This first Labour Party conference of the Jeremy Corbyn era was a dispiriting place for those committed to the fight against anti-Semitism.
The most telling moment came during the debate on anti-Semitism at the Momentum fringe festival. Anti-Zionist campaigner Jonathan Rosenhead recounted hearing the Chief Rabbi being interviewed on the radio about anti-Semitism. As Rosenhead told it, when the Chief Rabbi said that anti-Semitism is a serious concern, the presenter then asked if he personally had experienced any anti-Semitism, to which, Rosenhead said, the Chief Rabbi answered that he hadn’t – drawing a round of laughter from the Momentum supporters in the room.
We at CST know how much anti-Semitism gets directed at the Chief Rabbi’s office, because his staff send it our way before he sees it. That, however, is not really the point. If Dianne Abbot or Sadiq Khan said that they personally do not suffer racism but that many people in their communities do, a left wing audience would not laugh in such a scornful way.
There were some people at Labour Party conference who seemed determined to obstruct and divert any serious discussion about anti-Semitism. One group of activists repeatedly interrupted and undermined the party’s own official training session on anti-Semitism that was delivered by its Jewish affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement. It was like a National Union of Students conference at its worst.
It’s not hard to guess how this kind of behavior makes Jewish members and activists feel – never mind potential supporters and voters watching it all from a distance.
Nobody can say for sure how widespread these ideas are in the Labour Party, but it is clear that those people who hold these views feel emboldened and encouraged by the politics of its current leadership.
The JLM’s own rally against anti-Semitism provided a welcome antidote to this hostility, and the support it attracted from across the Parliamentary party, including MPs who support Jeremy Corbyn and are active campaigners for the Palestinian cause, was significant.
CST’s own fringe, held jointly with the Holocaust Educational Trust, was well received by a packed room. But as Ruth Smeeth MP said in the final speech at the JLM rally, it will take a lot of hard campaigning and concrete action to properly address the problem of anti-Semitism in the party.