Labour’s leadership and senior figures in the trades union movement were given strong and defiant messages on Sunday that they must deal properly with the scourge of antisemitism within the Labour Party.
Speaker after speaker, addressing a standing-room only rally of the Jewish Labour Movement at the start of the party’s conference in Liverpool, said that Labour could not continue to call itself an anti-racist party — or call out Islamophobia in the Conservative Party — while cases of antisemitism remained untackled. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi of the Reform Movement, put it simply: “I hold Jeremy Corbyn responsible. It’s up to him to fix it”.
Her fellow rabbi, Rabbi Arieh Abel, is on the executive of the Unite Union and said it was “haemorrhaging” rabbi members because of remarks made about antisemitism by the union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey. He said a letter had just gone to Mr McCluskey, deploring his comments, on behalf of 1700 “faith members” of Unite.
Rabbi Abel said it was time Jeremy Corbyn accepted the long-standing invitation to go to Israel and to visit Yad Vashem. If he aspired to lead Britain, he said, such a visit was important and necessary.
It was not only the Unite leader’s comments which came in for heavy criticism — MPs such as Dame Louise Ellman attacked remarks made by incoming TUC president Mark Serwotka, who had said that Israel had fomented the antisemitism row to distract attention from its treatment of the Palestinians.
By far the greatest applause was reserved for MPs such as Ian Austin, Stella Creasy, Rosie Duffield and Wes Streeting. In a barnstorming speech Ms Creasy reminded her audience that “Nazism did not spring up fully formed with its uniforms and shiny black boots”, but had encroached slowly and evilly. She said it was vital that Labour stamped out antisemitism as soon as possible and declared that all the outstanding cases of abuse with which the party was supposedly dealing “need to be fast tracked and dealt with by the end of the year — end of”.
Richard Angell, director of the Progress group within Labour, went further: of the £5.2 million spent on party staffing, he said, at least one person should be paid to do nothing but monitor social media. “And they should have a Twitter handle, #CorbynAgainstHate, and every time someone writes something abusive on Twitter or Facebook, they need to get a response which says, You do not do this in my name.” He warned: “If the leader is not prepared to do this, it will only continue”.
Keeping a close eye on all the contributions — which included speeches from MPs Alex Sobel, Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth and MEP Seb Dance — was the Momentum founder Jon Lansman.
Now clean-shaven after finishing a year of mourning for his mother, Mr Lansman said simply: “I come here as a Jew in solidarity with all the Jews in Britain”. He said he would “welcome a period of calm and reflection” and hoped that “Jewish communal organisations will re-engage with the party” now that the IHRA definition of antisemitism had finally been adopted.
The event was chaired by former MP Ivor Caplin and organised by JLM chief executive Ella Rose. Whether the passionate pleas expressed by the speakers would filter upwards to the party leader’s office was a moot point — but the JLM executive were confident that the messages would get through. “After all, Jon Lansman was here”, the JN was told.