Two of Israel’s greatest friends in the last parliament, the former Labour MPs Mike Gapes and Joan Ryan, passionately addressed their decision to leave the Labour Party last year, as antisemitism appeared to overwhelm left-wing politics.
In discussion with the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, Adrian Cohen, Mr Gapes and Ms Ryan were panellists in one of the opening sessions of this year’s Jewish Labour Movement conference. More than 100 people attended this session alone, numbers mirrored in each of the morning’s on-line meetings.
Ms Ryan, the former MP for Enfield North and parliamentary chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said leaving Labour, where she had been a member for 40 years, was “a huge wrench.” But, she said, she did not believe in “tribalism”, and noted that “you can’t be loyal to something you feel is so wrong. I couldn’t ask anyone to put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10. I wanted to say he was not fit to be prime minister, leader of the party, or an MP, and I didn’t want to be in a position where I appeared to be speaking out about not voting for Corbyn because I had been kicked out.
“The moment I knew there was no turning back was when Luciana Berger, in a press conference with Mike [Gapes], said that in her view the party was institutionally antisemitic. I thought I couldn’t see a Jewish Labour MP driven out of the party by antisemitism, and stand by and let that happen. That was the trigger”. She had made it clear, she said, that she believed Corbyn “should be expelled — he has a very long charge sheet.”
Mr Gapes, an MP since 1992 and a member of Labour for 50 years, said he had felt “tainted” by the 2017 election campaign and decided that he could not fight another election under Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Gapes, who is writing a book about his experience, said he believed that dealing with far-Left antisemitism and anti-Zionism was “the defining fight for [new Labour leader] Keir Starmer and the party”.
Ms Ryan added that while she welcomed Sir Keir’s pledge to tear antisemitism out by the roots, “I would like to see him say more about those roots. The ideological base of hatred of Zionism goes back to the UN resolution of 1975 that Zionism is racism, even though it was eventually overturned. The obsessive hatred of Israel is fundamental to the roots of antisemitism, and is a fault line running through the Labour Party, You can’t fight antisemitism unless you also fight anti-Zionism”.
Neither politician, who both left Labour to help form a new, independent political party, would say what would bring them back into Labour, if at all. Ms Ryan, paying tribute to the work of the Jewish Labour Movement, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, and Labour Against Antisemitism, insisted: “I am not the litmus test for this. The way the Jewish community feel about the Labour Party is the litmus test, not me”.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.