This letter originally appeared in The Observer on 14th July 2019.
Over the past four years, we have watched the unchecked spread of vicious antisemitism – anti-Jewish racism – in the Labour party with bewilderment and disgust – all the more so since we respected Labour’s long previous history of fighting racism, and its many brave and decent members.
As accusations of antisemitism became too insistent to ignore, the Labour leadership set out to change the narrative from hate to housekeeping. Yes, there were minor issues, the Labour leadership conceded, but those related only to the time it was taking to identify the few actual or seeming antisemites in the party and the occasionally flawed system of dealing with them. Otherwise, all suggestions that racist hate against Jews was becoming endemic to Labour were mendacious, mischievous and malign.
Now, after the BBC’s Panorama programme, we can see for ourselves what is and isn’t false. The extent of Labour’s antisemitism, the degree to which it has been protected, sanctioned and propagated by the leadership faction, can brook no further denial; the labyrinthine attempts to deflect attention from the problem and discredit officials supposedly charged with identifying and rooting it out, are now laid bare. There is nowhere left for the Labour leadership to hide. It is clear this is not just about Jeremy Corbyn but the pernicious world view of a faction that has – temporarily, we hope – taken control of Labour.
But yet again, rather than seize this moment to face up to the racism at its heart, the Labour leadership remains determined to go on piously protesting its innocence, rejecting the message and blaming the messenger. People prepared to bear witness have been forced to sign gagging orders; those who have dared to speak out have been bullied, defamed, and stigmatised as dishonest and disloyal. What drives them, the leadership insists, is nothing other than political or personal disaffection. We are where we were before. Whistleblowers would be heroes to any other Labour party; to this Labour party they are traitors. Regrettable double standards are therefore operating, where Labour is keen to support whistleblowers elsewhere but not in its own house.
In our view, those whistleblowers and Labour members who could no longer stomach what was happening in a party they loved, and were in some cases driven to the point of nervous breakdown by it, have shown a rare moral courage and decency that belongs in a great tradition, and gives us hope. In the meantime, trust between Corbyn’s Labour and most Jews in Britain appears to be fractured beyond repair. The very fact that Labour is, like the BNP before it, being statutorily investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for racism is not a matter of housekeeping, but a taint of international, historic shame.
There are procedures that could take the heat out of this – a fully independent complaints body, for example, over which Corbyn and his inner circle exert no covert influence. Not with the aim of shuffling off blame, but in order, finally, that the party will honestly own up to what can no longer be filed away in a folder. After Panorama, damage limitation should not be the first priority for Labour. Draining the antisemitism that lies like a pool of poison in the party’s soul is. Now, nothing else will do.
Howard Jacobson, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Sir Simon Schama, Neil Blair, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Rabbi Julia Neuberger
Below is an article written for JLM from Mossi Raz MK, a Member of the Knesset in Israel representing Meretz. Meretz are a member of Socialist International alongside Havoda (The Israeli Labour Party). JLM members hold a range of views and we welcome hearing from all progressive voices within Israel.
Israel’s response to the mass Palestinian demonstrations dubbed the March of Return, launched on 30 March and scheduled to continue until 15 May, exemplifies the paranoia of a government that paints every Palestinian protestor as a terrorist and every criticism of its policies as anti-Semitism. The IDF’s use of live fire against unarmed civilians came as no surprise and was not the result of a handful of soldiers feeling that their lives were in danger or that the border was about to breached by hordes of
armed combatants. The Netanyahu government had declared in advance that any demonstrator who dared so much as to approach the fence would be shot, and the army deployed sharpshooters to carry out its loose and illegitimate open-fire orders.
While Hamas itself, along with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, share in the responsibility for the dire straits of the millions of Gazans who are living under intolerable conditions, there is no question that Israel’s siege on the Strip, which has been in force for over a decade, along with its refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations to secure a political solution based on two states are the primary source of the despair that has seized the Gaza population and motivated tens of thousands to participate in the nonviolent protests.
Despite the heavy toll in human life already taken by the IDF’s lax rules of engagement, Israeli Defense Minister Liberman has stated that Israel has no intention of changing its open-fire policy and warned that anyone who approaches the fence will be considered a legitimate target.The Palestinians’ right to protest is unassailable, and the use of live fire against unarmed civilians cannot be tolerated.
