A lot has been said recently about the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I believe everyone in the Labour Party needs to stand up on this issue, so I wanted to be clear about my own views.
I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 25 years and I’ve been going to party meetings all of that time. I can honestly say that I’ve never personally witnessed anti-Semitic words or attitudes at a party event in the quarter of a century that I’ve been a member. However, there are enough examples of appalling racist and anti-Semitic social media comments by some members and supporters, along with people I know and trust telling me they’ve been victims of anti-Semitic attacks from within the party (although not in Islington), for me to be clear there is a problem here that Labour needs to confront. To say anything else would be a denial of of a reality.
I very much welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to leading Jewish organisations on Monday (can be found here). I agree with his analysis of the problem and strongly support his promise to act decisively.
As Leader of Islington Council, and a councillor in Jeremy’s constituency for 12 years, I’ve seen first-hand how well he works with the local Jewish community, supports Jewish constituents and has fostered links with Jewish community groups. I have stood alongside Jeremy at the Council’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day events where he has condemned anti-Semitism and the Holocaust as a unique crime in history, and I have sat in solemn silence next to him when we have listened to the testimony of Holocaust survivors. In recent weeks, Jeremy has worked with us in support of the Jewish and Muslim communities in North London to challenge the insensitive approach the local coroner has taken to dealing with families following the death of loved ones.
Any accusation from elements of the media that Jeremy is an anti-Semite himself is, quite frankly, wrong.
What matters now is how the Labour Party responds to our internal problems. I want to see the NEC, NCC and party staff rapidly implement Jeremy’s words and quickly and transparently conclude disciplinary action against those accused of anti-Semitism. Any member found to have made anti-Semitic comments or harassed Jewish comrades has no place in the Labour Party and should be expelled. More training and education on modern anti-Semitism should be made available through our party. But more than this, everyone in a position of leadership in our party needs to be absolutely clear that prejudice and racism of all kinds must be confronted and must be willing to confront it in their communities and local parties.
Labour in Islington has a proud record of working with the local Jewish community, as well as other communities, in our wonderfully tolerant and diverse borough. As a Council we have unanimously adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, supported and funded Jewish community groups, celebrated Jewish history in the borough and actively participated in Jewish community events from Passover Seders at the Town Hall to the fantastic Menorah lighting ceremony on Islington Green. In our election manifesto, we pledge to work to restore the borough’s Jewish cemetery. I am as proud of this as I am of the equally strenuous work we’ve put into fighting Islamophobia and hate crime in all its forms.
Labour is not the only political party with internal problems. Any Tory who failed to speak out against Zac Goldsmith’s racially-charged 2016 Mayoral campaign has no credibility in criticising other parties’ record on confronting prejudice. The Conservative’s recent dog whistle leaflet in Havering shows how little they’ve faced up to their own failings.
But Labour should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we’d expect of the right. We rightly called out the Tories’ racism in 2016, and we should do the same now to those in our own party who spread prejudice.
These are dangerous times; anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and intolerance seem to be on rise. We need to stand up to this both externally as a community, but also internally within our own party.
Opposing racism has been a fundamental part of Labour’s DNA since our party was formed. I fully support Jeremy’s words:
“I will not tolerate any form of antisemitism that exists in or around our party and movement. I am committed to eliminating antisemitism wherever it exists.”