I decided not to go to the Labour conference – and after seeing Luciana Berger flanked by security guards, I’m glad

Since Jeremy Corbyn has been our leader he has created a safe space on the left for those who espouse despicable antisemitic attitudes

Margaret Hodge
Monday 24 September 2018 20:40 BST
Labour MP describes the anti-Semitic abuse she's faced

As Len McCluskey’s remarks at the Labour Party conference show, the row about antisemitism has not gone away. Its continued presence will infect and harm Labour’s standing with voters.

I am a lifelong member of the Labour Party and I am a Jew. I am completely secular. But this is not a question of believing – it’s about belonging. My heritage makes me what I am today, a proud British Jew – and I can never forget my father’s warnings to me that I should keep a suitcase packed in the hall in case I ever have to leave home in a hurry.

I am also a consistent critic of successive Israeli governments and have faced condemnation for my views from Israeli diplomats and other British Jews.

I never, ever dreamt that I would be engaged in a battle to expose and destroy the hatred of Jews in the Labour Party. But since Jeremy Corbyn has been our leader he has created a safe space on the left for those who espouse despicable antisemitic attitudes. And he has generated a hostile environment for Jews inside the party.

Since its foundation, the Labour Party has been the natural home for Jews. The commitment to fighting racism and intolerance and the belief in equality and internationalism has always been in our DNA.

That would now appear to be under threat.

The pictures of Jewish MP Luciana Berger walking through the conference area surrounded by police protection officers delivers a chilling image, demonstrating how antisemitism has pervaded the modern Labour Party. We should reflect on what those pictures tell us about the intimidation and racism that exists today in our party.

How can the party ignore the outrageous statements of influential trade union leaders like Len McCluskey, who claims that the row over Jew hatred was simply “mood music” created to undermine Corbyn? Or Mark Serwotka, who suggested that Israel created the antisemitism row?

How can the leadership fail to act when a leading member of the national executive committee accused Jewish rabbis of being “Trump fanatics… making up duff information?”

How can the backlog of allegations about antisemitic tropes continue to grow while party officials continue to respond slowly, secretly and weakly?

In 2010, I fought and resoundingly defeated Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, at the general election. I was subject to abuse during that campaign, but the antisemitic tropes I have received in the last couple of years are greater in number and more horrid in content than what I was subjected to back then.

Recent polling on behalf of Labour Against Antisemitism gives us a stark warning. Nearly one third of potential Labour voters believe that Labour has a problem with antisemitism. Four out of 10 of those voters said it would make them less likely to vote Labour. One third of those who voted Labour in 2017 think that Jeremy Corbyn had not been honest or transparent in his response to accusations of antisemitism.

Jeremy Corbyn arrives at Labour party conference in Liverpool

And there we have it. Antisemitism can only be confronted with strong leadership. Labour could deal with the problem if the leader of the party wanted to. Yet every time Corbyn has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, he fails. Even when he was forced to concede and adopt the internationally accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism, he tried to amend the text by adding a clause stating that describing Israel, or the circumstances around its foundation, as racist was not antisemitic.

On The Andrew Marr Show, he was unable to express remorse for his own actions and words. When asked about his support for a blatantly antisemitic mural he simply said he had been “too hasty in his judgement.” When challenged about his statement that Zionists who had lived in Britain for a very long time “don’t understand English irony,” he replied, “It was not intended to be antisemitic".

When asked about why a growing number of Jews feel threatened by the prospect of a Labour government led by him, he failed to answer and turned the conversation to the NHS.

Jeremy Corbyn has attracted praise for his consistency over the years. I wonder whether he is, in fact, guilty of insensitive stubbornness. This summer’s revelations show he personally crossed the line of legitimate criticism of the Israeli government to illegitimate attacks on Jewish people. He needs to show remorse. He needs to demonstrate by his actions that he will stamp out antisemitism in the Labour Party. He needs to reach out to the mainstream Jewish community to rebuild trust.

Antisemitism should not be an issue for Jews on their own. All of us need to act in the fight to eradicate this evil. We have to be led from the top.

Dame Margaret Hodge is the Labour MP for Barking

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