Just days after the Labour Party’s crushing General Election defeat, the Jewish Labour Movement claims hundreds of “new and returning members” are joining up, with many once again considering membership of the party.
Academic David Hirsh, who quit in February after three decades in the party, said Labour should “beg Luciana Berger, Joan Ryan and Louise Ellman to rejoin” to regain trust with the community. “It needs to apologise to them, find them safe seats and invite them to head an inquiry into antisemitism. That would be a start.”
Others have decided that Jeremy Corbyn’s impending resignation is enough to entice them back.
Deputy on the Board of Deputies, Joe Millis, had been in the party for more than 20 years, but “left the day Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. You can’t have worked in the Jewish community for 20-odd years without knowing who he is and who his friends are. I’ve rejoined now because I want to help rebuild the party and bring it back to the centre left where it belongs.”
Tal Ofer, an ex-Labour candidate in local elections left in July 2018 after nine years in the party, said there is now a “clear dilemma whether and when to rejoin.” He added: “For the time being I’m not comfortable while Jeremy Corbyn still clings on. We still don’t know what the outcome will be of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee investigation, and it’s not clear which one of the moderate MP have the best chance to defeat the pro-Corbyn candidates.”
Former president of the Union of Jewish Students, Hannah Rose quit in 2018. She said: “Although I’d be excited to rejoin my political home under the right leadership, under current rules I’m excluded for five years as I campaigned for (Lib Dem) Luciana Berger at the election. Unless this is overturned, it will amount to punishing Jewish people for the choices they were forced to make due to the party’s institutional racism.”
However, Noah Libson, who left Labour in September 2018 after being a member for three years, warned that not even a change of leader would necessarily solve the problems. “The issues that led to the antisemitism crisis haven’t disappeared. I can’t be a member of a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. When a new leader takes over, and they prove to the Jewish community they are committed to eradicating antisemitism from the party, then I’ll consider rejoining”.
Yet for Birmingham-based Ian Robathan and journalist Sophie Wilkinson, coming back to their former party was a natural step after Labour’s decimation at the polls.
Robathan was a Labour member for 25 years, but quit in February 2018. He said: “Last Thursday I watched the results and realised I was happy we lost. It was weird – and I worked out it was because I never wanted Corbyn as PM.”
“I rejoined on Sunday because we have to fight this evil within the party as there is no alternative and support people who stayed like Alex Sobel, Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge.”
After joining Labour in 2015, journalist Wilkinson left in the wake of Ken Livingstone’s comments about Hitler and Zionists. The granddaughter of refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, she said “I’m not a practising Jew but I’ve never felt so Jewish as I have in the past few years.”.
She said Livingstone’s comments didn’t differentiate “between Jews who goes to shul and who are ‘just’ ethnically Jewish. Whether they all wished to believe it or not, Labour let down all Jews.”
But, she has returned “because I trust that with a new leader, Labour’s antisemitism will either be better dealt with or totally disappear.
“I want to be part of the movement to get Labour back to adequately representing the left in its broader terms.”
Law professor John Strawson, left in July 2017. He had been a member for over 30 years and first campaigned for Labour as a 16 year old in 1964, but added that rejoining would be conditional on Corbyn quitting “immediately” or if the Parliamentary Labour Party “removes him this week”.