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Fri, 27 November 2020

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After 5 years, brave Labour members who stood up to anti-Semitism will see that their actions were not in vain

After 5 years, brave Labour members who stood up to anti-Semitism will see that their actions were not in vain

Each time a Jewish member stood up and said enough is enough – we were accused of smearing Jeremy Corbyn, writes Ruth Smeeth. | PA Images

4 min read

Since 2015, it has felt as though the two parts of who I am have been in conflict. Labour must move quickly to implement the EHRC's recommendations, to ensure that the Labour Party is once again the natural home for Jews in the UK.

The Labour movement has always been my political home. I was born into it (so this is my mother’s fault!). It has shaped my values and principles. It has taught me compassion, bravery, strength, and humanity.  The same is true of my Judaism. They are two inseparable halves of my whole.  They are who I am.

For well over a century, being a Jew and being a proud and active socialist were the two sides of the same coin.  When the Labour Party was founded, Poale Zion – now known as the Jewish Labour Movement – was there.  Today, the Jewish Labour Movement is the longest standing socialist affiliate member of the Labour Party.  Our histories have been entwined and when the Labour Party succeeded, so did the Jewish community.

But since 2015, it has felt as though the two parts of who I am have been in conflict.  Suddenly, it felt as though being a Jew was fair game.  We were responsible for all the world’s ills; for the atrocities of the Israeli Government; we had duel loyalties; we were being financed by other wealthy Jews to disrupt the prospects of a Labour Government - we were, in short, the enemy within, not to be trusted. We were no longer welcome.

We were told that our lived experiences were not real and even if they were real, they were not relevant

Jewish MPs – almost all women – were subjected to an almost continuous bombardment of abuse and threats, including threats to our lives and loved ones. Labour Party members went to prison because of their actions targeting Jewish Labour members.  

And each time a Jewish member stood up and said enough is enough – we were accused of smearing Jeremy Corbyn. We were told that our lived experiences were not real and even if they were real, they were not relevant.

We had allies in the party. People who stood with us, regardless of the personal cost and I will be forever grateful for those few who found the courage to stand up to the racism within our own party. But too many were silent, too many looked the other way and too many who targeted Jews were left unchallenged.  

At its worse, it felt like this was a battle which would be lost. On more than one occasion, I believed that the Party founded on equality, fairness and social justice could be gone forever. My heart broke when I saw friends and colleagues leaving the party because they had been bullied out, because they didn’t feel safe and they’d had enough. However, that sorrow immediately turned to anger when we witnessed members seeing this as a cause for celebration.

It typified the rancid nature of a section of the Labour Party who saw Jewish members leaving the party as a success and a weak leadership whose oft repeated “I deplore all forms of racism” enabled racists to thrive.

Whether you agree or not, the sole reason the Labour Party is now the only party, other than the BNP, to be investigated by the EHRC is because of the failings by our political and institutional leadership to take endemic racism seriously.

This path was entirely avoidable had those with the power taken their responsibilities seriously

Today, is therefore, a day of emotional conflict.  For me it is a moment of relief. Relief that, finally after 5 years, those brave members who stood up to anti-Semitism will see that their actions were not in vain.

But I am sad and so so angry that what has happened today will leave an indelible stain on the fabric of our party and that this path was entirely avoidable had those with the power taken their responsibilities seriously.  Nothing about today was inevitable.

My hope is that now we have the recommendations of the EHRC, the Party under Keir Starmer’s New Leadership, will move quickly to implement not only the procedural changes required to prevent any future discrimination in the Labour Party but also the cultural changes needed to ensure that the Labour Party is once again the natural home for Jews in the UK.

Keir, it’s over to you.

 

Ruth Smeeth is the former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and is the national vice-chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. 

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