My experience of antisemitism - Tessa Milligan

I’m Jewish, Irish, Italian and Scottish and come from a left tradition going back at least four generations. My great grandfather fled Mussolini, my Italian family were northern Italian partisans and both grandfathers general secretaries of trade unions - Ben Rubner of FTAT, a predecessor to GMB, and Neil Milligan of ASLEF. Ben and his brothers fought fascists at Cable Street, and against the Nazis as part of the 8th Army. I am Co-Chair of Open Labour and a member of JLM.

In the summer of 2018, I sent a formal complaint to the Labour Party about Chris Williamson MP. 

My complaint was not dealt with sufficiently and I tweeted about it. The immediate response on social media included being sent cartoon depictions of Jews which my grandparents would readily recognise as Nazi in content. An online avalanche of hatred, denial of anti-semitism and dismissal began. 

I was called “disgusting”, a “stupid attention seeking Tory in disguise” , a “piece of shit”, along with many suggestions that I was being paid to lie by other Jews pulling my strings. An anonymous account once tweeted that I would get my “final curtain call” which I took to be a death threat - I was training at drama school at the time and the implication was clear.

I chased up my complaint directly with the General Secretary Jennie Formby’s office, over and over again. No effective action ever seemed to result. 

On one notable occasion I raised my complaint with Jennie Formby’s office and within 24 hours I faced another wave of online anti-semitic abuse: a months’-old tweet about my Chris Williamson complaint was suddenly ‘quote-tweeted’ by Kerry-Anne Mendoza - who had at that time close sources within Corbyn’s LOTO - and who had tens of thousands of followers.

The effect of this ‘quote-tweet’ was a sign-post for antisemites and trolls, who did not hold back with their abuse: “lying vermin”, “another lover of the Israeli child murdering thugs”, “is she chasing a £££ bounty”, etc. That Mendoza’s tweet — and the subsequent antisemitic abuse - had come so out of the blue but within 24 hours of my follow-up email to the party was not, in my view, a coincidence.

The online abuse would frequently cause me to become so anxious or depressed that I was unable to function normally for days afterwards. Writing this article makes me feel physically sick with nerves thinking back on my experiences.

An additional layer of personal heartbreak to all of this is the historic connection which both the Jewish and non-Jewish sides of my family have in the Labour movement. Some of my earliest memories are being on my dad’s shoulders at trade union protests which he had helped organise. Many Jews have families historically intertwined with the Labour movement.

But for me this is even closer to home. Formby had worked at the Transport and General Workers Union, a predecessor to Unite, with my late (Jewish) mother, Sue Rubner. My mum and my dad personally knew and know several of the key figures in Corbyn’s top team.