My experience of antisemitism - Jack Lubner
There’s so much which has been difficult about the past five years, it’s hard to know even where to begin. I started getting involved in the Labour Party as an enthusiastic and optimistic 16 year old. I knew there were issues around antisemitism, but I was completely unprepared for the awful reality of it. The intensity of anti-Jewish racism at all levels of the party, the unrelenting abuse on social media and the endemic culture of denial combined to create a toxic culture and an institutionally antisemitic party. Below are just a handful of examples of antisemitism I experienced, which I’m sharing to illustrate the depth of the problem.
I joined the Labour Party in part because of my Jewish values. The two fitted well together and one of the most painful aspects of the whole ordeal was being forced into choosing between the two. I never wanted to be seen as a Jewish activist, I wanted to be a Labour activist who happened to be Jewish - but the fight against antisemitism forced me into the former.
I began to experience racism almost as soon as I got involved. The first major Labour event I attended was Labour’s Conference in 2017. While leafleting with JLM for a rule change which would explicitly ban party members from engaging in any form of discrimination, I began to face abuse. A man came up to me and shouted that I was a racist; his reasoning being that as a British Jew, I was responsible for the policies of the Israeli government. People told me they wouldn’t support us because we were being run by Netanyahu - a conspiratorial lie. Others took our leaflets only to crumple them in front me and throw them in the bin. At a fringe event with antisemites in attendance, I was recognised as a JLM activist and was physically harassed and shouted at.
Some of the more graphic abuse, however, came online. After organising a letter calling for the suspension of Chris Williamson, I was inundated with hundreds of messages - a mixture of outright abuse, dismissal and gaslighting. I was told I worked for Mossad, compared to Goebbels, called a “cockroach” (a theme from Nazi propaganda) and generally accused of being an enemy from within. 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.
Despite all of this, I think the aspect that affected me most was the culture of denial and gaslighting. In local meetings and out canvassing, activists would come up to me and tell me that my experiences of antisemitism in Labour was manufactured for political gain, a smear. Members would obsessively post Jew-baiting messages on local Labour facebook groups. I sat on committees where speakers with a history of antisemitism were invited to events and the complaints of Jewish committee members were dismissed without a second thought. When senior members in Labour’s youth structures posted unacceptable things about antisemitism online, it was Jewish activists who were attacked for calling it out. 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.
On other Labour facebook groups, I watched as my friends or I would get piled-on with hostile and abusive messages. Meanwhile the complaints I made to the party about this were ignored, dismissed or disappeared. The behaviour of Labour’s leadership empowered grassroots activists in their unacceptable views, creating a culture that permeated every level of the party.
Throughout the past few years there was a real sense of loneliness. The party, who were meant to have our back, were complicit in the racism we received. When we needed help, far too many didn’t care - or chose not to care - because it wasn’t politically convenient. We were isolated - criticised by some in our own community for staying and fighting, attacked by some in the Labour movement for existing.
The whole experience deeply affected me on a personal level. I hope the EHRC’s publication will allow us to draw a line in the sand and start to put things right again. I can’t wait for the day when I can stop talking about antisemitism in Labour.
Jack Lubner - Jewish Labour member