#enoughisenough

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.”

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About Cllr Richard Watts

I am the Leader of Islington Council and the Labour councillor for Tollington ward.
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3 Responses to #enoughisenough

  1. Pingback: Richard Watts defends Jeremy Corbyn – but calls idea Labour has no anti-semitism a ‘denial of a reality’ – Islington Citizen

  2. Barry Edwards says:

    The Corbyn/Labour/antisemitism debate is creating divisions, something I may have added to by my own postings on social media. However I am by nature a conciliator, someone who tries to arbitrate between positions to find common ground. This was the approach I used to take when a trade-union activist and I think it is what is needed now.

    A number of separate strands seem to have got woven together to form the present storm. If we can disentangle them perhaps we can the reassemble them in a better way.

    Antisemitism has been present in Britain for a long time. It seems to go in waves, attached to events like the Crusades, World War One (as many Jewish family names sounded German) and times of migration, especially in the early Twentieth Century (with a campaign led by the Daily Mail). The establishment has often relied on Jewish support and then resented it.

    I have read the Institute for Jewish Policy Research paper from 2017 ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain’ and broadly agree with its conclusions on antisemites and antisemitism. (There is a small hard core of antisemites, politically mainly on the right, and a more widely diffused lower level of antisemitism in the general population). I note that they conclude that antisemitism is lower in Britain than almost anywhere else in the world however, when they look across the political spectrum, apart from the not unexpected spike for the far right, they report an even level of antisemitism across all parties not much different from the general population. This is concerning for those parties expressing a desire for equality.

    What I find more problematic is their analysis of correlation between antisemitism and what they call anti-Israel attitudes. The survey started by asking asked people to give their overall opinion (favourable, unfavourable or neutral) of each of seven countries, including Israel. (Three (USA, Germany and UK) were seen predominately favourably; three (Syria, Russia, Iran) were seen predominately unfavourably and Israel fell between the two groups.) What does an opinion of a country mean? If I know some Syrian refugees and like them, do I like Syria because they are nice people or do I dislike Syria because the actions of the Syrian government that forced them to flee? I suspect most people would have selected the second option but some may have chosen the first.

    The survey then asked people to agree or disagree with a number of statements about Israel and concluded on the basis of the responses the level of anti-Israel attitudes in the UK. These were then correlated with the antisemitism results. Not surprisingly the report finds those will a high antisemitism score also have a high anti-Israel score but they go on to find that it is possible to have some anti-Semitic views without having any anti-Israel views and vice versa. Most of the twelve statements refer to Israel but one mentions Israelis (“The interests of Israelis are at odds with the interests of the rest of the world”). That is one I would decisively disagree with as I see the interests of all peoples being best served by being in peace with their neighbours. When Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin I not only wept for Rabin but for the future of all people in the region.

    Once again I wonder how much the holding of anti-Israel views by people not holding anti-Semitic views is the case of left-wing people being opposed to the widely reported actions of a right-wing government?

    Some people have sought to cast Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite. I have known him for over 30 years and would say that his public appearances at events such as Holocaust Memorial Day, Menorah lighting and Faith Forums are not belied by his private conversations. No human being is perfect but he is closer than I am. In terms of the IJPR survey he would be one of those who score zero on antisemitism but one or more on the anti-Israel questions. He is undoubtedly critical of policies of the current Israeli government.

    The final strand is the Labour Party’s disciplinary procedures. In my time as a trade union activist I supported a number of members who had disciplinary action taken by their employers but have only one experience of supporting a Labour Party member before a party body. It seemed to me that the procedure was opaque and not very fair to either party. This should be a priority for the new General Secretary.

    In conclusion I would say that Jeremy Corbyn is opposed to a number of policies of the current Israeli government but is not antisemitic; the party is no more antisemitic than the general population but, given our belief in equality, we should take steps to eliminate antisemitism from the party and the party’s disciplinary procedures should be revised and made quicker, fairer and more transparent.

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  3. Alicia W says:

    On the political spectrum, levels of antisemitism are found to be highest among the far-right, and levels of anti-Israelism are heightened across all parts of the left-wing, but particularly on the far-left. In all cases, the higher the level of anti-Israelism, the more likely it is to be accompanied by antisemitism.

    This is from a report
    Antisemitism in Contemporary Great Britain: A Study of Attitudes Towards Jews and Israel

    http://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk450

    Would tend to belie your final paragraph.

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