EDITOR’S NOTE: In the past, this website has won praise for raising the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Since the election and the calls for unity that have followed it, some of our readers have questioned whether we remain committed to raising the issue. I can assure you that we do, and with as much vigour as ever.
Of all the allegations that have been thrown back and forth by Labour members at each other over the past two years, perhaps one of the most severe and unwarranted is that some Labour members are faking outrage at anti-Semitism to achieve factional objectives.
I have been accused of this myself, whether in criticising Jeremy Corbyn for his clumsy remarks on Israel, or by social media trolls who hide behind fascistic, neo-Nazi imagery and tell me I am part of ‘the Jewish conspiracy.’ Leaving aside the fact I am not Jewish, this continues to be both weird and offensive on all kinds of levels.
The new spirit of unity which seems to be emerging in the wake of Labour’s far-better-than-expected general election result is welcome. However, it will be for naught if it is used by certain elements to mask the very real problem the left has with anti-Semitism. Plenty has been written about how this problem is shaped, and I will not repeat it at length here. Instead, let me explain in simple terms where I think the Party has got it wrong in the last couple of years, and how this might change.
You walk into a police station to report a crime you have been a victim of. You tell the officer behind the desk the very specific details of the crime. She looks back at you and studies your expression closely, before saying: “That’s awful. Of course, we condemn all forms of crime, and we do our best to stop them being committed.” Then she leaves the room, and you are left siting there, wondering what, if anything, will be done about the situation you now find yourself in. You never see that police officer again.
So it is when anyone responds to concerns about anti-Semitism with the phrase, “I condemn all forms of racism.” Well, yeah, well done. And you’re right – all racism is bad. Equally bad. But when people have fallen victim to the specific evil of anti-Semitism, they want you to deal with it specifically, not generally. This is a distinction the upper echelons of the Labour Party need to wake up to urgently, or Labour’s link with British Jews – already at breaking point – will break perhaps forever.
For now, what might Labour do practically to tackle the issue head-on and start to assure Jews and non-Jews alike that the Labour Party has a zero tolerance policy not just towards racism generally, but towards anti-Semitism specifically? Here are a few suggestions:
- Expel Ken Livingstone immediately. If I need to explain why, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.
- Set up a new, independent investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and do not appoint the Chair of it to the House of Lords in the aftermath.
- Add a new clause to the Labour Party’s constitution (conference is in September) to stipulate the immediate expulsion of any member found guilty of anti-Semitism specifically.
- Conduct an official Labour Party listening exercise in Jewish communities the length and breadth of the country, allowing the Jewish community the opportunity to express their concerns directly to the Labour leadership. Conduct this in public.
- Publish an explicit Labour Party apology to the Jewish community for any and all offence that has been caused in the last two years.
This would be a start and would set a new tone of decency that would, I hope, percolate all levels of the Labour Party and make it abundantly clear that our party is not a safe space for fascists of any kind.
These are not big asks. They are simple, humble, socialist requests. The challenge to the Labour Party is not just to embrace their spirit, but to embrace their substance.