The onus is on us to prove that things have genuinely changed for Jewish Labour members
One of Keir Starmer’s first acts as Leader was to apologise and he has since set a new direction, which I am hopeful will re-shape us into the party we need to be, writes Catherine McKinnell MP. | PA Images
If we want to re-claim the mantle as an inherently anti-racist party, our culture must continue to change. We must show that we get it - that we truly are sorry - and commit to rebuilding trust, so we can mean it when we say: ‘Never Again’.
It is easy, in politics, to get drawn into the details and technicalities of a debate, sometimes losing the bigger picture. However, when it comes to antisemitism in the Labour Party, what we should really be doing now is taking a step back to assess the historic gravity of the situation.
For only the second time ever the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body set up under a Labour Government, has had to investigate a political organisation for alleged racism.
It has found the Labour Party wanting in its most basic purpose of upholding the equality laws it fought for many years to enact, in respect of the treatment of our Jewish members. This is a profoundly distressing situation. We thought we had consigned antisemitism to history and that Jewish people felt safe and secure, as they should so, as fellow Brits.
In 21st century Britain, the troubling reality is that many British Jews see antisemitism creeping back into everyday life. In the five years we have just lived through we saw Jewish Members of Parliament, my beloved colleagues, harassed and in some cases forced out of our Party. We saw Jewish people leave the UK for overseas through genuine fears for their safety.
Some believed had Labour won in 2019, we would have had an antisemitic government
Jewish people calling out for help were told they were lying, ‘weaponising’ antisemitism or seeking to smear the party. Some believed had Labour won in 2019, we would have had an antisemitic government. This is a terrifying reality and one we must face up to and not shy away from.
Saying sorry now is important, but insufficient. When a person or group of people are repeatedly belittled and denigrated over a long period of time, when they emerge from a form of abusive relationship, sorry alone will not cut it. The onus is on us to prove, through tangible action, that things have genuinely changed.
There will be formal actions that must now be implemented to satisfy the requirements of the EHRC, but that does not imply a limit. Any leader within the Labour movement - from our Student Organisation to the General Secretary - must undertake training on antisemitism, demonstrate an understanding of it, and have no history of engaging in it without significant and recognised remorse. Antisemitism should serve as a bar to high office.
We also need MPs and others in public life, to reach out or to be vocal. Whatever the reason, many failed to do so and that was wrong, and we must recognise and acknowledge it. Silence in the face of prejudice emboldens the perpetrators.
If we want to re-claim the mantle as an inherently anti-racist party, our culture must continue to change, and the party leadership must ensure that is the case. The people who belittle or question the reality experienced by Jewish colleagues, cast doubt on antisemitism and who shout ‘smear’ should be the ones to be educated. If they fail to demonstrate a capacity to fully acknowledge and change, they should know that our party is not for them. That stands as much for Jeremy Corbyn as anyone else. Antisemitism should be called out by all. That is our responsibility as leaders in public life.
One of Keir Starmer’s first acts as Leader was to apologise and he has since set a new direction, which I am hopeful will re-shape us into the party we need to be. The party I was proud to join and to represent in Parliament.
There is a long road ahead, and we have already taken significant steps along the way. But before continuing with our quest in earnest, we should first take a moment, now, to pause and reflect on the profundity of this situation. To show that we get it, we truly are sorry, and commit to rebuilding trust and that we truly mean it when we say: ‘Never Again’.
Catherine McKinnell is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North and co-chair of the APPG Against Antisemitism.