Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott: I have spent a lifetime fighting antisemitism

The Shadow Home Secretary writes exclusively for the JC on the election issues that affect our readers

May 18, 2017 12:05

The East End of London has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country. And it has always been a great source of pride to me to represent Hackney with its important social, political and cultural links with the Jewish community.

Over time the Jewish community of the East End has moved outwards and on to suburbia. But the historic associations with Hackney remain strong and Hackney still boasts one of the biggest Charedi communities in the country.

I will never forget the evening in 1986 when Hackney North Labour Party selected me as their parliamentary candidate. The selection took place in Hackney Town Hall. It was to be a shock victory.

I was waiting in suspense while the committee deliberated. The waiting seemed interminable. So, rather than sit in a room staring at my competitors, I found myself pacing up and down the corridors around the council chamber.

As anyone who has ever visited Hackney Town Hall knows those corridors are hung with portraits of former mayors of Hackney. Many of them were Jewish. And it seemed to me, as I paced up and down, that those black and white portraits of long-dead civic dignitaries were whispering to me.

And what they were whispering was: "We came here as immigrants. We made it. You will too."

And, sure enough, by the end of the evening I was selected as Hackney North Labour Party's parliamentary candidate. 

So I have always had the strong feeling that, as a political leader in Hackney, I stand in succession to a whole series of immigrants whose parents came to Hackney and were able to live out their parents’ dreams. 

Even before I became the parliamentary candidate in 1986, I was struck by how the history of the Labour movement was intertwined with the history of the Jewish community of the East End.

The East End, including Hackney, has produced an array of famous politicians and Labour leaders including my distinguished predecessor David Weitzman who represented Stoke Newington from 1945 to 1979. 

As a new MP some of my earliest campaigns were on behalf of the Jewish community. I lobbied Conservative government ministers to get recognition and state support for schools serving the Charedi community like Yesodey Hatorah.

I campaigned to defend the practise of ritual slaughter. I lobbied Labour ministers on immigration rules, which made it difficult for the Charedi community to marry. Most recently I intervened with the NHS to allow a Jewish-owned pharmacist to be allowed to close on Jewish holidays. 

Although we have seen much progress on diversity generally since I became an MP, sadly in recent times we have seen a rise in antisemitism internationally and here in the UK. Advisors to the new American president Donald Trump have associations with websites which propagated antisemitic propaganda.

In France the blatantly antisemitic National Front party continues to build support, although thankfully Marine Le Pen lost the presidential election.

Here in the UK there is a shocking tide of racist and antisemitic abuse online. There has also been a rise in hate crime in this country, including against the Jewish community, since the Brexit vote last year. In the controversies in the Labour Party the leader Jeremy Corbyn has made clear his unremitting hostility to antisemitism. 

I obviously support the work of the CST defending synagogues and schools. But I also support the work of Shomrim, a Stamford Hill-based neighbourhood watch group. I have spent a lifetime fighting racism and antisemitism, wherever they rear their ugly heads, including in my own party. After all these years I hope that no-one doubts my commitment on these issues. 

As Home Secretary I would be committed to continue to fund the CST. I would also want to give funding and help to Shomrim.

When I first became an MP there were very many Jewish men and women still alive, who had fought in the Second World War. They were often members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (Ajex). As that generation passes away, I think the government should find a way to memorialise them further. In government I would also reverse the Tory policy of restricting benefits to the first two children. This is a cruel and unfair policy which will particularly hit the Charedi community.

In a few short weeks we will be facing a general election. Readers of the JC will make up their own minds how to vote. But, if I am elected once again, I will continue to fight for all my constituents, including my Jewish constituents, as I have done for 30 years.

(A shorter version of this article appears in the May 19 edition of the JC)

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

May 18, 2017 12:05

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