OPINION: We refuse to do the racists’ work for them – we’re not quitting
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Labour splitAlex Goldberg and Andrew Gilbert not quitting

OPINION: We refuse to do the racists’ work for them – we’re not quitting

Rabbi Alex Goldberg and Andrew Gilbert explain why they're remaining in the Labour Party despite calls for a mass exodus

Jewish Labour Movement at Cable Street 80 event
Jewish Labour Movement at Cable Street 80 event

We are not resigning our Labour Party membership, we won’t be pushed out, yet we totally understand why Luciana Berger decided to leave, and look forward to a future when we will again work together. 

She is a real loss and anyone who says otherwise should be challenged, and ultimately has no place within the Labour Party. Indeed, the sight of a Jewish woman being bullied and harassed for several years online and in person, from both the far right and from elements within the party is utterly shameful. It is undoubtedly a low point in the history of a great party.

 So why do we stay? We have campaigned all our lives against racists and antisemites. We are staying because the Labour Party at its best has championed equality, delivered better public services and provided an umbrella to fight all forms of racism and xenophobia including antisemitism. It did so for decades. It can again. We don’t take this for granted, but we are prepared to fight for these values.

 Today, across Europe and North America, there is a double wave of antisemitism, from the far-right and from the hard left. In the past, these racists lurked in the darkest corners of politics, in extremist parties and fringe groups, but their tactics have changed. They have successfully infiltrated mainstream political parties or, as they have done outside the UK, refashioned themselves into electable entities. Sadly, few now deny extremist elements operate within Labour.

Rabbi Alex Goldberg and Andrew Gilbert

 Over the past few months the two of us, a Reform Jewish leader and an Orthodox rabbi, decided to engage within local constituency parties, in London and the South East, to enter into conversations with ordinary members. 

We have seen both the best and worst of Labour: in some constituencies, there is open hostility, where the constituency party has been taken over by the extreme elements and has become ‘institutionally antisemitic’. 

However, more often than not we have seen time after time, ordinary members from a broad spectrum of political views who openly express their concern at the growth of antisemitism in the party. Expressions of sympathy are not enough, but we have seen evidence from many local constituencies taking action, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. 

It appears there is a genuine Labour mainstream wanting to rid itself of racism and antisemitism. Now is the time to support it and to mobilise. If the party centrally is impotent to act decisively against antisemitism, we need to appeal to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary anti-racist grassroots members who care.

 We’ve listened to calls to abandon the party, but believe surrendering vast areas of political space to antisemitic elements gives them an undeserved and easy victory.  If we surrender space on the left today, then it will be the right tomorrow, until there is no space for most Jews to enter the public political arena as ordinary British citizens. Self-exclusion is no strategy. 

We refuse to do the racists’ work for them in self-silencing Jewish voices. Success by antisemites within mainstream left-wing parties in the UK has no doubt bolstered populist elements wishing to engage the mainstream right. Take, for example, a vote in the European Parliament where Conservative MEPs supported Hungarian and Polish Governments accused of antisemitism when other mainstream right-wing parties in Europe opposed them. It seems that in this instance they were less concerned by upsetting the Jewish community than before.

Rather than abandon the party, Jewish members and their allies should engage and dialogue with local parties to face down this ugly cancer of antisemitism. We shall fight extremists in the party, in Parliament, on the street and on social media. The price of losing is far too great.

Help perform the greatest mitzvah: save a life

While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.

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