Sir Keir Starmer: We have to be honest - antisemitism in Labour is a cultural problem

Writing in the JC, Labour's new leader makes a frank admission as he sets out how problem will be tackled

April 06, 2020 20:08

This week the Jewish community will be celebrating Passover in circumstances that could not have been imagined only a few weeks ago. 

A festival that over the centuries has been celebrated as the ultimate family moment will for so many be marked in a very different way.

The coronavirus outbreak has fundamentally changed our way of life. At a time when the Synagogues are closed and movement is restricted, Passover may well be an isolated one and all of my thoughts are with people during this difficult period.

Passover is also a fitting moment for me to acknowledge the pain and hurt that the Labour Party has caused the Jewish community in recent years.

Antisemitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen first-hand the unacceptable and unimaginable levels of grief and distress it has caused many in the Jewish community.

It is why my very first act on becoming Leader over the weekend was to apologise for the hurt that has been caused – and I reiterate that apology again today. 

But I accept that an apology is not good enough. I know that ultimately I will be judged, not on what I say, but on what I do. Tackling antisemitism within the Labour Party must be a priority and I want to set out the steps I am taking to begin restoring trust with the Jewish community.

It starts by listening. If we are to restore trust, we must be open and transparent from the beginning.

Over the coming days I will be holding talks with leaders of the Jewish community, including the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies, to talk about how we can work together to stamp out antisemitism from the Labour Party – and indeed across the country – once and for all.

Second, we must fully cooperate with the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into antisemitism. We must throw open the books and the files and give the Commission access to any politician or any member of staff they wish to interview.

We must acknowledge we have a problem and be open in our response. We must shine a light on where we have failed and work with the Commission to implement the recommendations it puts forward later this year.

However, we cannot wait until the Commission completes its inquiry before we get a grip of this situation. People do not believe the processes we have in place at the moment are adequate.

I will therefore begin work immediately to deliver on my campaign pledge to establish an independent complaints process.

I will also be requesting that a report on all outstanding cases of anti-semitism within the party is on my desk by the end of this week and that there is a timetable for their resolution. Clear cases of antisemitism must be dealt with robustly and swiftly.

And once the coronavirus pandemic is over and members of staff can return to work, I will be closing the Labour Party’s offices for a day and inviting representatives of the Jewish community to come in and facilitate a day’s training on antisemitism. We have to be honest that this a cultural problem and only by listening and learning can we change that.

The principle of the changes I want to see are clear: if you are anti-semitic, you should not be in the Labour Party. No ifs, no buts.

I will leave no stone left unturned in the fight against antisemitism. That is my promise to the Jewish community. My test for success will be the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.

This is a moral imperative, not a political one. The Jewish community makes Britain a better, stronger society. It is a community which inspires the nation. And I hope to be able to build a strong relationship with it in the months and years to come as Leader of the Labour Party.

Sir Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour Party

April 06, 2020 20:08

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