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16 January 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 4:38pm

With the right leader, Labour can turn a page on anti-Semitism

The party can reset its broken relationship with the Jewish community – but only with a candidate who has and will use their agency to fight anti-Semitism in Labour.

By Mike Katz

In every interview, when Labour leadership candidates are asked why Labour crashed to its worst performance since 1935, anti-Semitism is highlighted as one of the prime causes.

It is rightly used as a proxy, proof of Jeremy Corbyn’s clear failings as a leader of a political party, let alone as a potential prime minister.

After all, it would be nice to think that voters in Blyth Valley cared as much about the welfare of Jews as they do in Barnet. More realistically, Corbyn’s woeful failure to get a grip on anti-Semitism – whether for moral or political expediency –spoke to those dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters’ concerns about his competence and leadership qualities. Or lack thereof.

This year, the Jewish Labour Movement, marks its centenary of affiliation with Labour; one of the party’s founding organisations. But for the first time since 1920, we effectively downed tools for this election, campaigning only for exceptional candidates – the truest of our allies in the fight against Labour’s anti-Semitism.

That’s because our members had months ago decided, what last month’s election confirmed the majority of voters believe: Jeremy Corbyn was unfit to lead our party or the country.

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Now we have the chance to rebuild the party and reset its broken relationship with the Jewish community that hass for so long been one of Labour’s strongest supporters.

And many many left-leaning Jews alienated by Corbyn have begun that rapprochement by joining JLM since the election, putting our membership at record levels of recent times. They want a leader who will drive out partisan factionalism from Labour’s disciplinary system. One that sacks all those senior staff which colluded in tolerating and denying anti-Semitism. One that speedily ejects all the crank conspiratorial Jew-haters that have infected the party and that will adopt any recommendations arising from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s investigation.

And whilst many – perhaps all – of the candidates will promise this; our members will want to scrutinise their record. We’ve been promised solutions before and engaged in good faith, only to have our fingers burned.

So we’ll be asking candidates how they used their agency to fight anti-Semitism in Labour. It’s only so much comfort to know people spoke out strongly in private around the shadow cabinet table when our members were being hounded in meetings and online, and our organisation vilified by the left. A few tweets only go so far to show your support.

And if you’ve been a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, as one candidate has for three years, we’ll ask what you did when that committee took a whole summer of arguments to adopt the internationally accepted IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

This disgraceful episode highlighted the dominance of hard-left ideologues in the party’s ruling structures and how they stopped it doing the right thing by a minority community. Frankly, anyone who argues against Jews’ right to define racism against themselves has no place in an anti-racist progressive party. 

The truth is, there was a political choice made by Corbyn and his supporters. He opted to keep his allies close as part of his political project, rather than show them the door because they were racist.

So, whilst we need to know how any new leader will boot these people out of Labour for once and for good, we also will ask whether they were part of this project. Or whether they were happy to be a bystander, rather than call out institutional anti-Jewish racism.

This is a chance for Labour to turn over a new page and say never again. The past four years have been a terrible time to be a left-leaning Jew. We know what solidarity looks like and we’ll remember who really had our back.

Mike Katz is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement

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