We must always be vigilant in fighting hatred

Even on the eve of the EHRC report’s publication, there were those claiming our position was primarily driven by political opposition to Corbyn. Not an ounce of contrition, just more denial and gaslighting

October 30, 2020 14:32

The last few years have been long and exhausting. As a community, we came together to fight what we believed to be institutional racism at the hands of the Labour Party. The long-awaited publication of the EHRC report allows us to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Not because the issue is over but because our position has been vindicated. This is not about triumphalism, we would rather have not had this fight.

For years, we have been accused of smearing the party. Even on the eve of this report’s publication, there were those claiming our position was “primarily driven by political opposition to Corbyn’s socialist, internationalist politics”. Not an ounce of contrition, just more denial and gaslighting — an effective tactic used by bullies to wear down their victims and make them question what they know to be the truth. No more.

The EHRC has found the Labour Party guilty of multiple breaches of the Equality Act and its responsibilities towards its Jewish members. It has found there was indeed widespread harassment of Jewish Labour members, both online and in person, and there was direct discrimination. The Labour leadership embraced, tolerated, covered up and often supported antisemites. This is a shameful episode for a party with a history of anti-racist values and activism. Vindication is important but this chapter will only be over when the party makes clear its response to the investigation.

Without a doubt, structural changes are needed to restore confidence and allow the party to be a place where Jews can feel at home. As well as the institutional changes required, cultural change is vital.

The hurt the community has felt needs to be acknowledged if we are to put this behind us. Many Labour politicians who we had longstanding relationships with were missing in action throughout this time. We cannot hide our disappointment and nor should we. Amongst others, our very own vice presidents, Luciana Berger and Dame Louise Ellman, were left to walk alone too many times.

Following the 2017 election when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour did far better than expected, we recognised the public didn’t understand our concerns, or worse, they didn’t care.

We are proud of the role we played in helping to expose the issues in the party and highlighting the community’s fears. We helped to organise the Enough is Enough rally, giving the community the chance to raise its voice.

We commissioned focus groups, polling and research to help us better understand the issue. One key finding was that the very term “antisemitism” is not understood by the majority of the public.

We found that “anti-Jewish racism” resonated more and we tried to adjust how we speak about the issue.

This period was a test of leadership for our community. The sustained, strategic and effective cooperation between senior representatives and many organisations is something we should celebrate. We must strive to continue to meet the challenges we continue to face with the same confident and collaborative leadership.

We are proud to have supported the Jewish Labour Movement in preparing their submission to the EHRC and thankful to the whistleblowers who put their livelihoods on the line. They stood by us — and for what was right — when so many didn’t.

The lesson of this whole sorry episode is that we must always be vigilant against a resurgence of anti-Jewish racism, because it can come from anywhere, including places you would least expect. For us to see it rear its head in Britain, in this century, in the traditional political and social movement of anti-racism is something which still rankles.

We have been encouraged by Sir Keir Starmer’s direction. He recognises that it will take time to rebuild confidence and that the onus is on him and the party to do that.

He will have to do this while the “few bad apples” narrative persists amongst those set on rewriting history or exonerating themselves from this shameful episode.

How he deals with these people is a test of his leadership and his dedication to repairing the damage caused.

We will judge him on his actions.

Claudia Mendoza is the Jewish Leadership Council’s Joint Chief Executive

October 30, 2020 14:32

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