Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown received a rapturous standing ovation after his keynote speech to Sunday’s Jewish Labour Movement conference in which he said “I cannot be silent” on the issue of antisemitism, “something fundamental to our future”.
Also calling for the Labour Party to “unanimously, unequivocally and immediately” adopt the internationally agreed definition of anti-Semitism, he said it’s not simply about a change in policy but was “about the soul of the Labour Party”.
He said: “I believe that the Labour Party must and should change the policy. And I believe this problem must be solved within the Labour Party now.”
Mr Brown’s speech received a standing ovation as he outlined growing anti-Semitism among not only the “jack-booted” right, but also the “conspiracy theorist” left.
“This is a problem that is real and present and something that’s got to be dealt with now,” he said.
“I want to say to you very clearly today that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is something we should support unanimously, unequivocally and immediately.”
Mr Brown said the definition, which has been signed by 31 countries, states that criticism of Israel cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.
He added: “The declaration is about this and this only: to condemn and root out, as they state, anti-Semitism, which ‘is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’.
“And this declaration is needed now, urgently. Not as some sort of abstract document of philosophy.
“It is needed now to deal with practical threats to confront gathering dangers and on-the-ground realities of very real week-by-week threats to Jewish communities that demand an unequivocal response and unqualified resolve.”
Speaking without notes to a packed audience at JW3, Mr Brown, Labour’s last prime minister, gave a passionate address in which he said there was a fight “for the soul of the Labour Party”, at whose very core were the principles of fighting racism, inequality, sexism and antisemitism, “wherever and whenever they occur. It is about who we are. Our conscience means we don’t just stand up for the rights of some people, some of the time, it means we stand up for the rights of all who are oppressed, all of the time”.
Labour’s promise to the Jewish community, he said, was clear: “We will not neglect you, we will not abandon you, we will not desert you”.
Deploring the level of antisemitism expressed on the internet, which Mr Brown said had risen by 2,000 per cent in the last few years, the former premier said it was “real and present and has to be dealt with now”. Such hatred “is being fed sedulously from the gutter”.
A future Labour government, he said, should establish an office for monitoring antisemitism, both in Britain and internationally. And he warned: “Our policy cannot be half-hearted or grudging. We have to move forward. It is time to say this wrong must be righted this Stan has to be removed, and it has to be done in the next few days.
“Fighting racism is not incompatible with our values, it’s at the heart of our values.”
Mr Brown also noted that “history is not made by bystanders dong nothing”. But he concluded by saying his message was one of hope, something underlined by the parliamentary chair of JLM, Luciana Berger. In thanking Mr Brown she said that his presence at the conference “has reminded us that we do not stand alone”.