Philip Rosenberg
Philip Rosenberg

The institutional racism in my local Labour party

I did not join the Labour Party to talk about Jews or antisemitism.

I am very proud of being Jewish, but I can talk about that in my day-job at the Board of Deputies and elsewhere. I thought I could take for granted that Labour was a sympathetic place to people of different minorities and I could use this space to focus on other things I care about, like school places, housing and protecting our local libraries.

But the toxicity of the Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party has meant that I have had no choice but to speak out on racism, time and time again. At seven of the last nine meetings, the Kilburn Brent Branch of the party has tabled toe-curling motions singling-out Jews and Israel. Seven out of nine. If that is not institutional racism, I don’t know what is.

This obsessive behaviour and focus comes despite the myriad of other things going on in the world, and despite the immense damage done to Labour by the disastrous handling of its antisemitism problems. It all culminated on Wednesday night in a shameful vote to strip the Jewish Labour Movement of an award it received – from Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, no less – for its work in campaigning for the Labour Party.

The vote was a symbolic gesture and will have no impact on the award given. The political poseurs who proposed it know this. But as I warned on Wednesday, amid the nauseating cacophony of jeers and heckling against anyone who dares question the ‘permitted groupthink’, the effect on most Jews will be a clear sign that this is no safe space for us.

I know that some in the room will have been confused by the spectacle of some anti-Zionist Jews who insist that all of talk of antisemitism is confected. While all available research suggests that their views on Israel are in the small minority of Jewish opinion, they are absolutely entitled to their criticisms of Israeli government policies. But I take utter exception to their attempts to excuse – or even lead – an assault against most Jews that involves a repeated singling out of Jews and Israel and an apparent blanket absolution for those who make racist comments.

The frenzied desire to ‘give the Jews a good kicking’ led the room to reject local MP Tulip Siddiq’s alternative offer of a report on her parliamentary activities instead. Apparently, as we seek a full-on return to the Dark Ages, the ritual ‘humiliation of the Jews’ must come before any competing business. Especially that of our MP daring to try to involve us in the work of making our area better.

What more can one expect? A past Kilburn Brent motion was to censure Tulip for speaking out against antisemitism.

As one Jewish comrade put it to me afterwards, ‘Why beat around the bush? We should just wear ‘yellow stars’ next time’.

Not all present were willing participants in this scandal. Brave souls, Jews and gentiles, moderates and Corbynites, persevered through the hectoring and goading to deliver eloquent warnings, pleas and rebukes. I am proud to say that all candidates looking to succeed me as a councillor in West Hampstead voted against the motion. But shamefully, while closer than most votes that night, the vote passed 30-26.

Until Jewish members can be guaranteed not to have to run a monthly gauntlet of derision to be part of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour, I will not be attending any further meetings of the General Committee of the Constituency Party. Some twisted individuals may be intent on using up the Party’s time with obsessional Jew-baiting and Israel-bashing. But I am going to use the extra evenings to get on with the casework for my residents who are consistently failed by this monthly riot of self-indulgence and institutional racism.

  • Phil Rosenberg is a Labour councillor in West Hampstead ward, Camden, and the Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He writes here in a personal capacity.
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.