Following our call, lead by MK Tamar Zandberg, head of Meretz, the Israeli authorities must desist from shooting at protestors who constitute no threat to Israeli civilians or military personnel, and the government must immediately launch an independent inquiry into last Friday’s events in order to avoid further loss of life.
Originally printed in LabourList
Last night – with just 24 hours notice – a vibrant cross-section of this country’s Jewish community stood together in Parliament Square to call for an end to antisemitism in our party.
Whilst the reasons for which community organisations had gathered was sadly understandable, most remarkable was that the support from our comrades – so keenly needed and asked for by Jewish Labour members and the Jewish Labour Movement – was given in spades.
It was truly heartening to see many Labour MPs, representing constituencies across the country and all shades of Labour opinion, come to stand in solidarity with Jews, and particularly their Jewish comrades in the party and the wider movement.
I saw friends from local parties across London; council leaders and union activists. A bit like an open-air conference. And we all said the same thing to each other – it’s great to be here, but why should we need to be?
On a personal level, what I have found most depressing about antisemitism in Labour is the ready assumption that Jews would so readily sell short millennia of persecution for an easy political hit. Our history is not a bargaining chip. It is a threat we have faced from generation to generation in some form or other. In the last century, most calamitously.
What’s more, it’s certainly not something that any other minority group would be expected to tolerate. Not believing the victim in line with the Macpherson principle, but second-guessing their motivation.
The past two years have seen hard-working people, dedicated to Labour values and winning power to help those who need it the most, being trolled, heckled, marginalised, deselected, for challenging the hateful charge that our motives are so base, we can’t possibly be victims.
I’m just so sick and tired of it. All those MPs, councillors and activists who joined us last night are sick of it too. And that – to judge by social media – is just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m sick of having to put up with being told that complaining about antisemitism is just another way of undermining the leadership.
I’m sick of having to point out that my job isn’t to be a spokesperson for the Israeli government or to defend a PM I wouldn’t have voted for. That I don’t support the occupation but that I do believe in the same right of self-determination for Jews that all minority communities should enjoy.
I’m sick of having to explain that I feel my Jewish values are Labour values and I shouldn’t have to compromise either. Nor that many parts and people in the party support me, support JLM, understand the hurt caused to Jews and want it end. I know the friends I campaign with in Barnet (the most Jewish borough in the country) are especially sensitive to this.
Last night’s turnout – and the rousing reception given to the Labour MPs who spoke – will hopefully have make it clear to the wider Jewish community that something has to change.
Yet again, I have been flabbergasted by senior Labour figures over the past few days who have no reason to have ever experienced antisemitism but opine that in their long decades of membership they’ve never seen such a thing.
If you wouldn’t dismiss a woman’s claims of misogyny or an LGBT person’s account of homophobia, don’t you dare dismiss antisemitism out of hand. The fact some people think this OK to do may help you understand why it’s called the oldest hatred of all. Perhaps we could start by acknowledging that.
For me, this is not about undermining the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is Labour’s leader. His mandate is clear. But with great power comes great responsibility.
No, this is a challenge to him to lead the Labour party – and the wider movement – out of this toxic situation and make all parts of Labour safe for Jews.
We had further words of contrition and apology from our Leader yesterday, which are of course welcome and demonstrate understanding of what causes our pain, and why Labour isn’t always a safe place for Jews at the moment. But these words need to be accompanied by actions.
Our party is better than this. So many follow him – now he must lead.
On Wednesday (7th February) Jewish activists and African groups will come together in London to protest against Israel’s deportation of thousands of refugees. The demonstration will take place outside the Rwandan embassy – one of the countries named as taking the asylum seekers. [https://www.facebook.com/events/1548082038602982/]
This is part of a world-wide programme of resistance, which includes protests in Brussels, Berlin, London, Stockholm, The Hague, as well as across the United States.
On Sunday the Israeli government began issuing deportation notices to the Eritreans and Sudanese on Sunday. [https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-begins-handing-out-deportation-notices-to-african-migrants/] They are being told to leave Israel within two months, or face incarceration. Migrants who agree to exit Israel by the end of March will receive $3,500 and a plane ticket. Forced deportations could possibly be carried out next.
A growing movement
The Israeli left has been joined by Jews around the world to fight against the deportations of the asylum seekers. This has gradually grown in strength.
Dec. 11 – A webinar was organized by Elliot Glassenberg, a Canadian-Israeli who has been trying to organize the North American Jewish community for several years through an American organization called Right Now . At this point it was a fringe movement, both in Israel and the U.S.
