For UK Labour antisemitism has been a festering sore. This issue could have and should have been dealt with earlier on in a far better way. As I said in my blog post about this during the election Jeremy Corbyn is not antisemitic. But this issue was poorly handled. By everyone in the party.
There have been cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Had Labour taken stronger action back in 2016 when former Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone made some ill judged comments regarding Jewish people and Israel this may have helped. It is possible to support Palestinians, oppose and even condemn the actions of the Israeli state without being antisemitic. But Ken failed, and should have faced consequences much earlier.
It is no secret that Progress, Labour First and other involved in factional struggles used the antisemitism row to attack Corbyn’s leadership. In turn, Momentum and those supportive of Corbyn often responded to Antisemitism accusations saying it was a beat up by the right, and denied the problem. Neither faction come out of this looking good. Many of those on the NEC or senior roles in the Party who were investigating Antisemitism, were in fact from the right/anti-Corbyn factions. For those on the left who in some cases denied Antisemitism was an issue were in denial. Others dismissed it saying racism in the Tory Party was worse – which maybe true but in no way excuses it in Labour.
The UK’s Chief Rabbi’s intervention in the election may will have cost Labour votes. But the antisemitism row goes beyond Corbyn, or a left vs right of the Party struggle. It will now take years for Labour to regain the trust of the UK Jewish Community. A change of leader or factional power struggle won’t fix that. Further, the risk is that Labour activists may now shy away from expressing views on the situation in Palestine for fear of being labelled antisemitic.
The Board of Deputies for British Jews have asked current candidates for the Labour Leadership to sign up to 10 pledges which aim to end Antisemitism in Labour. Some of these pledges have caused concerns. Specifically pledge 8 about engaging with “the Jewish community via its main representative groups, and not fringe organisations or individuals.” Many Labour members are concerned that it is not clear what a fringe group is. When 50% of those with Jewish heritage in the UK do not belong to a synagogue for example, could many secular Jewish organisations be considered ‘fringe’.
Another concern is that the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which many supporters of Palestinians in the Party and else where are critical of. It is essential that a serious and respectful discussion occurs about the deadly conflict between Israel and Palestine. This can and must occur without fear of being labelled antisemitic for criticising Israel (just as one should be able to criticise the actions of the Palestinian state without being called Islamophobic).
This issue continues to be hotly debated within UK Labour. It played a negative role in the 2019 General Election and throughout the last term of parliament. Whoever is the next UK Labour Leader will too face considerable challenge trying to address this issue.
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