As a former sabbatical officer holding a seat on the NUS NEC, I’ve sadly been accustomed to the hostility and intimidation suffered by my Jewish friends and colleagues.
It often manifested itself in well-known anti-Semitic tropes that were regularly trotted out at various NUS conferences.. When stickers were emblazoned across campuses stating Hitler was right and my Jewish comrades left meetings in tears after the vitriol was spouted in debates.
Obviously the issues faced by the Labour Party have been well publicised the last two years have seen Jewish members desert the Labour Party as there is a common perception that they have failed to deal with anti-Semitism.
I was proud to be there representing the Jewish Leadership Council who are a main communal body representing 34 Jewish organisations. But, leaving my student days behind me, I never thought I would face a similar sort of environment than previous NUS conferences.
However, at Labour 2017, I have been shocked and appalled that my Jewish friends and colleagues have felt intimidated by the outright hostile atmosphere that in fact emanated from conference floor. From my seat in the public gallery I saw age old stereotypes and tropes for example the Jewish Labour Movement “running to the right wing media” receiving rapturous applause. In addition, I also saw frequent and over the top criticism of Israel receive not just generous applause but standing ovations. I’ve heard Israel described as a racist colonial project, an apartheid state and other disgusting smears which clearly contradict the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the Labour Party.
I’m also aware from friends and colleagues that attending fringe events where it was stated that JLM should be purged from the party, the same event that has been widely reported where it was okay to discuss whether or not the holocaust actually happened. Unbelievably the chair of this meeting where anti-Semitism was rife, addressed the main conference floor, not once but on two separate occasions.
When you total these events today, it is clear the whole atmosphere around conference was incredibly uncomfortable for Jewish delegates and observers. I’m aware that a 17 year old boy felt so threatened that he felt he couldn’t wear his yarmulke on conference floor so removed it, something that sickens me to my core. I also witnessed the vice-chair of JLM a lifelong labour member and parliamentary candidate jeered from the floor when talking about anti-Semitism and the importance of the rule change.
Though we can be glad over 90% of delegates supported the proposed rule change by the NEC, it is not a time to be complacent there is more work to do to ensure that the rule is followed and we need to ensure that conference floor is more than just a hot bed of anti-Semitic rhetoric. As Wes Streeting so aptly put it in the Holocaust Educational Trust Fringe on Monday you can criticise the Israeli governments actions without being a massive racist.