Dec. 13 – Hundreds of American Jews sign this letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Here is the text of the letter, which you can still sign. It names some of the signatories, which include many of JLM’s partner organisations in America.
Jan. 2 – The Israeli government formalized its expulsion order. Within a day it was all over the international news.
Jan. 15 – The Anti-Defamation League wrote an open letter to the Israeli government, expressing its “grave concerns over a reported Israeli government plan to deport tens of thousands of African asylum seekers from Israel, either by coercion or force.”
Jan. 18 – Leading Israeli authors wrote an open letter.
Jan. 19 – Susan Silverman and other rabbis in Israel offered to hide Africans in their homes (the Anne Frank Home Sanctuary Movement).
Jan. 20 – Hundreds of academics join the protest.
Jan. 21 – Hospital doctors, nurses and social workers joined.
Jan. 21 – Several Holocaust survivors in Israel offered to hide Africans in their homes. [https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-holocaust-survivors-join-israeli-backlash-against-refugee-expulsions-1.5766648]
Jan. 22 – Three El Al pilots joined the protests. [https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-el-al-pilots-say-they-won-t-fly-deported-asylum-seekers-to-africa-1.5751068]
Join the international protests
Now the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel has launched a co-ordinated campaign against the deportations. [http://assaf.org.il/en/content/events]
It is this campaign that members of the Jewish Labour Movement are being asked to support.
Please come to the Rwandan embassy this Wednesday, 7th of February, at 12.00 at 120-122 Seymour Place, W1H 1NR London.
Bring placards and banners!
JLM were delighted to celebrate the second night of Chanukah with well over 200 members and supporters at Labour Party HQ in London. See below for a selection of speeches given on the night:
Luciana Berger MP, Parliamentary Chair of JLM
I am Luciana Berger and I am the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and Parliamentary Chair of the JLM.
Thank you, Iain [McNicol], Jeremy [Newmark] and welcome to Labour Party headquarters, and to the Jewish Labour Movement Chanukah reception.
For those who may not know, Chanukah is the festival of lights for Jewish communities around the world, when we come together to eat well, to exchange gifts and to celebrate.
Whether a lifelong member of the Jewish Labour Movement, or a brand new supporter, and whatever your background, you are truly welcome.
Thank you, general secretary, for hosting us again this year. It is absolutely fitting that JLM is here at the heart of the Labour Party. Our predecessor organisation Poale Zion affiliated to the Labour Party in 1920. For one hundred years, we have been at the heart of the Labour Party.
As Government Ministers.
As Prime Ministers.
This is where we belong. Labour is our political home. And no matter what they throw at us, we are going nowhere else.
The end of the year gives us chance to reflect. It’s been a phenomenally busy and successful year for the Jewish Labour Movement.
We have new regional branches up and running. I am pleased to say the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner MP spoke at the North West JLM branch at the end of October.
The Midlands branch will launch early next year.
Thanks to tireless campaigning and arguing, we secured the support of the Labour conference for our statement on anti-Semitism (and all other forms of racism). Well done to Mike Katz for his brilliant speech.
This rule change is now Labour Party policy. It gives us a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. A couple of observations: one, why do we even need such a thing in a modern, progressive party? As Jeremy Newmark said at the time, it was an uphill struggle. Why on earth was it so hard? Why are some so resistant?
And two, now that we have such a strong statement as policy, how do we ensure the words are matched by action? That’s up to every decent member of the Labour Party to call out anti-Semitism in our meetings and online, and to send a clear signal that Labour is no place for those peddling anti-Semitic tropes and images.
What about the year ahead?
This is a really important year for Labour supporters and activists. We have the elections across London, and across England, which give us a chance to reconnect with Jewish voters in some of the key seats.
I’m pleased to say Jeremy Newmark has started this process of reconnection early, by getting himself elected in a by-election as a councillor for Borehamwood in Hertsmere Borough Council. Congratulations.
I hope that’s a sign of good things to come: today Borehamwood, tomorrow Finchley & Golders Green, and Hendon, and Chipping Barnet.
And, by the way, imagine the political situation right now if those three seats had gone Labour in the summer, and consider why Labour lost them by such slim margins.
In local government, JLM has been supporting Jewish councillors with their campaigns.
I am sure we all wish JLM’s local government officer Joe Goldberg well as he comes off the council in Haringey to enjoy more quality time with his young family. Joe – we all know we haven’t seen the last of you on the public stage.
