My bittersweet feelings about Sir Keir's Labour party

Starmer has transformed the party, but so much damage was done under Corbyn


LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 15: Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks at Toynbee Hall on February 15, 2023 in London, England. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has ended monitoring the Labour Party, saying it has met the demands imposed after a devastating report on antisemitism within the party in 2020. Keir Starmer apologised for the hurt caused to the Jewish community. He said, "What you have been through can never be undone. Apologies alone cannot make it right." The EHRC decision is "not a moment for celebration, but a moment for reflection". (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

February 23, 2023 09:28

When I was a kid my mum used to tell me stories. They all had the same opening, in 1922 Sicily, and were followed by a dream sequence.

The sorry saga of antisemitism in the Labour Party has at points had the same feel for me — completely surreal and occasionally dreamlike (or should I say nightmarish?).

Picture it: the Leader of the Labour Party has invited you to attend a press conference, where he plans on making an announcement about antisemitism in the Labour Party. But that was no dream. It was in June 2016, and Shami Chakrabarti was launching her “report” into antisemitism and the Labour Party.

I won’t touch on its content — there wasn’t much of value in the “report” — but rather the event itself. The audience was a mix of those in the community who desperately wanted the issue of antisemitism within the Labour Party tackled once and for all, along with the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. The event was a farce. Corbyn’s team tried to turn it into a rally for JC. Unofficial flyers attacking MPs were distributed. I was accosted and verbally abused — at an event that was meant to demonstrate that Jews really were safe in the Labour Party. All it proved is that we weren’t.

For many reasons I try not to think about what happened that day. My life changed beyond all recognition in terms of my safety and security and I was publicly defined as a Jew for the first time in my professional life. So it should surprise no one that it’s not a day I draw any pleasure from.

The only reason I raise it now is because of the events of last week. Nearly seven years later I received a similar invite but from a very different leader and to a very different event.

As was pointed out to me when I arrived to hear Keir Starmer announce that the EHRC had decreed that the Labour Party was no longer in special measures, these two starkly different press conferences bookended both the community’s and my own journey in anti-Jewish hate.

In 2016 Jews attending Labour events were made to feel unwelcome, even when those events were about us. The Chakrabarti launch marked the last real effort at public engagement that the community could make with Corbyn and his office on anything related to antisemitism.

But last week couldn’t have been more different. The only invitees were those intrinsically involved in the EHRC process. It wasn’t a celebration but rather a meeting where those present shared a palpable sense of relief. Relief that we could trust the Leader of the Opposition to deliver on his promises, relief that we could turn the page on this horrible chapter and relief that this marked an opportunity to normalise relations between the Jewish community and the Labour Party. It was a vital stepping stone to ensure that at the next election our community can vote on political preferences rather than because of fear of the views of a potential government.

Last week Keir Starmer was able to confirm that my party is longer in legal special measures and will no longer be monitored. The Labour Party had met all the criteria laid out by the EHRC to tackle the institutional antisemitism that had prevailed under the former leadership. And structurally the Labour Party is now fit for purpose.

This was confirmation that Keir’s actions matched his words and that he has truly ripped out the cancer of antisemitism by its roots from within the party. It would have been easy for him at this point to sit back and say to all of us: job done. However, Keir made it clear that while he has delivered on the structural changes necessary, the cultural changes will take longer.

The party he leads will not tolerate anti-Jewish hate. Racists are no longer welcome. And zero tolerance means exactly that. Last week was bittersweet. I could once again be proud of the leader of the Labour Party and of my membership of a political party that truly puts anti-racism at its core. But each conversation I had at the meeting reminded me of the damage that was done to so many people between 2015 and 2020, the pain and hurt that too many of us experienced and the genuine fear for our families that we faced.

I don’t for a second think that the pain, or the anti-Jewish hate, has all gone away — that antisemitism is no longer a problem for the left. You just have to spend five minutes looking at my social media mentions to know that’s not true. But I’m pleased and relieved that these people will no longer be tolerated in the Labour Party. The people who sought to bully, harass and threaten British Jews no longer have a home in His Majesty’s Official Opposition.

Those words shouldn’t be a relief, but they are and I for one will be forever thankful to Keir Starmer for making it happen.

February 23, 2023 09:28

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