Ayelet Strenger takes a look at the current situation playing out in the Labour Party and asks if it is possible for Jews to feel comfortable when the culture of Corbynism lingers within.
From the moment Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition in 2015, the Labour Party took a dark turn. With what has now become known as the largest antisemitic scandal the country has ever seen, will the Jewish community be able to put their trust back in the Labour Party?
With over 150 party officials being expelled or forced to resign over antisemitism, the supposed ‘party for equality’ broke history for all the wrong reasons. It was now involved in a far-reaching transgression of antisemitism that not only impacted Jewish MPs but Jewish people widespread. I was left sickened when Corbyn called Hamas and Hezbollah his ‘friends.’ Having been born in Israel and growing up with Israeli family, I understood the substantial risk of idealizing terrorist groups. I felt personally victimised and threatened by these comments which could encourage others on the left to pick up the same views and view terrorist organisations as ‘friends.’ Corbyn was attracting radicalism to his party and I saw the serious threat a Corbyn government posed.
On Thursday 29th October 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report that held the Labour party responsible for 3 breaches of the Equality Act. The breaches were related to: political interference in antisemitism complaints, a failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints and harassment. Despite being an extensive 16-month investigation, Corbyn described the findings as “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” A man who has repeatedly stated that he has “fought racism all [his] life in all its forms,” whose son even described him “as far away from a racist anyone can be,” was suspended 2 hours later, ironically, for racism.
Corbyn has indeed tried to combat racism but he failed to include antisemitism in his activism. When questioned on whether he was antisemitic or not, Corbyn always issued the same response how he was against ‘all racism.’ The phrase ‘all racism’ has a similar effect to changing ‘black lives matter’ to ‘all lives matter.’ In the same way that at a cancer fundraiser no one would start shouting “there are other diseases too.” It’s simply absurd to try and belittle the issue being talked about by creating a larger umbrella to categorise it into. Why did he attempt to pivot around the question? We deserved a simple yes or no to the antisemetism question posed to Corbyn but he purposely treaded around it, clearly showing his blatant disregard towards the Jewish community.
The response from Corbyn and many on twitter indicate a clear culture of ignorance towards antisemitism. Campaign Against Antisemitism found that more than 2 in 5 British Jews would seriously consider leaving the country under a Corbyn leadership, a damning statistic for what is meant to be one of the most progressive countries in the world. Following Corbyn's insensitive twitter response to the EHRC report, the leader of the Labour Party made the decision to suspend Corbyn as he stated clearly that anyone who denies antisemitism through saying it is exaggerated should be “nowhere near the Labour Party.” In the same way you wouldn't tell a Muslim person what is or isn't Islamophobic, in the same way you wouldn’t tell a black person what is or isn't racist, in the same way you wouldn't tell a transgender person what is or isn't transphobic, stop telling Jews what is or isn't antisemitic. It’s infuriating to see in all cases, and it’s no different how infuriating it is for us Jews.
Corbyn's suspension was meant to secure Labour the Jewish vote again, but once again the Labour Party has shown a clear tolerance for antisemitism as Corbyn was reinstated into the Labour Party. I feel not only disheartened by this but also stunned; how could a party claim zero-tolerance for antisemitism but allow a person with serious antisemitism allegations against them back into their party without investigation? How can Jewish people feel safe to vote for a party that has betrayed them yet again, despite standing loyal to this party prior to Corbyn? The Jewish Labour Movement called the decision to reinstate Mr Corbyn "extraordinary," adding: "After his failure of leadership to tackle anti-Semitism, so clearly set out in the EHRC's report, any reasonable and fair-minded observer would see Jeremy Corbyn's statement today as insincere and wholly inadequate."
Corbyn was the leader of the Labour party but without his supporters the party would never have become a breeding ground for antisemitism. Corbyn was temporarily suspended and evidently there are still MPs living by his ‘legacy’ who are not being held accountable. Campaign Against Antisemitism filed complaints about Diane Abbott, an MP who has always denied antisemitism in the Labour party and even attended a zoom meeting with expelled activists from Labour. During the meeting, one Labour activist claimed that “Ken Livingstone was expelled for saying the truth.” Livingstone was suspended after he claimed Hitler supported Zionism. It is an absurdly antisemitic proposition which any of us could see, yet Dianne Abbot saw no issue in attending this meeting indicating her passive support. She still has a place in the Labour party and unfortunately she isn't the only one. Other MPs who have still not had any action taken against them include Apsana Begum, Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana, to name a few. With MPs like these still having a say in Labour policy, it doesn't feel like British Jews can feel truly safe under a Labour Government.
EHRC have given Labour an unlawful act notice. They have until 10th December to draft an action plan to implement the report's recommendations. Whether Labour becomes a safe space for British Jews again or not, only time will tell. It’s all dependent on Keir Starmer's handling. But right now, their handling of antisemitism is an embarrassment. To all.