Judith Ornstein
Passionately moderate

7 lessons from the past fight Labour’s antisemitism

  1. “I speak the truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare; and I dare a little more as I grow older” Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) (1)

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27th January 2019,  Holocaust Memorial Day, marks the anniversary of the Red Army liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. Jewish history forces reflection on our present times and events leading to the formation of a Facebook group which I set up to reach out to others who felt the same way about Labour’s antisemitism. I never predicted it would be more necessary than ever in January 2019. Nearly three years ago many of us thought that exposing the truth would trigger the UK’s traditional democratic process and that justice and fair play would once again prevail.

I take my inspiration from  Montaigne (author of all unattributed quotes here) who invented the essay form (essayer – to try) to tentatively grope towards conclusions. Montaigne was a man of thoughtful introspection whose open mind and wisdom lead him to the realisation that sometimes the only conclusion is uncertainty.

Que sais-je?” What do I know. (2)

On 25th April 2016 John Mann MP passionately and courageously accused Ken Livingstone of being a ‘Nazi apologist’ and of ‘rewriting history’. John spoke for many of us but I was feeling particularly vulnerable that day.  On the heels of a harrowing journey to Belarus to find the origins of our family I was taken ill.  On 25th April I had just emerged from over three weeks in two different hospitals, taken to the brink of death by a wrong diagnosis with all that entailed.

Febrile from a mega cocktail of steroids, physical weakness and mental elation at finally getting home and being alive, I watched John repeatedly, crawled upstairs to the main  computer,  and started a secret group to support him, with the help of a few loyal and onside Facebook friends because:

“Whatever can be done another day can be done today.”(3)

In the spirit of Montaigne our small group of individuals, of all political persuasions, Jewish and not,  moves along uncertainly, trying ideas out on each other because I don’t believe that any one of us knows how to staunch antisemitism and “There never was in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains. The most universal quality is diversity.”(4)

Antisemitism has been with us throughout the ages and is a hatred too vast and overwhelming to grapple with. But “It is the part of cowardice, not of courage, to go and crouch in a hole under a massive tomb, to avoid the blows of fortune.”(5)

In order to get out of bed in the morning and to locate courage I consciously choose my battles. Despite the overwhelming threat of hateful antisemitism from extremists of all hues, right now in the UK the most proximate of these threats is the possibility of a Corbyn style Labour government. Thus, in full knowledge of  other threats, we need to gather all our fallible resources to aim at a possible goal. Is there one among us who believes that antisemitism can ever be eradicated? I don’t, although I support wholeheartedly any ongoing initiatives especially education.

Crucially, Labour’s antisemitism is a crisis demanding all our energy because instability surrounding  Brexit means there could be an election any day.  Once more Montaigne speaks to us across the centuries when he says “it is very easy to accuse a government of imperfection, for all mortal things are full of it.”  (6)

The Conservatives under Theresa May are just that, imperfect.

Those courageous Labour politicians who recognise their party’s now institutional antisemitism are being marginalised, demonised, deselected and bullied. Were today’s Corbynist Labour Party ever to take power, damage to our UK Jewish life and security would be unprecedented. We must single-mindedly focus on preventing this by fearlessly continuing to speak out whilst offering the community’s support to brave Labour politicians such as John Mann MP and all those from all parties who spoke out on 24th Jan at the parliamentary Holocaust Memorial Day debate, sponsored by Labour MP Ian Austin

Despite our many differences, social media comrades in online alliances have managed to imperfectly work together and pool resources.  Worldwide media now run exposés of Labour’s antisemitism. Some MPs speak out as they did this week at the HMD debate,  and also last week when Conservative MP Michael Gove passionately and successfully defended Theresa May against a no confidence motion.  Whenever they refer to facts about Corbyn’s iniquities, such as his presence at a wreath laying on the graves of the Israeli Olympic team murderers, they are using the research of  brave social media warriors who have exposed damning information about Labour antisemitism which is  now in the public domain. As well as people, especially women, in the public eye such as Luciana Berger MP, Tracy Ann Oberman and Rachel Riley who are inundated with abuse for standing up to antisemitism, these warriors, extraordinary and loyal good citizens, who have volunteered for the thankless task of defending traditional British values of democracy and fair mindedness are now being blatantly lied about in a vain attempt to discredit them. This is an extension of the antisemitic conspiracy theories shared on some social media sites that claim in their names to support  Corbyn and Labour.

How unethical and immoral are those who use such low tactics? Would any of us want such people or their mates anywhere near the seat of power?  Such calumnies do however prove that we are  worrying them and making a difference; they prove  how very unprincipled Corbyn supporters can be. Any person who has revealed  dirty little secrets at the dark heart of Corbyn’s Labour has contributed to the fight against antisemitism.   Together we are making a difference.

When in 2017 whitewashed.co.uk, Anti-Semitism in Labour, launched at JW3, to standing room only, the Jewish press turned out in force but aside from (and it’s a big one) The Sun, no mainstream media picked it up. I was told ‘antisemitism isn’t sexy’. But Whitewashed,  together with  people and initiatives both official and not official, continues to stand firm  and laid the foundations for what’s happening now.

It’s impossible to predict how it will all turn out, and probably we will have to wait for the  ballot box to know if we’ve had any real effect.  I do know that however difficult and disheartened we sometimes feel, ousting the evil of antisemitism from its parasitical grip on Labour’s leadership is a task we are duty bound to continue.  We owe it to our past, our present and our future.

Here’s a final grain of optimism from Montaigne: “Since all the precautions that a man can take are full of uneasiness and uncertainty, it is better to prepare with fine assurance for the worst that can happen, and derive some consolation from the fact that we are not sure that it will happen.”(7)

Important – There are many amazing social media warriors out there, some well known and some not so.  You know who you are.  Thank you.  If you are not yet convinced, why not join us? Make a start by clicking on a ‘like’ button to let us know we are not talking into the ether. And if you’ve made it to the end, kol hakavod and thank you.

About the Author
Judith Ornstein is UK based and a passionate supporter of the arts, who combats the cultural boycott of Israel. She is the instigator of the Whitewashed Project, fighting Labour's problems with Jews. The book, the film, and valuable links can be found at www.whitewashed.co.uk
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