Labour must act firmly on scourge of anti-Semitism

Anyone who is surprised by the move by several Jewish members of the Labour party to terminate their membership must either have spent the past few weeks on another planet – or be wilfully blind to a scourge that must now be decisively addressed.

A simmering sore which, for a few, exploded this week after the wake of the Gerry Downing and Vicki Kirby fiascos with the tearing up of membership cards.

Even some of the most committed of life-long members have struggled under the deluge of negative headlines that have come thick and fast since the resignation of Alex Chalmers from the Oxford Labour Club last month.

The assumption of many was that the suspension of Kirby must have ended since Jeremy Corbyn came to office. It didn’t – and there are still questions for the previous leadership to answer.

But now is the time for the current leadership to put a clear marker in the sand to show it is ready to do more than simply condemn anti-Semitism.

A start would be for Corbyn to echo the call of Sadiq Khan and Owen Jones and announce that anyone responsible for anti-Semitism will be swiftly kicked out.

The procedures around membership must also be tightened. To be clear, Corbyn is not responsible for the actions of the recently suspended pair. But he could do worse than use this opportunity to consider further whether simply “reflecting” on some of his previous associations does anything to drive home his message of zero tolerance on this issue.

Or could it, for those that way inclined, do the opposite?

And no, for those who’ve just asked ‘what about Israel?’, no one is suggesting curbs on the freedom to criticise Israeli policy.

Without long-term action to address the scourge in its midst, rather than on a case by case basis every time the media uncovers a scandal, he and his colleagues will not be able to mention the words ‘anti-Semitism’ without the cases of Kirby and Downing being invoked.

And the drip-drip of negative stories – you’d imagine we haven’t heard everything yet – will continue to eat away at the party’s chances of building anything resembling a cordial relationship with many in the community.

Looking for some positives, the level of national coverage and almost universal disgust at recent stories shows the community is far from alone. Indeed, while for some this week was the final straw, some non-Jews have rushed to affiliate to the Jewish Labour Movement.

JLM has hit the ground running since its re-launch, setting its sights this week on specific actions in relation to Woking Labour.

At the end of the day, it’s this rather than shouting from the sidelines that could just make a difference.

About the Author
Justin Cohen is News Editor of the Jewish News.
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