Our discrimination wasn’t imagined. It was real, it hurt and was wrong

It’s been a long time coming, but finally we saw the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report into the Labour Party yesterday. And it was a complete vindication for the Jewish Labour Movement and our members.

Yesterday was a day of shame for Labour, the anti-racist party which ignored racism in its own backyard. The EHRC has ruled that it broke the law. It’s unprecedented report clearly shows that the failure of political leadership at the top of the Party allowed antisemitism in from the very margins of the left to infect Labour with the worst left-wing antisemitism.

This wasn’t an abstract debate. This had a real, toxic impact on Jewish Labour members, destroyed trust with the wider community and hugely damaged the Labour Party’s reputation at a time when the country needed us more than ever.

It went far, far further than the high profile names we all know about, like two of JLM’s previous parliamentary chairs, Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger, who were ruthlessly bullied out of the party.

Too many ordinary Jewish members, who had spent decades campaigning for Labour were forced to withdraw from party meetings, down tools at election time or even leave the Party in which they had grown up. The report sets out this was systematic discrimination which broke the law.

They suffered real pain and anguish, online and in person. Then, to add insult to injury, they were told they were only making allegations because they didn’t like Corbyn or were ‘red Tories’.

All those who told Jewish members they were ‘weaponising’ antisemitism should read the report and take a long hard look at themselves. Our discrimination and victimisation wasn’t imagined. It was real, it hurt and was wrong.

JLM didn’t refer Labour to the EHRC two years ago on a whim. We only took this step because our efforts to engage constructively with the Party from 2015 onwards had been rebuffed constantly and our members faced continued abuse and harassment.

Whilst some tried to justify their roles in this shameful period by blaming their predecessors, or claim incremental improvements, they never asked why this had become a problem. They knew the election of Corbyn in 2015 led to an influx of crank conspiracy-peddling racists who suddenly decided that Labour was their natural political home, poisoning the atmosphere for the majority of decent members.

In truth, as the report lays bare, at no point was there genuine remorse, improvements to the disciplinary system or any real progress in the number of cases handled or outcomes. The previous leadership’s only success on antisemitism was the rigour with which they protected their political allies, downplayed the issue and gaslight those who spoke up against it.

Of course, the impact went beyond Jewish Labour members, and, indeed, our community.  Antisemitism wrecked the party’s reputation in the country. From Barnet to Blythe Valley, voters rejected racism and rejected a leader who couldn’t put his own house in order, let alone fix the nation’s problems.

Keir Starmer now has a set of legally-binding recommendations which give him a roadmap for the tough decisions needed to put this situation right. He apologised again to JLM and the community and showed his resolve in taking swift action yesterday. Starmer made it clear that denying the problem was in itself antisemitism; he did not hesitate in suspending Jeremy Corbyn when the former leader did just that. Unlike Corbyn, Starmer has owned up to his own responsibility for the past five years and made it clear that anyone who dismisses the EHRC or disowns its findings will be in trouble.

We trust his intent and will reengage with the Party on the action plan the EHRC has told the Party it must develop. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild trust with the community: change won’t happen overnight. One thing’s for sure. JLM won’t hesitate to continue putting our members first and making sure Starmer does what is necessary not just to restore the party as a safe space for Jews, but make it one which they can support.

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