If it wants to fight the Government on racism and hate crime, Labour’s image over anti-Semitism must improve

As a Jewish Labour member, I don’t recognise the criticisms made in this latest report on anti-Semitism – but the best thing Jeremy Corbyn can do now is focus on fighting prejudice wherever he finds it

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The Independent Online

After years of relative silence about the problem of anti-Semitism in this country, the last 12 months have seen the issue placed at the centre of mainstream political discussion. There have been parliamentary committees, questions in the house, TV talk shows and sessions at party conferences all on the question. 

I’m still not entirely certain why it took the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party for those in positions of power in this country to take an interest in the prejudice facing my community. But, regardless, I’m pleased you all now have.

A report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee has once again addressed the matter, and there is much within it that we should welcome: the strengthening of anti-hate crime systems, for example, and the demand that, when it comes to anti-Semitic and other abuses, companies such as Twitter must do more. 

The report is damning in its findings. It criticises Labour, Corbyn and social media platforms for not tackling anti-Semitism where it spreads and flourishes. But as a Jewish Labour Party member myself, I could take serious issue with this report. 

I could ask why an inquiry into anti-Semitism in Britain focused so overwhelmingly on the Labour Party despite that fact that 75 per cent of anti-Semitic incidents are found to come from far-right sources, the other quarter by no means being Labour’s preserve.

I could question why assertions are continually made about Labour’s apparent problem with anti-Semitism, despite there being no evidence showing it to be more prevalent in our political party than any other in Britain. From what I can see, no effort was made to investigate any others.

And I could feel angered at the six Conservative and two Labour MPs who assert that the party of which I am a member creates a space for “vile attitudes towards Jewish people”. Labour is a party that I’m proud to be part of, and the implication I, as a Jewish member, am complicit in this supposed spreading of anti-Semitic ideas is hurtful indeed.

I could ask these questions and many more – but I won’t. It’s time to stop using oppression as a political weapon and agree that, however little evidence we’ve seen of anti-Semitism, we all need to actively do even more to tackle it. Labour didn’t start this process of political point scoring, but it must be the party to end it. 

Jeremy Corbyn chats to heckler at anti-Semitism event

In the months following Brexit, the deeply-held prejudices and divisions that are so alarmingly prevalent in this country have come to the fore. Religiously and racially motivated hate crimes are up 41 per cent since voters decided to leave the European Union, while homophobic incidents have soared 147 per cent. Anti-Semitic incidents are up 29 per cent in the last five years, while the increase in Islamophoic incidents is even sharper. 

The hypocrisy of our current government should have us worried. Theresa May might well have stood in front of Downing Street to talk about equality and justice, but she and her Cabinet have a track record that suggests anything but. Our Prime Minister sent vans to diverse communities telling immigrants to “go home”. Boris Johnson, now Foreign Secretary, described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” while an elected MP. Aidan Burley, a Conservative MP until just one year ago, organised a Nazi-themed stag do. Sadly, that’s a list that continues. Hate crimes of all types are flourishing under this Government’s leadership.  

What matters in the broad fight against anti-Semitism in this country is ensuring that the official opposition is visibly opposed to prejudice and discrimination in all its forms: Labour can leave no room for confusion. The party must not be a space for anti-Semitism or any prejudice. I don’t believe that it is as it stands, but it is vital this is the way it’s perceived by others too.

Labour is perceived by much of the Jewish community to be a place they can no longer feel comfortable, but it’s an impression that’s far from the reality. Commissioning the Chakrabarti Inquiry was an important step, despite the criticisms now made of it: Labour is the only party in this country to have specific protections in place to ensure a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. 

Jeremy Corbyn would have every right to call out flaws in today’s report, and Jewish Labour groups and individuals may well wish to do so too. But for the sake of taking on the real and present danger facing many communities in this country, he must focus on fighting the problem if and when it appears in Labour, but more broadly in the context of a growing far-right. 

If he does this, many of the voices now so angered by prejudice may suddenly quiet themselves, and those critics of Corbyn who are genuinely concerned about anti-Semitism will be standing up alongside him.