So it will be a year dominated by elections, where JLM will play a full and active role, and by the ever-present possibility of a General Election if the May Minority Government falls.
Will we get a general election in 2018? Who knows! I think a lot of us moved out of the predictions business after the 2017 election.
But I know this: if ever a government deserved to be booted out of office, it is this one.
Whether it is the bungled Brexit negotiations, or starving our schools and NHS of cash, or the misery of welfare reforms, or holding hands with Donald Trump – this Government is failing the people of Britain.
Finally, I mentioned that JLM affiliated to the party in 1920. In 2020, we want to celebrate one hundred years of our official involvement (of course Jewish people have been involved in the Labour and trade union movement for far longer).
But to celebrate one hundred years, we want to involve our members and supporters. So, whilst it may seem a long way away, I am calling for ideas of how we can mark the centenary and celebrate the Jewish contribution to the Labour Movement.
We want national events, local events, serious events, fun events, perhaps even oral histories, publications, films, who knows! And I should also point out the myriad sponsorship opportunities for your trade union, organisation or company.
We have a wonderful, rich history of which we can be proud.
But we have a great future too.
So let’s redouble our efforts to win the arguments internally, and to win the elections out on the doorstep.
Thank you for coming, and Happy Chanukah.Read more
Last night’s announcement that the United States intends to upend decades of established policy and international consensus in Jerusalem is the logical outcome of a world led by Trumps and Netanyahus: leaders more interested in playing to the Twitter gallery than taking brave steps to make the world a better place.
President Trump could have stood up and said that the United States will move its Embassy to Jerusalem and recognise Israeli West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – alongside recognising Palestinian East Jerusalem as the intended capital of the future State of Palestine. That would have clarified American policy and been a bold step towards his ever-more elusive “ultimate deal”. But no. Instead, the furthest he would go was to claim that he was not passing comment on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”.
That is bafflingly disingenuous from the apparent Leader of the Free World. To even mention “Jerusalem” in this context without making clear the very real legal distinction between West and East Jerusalem is to demonstrate sheer, unbridled ignorance. In 1967, after Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in the 6 Day War, the municipality’s boundaries were extended deep into territory that had never before been part of the city. Thousands of Palestinians suddenly came under the control of what had previously been Israeli West Jerusalem. This is the “undivided Jerusalem” about which Israeli government ministers wax lyrical.
Under international law, Israel does not have the right to impose sovereignty on territory gained in war, and all serious peace plans have included both Israeli and Palestinian capitals in Jerusalem. It is clear, however, based on the reactions of many ministers in the Likud-led government, that they are not interpreting Trump’s caveat to mean that they may have to cede control of some of Jerusalem for a future peace.
Nearly 40% of Jerusalem’s residents are Palestinians, and the vast majority of them have not been granted Israeli citizenship – despite being born in Israel’s “united and eternal capital”. Their Jerusalem is fundamentally different to the Jerusalem that would be recognised by most Israelis.
These are not merely “contested borders”, they are issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over which lives on both sides have been lost. To ignore them is to provide both Palestinian and Israeli politicians an excuse to avoid even trying to resolve the conflict. Hardline Israeli nationalists can say, with some justification, that they do not need to make concessions because the American President has their back. Hardline Palestinian nationalists can say that any peace process led by Donald Trump is stacked against them from the beginning. In both cases, Israelis and Palestinians will continue to suffer, and the risk of increased violence grows greater.
Few Israelis will have slept sounder last night or woken up differently this morning with the knowledge that the United States thinks that their capital is indeed their capital. Trump’s announcement won’t reduce skyrocketing rents, nor put more money in their pay-packets. It won’t deal with the allegations of government corruption that brought 20,000 people to the streets in Tel Aviv last week.
However, in order to have a secure future, Israelis do need a two-state solution. That means an independent State of Palestine, an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. The President’s words have just made that harder to achieve.
Ethan Schwartz is JLM’s International Officer.
Hello conference, first time delegate, first time speaker, delegate for Labour Students, now representing over 30,000 students, the equivalent of my entire University of East Anglia.
I joined the party at the age of 14 for the same reason I am here today - to join the fight for a more, decent, tolerant and fair society.
As a young, Muslim women I could not be prouder to be supporting this motion because it taps into the very core of my principles of justice, equality and acceptance
This motion is bigger than party politics. It's about practising what we preach, it cuts into the root of who we are and what we stand for. The Labour Party is the Party of antiracism and antifascism. We must be true to that.
