Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
29 September 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 6:04pm

Antisemites believe Jews do not belong in the Labour Party – they are wrong

The values I first learned on my grandmother’s couch in the East End are the same values I represent today.

By Ruth Smeeth

Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself, and it is a rule that some of his adherents within today’s Labour Party have been keen to enforce this week.

A year on from my own experiences at the launch of the Chakrabarti report, the same antisemitic tropes were on display. This time the target was expanded to include the entire Jewish Labour Movement, an organisation that has proudly supported us for over a century.

It is also an organisation that has been leading the campaign to tackle exactly this sort of abuse within our party. And I’m so proud that their campaign to change our rulebook to explicitly forbid antisemitic, racist and homophobic abuse culminated in a decisive victory this week.

The rule change was supported with more than 90 per cent of the conference vote and represents a big step in winning back the trust of the Jewish community.

But while this vote represented a victory for the decent majority, the debate that preceded it illustrated exactly why tougher action is necessary and shone a light on a problem that has been growing within our party for the last two years, and has been festering within sections of the left for far longer.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's environment content. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

I watched with horror as members of the party that has been my family for more than 20 years advocated a safe space for Holocaust denial during a fringe event, spread slurs about Jewish media conspiracies from the conference stage, and called for Jewish members to be expelled from both platforms.

The ignorance of these people and their contempt for our movement’s history is absolute. And their campaign of intimidation has threatened to tear our party apart.

These people may call themselves socialists and claim to stand for justice. But when I hear them speak I don’t hear compassion, far from it. I hear the echoes of an ancient hatred, the same one which drove my family and others like us here to Britain in the first place – a hatred our movement has long fought against.

Content from our partners
The great climate collaboration
A healthy conversation, a healthy career
A sustainable solution for inhalers

My own family arrived in this country fleeing the pogroms, just three generations ago. In their darkest hour Britain offered them safety and sanctuary. It was everything it could be for them, and for thousands like them. And they did not take that compassion for granted. They worked to pay it forward in the best way they knew how: they joined the Labour movement.

The values I first learned on my grandmother’s couch in the East End are the same values I am proud to represent today on the green benches of Westminster. They are the same values that run right through the Jewish community, of tolerance and compassion and the value of hard work.

So for someone to stand up at my party’s conference, a party I have been a member of for more than 20 years, and try to tell me I am not welcome anymore, not because of my opinions or political views but because of what I am and the faith I was born into, is totally and utterly unacceptable.

Some on the hard left may not believe that Jews have a place in our party. They are wrong. Our community is part of the rich history of the Labour movement and always has been, whether it was the matchmakers and tailor’s unions of the old East End or today’s Jewish groups campaigning for justice for refugees. You will find more of our party’s values in Leviticus than in Lenin. We have always belonged and we are going nowhere.

I know that for many people, Jewish or not, the scenes at conference this year will be a cause for despair. But now is not the time to walk away, it is the time to stay and fight. We need you more now than ever. The Labour Party needs you and the Jewish community needs you.

As horrific as these comments were, we should not lose sight of the fact we are moving in the right direction. Despite the hysterics of a racist fringe, the JLM’s rule change secured the overwhelming support of conference. The fact that the motion was supported by the leader’s office and by Momentum offers the clearest sign yet that Jeremy Corbyn and those around him are prepared to back up their opposition to antisemitism with actions

With the vote at conference won, the party now has the power to tackle this issue head on. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure those powers are used and that these people are removed from our party as quickly as possible.

Only the total expulsion of known and virulent antisemites will demonstrate to the community that Labour cares about the safety and wellbeing of British Jews.

Whether you are on the left or the right of the party, a Corbynsceptic or a true believer, our movement is coming together in common cause to stand up against those who would use us as a vehicle for hatred and prejudice. As we prepare for government and the chance to put our values into action, we must also ensure those values – of tolerance, respect and social justice – are at the heart of how we conduct ourselves and how we treat one another within our movement. Because there is something more fundamental at stake here than our party’s policy platform – the right of Jewish people to participate in the politics of our country as equals.

Ruth Smeeth is the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North