Wes Streeting MP: On antisemitism, we have fallen far too short for far too long

Posted On: 
19th October 2016

Labour MP Wes Streeting writes for PoliticsHome about his response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report into anti-semitism. 

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The Home Affairs Select Committee report into antisemitism in the UK, published this week, highlights that police-recorded antisemitic hate crime rose by 29 per cent between 2010 and 2015 and spiked by 97 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Like other political parties, the Labour Party reflects society and even a party with a proud record on equality isn't immune from the scourge of antisemitism - or indeed other forms of discrimination. The question facing is our party is simple: how do we put our principles into practice to effectively tackle antisemitism within our ranks?

To say that the past six months have been difficult for the Labour Party on antisemitism would be a huge understatement. We've seen high profile figures suspended from the Labour Party for using antisemitic language and drawing the party into disrepute. Jewish MPs have been subjected to relentless threats and abuse. And the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, went as far to commission an independent review into antisemitism and other forms of racism within the Labour Party, led by Shami Chakrabarti. 

'The Labour Party is not overrun with antisemitism', as the Chakrabarti Inquiry report rightly notes, but like Shami Chakrabarti, as a constituency MP and through my work as part of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, 'I have heard too many Jewish voices express concern that antisemitism has not been taken seriously enough in the Labour Party and broader left for some years'. 

Unfortunately this view isn't universally held across the Labour Party. According to one study published by the Economic and Social a Research Council, 55 per cent of Labour members polled agreed with the notion that antisemitism within the Labour Party is "not a serious problem at all, and is being hyped up to undermine Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, or to stifle criticism of Israel". 

When a Jewish Labour MP receives 25,000 incidences of abuse, Jewish women MPs give evidence to the Home Affairs committee in private because they fear a racist backlash and Labour members respond to inquiries on antisemitism with antisemitic tropes, ironically, while claiming there is no problem, I'd hope that we can build a common understanding that we have a problem. Every interaction I have with my local synagogues, Jewish community centres and Jewish party members reveals more and more lifelong Jewish members and supporters abandoning our party. We have problem. 

Jeremy Corbyn's position as Labour leader is now beyond doubt. Those of us who have raised concerns privately and, with regret, publicly weren't doing so through the prism of the leadership election and those concerns have not disappeared since. We continue to raise concerns with with the hope and expectation that he will fulfil his responsibility to lead. Instead of attacking the cross-party Home Affairs Committee, he should accept their recommendations in good faith. Instead of attacking the committee for having an all-male line up of witnesses, he should reflect on why it was that Jewish women in his own party felt compelled to give evidence privately. Instead of dismissing legitimate questions about the independence of the Chakrabarti Inquiry in light of the author's appointment as a Labour peer, he should accept that many of the commendation and practical recommendations in the report will be undermined so long as those questions remain unanswered. He should clear this matter up immediately and in a short while publish a comprehensive action plan in partnership with the Jewish Labour Movement, drawing on the recommendations of both the Chakrabarti Inquiry and the Home Affairs Select Committee.

One of the areas where Jeremy Corbyn can make an powerful, perhaps uniquely powerful, intervention is to shape debate around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to tackle racist language used - deliberately and inadvertently - to criticise the State of Israel by sponsoring a programme of political education that helps people to avoid straying into antisemitic tropes. I have criticised the Israeli government over illegal settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes, the Military Court system and human rights violations without resorting to racist language. Asking others to do the same isn't an unreasonable expectation. 

Other political parties also need to clean up their act. The Home Affairs Select Committee also singled out the Liberal Democrats, including their leader Tim Farron, for failing to tackle incidents of antisemitism in their party. Many of us, particularly in London, will not allow the Tories off the hook for their despicable Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan in London, which must surely count as one of the ugliest campaigns our capital city has seen. Our ability to challenge others will be stronger if we have our own house in order. 

The Labour Party will never be fully immune from antisemitism or other forms of discrimination. But it is because we are a party committed to equality that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. On antisemitism, we have fallen far too short of that standard for far too long.

Wes Streeting is vice-chair of the APPG Against Antisemitism and MP for Ilford North