If Labour treated its antisemitism crisis like the human rights injustice it is, it could end the discrimination

Party divisions are leading too many people to view allegations through the lens of internal politics, rather than equality. It is time for urgent action

Matthew Turner
Tuesday 23 July 2019 13:52 BST
Emily Thornberry on Labour antisemitism: 'Nobody can pretend that there isn't an ongoing problem'

The Labour Party is an anti-racist party with a proud tradition of opposing racism and discrimination in all its forms.

At the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, which I chair, we truly believe in the bold vision set out in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto. We support the Labour Party leadership, and we want to see a Labour Government build a better, fairer society.

However, there is currently a real and ongoing issue of antisemitism within our party.

Since its formation, Labour has been a natural home for Jewish people and other minority groups. But in recent years we have become a place where Jewish members do not feel comfortable, or even safe. The abuse that is being received by our Jewish friends is not imaginary. It is not fake news. Some of us will have seen it first-hand, whether through Facebook posts or comments at local meetings. It simply cannot be allowed to continue.

The Labour Campaign for Human Rights, strongly believes in party unity. By campaigning on human rights issues, we work with MPs, groups and members from across the full breadth of the Labour Party. All Labour supporters can unite behind our campaigns, whether on ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia or reforming the legal aid system.

As human rights activists and Labour members from all wings of the party, we feel that we must speak out about Labour’s current antisemitism crisis. There are now multiple and repeated reports of Jewish members being treated in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with our values, our rules and possibly even the law.

Our core objective as a campaign group is to keep human rights at the heart of Labour Party policy. But it is also to keep human rights at the heart of Labour Party practice. This means calling on the leadership, shadow cabinet and NEC to recognise and address incidents of racism within our own party with swift and effective action.

One of our party’s greatest strengths is that we are a broad church with a wide range of opinions and ideas, but there is no place for antisemitism. It is not a legitimate view. It is discrimination. It is racism. It is the very thing that we have always fought against.

Our Jewish members are telling us that they are facing antisemitic abuse, some of them on a regular basis, but apparently, according to a recent BBC Panorama documentary, just 15 members have been expelled for antisemitism in the last four years. A number of former staffers have alleged that there has been interference in the disciplinary procedures for antisemitism cases. One of our most prominent Jewish MPs has now left the party, claiming that it is “institutionally antisemitic”, and we are currently being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

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The Labour Party is not immune from the antisemitism that exists in society, and our internal procedures are clearly not working effectively enough to deal with incidents of antisemitism occurring within the party. Furthermore, party divisions are leading too many people to view allegations of antisemitism through the lens of internal politics, rather than human rights. It is time for urgent action.

We want to see the party leadership work in an open and co-operative manner with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation. We want it to take the necessary steps to introduce a new disciplinary process to deal swiftly, effectively and fairly with antisemitism cases. And we want this process to be, and seen to be, independent from the leadership and completely transparent. This is the most effective way to address the antisemitism problem, and to win back the trust of our Jewish members and the public. It is the right thing to do.

The Labour Party has always stood up to racism and discrimination. It was Labour that fought against discrimination of the LGBT+ community by overturning Section 28 in 2003, and enshrined the rights of minority groups through the Equality Act 2010. We must now take the fight to antisemitism within our own ranks. We cannot ignore it or fail to deal with it properly.

Whatever our divisions, a passionate belief in the inherent equality and dignity of people runs through the Labour Party from top to bottom, left to right. We therefore urge the party leadership, MPs and members to unite in drawing on our shared commitment to human rights to deal with antisemitism once and for all.

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