Mike Katz

A year after EHRC we can move on from a dark period, but there’s work to do

Mike Katz during a press conference by the Jewish Labour Movement at the offices of Mishcon de Reya in London, following the publication of damming anti-Semitism report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Mike Katz during a press conference by the Jewish Labour Movement at the offices of Mishcon de Reya in London, following the publication of damming anti-Semitism report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

A year ago on 29 October, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its long-awaited report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

One year on, whilst there’s no resting on laurels, the difference between the Labour of Jeremy Corbyn which the EHRC found had unlawfully discriminated against its Jewish members and Keir Starmer’s Party is like night and day.

JLM’s decision to refer the Party to the EHRC actually came in the summer of 2018. Having spent an increasingly fruitless period trying to persuade anybody in power who might listen that the problem of anti-Jewish racism was real, was growing and required clear leadership, we’d come to the end of our tether.

It was clear our good faith – born of our 100 years of affiliation to Labour – wasn’t reciprocated. We realised the Party could not police itself and needed outside intervention. We spoke with our friend Clive Sheldon QC who explained the options and we identified that referring the Party to the equalities watchdog, the EHRC, for a breach of the law was the best way to force Labour to change.  Clive referred us to James Libson and his amazing team at Mishcon de Reya who took on the daunting task.

This was high stakes – and JLM always had support from the Board, the JLC and CST – who knew that, as the sole voice of Jewish Labour members, we were uniquely placed to take this case forward.

But we still might have failed without the testimony of the whistleblowers. More than 70 former and current members of Party staff answered our call to stand up for the values that first attracted us all to Labour, some of whom put their careers on the line to do so.

They are all mensches, the true unsung heroes of this story. We’re in no doubt that their contribution made a vital difference to the EHRC taking the problem seriously and having the necessary evidence to show how Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour protected racists in order to protect his political project. The whole community owes them a huge debt of thanks.

When it finally reported, the EHRC’s conclusion was stark: the Party had broken equalities law, both in terms of unlawful harassment through the acts of our agents and unlawful indirect discrimination. It was the first and only time a major political party has been in this position.

Put simply, Labour wasn’t a safe place for Jewish members or for those in the Party that spoke out against antisemitism.

This was total vindication for JLM, and the double irony, of course, was lost on no one. The body that was created by Labour when it was last in government, was passing judgement on racism in a party so many of us joined because of its commitment to equality, diversity and fighting discrimination.

Keir Starmer’s response to the report was as unequivocal as his apology to the Jewish community when he was first elected Leader:

“If you’re antsemitic, you should be nowhere near this Party… And if – after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-semitism in the Labour Party. That it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack. Then, frankly, you are part of the problem too. And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either.”

True to his word, the Party has worked with speed and commitment to implement the report’s recommendations.

JLM is no longer ignored or blamed for weaponising racism. Instead, we’ve worked with the new General Secretary, David Evans, and his team, to design and deliver new antisemitism awareness education for MPs, the National Executive Committee and thousands of members. And he’s involved the Jewish community too, setting up an Antisemitism Advisory Board on which the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and CST are all represented.

The final piece in the jigsaw came last month, when Labour’s conference approved rule changes to introduce the independent complaints system mandated by the EHRC. Whilst 74% of delegates approved the rule changes at Conference a couple of weeks ago, a quarter didn’t – and they are the ones we need to focus on now.

We’ve always said that the vast majority of Labour members aren’t racists – but without awareness of antisemitism and the history behind it, it is all too easy for those with malign agendas to influence and dominate.

A year on, there can be no doubt. If you disagree with the EHRC’s report, if you reject the need for an independent system, then Labour is not for you – and you’ll be shown the door if you don’t show yourself out.

We’ll keep a close eye on how the new system is introduced and, importantly, make sure it works for all groups in our Party who face harassment and discrimination.

But we know from talking to our members that a change in culture is already being felt across the Party – and this is reflected in the views of Jewish voters. Labour Mayors were re-elected in London, Manchester and Leeds this Spring and we are looking forward to campaigning in Barnet, Bury and other council areas ahead of next May’s local election.

We know there’s still much work to be done, but for many of us at JLM we’re finally able to move on from on an incredibly dark period for us in the Labour Party, thanks to the EHRC’s report and Keir Starmer’s unbending commitment to root out antisemitism.

About the Author
Mike Katz is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement
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