Sadly, it still requires some courage to speak up about racism in one’s political party. Last week, Shazia Awan, a former Conservative Party candidate called out Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign for using tactics she described as “divisive and racist” against his Labour opponent, Sadiq Khan. In the same week, Sadiq told this newspaper’s Jewish hustings that Labour’s poor response to anti-Semitism within our own ranks meant that he wore a “badge of shame” as a Labour candidate. It is a badge that I, too, wear as a Labour MP and I’m proud of Sadiq for the strong stance he has taken against anti-Semitism.
Those of us who have spoken out about antiSemitism within the Labour Party haven’t received a universally positive response. I have been taken aback by some of the reactions I’ve had when I’ve called out anti-Semites within the party and expressed frustration that the response has been flat-footed. That flat-footed response has given many the impression that we are apathetic when it comes to tackling anti-Semitism.
Indeed, even when confronted with hard evidence about the behaviour of some of our elected representatives, too many Labour members have adopted the ostrich strategy of burying their heads in the sand and pretending that we don’t have a problem. Some have even engaged in the worst sort of ‘whataboutery’ about anti-Semitism: ‘What about Israel?’
Indeed, what about Israel? Let’s be clear: criticism of Israel isn’t anti-Semitic, although too often criticism of Israel does spill over into anti-Semitism. There can be no better example of this than
demanding that British Jews answer for the actions of the Israeli government or seeking to deflect from anti-Semitism in politics by talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When a Labour councillor’s Twitter account carries praise of Hitler, I don’t expect a debate about Israel in response; I expect swift action to make sure that such views are never tolerated in the Labour Party.
Speaking out against racism in the Labour Party isn’t an act of disloyalty: it’s an act of duty. Some in the party have sought to dismiss those of us with concerns as having an axe to grind against Labour’s democratically-elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
But a number of the incidents that have been brought to light in recent months pre-date Jeremy. If only Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism was as superficial as one man. What we have learned in recent months is that, like the rest of society, Labour is not devoid of anti-Semitism. More worryingly, we have fallen short in our response to it.
I would not be doing my duty as a constituency MP and recently elected co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews (APPG), if
I didn’t speak out about the deep concerns that many people in the Jewish community currently have about the Labour Party. They are not alone. A number of decent minded members of my local Labour Party who are not Jewish have also written to express their fear that the party is becoming a place where anti-Semitism is allowed to fester.
People will judge Labour by our actions, not words. That’s why I welcome the anti-Semitism
action plan proposed by Richard Angell, director of Progress. It proposes training for Labour’s National Executive Committee on how to identify modern anti-Semitism, with new capacity for Labour’s compliance unit to make sure complaints are properly investigated. It suggests adding a vice-chair for the Jewish community on the NEC’s equalities committee and self-organised groups for Jewish Labour youth and student members to help combat anti-Semitism on campuses. It also demands a lifetime ban for anti-Semitic conduct, supported by Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.
The plan has been widely welcomed by Labour MPs and members. It offers an opportunity to bring the party together in support of meaningful action to tackle anti-Semitism within our ranks and to start rebuilding confidence that the Labour Party, with its proud history of tackling anti-Semitism, is fit for the fight against modern hatred against Jews. Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to meet with Labour members of the APPG to discuss our proposals and it is vital that we see swift action.
I’ve spoken to lifelong Labour voters who are questioning whether they can vote Labour again. I know that some Jewish Labour members have already cut up their membership cards. I hope they will return and stand with a resurgent Jewish Labour Movement and their allies who will fight, fight and fight again for a party we can be proud of. Until we can replace the badge of shame with one of pride, we will continue to press for real action against anti-Semitism and a Labour Party that Jewish people can proudly call their home.