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Anti-Semitism isn’t just a Labour problem

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has released its report on antisemitism in the Labour Party. After a 17-month investigation, it found that there were serious failings on the part of the leadership ‘which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it’ [1]. The release of this report follows years of complaints and allegations of antisemitism within the party and, more specifically, against former leader Jeremy Corbyn. The EHRC determined that Labour broke the Equality Act thrice: political interference in antisemitism complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling such complaints and finally harassment. The party must now set up an independent complaints process and set out guidance to prevent political interference in the future. Failure to do so would land Labour in court [2].

However, it is not enough for Labour to follow these recommendations. The party must also work to regain the trust it has lost in both the Jewish people of this country, and the wider public. Labour explicity calls itself ‘an anti-racist party’ [3] and uses this branding to distinguish itself from its political rival, the Conservative Party. However, since 2015, if not before, these words have rung hollow. This has been made all too clear to Britain’s Jewish leaders. Jonathan Goldstein, head of the Jewish Leadership Council, stated in an interview following Corbyn’s resignation as leader of the Labour Party that ‘the future of global Jewry is under threat to an extent which it has never been since the end of the Second World War’ [4]. This is not merely speculation. The Community Security Trust has been recording antisemitic threats and providing security training for Jewish organisations since 1994. In 2018, it recorded the highest total of antisemitic incidents in a single year [5]. Clearly then, the release of the EHRC report should serve as a wake-up call to all those who deny the prevalence of wider anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK.

It is important to listen to those who have experienced antisemitism. The Jewish Labour Movement has released a series of blog posts written by the victims of such racism. Jack Lubner was accused of being responsible for the actions of a government 3000km away, abused online and physically harassed. This all occurred within the context of his work in the Labour Party and, in the case of the first accusation, at a Labour conference itself. He states that: ‘the scariest part is that what I experienced was very mild compared to so many other Jewish activists. The story of the past five years is not just one of antisemitism, but one of misogyny as well, and female Jewish activists faced truly horrific abuse’ [6]. In addition to these overt acts of racism, Lubner also experienced the kind of insidious gaslighting that is far too familiar, saying that ‘calling out antisemitism caused a bigger backlash than being antisemitic in the first place. So many people in the party undermined what we had faced that I began to doubt my own experiences’ [6].

This problem is far greater than just the Labour Party. The Campaign Against Antisemitism found that ‘almost one in three British Jews have considered leaving the UK due to antisemitism’ [7]. Testament to this, 64% also felt law enforcement were not ‘doing enough to address and punish antisemitism’. It can be easy to categorise antisemitism as a “Labour problem” or, in its most insidious form, as the underground grumbling of far-right white supremacists. However, the report by the Campaign Against Antisemitism into attitudes towards Jews and Jewish responses to antisemitism found that casual antisemitism is far more widespread than one might think and is not the preserve of just one political party. People aligned with the Conservative Party were more likely to endorse at least one antisemitic statement (40% compared to 32% of Labour supporters) [8]. Pervasive antisemitism is far too common on the right. The antisemitic dog whistle of ‘cultural Marxism’ has long been associated with antisemitism and the far right and has been on the rise. Clearly then, this problem is much bigger than one political party’s failure to act. In looking to the future, the Board of Deputies of British Jews called for a guard against potential complacency, saying that ‘the scale of the challenge that lies ahead should not be underestimated’ [9]. Indeed, now that Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour Party, it would be all too easy to dismiss further complaints as a by-product of times gone by. Rather, the Labour Party and society as a whole must remain vigilant in ensuring that antisemitism is stomped out. This applies to all parties across the political spectrum.

 

References:

 

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2020, Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party, Available from: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/investigation-in...

[2] Scott, Jennifer, 2020, ‘What Does the Labour anti-Semitism report say?’, BBC, available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54731222

[3] Labour, 2020, ‘Codes of Conduct: Antisemitism and other forms of racism’, Labour, available from: https://labour.org.uk/members/my-welfare/my-rights-and-responsibilities/...

[4] Goldstein, Jonathan, 2020, ‘UK Jewish Leader: Anti-Semitism worse than ever since WWII yet we’re ignoring it’, interviewed by Horovitz, David, Times Of Israel, available from: https://www.timesofisrael.com/uk-jewish-leader-anti-semitism-worse-than-...

[5] CST, 2019, ‘Antisemitic Incidents Report 2018, CST: Protecting Our Jewish Community’, available from: https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2019/02/07/antisemitic-incidents-report-2018

[6] Lubner, Jack, 2020, ‘My experience of antisemitism – Jack Lubner’, Jewish Labour Movement, available from: https://www.jewishlabour.uk/my_experience_of_antisemitism_jack_lubner

[7] Campaign Against Antisemitism, 2017, Antisemitism Barometer 2017, available from: https://antisemitism.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Antisemitism-Baromet...

[8] Channel 4 News, 2018, Beaware cherry-picked stats on Labour and antisemitism, avaliable from: https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-antisemitism-political...

[9] Board of Deupties, 2020, ‘EHRC report is ‘a damning verdict’ on antisemitism in the Labour party’, Board of Deputies of British Jews, available from: https://www.bod.org.uk/joint-statement-on-release-of-ehrc-report/

 

Katie is a Religion and Politics student at KCL. She enjoys listening to Harry Styles, watching Twilight and finding cats in the street.
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