The great betrayal: Labour members refused to discuss anti-Semitism

On Thursday night I witnessed something truly horrifying: A Labour Party which refused to even discuss antisemitism.

By any measure, it’s been a torrid couple of months. Dozens of Labour members have been suspended for overt antisemitism including saying that ‘Jews have big noses’, celebrating terrorism, alleging that a Jewish conspiracy was behind the so-called Islamic State, and feting Hitler as a ‘great man’ for the Holocaust he perpetrated against Europe’s Jews.

So, on Thursday night, Labour members in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency were asked to consider a resolution to change the Party’s rule-book to make it explicit that antisemitism, Islamophobia, all forms of racism and hate crime would not be tolerated.

The latter rule change has been promoted by the Jewish Labour Movement and backed by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, left-wing Momentum and Labour centre-right pressure group Progress.

I would have hoped that Labour members – not least in a constituency with a significant Jewish population – would have been unequivocal.

I was to be proved badly wrong.

Passionate and heartfelt arguments were advanced on other resolutions about whether the best way to protect Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a motion about whether he should automatically be on the leadership ballot in the event of a challenge, or whether the rules should be changed so that the threshold for nominating any leader should move from 15% of Labour’s MPs and MEPs, to just 5%.

But when it came to the resolution on racism, on what should be a fundamental issue for the Labour Party, another destiny would await it.

Just as we came to the motion, a member moved that the motion should not be put. He argued that there was an ongoing inquiry in to the issue and surely that was enough. Jewish members erupted with fury. They had waited for two hours (not to mention two months) to have their say on racism directed by Labour members against them and their families. And they were now going to be denied even that opportunity. The ensuing vote was unequivocal: Antisemitism was not even going to be discussed. Procedure was used to suppress discussion.

Everything is wrong with this situation, which goes much wider than Hampstead and Kilburn.

Jewish (and many other) members of the Labour Party – and of the wider public – are feeling vulnerable, sad, angry and fearful about too many antisemitic incidents – but also of an insidious culture of antisemitism denial, where members (mostly not Jewish) presume to tell Jews that there is no such thing – like misogynists ‘mansplaining’ to women why what they just said was not sexist. Forget providing a ‘safe space’ for Jews to discuss this painful issue. Most of the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party members present on Thursday wouldn’t have it discussed at all.

I joined the Labour Party because I believed that it was a Party of equality, inclusion and fairness, a party that supported minorities and the vulnerable. I am now seriously questioning whether that is true – at least in Hampstead and Kilburn.

I know that many Labour members are furious about this. The local MP, Tulip Siddiq, has spoken eloquently on the problem and, whilst she couldn’t be there for the resolutions last night, used her presentation earlier in the evening to talk about the issue of antisemitism and how we need to tackle it with determination.

I would like to think that Jeremy Corbyn, who has always held himself to be a committed anti-racist, will speak out on this, and say that people who truly support him should focus on matters of principle, not matters of procedure.

From the leader to the grassroots, we need a concerted and resolute effort to tackle antisemitism within the party, which threatens to eat it from inside.

If the Labour Party ceases to stand for equality, inclusion and fairness, one has to wonder whether there is any point in it at all?


About the Author
Philip Rosenberg is Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Philip is a longstanding activist in interfaith relations, serving as Co Chair of Camden Faith Leaders Forum and formerly as Executive Director of the Faiths Forum for London. He was previously a Labour Party councillor in Camden.
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