Hundreds of people packed in to Brighton’s ornate Brass Synagogue in the city centre for the Jewish Labour Movement’s (JLM) only event during the Labour Party conference, a rally headlined by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan.
In a series of fierce speeches under the chairmanship of JLM chair Mike Katz, speaker after speaker made clear their commitment to Labour and their pledge to return it to the bona fide anti-racist body they had originally joined.
If there can be said to have been alive spectre at the feast it was that of the former Labour MP Luciana Berger, who left the party in February after months of sustained antisemitic abuse. MP Ruth Smeeth, now JLM’s parliamentary chair, declared: “Luciana is the one person missing”.
She added: “No-one can say it has been easy to be Jewish in the Labour Party in the last 12 months. But this is not just a Jewish fight, it is a fight for the heart and soul of the party.” And she warned that those who had seized control of the party would “rue the day that we have had to to put our identity ahead of the Labour Party, and that we have to have rallies like this. I have a message for them – we have been here for 100 years and the Jewish Labour Movement is going nowhere.”
The rally included Jewish MPs Alex Sobel and the two Dames, Louise Ellman and Margaret Hodge. But a passionate Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, questioned why were were not more non-Jewish MPs like herself and fellow parliamentarian Stella Creasy, who also spoke, to support the Jewish community in its fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the party. “i won’t shut up”, she vowed.
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It wasn’t all a downbeat atmosphere. Best joke of the night came from Stella Creasy, who had been invited to spend Shabbat with her local Jewish community. To roars of appreciation she admitted her Hebrew wasn’t up to understanding all the service: “I understood what it meant to be present but not involved”.
There was support, too, from MEP Seb Dance, from Labour Students who have recently had their own problems with the party, from Young Labour, from local government and from two ginger groups in the party, Labour First and Progress. But it was Mayor Sadiq Khan who encapsulated the problem when he declared that “racism is racism. There should be no shades: but there appears to be a hierarchy of racism within Labour… we are with you. We stand with you in solidarity”. He urged non-Jewish supporters to join him becoming an affiliate of JLM.
Meanwhile JLM’s Mike Katz and Ella Rose received — at best — a lukewarm reception from conference delegates when they spoke out against proposed disciplinary rule changes in a debate which took place on Saturday, making it impossible for observant Jews to participate.
Mr Katz said: “I’m sad to say that trust between the Jewish community and the party is at an all time low… that mistrust has been allowed to grow because the party has proved unwilling or unable to take concerted action against anti-jewish racism.”
To some sporadic heckleng, he said there was no necessary independence in disciplinary processes and that the proposed changes led to the very reverse. “Forgive us if we don’t think we can rely on the NEC to deliver fast-track justice. Fast track turning a blind eye, fast track letting your mates off the hook, but not fast track justice and certainly not fast track restoration of trust with the Jewish community”.
Ella Rose wanted to know how much money Labour had spent on defending itself over the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry into the party’s alleged institutionalised antisemitism, and when it would publish its submission to the EHRC. But she did not receive a satisfactory reply.