Don’t fear antisemitism creeping back to Labour


Harold Wilson (Photo by Michael Stroud/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

June 27, 2024 09:16

Despite years of Labour activism, in 2019 I felt unable to knock on a single door to encourage people to vote for the party.

In his four years at the helm, Jeremy Corbyn presided over a toxic culture of anti-Zionist antisemitism and the abandonment of Labour’s proud internationalist tradition. As the Jewish community and the British people at large recognised, Corbyn could not be trusted to protect our country and uphold its values.

Given this record, I understand why – as the Jewish Chronicle’s recent focus group in Bury found – many Jews still remain concerned about antisemitism creeping back into the party.

But I am certain that Keir Starmer can be trusted to be utterly vigilant in stamping out any last vestiges of Jew-hate. At any general election, the opposition leader’s promises largely have to be taken on trust. We do, though, have one crucial factor on which we can judge them: How they have led their parties. And Keir’s record since taking Labour’s helm four years ago is both impressive and hugely reassuring.

His first act on becoming Labour leader was to publicly apologise to the community for the growth of antisemitism in the party and to pledge to root it out.

He has honoured that pledge. Labour’s disciplinary procedures have been overhauled. Antisemites have been kicked out of the party. And far-left groups which denied or excused Jew-hate have been banned and their members expelled.

When the Equalities and Human Rights Commission delivered its shameful verdict, Keir accepted its findings and pledged to implement its recommendations in full.

Contrast that with Corbyn’s attempt to wriggle free of responsibility by suggesting the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, an appalling statement which rightly led to his being ousted from the parliamentary party. Nothing better symbolises how much Labour has changed than the fact that Corbyn is no longer a party member. This is both unprecedented and extraordinary.

Crucially, however, by denouncing anti-Zionist antisemitism as “the anthesis of the Labour tradition”, Keir has recognised that an obsessive hatred of the world’s only Jewish state rested at the heart of the scandal which had unfolded after 2015. Keir not only proudly stands in that tradition, he has upheld it in his approach to the October 7 atrocities and Israel’s war against Hamas.

In his actions and his rhetoric – thoughtful, calm and principled – he has behaved like a Prime Minister in waiting: putting the national interest, our alliance with Israel and the fight against terrorism before narrow partisan point-scoring.

There will no doubt be disagreements with the Israeli government, especially one in which – quite disgracefully – a role has been given to the far-right.

Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown staunchly defended a two-state solution. Keir will do so, too, but I am confident that, like them, he will do so as a friend of Israel committed to its best interests; an opponent of BDS; and in-step with our allies in the Israeli Labor party and the Israeli centre-left.

Labour’s commitment to recognising a Palestinian state “as a contribution to a renewed peace process” shows it is interested in concrete progress on the ground, not meaningless gestures. It’s the difference between the complexities of governance and the simplicities of protest.

In contrast to the hard left, Starmer’s Labour also understands the threat Tehran poses – to Israel, the wider region and here. Sadly, the Conservatives have done little to confront this threat: they have failed to ban the IRGC and were half-hearted in using Magnitsky sanctions to target the regime. Labour pushed hard on sanctions and is committed to proscribing Iran’s terror army.

Labour has changed. Staunch opponents of antisemitism and friends of Israel who quit the party in disgust under Corbyn – Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and Mike Gapes to name but three – have come home. A new generation of young Jewish candidates and allies of the community have been selected.

On LFI delegations I’ve seen how impressive so many of our candidates are. They will follow in the footsteps of all those – from Manny Shinwell, Ian Mikardo and Harold Wilson to Louise, Steve McCabe and Joan Ryan – who have understood that supporting the right of the Jewish people to self-determination is consistent with, and emblematic of, Labour values. Under Keir Starmer, Labour is again ready to serve – and I’ve knocked on plenty of doors this time to proudly deliver that message.

Michael Rubin is the director of Labour Friends of Israel. He writes here in a personal capacity

June 27, 2024 09:16

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