With Keir Starmer’s election it’s time to draw a line in the sand

Ruth Smeeth (Jewish News)
Ruth Smeeth (Jewish News)

Antisemitism has been a stain on our party.

I’ve seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities.

On behalf of the Labour Party I am sorry.

I’ll tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt they could no longer support us.

Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, 4th April 2020

56 words. 

That was all it has taken to reassure British Jews across the country that, finally, the Leader of the Labour Party was going to act against the evil of anti-Jewish hate inside our ranks.  

That Jews were no longer fair game within the party and that he isn’t going to tolerate hate and racism in Her Majesty’s loyal opposition.  I know all too well how important it is for the Leader of the Labour Party to vocalise – without equivocation – that enough is enough. 

Obviously, we need more than words. We need action, there should be expulsions, and political education must form part of the solution. But this isn’t an administrative process, what I and other Jewish members need is cultural change within the party. Cultural change that is now and immediate, not the promise of a better tomorrow, we need a better today. 

Because after all we’ve been waiting for 4 long years.  

The new Leader of the Labour Party set the right tone within minutes of his election. Keir is someone who I call a friend and consider an ally.  It was a moment of relief for me when he used his victory speech to promise that he would root out antisemitism but my relief at his words are coupled with my faith that they will be matched with actions. Keir is someone who I know to keep his promise and I know he will do so quickly.

We have all been hurt by the relentless antisemitism crisis in the Labour Party.  By seeing horrendous reports of anti-Jewish hate every week, not just on the pages of this paper, but in every UK newspaper and news website.  The pain we felt from the hatred directed at us compounded by friends of the former Leader and fringe groups with their #JC4PM badge label us as liars, that our grievances were just smears and that those who were brave enough to come forward were merely political opponents. To hear those who proclaim their anti-racist values tell the victims of racism that it didn’t really happen. 

It’s been truly devastating to both witness the party of Manny Shinwell, of Leo Abse, of Louise Ellman descend into an antisemitic cesspit without any real action from the leadership other than his usual hollow “I deplore all forms of racism” line. Deployed with ease like a “Get out of Jail Free” card in worst game of rancid monopoly that has ever been played.

The poison in the Labour Party has touched every Friday night dinner, it’s dominated our political conversations and it determined our votes last year.  

But even with our pain, it has to be time to draw a line in the sand. 

None of us, regardless of which party we naturally support, want this misery to continue. 

Like you, I need antisemitism to be eradicated and consigned to the history books of the Labour Party. 

We need normal politics to resume and we don’t want antisemitism to be a defining issue for anyone at the next election. 

Within hours of the result, Keir Starmer called me to discuss anti-Jewish hate in the Labour Party.

He wrote to the Board of Deputies to both apologise and to set the wheels in motion for moving forward.  He has asked the Board, the JLC, CST and JLM to ‘virtually’ meet with him next week to start the long process of rebuilding trust.  He did more in his first 4 hours then we saw in the last 4 years. Keir made those calls, not because he had to for politically expediency but because he wants to return the Labour Party as a natural ally of the Jewish community. 

There is a long way to go in rooting out antisemitism in the Labour Party and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community and honestly, we will all judge Keir Starmer on his actions not just his words, but for the sake of the community we owe it to ourselves to give Keir the benefit of the doubt and work with him to fix this mess.

While we may all be saying “Next Year in Jerusalem” on Wednesday evening, I’ll also be praying for “Next year a racist free Labour Party”. 

Chag Pesach Sameach and enjoy the virtual Seders!

About the Author
Ruth Smeeth is former MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Vice-Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement
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