antisemitism,  Labour Party

I can forgive the Labour Party, but I can never forget

In order to frame this whole blog, an explanation of antisemitism is required.

Antisemitism is described as: “… any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organisations or property, where there is evidence that the victim was targeted because they are, or are believed to be, Jewish.”

(Community Security Trust)

This and any accurate description of antisemitism defines it as a demonisation of Jews based on prejudice, hostility, hatred and discrimination. It mutates throughout history, but at its core is the depiction of Jews as controlling, malign, and seeking world domination

“I cannot remain in a party that I have today come to the sickening conclusion is institutionally antisemitic.

“The leadership has wilfully and repeatedly failed to address hatred against Jewish people within its ranks. And it is for these reasons and many more that I have made this decision today. I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”

Luciana Berger, Then Jewish Labour Party MP for Liverpool  explains on 18 February 2019 why she had no choice but to leave the Labour Party. I personally saw and screenshot pages of antisemitic abuse she received on social media.

May 28 2019 was a particularly dark day in the history of the Labour Party. A party with a proud moral history and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition sunk into the gutter after a formal investigation was launched to determine whether the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish. You can find the exact parameters of the investigation here and the results will be published today. The only other political party to be investigated under the Equality Act of 2006 was the avowedly racist BNP.

I wished after four years of documenting and screenshotting (though nowhere near levels of other individuals) much antisemitism from Labour Party members and supporters I could say I was shocked. However, I had become as used to antisemitism and the Labour Party mixing together as having a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. Polling of the Jewish community suggested many felt like me. I became accustomed to the perverse state of affairs where those calling out antisemitism were depicted as the perpetrators of smears, whilst those who engaged in antisemtiism or defended antisemitism were painted as victims.

  • In September 2017 A survey carried out by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle found that 69% of British Jews believed that there were high or very high levels of antisemitism at all levels in the Labour Party
  • In September 2018 data from polling carried out by Survation for the Jewish Chronicleshowed that 85.6% of British Jews believed that there were high or very high levels of antisemitism at all levels in the Labour Party.
  • A September 2019 poll by Survation for the Jewish Chronicle revealed 78% of British Jews surveyed would prefer a no deal Brexit to a Jeremy Corbyn Government.

You do not have to be a genius to see that there had been a breakdown in the relationship between the Labour Party and the Jewish community, which had once been so strong. Antisemitism has always had an active presence across the political spectrum including on the left – August Bebel, A German Socialist political leader, called left wing antisemitism the Socialism of Fools. It is expressed in the form of painting powerful Jewish monied power as capricious greedy capitalists destroying and manipulating society for their own gain. However, although there had always been issues with a minority of people in the Labour Party, this antisemitism always seemed to be at the fringes.

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party on 12th September 2015 the party was not known for antisemitism. By the time Corbyn departed on 4th April 2020, the party had become synonymous with antisemitism. Mr Corbyn played a key role in this, but he wouldn’t have been able to, but for his many allies, the backing of groups like Momentum and those whose silence spoke volumes in complicity. One person complicit at the time was Keir Starmer, who served for nearly five years as Corbyn’s Brexit Secretary, putting loyalty to a party leader above combating antisemitism. Now, I’m not going to bore you with every single incident of antisemitism in the Labour Party, as this blog is long enough! I will select a few edited lowlights which did not prick Keir’s conscience at the time including:

  • On 2 November 2017, I reported how at a meeting of Queen’s Park Labour Party, when a discussion was had on expelling Labour Party members who were members of other groups, one Labour Party member used this as a chance to defend being a member of the antisemitic terrorist group Hezbollah as well as the Labour Party. Comments like the following from Hassan Nasrallah tell you all need to know about their views on Jews.

“If we searched the world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anybody like the Jew.”

 In August 2018 Birkenhead Constituency Labour Party in a motion rejected training from the Jewish Labour Movement on the grounds of possible links with ISIS. At the very least, the thinking highlighted how wild conspiracies and antisemitism go hand in hand.

