Abigail Rachel Mouniba Darwish

A Reformed Party? Labour, Starmer, and Antisemitism

In May 2019, an investigation was launched into the Labour Party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following allegations of antisemitism. The investigation found the Party to be guilty of three breaches of the 2010 Equality Act in light of evidence revealing harassment of its Jewish members, dismissal of complaints of antisemitism, and inadequate provision of training to those responsible for handling antisemitism complaints.

Since the report’s publication, Sir Keir Starmer has taken a course of action to eradicate this ‘culture’ of antisemitism within the Labour Party.

Although had he been thorough enough? Evidence thus far suggests that he has made significant progress.

Notably, in view of the ‘sufficient measures’ Labour has taken to stamp out antisemitism, in February the EHRC announced that it would be concluding its monitoring of the Party. Announcing this news in a press conference, Starmer reiterated the Party’s commitment to combating anti-Jewish prejudice, stating that Jeremy Corbyn “will not stand as a Labour candidate at the next general election”—which  should ensure that any progress the Party has made is not to be undone by the return of Corbyn and his brand of Labour politics.

Nonetheless, Labour remains a harbour for MPs with antisemitic sentiments. Aptly put by Starmer, the announcement does not mark the “end of the road” to tackling the Party’s Jewish problem. Rather it is a “signpost” that Labour is “heading in the right direction”, and is becoming more open to a cultural shift

The Party’s cultural shift has in part been reflected in the number of new members joining or re-joining since the 2020 leadership election with a combined total of 120,000. Of equal significance are the number prominent former Labour MPs that have re-joined the Party. For example, Jewish ex-MP, Luciana Berger—who had left Labour in February 2019 on the grounds that the Party was “institutionally antisemitic”—recently determined that the Party had “turned a significant corner.” Or similarly, Former Labour MP Mike Gapes who left the Party in November 2019 after being “sickened” by the apparent antisemitism has now praised the measures undertaken by Starmer, and is “more enthusiastic” about the Party’s future than he has been “in years.”

In addition to the resurgence in membership, Labour has implemented further measures to rid antisemitism from the Party. It has fulfilled more than just the basic requirements of the EHRC and its Action Plan to “Drive Out” Antisemitism. For example, in October 2021 the Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) set up the ‘NEC Exclusions Panel’. According to the Panel, if a Labour member was found to be part of any of the ‘proscribed organisations’ (such as, ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’), they would be subjected to expulsion from the Party. As of which, a total of 250 members have met such consequences thus far.

However, is it really possible to fully eradicate antisemitism from the Party?

Arguably, there are some fundamental limitations underpinning meaningful change in the Party. Chiefly, by prescribing “top-down” reforms, Labour fails to address the “roots” of the problem. As the expert in UK-Israel relations, Dr. James Vaughan has stated any substantial change at all levels of the Party will “prove to be a tougher and longer-term challenge.”

Hence, whilst the general course of the Party has overturned its past negligence to antisemitism and has taken steps to assuage this toxic culture, remnants of Corbynism have endured. Specifically, the faction of the Corbynite Hard Left in the Party appears not only to have persisted but worsened. This is evident in the Hard Left’s continued use of antisemitic rhetoric, with claims not merely contending that reports of antisemitism are ‘exaggerated’, but also its firmly held beliefs in a ‘Zionist lobby’. Akin to those purported by Qatari-owned state media, Al Jazeera, and their documentary ‘The Lobby’ and, more recently, ‘The Labour Files’, these mediums have advanced the idea that supposed ‘antisemitism’ in the Party is being weaponised in order to deny Corbyn the right to become Prime Minister.

Ultimately, change is not made overnight and for change to be long lasting, more bottom-up approaches to tackling the issue—as opposed to purely top-down—must be undertaken to further address the antisemitic views still present in the Hard Left of the Labour Party.

About the Author
Abigail is a second-year History student at University College London and a Fellow for the Pinsker Centre, a campus-based think tank which facilitates discussion on global affairs and free speech. The views in this article are the author’s own.