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Denying antisemitism is now institutionalised

Reports that Labour’s NEC rejected recommendations to act on Oxford are a worrying indicator that 'antisemitism denial' has become institutionalised, but 2017 may yet become a turning point in Labour’s relations with our community

    It is almost exactly a year since I wrote a Telegraph op-ed about Labour antisemitism on the back of events at Oxford University Labour Club.

    I suggested that part of the reason Labour finds it difficult to confront antisemitism is because “antisemitism denial” on the left was becoming the central motif that Holocaust denial had become on the extreme right.

    Reports that Labour’s NEC rejected recommendations to act against the Oxford protagonists are a worrying indicator that such denial has become institutionalised.

    Party leaders must internalise what the NEC has done.

    It has rejected the findings of three party inquiries and one disciplinary investigation.

    The Labour Students inquiry was asked to pass its findings to Baroness Royall. She passed her findings to Shami Chakrabarti, who passed the Oxford file to Labour’s General Secretary. An investigation followed.

    Everybody who reviewed those files and examined the complaints was clear that there was a case to answer.

    The NEC’s rejection of all this is a new low. It rides roughshod over the experiences of Jewish Labour students.

    Worse still, the lack of any communication between the party and the complainants during this year-long process was a shocking neglect of established good practice and natural justice.

    A number of Shadow Cabinet Ministers including Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis were highly critical of this particular element.

    This decision stings more because many of us ended 2016 with hopes that we were starting to see signs that it might just be possible to begin to repair Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community.

    Helpful words from Jeremy Corbyn at the party conference, his creation of a Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities, the commitment to improving disciplinary processes, the suspension of Jackie Walker, and even the head of Momentum appearing at Limmud, all seemed to create a new mood music.

    In December I spoke about this opportunity to turn a corner, addressing the NEC Equalities Committee which held a special meeting on antisemitism. All of the key characters were present, Jeremy, Shami, key Shadow Ministers and party staff.

    It was one of those meetings where everybody said the right thing but few firm decisions or actions were agreed.

    That was fine because we were assured the next meeting would move all of this forward. So I arrived at the first meeting of 2017 full of anticipation. It started at 11am this Tuesday.

    We reached “any other business” at 12.45pm — at which point I was left with no option but to make a forceful intervention, pointing out that the issue of antisemitism had not been mentioned once.

    As we left the boardroom in party HQ, NEC members were gathering in the lobby for another meeting — the Disputes Committee session that reportedly took this appalling decision to clear the two Oxford protagonists. Irony in the extreme…

    Early 2017 may yet become a turning point in Labour’s relations with our community.

    Key cases such as those of Ken Livingstone and Ms Walker are reportedly due to be considered shortly. Joint party-Jewish Labour Movement training on antisemitism is being expanded on a local and national level.

    There is still an opportunity for the party to adopt the proposed JLM rule changes as the NEC considers organisational changes.

    The leadership reboot promises a policy focus on key areas of communal concern such as funding of social care. The first step, however must be to end the “antisemitism denial” — until then it is impossible to move forward.

     

    Jeremy Newmark is national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement

     

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