Labour must do more to show it is not antisemitic

This article by JLC Chair, Jonathan Goldstein, Board of Deputies President, Marie van der Zyl, first appeared in the Evening Standard.

It has been more than 100 days since our organisations, which lead the Jewish community, called for a protest in Parliament Square against the Labour Party’s lacklustre response to anti-Semitism. It is also almost three months since we met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to discuss a way forward.

At our meeting, we presented a list of requests to begin a process of rebuilding confidence in the Labour Party but Corbyn and his team failed to meet our minimum expectations. Since then, the progress has been disappointing.

In the week after our meeting, Labour expelled activist Marc Wadsworth and Corbyn’s office prevented MP Chris Williamson from sharing a platform with the suspended Jackie Walker. However, Williamson has since repeatedly embarrassed and undermined Corbyn — who has taken no action — by appearing with suspended and expelled members. 

Similarly, when Ken Livingstone was finally forced out of Labour in May, Corbyn described his departure as “sad” — an unhelpful attitude considering Livingstone’s words and actions. 

Two years after the tepid Chakrabarti Inquiry, Labour finally followed its recommendation to bring in a legal counsel to support its investigations. It also selected a replacement for Christine Shawcroft, who resigned as chair of Labour’s Disputes Panel after seeking to defend someone who had shared material denying the Holocaust. Rather than choose people with a flawless record on this issue, the party appointed Gordon Nardell and Claudia Webbe.

Most recently, there has been the bizarre and brazen attempt to redefine anti-Semitism itself. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition is supported by most Jews and has been adopted by the UK government, the Scottish government, the Welsh Assembly, the Crown Prosecution Service and more than 100 local authorities. The definition contains 11 examples to help explain what is and is not anti-Semitic. However, without any consultation with us, Labour decided to put forward its own version.

It defies logic that a party mired in a crisis over anti-Semitism would go over the heads of the Jewish community in this way. Labour’s appetite for a fight with the UK’s Jews concerns people far beyond the Jewish community.

On Monday, there was a motion at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on whether to adopt the full IHRA definition. We are pleased that this passed. On Tuesday, the party’s National Executive Committee will have a choice between what the Jewish community understands to be racism, and a version produced by people who might be part of the problem, not the solution. 

We trust that the many good people within the NEC will support the Jewish community and pave the way for Labour to become again a credible anti-racist party.