many cases are outstanding yet time was found to deal with Mr Hatton’s admission.”
Gardiner denounced those who denied there was antisemitism on the political left or thought they were smears, calling these ideas “false narratives,” but Labour MP John Mann, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, asked what leadership had Labour’s shadow cabinet shown on the issue.
Smeeth added that “any other leader of the Labour Party would have instructed [anti-Semites] to be expelled” but Gardiner did not agree, saying it was not a decision for Corbyn but for the National Executive Committee.