  • On August 18 2018 the former Labour Party MP, Jim Sheridan said the following in a now deleted Facebook post:

“For almost all my adult life I have had the utmost respect and empathy for the Jewish community and their historic suffering,” .

 

“No longer due to what they and their Blairite plotters are doing to my party and the long suffering people of Britain who need a radical Labour government.”

 The comments were so brazenly antisemitic that they even led to a rebuke from Jeremy Corbyn and his suspension. However, despite an apology which was as half hearted as you can get, his party suspension was lifted on 26 January 2019. You can see how the impression of contempt being shown to the Jewish community came about.

  • In 2018 and 2019 I was a member of a number of Facebook groups associated with the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. One group which showed itself to be a haven of antisemitism as I highlighted in this Twitter thread of January 10th 2019 and another Twitter thread of January 24th 2019 was the Facebook group Labour Against the Witch Hunt (Unofficial). The group included the now Independent and then Labour Party Cllr for Rossendale Pam Bromley who, as a stalwart campaigner against antisemitism Steve Cooke highlights, sees nothing antisemitic in a Holocaust denial video. She was suspended by the Labour Party in 2018 for alleged antisemitic Facebook posts.

These are just tiny morsels of the antisemitism which spread like wildfire in the Labour Party. It’s important to remember where Keir Starmer stands in all of this. Although his recent statements and actions have been music to the ears of many Jewish people, I think its fair to point out that Keir’s moral bravery deserted him at a time it was needed from 2015-2020.

It is worth remembering although he is talking the talk now, Starmer was happy for five years to be Corbyn’s Shadow Brexit Secretary and put his own career above the pain of Jews.  Consequently, he has a lot to make up for, despite the fact he started his leadership of the Labour Party on April 4th 2020 on the right foot and has subsequently been talking on a regular basis to leaders of the Jewish community.

“Anti-semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities.

“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry. And I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”

Others did show courage, such as Lisa Nandy who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet and ran Owen Smith’s leadership campaign. Others such as Jess Phillips MP and Stella Creasy MP were constant thorns in Corbyn’s side. MPs like Joan Ryan and Chris Leslie resigned from the party. There were honourable alternatives Starmer could have taken.

Starmer by contrast was happy in public at least to have a key Shadow Cabinet role in a party that became institutionally antisemitic and to be a leading campaigner twice in trying to get Corbyn and his allies to have the keys to No.10.

Now I’m a fair man, Starmer has been impressive when it comes to challenging antisemitism since he became leader of the Labour in April 2020. He has also reduced the power and influence of those who were key to the spread of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Nonetheless, people have short memories when it comes to his political cowardice. The poison of antisemitism remains incredibly strong and will take many years to dissipate considering in pro-Corbyn Labour Party groups you see images such as this:

When you share a typical antisemitic trope about Jewish power over the media for supposedly nefarious interests, putting the word Zionist instead of Jew does not hide the underlying antisemitism. From my investigations of these far-left Facebook groups which often contain many members and supporters of the Labour Party antisemitic bile often rears its ugly head.

Why did Keir and so many others do nothing for five years? I can forgive, but I cannot and will not forget. The scars of the industrial scale of antisemitism me and others saw, investigated etc (others far more than me) which bought daily tears of despair, anguish and anger to the fore will ensure I never do.

The EHRC report on Thursday will serve as a reminder and hopefully will mean people do not become complacent in the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party. After five years of institutionalised antisemitism, it will take years to remove its stain.

As much as Corbyn and his allies were the ringleaders in the puke inducing institutionalised antisemitism, it was only made possible by those who remained silent and complicit for so long. I do not include the many brave souls inside and outside the Labour Party such as the Jewish Labour Movement. Their actions helped reveal the true nature of the Labour Party and involved superhuman levels of bravery. They are the standards we would all do well follow in relation to antisemitism and all forms of hate. This came at considerable personal cost, as the Panorama Programme by John Ware showed.

