I’m from a proud Jewish Labour family – and I’m staying to fight

Ruth Smeeth
Ruth Smeeth

I was born into a proud Jewish, Labour, family. My great zayde arrived from Poland in the late 19th century. He was a founder member of the Jewish branch of the Amalgamated Union of Cabinet Makers, which became Unite.

As a proud trade unionist he was also a Labour man, who campaigned in the East End for the party which represented his values and the values he passed down through our family to me.

In the 1923 Whitechapel by-election he took my bubbe with him as they marched the streets singing, “Vote, vote, vote for Harry Gosling”.

My bubbe was just 10-years-old, but his politics shaped hers and ensured that throughout her life she helped those who needed it and quietly fought for what was right.

She delivered food and clothes to the Jarrow Marchers when they arrived in London; she worked with anti-fascists on the preparations for Cable Street; she campaigned to deliver a Labour Government in 1945 and collected food for striking miners in the 1980s.

Her battles were wherever she saw injustice, inequality and prejudice. She was our matriarch; she inspired our family; she instilled our values.

And yet she never called herself a socialist – her drive wasn’t rigid dogma or an unyielding commitment to economic theory.

Her motivation was simple – she was Labour because it was always the Labour Party that fought for people like us.

She would have been heartbroken by the antisemitism we currently see in the Labour Party.

This week she would probably have been begged me to walk away, for my own safety and for my family’s peace of mind.

But she was on the frontline for some of the biggest fights in the history of our movement and never shied away from doing what was desperately needed just because it was hard.

I won’t either.

I’m truly heartbroken by what the leadership of the Labour Party has enabled. A small but hardcore racist element have infiltrated our party.

I’m devastated my friend, Luciana Berger, has been hounded out of our party for nothing more than being a Jewish woman; for standing up against antisemitism within the party and being brave enough to speak out.

But I will not walk away and allow my once great party – the party of Attlee, of Barbara Castle, of Manny Shinwell or Ian Mikardo and allow it to become a natural home for antisemites.

I refuse to abandon the thousands of decent and hard-working members of the Labour Party who campaign each and every week for a better country or give up on the 120-year history of a movement which has been the greatest force for social change in our country.

We cannot let the racists win and, after decades of loudly campaigning against racism wherever I found it, I refuse to be silenced when it is in my own party.

So to my Labour family and my Jewish family, I want to say that I have never walked away from a fight and have no intention of doing so now.

It is time to be counted in the battle to remove antisemitism from the Labour Party, as it is a battle for the heart and soul of the labour movement.

And I will not allow Labour, the party that is as much of my identity as my faith, to shirk its duty to fight that battle with me.

So I am staying.

But I am staying to fight and I’ll need your help to win.

About the Author
Ruth Smeeth is former MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Vice-Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. She is CEO of Index on Censorship.
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