Former MP speaks of 'horrendous' moment Holocaust survivors asked how she could stay in 'racist' Labour

Ruth Smeeth tells a Jewish Labour Movement event about the 'devastating' encounter


Former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth has spoken of the "completely horrendous" moment she was confronted by a group of Holocaust survivors who asked her how she could remain a member of a political party that was "racist" and contained Shoah deniers.

The Jewish Labour Movement's vice chair told an online meeting of Labour Party members: "One of the most horrendous events I was ever at was with a group of Holocaust survivors who asked me how I could stay a member of a racist organisation as a Jewish MP.

"I can’t tell you how truly devastating and heartbreaking that was - or how you justified to them that you were staying to fight from within, after their experiences.

"Can you imagine a Holocaust survivor asking you why you are still a member of a party with Holocaust deniers? It was completely horrendous.’’

Ms Smeeth, who was speaking at a JLM briefing event staged by the Labour First organisation, also revealed she had argued with Luciana Berger about the response of Labour colleagues to their plight in a party riddled with antisemitism.

"Luciana and I had a big row because she was so disappointed in our colleagues,’’ said Ms Smeeth, who lost the Stoke on Trent North seat she had held since 2015 in the December election. 

"I was suggesting (to her) ‘they are facing others things, it’s alright’.

"And then Luciana left,  and I realised she was right and I was wrong. It’s the disappointment from people you expect more of. That’s one of the hardest parts."

Ms Smeeth was joined by JLM's national secretary Peter Mason for the online event which was staged to provide Labour members with an insight into what to expect from the forthcoming report on Labour by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Mr Mason also spoke frankly of the "incredible pressure that so many Jewish Labour Party members have come under as to whether they should stay or they should go".

The Ealing Labour councillor admitted the "overwhelming majority"  of Jewish Labour members had decided to leave "because they did not feel the Labour Party was a welcoming space in which they could organise any more".

Mr Mason said "that was particularly difficult’’ for those who, like him, had chosen to stay, and who believed there was an intrinsic link between "Jewish values" and those of Labour.

He spoke of the "pressure we came under from our own community, from our own organised Jewish community who asked, ‘what an earth are doing remaining inside a Labour Party that’s going to elect people into high office that are really quite problematic for us?'"

Addressing the forthcoming EHRC report, which is expected to be sent to the Labour Party in the next few weeks, Mr Mason said Sir Keir Starmer  would receive it 28 days in advance in order to allow him  and the party to provide a response.

“When that happens, the Labour Party’s got a couple of options," he said. "It has the ability to put up its hand and say ‘fair cop. This is on us. It’s our fault. We think that we are happy to accept your recommendations and therefore we are going to enter into a private agreement with you’, a section 23 agreement, which effectively prevents the publication of the report, and the Labour Party could sign up to those recommendations."

Mr Mason added: “From our perspective and what we’ve said to the party very clearly, and what I think the party would want to say, it’s not a time for a private section 23 agreement. 

"We need the report published. We need to have the full and documented conclusions of the EHRC because it’s going to take a herculean effort on behalf of the leadership whether that’s Keir or the general secretary to really undo some of the things that have started to happen.

"Whilst we want the EHRC to give us an independent and objective oversight, it really is not rocket science for anyone who is an impartial observer of the situation to look at the case studies that involve Luciana and Ruth – to a large extent  a layer of Jewish women who have endured disproportionate levels of abuse –  it is self-evident that these things have taken place.’’

While Mr Mason said he welcomed the clear change in approach to antisemitism allegations shown under the new leader, he said he feared the EHRC report being circulated too widely once it is received by the party.

"As we’ve seen in another circumstance, the Labour Party at the moment is leaking like a sieve,’’ he said.

"And quite frankly, when that involves Jewish Labour members having their details, their addresses posted onto far right Ne-Nazi websites in the US...

"If we see that type of behaviour repeated when it comes to the EHRC report – quite frankly the situation will get worse.’’

Referring again to the leaked report into Labour antisemitism - compiled on the orders of former General Secretary Jennie Formby - Mr Mason said: "If it purports to be a submission to the EHRC to defend the party, quite frankly that’s astounding because the story that is told... is actually that Labour has an institutional problem with antisemitism.’’

Both Ms Smeeth and Mr Mason were asked questions from the online audience on how to counter the ugly influence of the Jewish Voice For Labour group at branch meetings up and down the country.

"I won’t be diplomatic about these people,’’ said Ms Smeeth. "They went out their way  to target young Jewish women. They went out of their way to make people not feel comfortable.’’

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