How could it not when the rot of antisemitism came from the top, highlighted in this week’s Jewish Chronicle piece on Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s former disgraced Chief of Staff, who has the chutzpah to be proud of her record on antisemitism and to dismiss the daily antisemitism during her time as Chief of Staff as media smears. To be fair in her recourse to the word smears, she is only following the illustrious examples of Labour’s former Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP  who in April 2016 called antisemitism claims smears to hurt the Labour Party and the General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey who called antisemitism in the party wildly exaggerated, going on to attack the Jewish leadership for having the temerity for speaking out against antisemitism. These attitudes, which were often the response to clear allegations of antisemitism, show a mindset which either refused to comprehend that the Labour Party could be infected by antisemitism or thought it was a smear campaign by Zionists in cahoots with the media. The pain the Jews felt was all made up, we were just puppets pulled by strings, pawns in a game.

This attitude is nonsense on stilts. It was our wildest desire to experience five years of excruciating pain, of so many dismissing are cries of anguish, to consider leaving the UK and for a major UK political party to descend in to the moral abyss. Now if I understood British irony that last sentence may be an attempt at it, but as Corbyn was keen to remind me and my kith and kin this is something we just do not understand.

Why should we not listen to the likes of Karie Murphy, who took such delight in standing up to opponents of antisemitism, whilst being key to Labour’s institutionalised antisemitism by condoning it, being part of it and doing hardly anything to challenge it (and only then kicking and screaming whilst forced to take the tiniest of actions).

It’s easy to blame the Corbynites and say they captured the party. It’s much harder to admit they were allowed to capture the party, and a culture developed from top to bottom in the Labour Party which was institutionally antisemitic.

To admit this is hard as it will lead to Labour Party supporters and members asking themselves if they were one of the many who remained silent (even though they may have felt uncomfortable) and ask themselves:

“could I have done more? Why did I not put my head above the parapet and support those brave souls who spoke out? Was my silence complicity and was I therefore part of the problem? Did I put party loyalty before all else?”

As with Keir Starmer I forgive. I know all too well when I was a member of the Conservative Party for 15 years, the party becomes like a family and thus being ‘disloyal to it’ is seen as akin to family betrayal. This, and I’m sure it has happened to me, can inhibit one’s moral compass. I also understand speaking out is not easy, especially when it puts a target on your back.

There is still time to do something positive. Although too late to have stopped the institutionalised antisemitism you can become part of the solution to draining the antisemitism out of the Labour Party by not being complacent. There are things you can do from right now. Join the Jewish Labour Movement. Speak to those who directly suffered so you can walk a mile in their shoes. Read pieces like mine and others who will have written pieces of far higher quality. Read books on antisemitism on the left by Dave Rich, David Hirsh and Steve Cohen. Go on training programs on antisemitism, call it out when you see it.

If more and more people do this, then Labour can, although it will take a long time, regain its moral standing. Regardless of your political persuasion, surely that is something we would all want, given the Labour Party has for many years now been a significant part of the UK’s political landscape.

I hope against hope (and I suspect it’s more likely I will become PM in the next year) that Starmer and others take the chance the report provides to apologise for serving in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, but I will settle for robust and effective action against antisemitism in the party. Just don’t expect me and others to forget how Jews became the enemy of a major UK political party and myself, my family and many others were unsure they could call the UK home anymore, given the significant levels of support Corbyn’s Labour Party enjoyed, alongside those who turned a blind eye to it all.

May the EHRC report serve as the ultimate canary in the coal mine for all and may it be part of a long but successful fight to rid the Labour Party of antisemitism. This is in all our interests, as what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews and reflects high levels of hatred in society as a whole.

This is a guest post by Stephen Hoffman. Stephen has been active in seeking to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate for many years. He tweets at @thehoff102.

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