This article by Dr.Gerstenfeld was first published in INN and republished here with the author’s consent.
The Jews and the Confusion in the British Labour Party
After 16 months of preparation, the British Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its report on antisemitism in the Labour Party on October 29. The document was highly critical of the way in which the party dealt with this hatred under its previous chairman, Jeremy Corbyn.1
The report stated: “The committee found that Mr. Corbyn’s office unlawfully, ‘politically interfered’ with almost two dozen cases of alleged antisemitism.” It also said that: “a transparent and independent antisemitism complaints process, where all cases of alleged discrimination, harassment or victimization are investigated promptly, rigorously and without interference is an essential part of the reforms needed to rebuild trust.”2
Corbyn reacted by saying that allegations of antisemitism were ‘dramatically overstated for political reasons.’3 The party’s general secretary, David Evans, who is responsible for Labour’s disciplinary procedures then decided to suspend him. Evans is reported to have made this decision in consultation with the party’s governance and legal unit. Corbyn also lost the Labour whip. This means that he currently sits as an independent MP in the House of Commons.
The major British Jewish organizations who had publicly fought the antisemitism in Labour initially had good reasons to be satisfied – both with the report and with the resulting suspension of Corbyn from the party.
The leaders of three major British Jewish organizations, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust said in a statement: “This report is a damning verdict on what Labour did to Jews under Jeremy Corbyn and his allies. It proves why British Jews were so distressed and it disgraces those who attacked us for speaking out against anti-Jewish racism…..
“Jeremy Corbyn will rightly be blamed for what he has done to Jews and Labour, but the truth is more disturbing, as he was little more than a figurehead for old and new anti-Jewish attitudes. All of this was enabled by those who deliberately turned a blind eye.”4
Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, the umbrella body of British Jewry’s central organizations and charities, reacted also separately to the publication of the EHRC report: “For the first time in British political history, a major political party was found guilty of harassment and discrimination. The Labour Party had allowed racist members to victimize Jewish people (…).”5
Within Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) was the main opponent of antisemitism. Its national secretary, Peter Mason, initially wrote: “The final report is a sober confirmation of our worst fears. Political interference, woefully decrepit structures and a lack of moral leadership were the themes of a series of undeniable unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination. (…) It will take time and commitment to undo what was allowed to be done, whether on setting the tone and culture of the Party from the very top, through to the practical and structural changes that need to be made.”6
One of Labour’s most generous private donors, Sir David Garrard, has donated about £1.5m to Labour since 2003. He quit the party in 2018 over the antisemitism there. He recently said: “It should be taken for granted that I will almost happily rejoin the party” should Starmer tackle antisemitism in the way he has pledged.7
After less than three weeks the situation – both for the party and for the Jewish community – got far more complicated. On November 18, the National Economic Committee (NEC) reinstated Corbyn as a member of Labour. Its current chairman Keir Starmer responded that his predecessor would not be given back the Labour whip and thus would continue to sit as an independent MP.8 The last remaining Jewish female Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, told Starmer that she would leave the party if Corbyn became a Labour MP again.9
Mason wrote a reaction to Corbyn’s renewed party membership titled “With Corbyn allowed back, who will be held accountable?” He stated: “No doubt, with confirmation that the Labour Whip in Parliament will not be restored, we will continue to see the same group of malign and insincere voices repeat the refrains of the last fortnight. Having spent five years denying, downplaying and obfuscating the problem, many of the same voices have now recast their rhetoric. (..)We will see the same patterns of statements and motions, ignoring the inconvenient truth of the moral turpitude of Corbyn’s actions and inactions, replacing it instead with the uncompromising demand of conformity. (…) Because there is one, central, crucial question left unanswered: Who will be held accountable? (..)The suspension of Jeremy Corbyn on the day of the EHRC report did not answer that question. Nor does his readmission to the Party. But it must be answered if the Labour Party is to rid itself of the stain of anti-Jewish prejudice.”10
In the meantime, the Labour party is hemorrhaging members. It had lost 10% of its membership – or about 57,000 – since Starmer was elected in April 2020. The exodus is being held against the current chairman. Yet the reverse may be true. It may mean that leftist members are leaving Labour, which increases the relative support for Starmer. John McDonnell, an extreme leftist MP and Labour’s shadow chancellor under Corbyn, reacted to this by saying that it may well be a self-purge of the left.11
Starmer has on many occasions repeated that he wants zero antisemitism in the party. That is a very high bar in view of the widespread antisemitism in the United Kingdom. It may be very difficult to achieve the more so as new information about antisemitic statements of party representatives is regularly revealed.
One of the latest concerns a tweet in August 2018 by the newly elected NEC member Gemma Bolton: “If I run the risk of getting suspended for calling Israel an apartheid state then so be it. Suspend me. “Because that comrades, is a hill I am perfectly happy to die on.” In another tweet the following month she expressed her support for boycotting goods from Israel – writing “BDS works”, accompanied by three clapping emojis.12 Labour has launched an investigation into her social media posts.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner spoke during the JLM virtual one day conference. She said there that Labour will suspend “thousands and thousands” of party members unless “they get real about antisemitism.”13
The Jewish community finds itself in limbo – not knowing how the current battle in Labour will end. It does seem that as long as the situation is unclear the best the Jewish organizations can do is to tread very carefully.