Why was this night different to all other nights?
On all other nights, we discuss the insidious nature of Labour antisemitism while sitting in our own homes. But on this night – or Monday night, to be exact – we stood in front of Parliament and made our voices heard.
Jews are not among the world’s greatest protestors. We may kvetch a fair amount, but organised protests are not our forté. So the fact that well over 1,000 people showed up with around 48 hour’s notice, in the run-up to Pesach, is a testament to the strength of feeling surrounding this issue.
None of what the speakers said was new – but it was not meant to be new; the very fact it was not new added to the anger that nothing had been done about it.
The speakers included Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, and half a dozen Labour MPs, including Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, John Mann and Wes Streeting.
With different words, they all said the same thing; that it was deeply encouraging to see how many people had turned up to the protest, but deeply shameful that such a protest was deemed necessary.
There was anger in the audience - not directed at the speakers themselves, but at the leader of the Labour party. Richard Angell, the head of Labour’s centrist Progress group and one of many non-Jews in attendance to show their support for the community, noted: “It’s sad that we found the only rally that Jeremy Corbyn won’t speak at.”
When John Mann, the Labour MP, suggested that Mr Corbyn could [if he wished] throw all antisemites out of the party tonight, a number of people in the crowd yelled: “starting with himself”.
When another speaker rhetorically asked what the Labour leader could do to combat antisemitism, some in the audience had a ready answer – “resign!”
But other than that, there was little suggestion that people believed that Labour’s antisemitism problem would magically disappear if its leader suddenly retired from politics. One protestor held a much-admired sign saying “No place for antisemites in Labour – They’re already oversubscribed”.
Rabbi Avrohom Pinter was in attendance, at least in part, he said, because of something that had happened almost two years ago. In June 2016, as Mr Corbyn entered the room where the publication event of the ill-fated Chakrabarti report was to take place, he noticed Rabbi Pinter, a Labour member whom he had met in the past. A photograph was taken of them shaking hands – and ever since, it has been used by some of Mr Corbyn’s supporters to “prove” his eagerness to combat antisemitism.
“I love Israel, but I’m not a Zionist,” said Rabbi Pinter, who is Strictly Orthodox. A former Labour councillor, he described “the toxic atmosphere [within the party] which I feel for myself personally.
“I’ve been called a Zionist agent, I’ve been told I’m in the pay of the Israeli embassy, at a general committee.
“The people claiming this has to do with anti-Zionism [rather than antisemitism] – I’m not a Zionist, and I feel the hate.”
Emma Whysall, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Chipping Barnet at last year’s election, was unambiguous about the strength of feeling within the Jewish community on this issue.
During the election campaign, she said, “people were going to the effort of finding out when we were out doing street stalls, coming to the stall and just wanting to talk about this issue.
“That was the issue that was driving people out of their homes in Barnet to talk to us. It’s what cost us three seats in Barnet, and [the constituency of] Harrow East. Without it, we’d have a Labour government, potentially – it would have been impossible [for the Conservatives] to do a deal with the DUP.”
At the periphery of the crowd stood a small group of those on the periphery of the community; Jewish Voice for Labour, the group which takes a “nothing to see here, guv” approach to the overwhelming examples of Labour antisemitism. One of the signs held by the participants said “Jewish Voice for Labour” on the one side, and “Stop Smearing Labour,” on the other.
But there was no sense from any of the people I talked to that the JVL should not be there.
“It’s a free country,” said one protestor, Lee Barnett. “People are entitled to be idiots. I’m not entirely sure they could make themselves look bigger idiots than they are doing, but I’ve got faith.”
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, said that though he did “not agree with what some of the minority group says, I’m glad they’re here.
“Because the capacity to discuss, debate and actually be open and fair to difference is exactly what we’re saying Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum are not. So it’s a strength.”