Yesterday’s Sunday Times carried some of the most appalling examples of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis seen to date. What was so offensive was not just the ugly, racist insults themselves, but the reaction of the party’s and leadership’s hierarchy to them. Add them to the pile. Don’t fast-track anything.
The Sunday Times claimed a total of 249 cases of alleged anti-Semitism had been reported to the party and not acted on. It was clear was that the party’s defence – that everything had changed since the appointment of Jenny Formby as general secretary last year – simply doesn’t hold water.
Perhaps the most offensive case reported yesterday relates to a shocking email sent in February to two Jewish MPs: our new parliamentary chair, Ruth Smeeth, and Margaret Hodge. Given the highly misogynist as well as anti-Semitic language used in the email, a junior member of staff allegedly sought to prioritise action against the perpetrator – but was rebuffed by the head of complaints.
So, just a matter of weeks ago, the “newly- fixed, free of political interference” complaints system was found to be as compromised and failing as it has been over the past few years.
What was different about yesterday was that the revelations (not that one can call them revelations, given there’s scant element of surprise these days) came as members of the Jewish Labour Movement gathered for our AGM.
We had seen our former parliamentary chair, Luciana Berger, hounded out of the party for being a Jewish woman.
We had seen clear evidence of political interference, from the highest levels within the leader’s office, to ensure that action wasn’t taken against anti-Semites because they were political allies.
We had seen the party’s ruling body trying to redefine anti-Semitism, with the leader seeking to caveat the IHRA definition which has been accepted by government at all levels both in this country and internationally.
We had seen the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – a watchdog set up by Labour in government – take up our referral of the party for institutional and unlawful discrimination against Jews.
We had seen countless opportunities to engage with the asks of the Jewish community’s leading bodies, and those the JLM discussed with Jennie Formby on her appointment, spurned.
Rather than taking action, there has been consistent obfuscation and denial; hundreds of instances not investigated or completely misjudged. Frankly, in the face of this intransigence and inaction, why would anyone expect members of JLM to have any confidence in the leader?
Yesterday, I was elected the JLM’s new national chair. Our members decided just a few weeks ago to maintain our 99-year-old affiliation with Labour, because we believed we should stay and fight.
In the hustings, I told members that we had to take tough decisions on how we engage and work with party at all levels, so when we say stay and fight, we really mean fight.
So, of course we will be asking difficult questions of the leadership.
We’re at an existential moment. Our allies must understand this – and that solidarity cuts both ways: if you don’t clearly, loudly and consistently back us, we don’t back you. We’re not interested in virtue-signalling, but real support.
For JLM members, our Jewish values and our progressive values are intertwined. Those values – my values – haven’t changed. But our party has changed around us.
In short, why does someone who believes sick conspiracies like “Jewish Israelis” were behind 9/11 or someone who calls two Jewish Labour MPs “shit-stirring c** buckets in the pay of Israel” (as reported yesterday) think today’s Labour Party is their natural political home?
As much as the policies and process matter, this is an institutional crisis of leadership and culture.
We know the rank and file of the Labour Party are aghast and shocked at this behaviour. They want this to change but the majority are not in control, and the people who are in control don’t want to take the decisive action to change things. Until that changes, nothing will change.
So that means the question of JLM’s affiliation remains firmly on the table.
After what we’ve been through, if Labour’s leadership wants it and they truly are committed to tackling all forms of racism, they have to earn it.
Mike Katz is National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement.