Peter Mason

Starmer's response to the EHRC report will be a major turning point in the history of Labour antisemitism

JLM National Secretary Peter Mason says up until now full machinery of the Party has been used to find excuses

July 02, 2020 15:04

For almost five years, Jewish Labour activists have been warning in voices with increasing alarm and distress of the growing tide of antisemitism within our Party.

Emerging from the leadership contest in 2015, the rapid influx of new members overwhelmed Party structures. Whilst the vast majority of new members were good people, inspired by a different kind of left politics promised by Corbyn, a committed group of hard-left activists, ideologically committed to a new form of antisemitism, one imbibing all the hallmarks of the old, were able to enter largely unnoticed.

Importing with them a set of tactics not seen inside Labour since the 1980's, they would quickly poison the well. When Hannah Arendt spoke of the "banality of evil", her observation that good people could willingly abdicate their critical thinking in deference to ideologues and rhetoricians came under much scrutiny from those who believed this excused and removed agency from antisemites.

This is precisely the debate that the Labour Party must now face. Five years of the leadership excusing, ignoring, diminishing and downplaying antisemitism has inculcated a culture of denialism and obfuscation. Whilst the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members believe anti-Jewish racism is bad, polling of members has consistently shown that most believe it to be blown out of all true proportion.

For those of us working to rid our Party of it, this has been the most bizarre of experiences. Having exhausted all internal methods of redress, pleading with the leadership and governance of the Party to enforce standards and set the tone, our efforts to call in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as an independent arbiter will soon reach their conclusion.

Having already established that they believe the Party may have committed unlawful acts against Jewish members, the EHRC will soon reach its conclusions and publish its much anticipated report. JLM has, as have others, submitted mountains of evidence. In our case over 70 whistleblower testimonies, reams of primary evidence exhibiting unlawful acts and more than 100 impact testimonies from the people the investigation's terms of reference is focused on protecting: Jewish Labour Party members.

For the Labour Kremlinologists and lawyers, the weeks following the election of Keir Starmer as Leader of the Party have been akin to a three month stake-out. Closely studying every speech, conversation and action to discern the kind of action on antisemitism we will get. Whilst face-to-face meetings with JLM and the community were a big first step, many were continually concerned that the same ask made of Corbyn: "actions, not words", was all too familiar. Anticipation was focused on the EHRC, whose independent recommendations would give ammunition to the new leader to impose good governance onto the Party, or so we assumed.

After nearly five years of no meaningful action, few inside the community believed that Rebecca Long Bailey would receive anything more than a slap on the wrist for sharing an article containing a gross antisemitic conspiracy theory. Indeed early assumptions of communal leaders were that no action would be taken short of a corrosively slow and staged mealy mouthed 'apology' that has been so characteristic of the Corbyn era. None of us could imagine that within four hours, the Shadow Education Secretary would be sacked, with elements of the hard-left declaring open warfare on the Leadership in response.

The conflict that has now begun is remarkable. Until now, the full machinery of the Party has been used to find excuses for antisemitism. In the wake of Long Bailey's sacking, outriders and shock-jock bloggers have taken to the internet and airways in an attempt to justify antisemitism, and Labour Party members have begun to smell the rot. This is a major turning point in the history of Labour antisemitism. The Leader and the Party's response to the EHRC will be the next.

The answer to ending the culture of antisemitism inside Labour is not a choice between setting firm boundaries and disciplining those who cross them; or in re-eductating a radicalised membership in understanding antisemitism; but lies in both. Only then will Labour really be able to restore its tradition as a consistent and universal anti-racist Party. The culture of any organisation is set by its leadership and defined by its actions. What a contrast we have now seen.

July 02, 2020 15:04

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