It is no secret that in recent years Britain has been dealing with an anti-Semitism problem within one of its major political parties. The nature of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is the largest political anti-Semitism scandal of our times. His controversial leadership led to 87% of British Jews believing he was anti-Semitic and 42% saying they would seriously consider emigrating should he take up residence at number 10. These statistics speak for themselves. The questions now are what the relationship between post-Corbyn Labour and British Jewry looks like and how it will look over the next few years.
The grave situation is evident from a Twitter thread posted at the end of January 2021 by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). The organisation exposed some harrowing facts and figures testifying to the current threat experienced by British Jews. This survey showed that a third of British adults harbour between 1 to 3 anti-Semitic views, with 12% having “entrenched anti-Jewish views”. Considering that Jews make up less than half of one percent of the British population, the sheer number of people harbouring these views makes a considerable difference and represents a clear and credible threat to British-Jewish society. With 44% of British Jews hiding signs of their Judaism due to fear of hate crime, there is clearly a long way to go.
Can Sir Keir Starmer fix the seemingly irreparable damage caused by his predecessor? There was a temporary glimmer of hope when Corbyn was finally suspended from the Labour Party back in October 2020. This occurred because he stated, in response to the EHRC report, that the scale of anti-Semitism in the Party was “dramatically overstated”. The report publicly exposed “unlawful harassment” against Jewish MPs and supporters and that there had been “political interference in the handling of anti-Semitism complaints”. The consequence was the whip being removed. The EHRC report proves there is a clear anti-Semitism problem in the party and Corbyn’s refusal to accept this is something British Jews have become concerningly accustomed to. In light of this and of Corbyn’s readmittance, the promise of change made by Sir Starmer feels like empty words to much of the wider Jewish community.
Even with removal of the whip, without a hard-line approach to tackling anti-Semitism, Sir Starmer will struggle to reunite the Jewish community and the Labour Party. We must remember it is not just Corbyn still having party membership that is concerning: there were others who deliberately mishandled anti-Semitism complaints or who support Corbyn’s problematic Labour who remain. Additionally, it is not only Corbyn who rejected and diminished the findings of the EHRC report, as demonstrated by the Guardian reporting that “Labour HQ… ordered constituency parties not to pass motions of solidarity with Corbyn, or criticise the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)”. If this had been needless, orders from Labour HQ would not have been issued. Situations like these contextualise why 88% of British Jews still think the Labour Party is harbouring anti-Semites, as reported in the CAA thread. A party that was once the political home of so many of Britain’s Jews turned its back on us when we needed the support most. So far, efforts to remedy this have not been good enough.
Sir Starmer’s new plan to finally rid Labour of anti-Semitism, provides renewed hope. The plan is EHRC approved and includes, among other measures, the creation of an independent complaints process for anti-Semitic complaints. This would prevent the continuation of the polluted complaints process under Corbyn which downplayed reports of anti-Semitism. Maybe now Sir Starmer will be able to cleanse the Party of the rampant anti-Semitism that appears to have been allowed to grow for far too long.
There is a long way to go in repairing the relationship between British Jews and Labour. So far, it seems the most we have had from the Party is no engagement with anti-Semitism or encouragement of it, but no hard-line disengagement from it. In the aftermath of Corbyn’s leadership, repairing Labour requires strength and absolute discipline when dealing with anti-Semitism. I hope Sir Starmer is up to the monumental task ahead and that some normality might return to Labour soon, although I must admit to being slightly sceptical.