Rightly so, this rule change has the support from all corners of our broad movement and the backing with our leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the entire, unanimous Labour NEC.
We are the party that fought fascism in the 1930s. We are the party that created the National Health Service. We are the party who created the National Minimum Wage.
Today, we have the chance to do something special. We can be the first political party to outlaw any sort of racism, islamophobia and sexism.
This country led the movement of acceptance for my family into this county in the 70s. My grandparents were refugees and came here in search of a better life. They were life long trade unionists and members of the Labour Party, and I stand on their shoulders on this stage today.
They will be proud that we today continue to be at the forefront of liberation. This essential rule change will transcend division and strengthen the link with our Jewish friends and the Labour Party. We continue in the traditional activists like my grandparents set by making sure that there is no space for discrimination of any kind within our Party. I am proud that not only my family stand behind this rule change, but we stand together with Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson, David Lammy, Andrew Gwynne and other socialist societies like LGBT Labour.
On our campuses, we fight to make our spaces safe. We fight to win a Labour government. We stand up to fascists on the far right, and we challenge abuse wherever we find it, even on the left.
As a student dedicated to winning for Labour we need to set the highest possible standard in our rule book. Friends, this is a moral imperative. This is simply the right thing to do. We talk about solidarity. Stand in solidarity with me against the sexism and islamophobia I have received. Stand in solidarity with those who receive any form of abuse. Because one abusive incident is one to many.
Please vote for this motion.
Stephanie Lloyd, LGBT Labour. proud to stand here in solidarity with JLM and the NEC to support this Rule Change.
To be honest Conference I’m heartbroken that I am even having to make this speech.
As a party we are well versed in highlighting how we transformed the lives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community in this country. We Abolished things that should never been there – a ban on serving in the military, section 28 and unequal age of consent – and created new rights – the Equality Act, civil partnerships, the Gender Recognition Act, the right for LGBT couples to adopt – to name just a few.
Our party turned British society from one that marginalised and openly oppressed LGBT people into one where I am proud to stand in front of you today as an out lesbian.
We proudly say we are the party of equality - but if that is stay true we now have a very clear choice to make
Currently our rules mean if someone in this room was to stand against the party in an election they would be more severely disciplined by the party than if someone stood up right now in this conference hall shouted homophobic abuse at me.
Conference the hardest thing to do is take an honest and difficult look at ourselves and accept that as a party we are not free from homophobia, transphobia, sexism, islamphobia and antisemitism in this party.
Conference We still have councillors that believe being gay is a sin - our patron Angle Eagle has been a victim of horrendous homophobia over the past year - women threatened with rape threats for daring to have an opinion and some of the most vile antisemitism tweeted and screamed at members in our party just because they are Jewish.
We can’t hope to change this country again if we haven’t got the bravery to change our party.
Conference I am asking you to vote for this rule change
I am asking for you to stand with all of us
To not just talk about equality but to be better - to set the gold standard and continue to raise the bar for everyone else
I’m asking you to vote for every Person that has ever been abused and harassed for just being who they are
To stand with all of us at a time where we need to feel we aren't just a tagline for the party but we are at the heart of the party
I’m asking you to show us that this is a party that will continue to change the world
To show that hatred is not welcome in party and to give the party the powers it needs to protect us
LGBT Labour would like to thank our friends and allies at the Jewish Labour Movement and in Labour Party leadership for making this rule change a possibility. Conference, let's make this a reality.
Let’s take tougher action against the minority of bigots who shame Labour
By Cllr Peter Mason - this article originally appeared at LabourList on 7th September 2017
Later this month at conference, Labour will finally have an opportunity to put right the uncomfortable truth that we treat crimes against the party more harshly than we do crimes against each other.
Standing against the party, supporting a candidate who stands against us, or being a member of a proscribed organisation earns you an automatic exclusion.
Acting in a way that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party can earn you an entry into the complex world of Labour formal disciplinary processes whose ultimate sanction is – as was the case with George Galloway – a hearing before the national constitutional committee (NCC) and potential expulsion.
On the issue of wrongdoing against each other, like harassment or discrimination, our rule book is less clear.
Not everyone gets excited when an Integration and Cohesion Report lands on their desk but I read Louise Casey’s report minutes after its official release. To be honest I am a self-confessed community cohesion junkie having previously worked for the Government to advise them on these issues and to set up practical projects to promote integration and combat hate crime and extremist organisations.Read more