We are fighting for the soul of Labour

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes the forward to an updated version of David Cesarani's book The Jews and the Left, The Left and the Jews


Former Labour Party Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaks at a Scottish Labour Campaign event at the Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy, north of Edinburgh in Scotland on May 13, 2017, as campaigning continues in the build up to the general election on June 8. / AFP PHOTO / Andy Buchanan (Photo credit should read ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images)

I worked with David Cesarani many years ago when I asked him to help me with a speech I was making on antisemitism. The notes he sent me for that speech turned into the pamphlet The Left and the Jews, the Jews and the Left, which is being republished by No Pasaran Media. Over the many years since, I have had reason to be grateful for the advice he gave me then.

It is, as David rightly recognises, impossible to deny the closeness of, and the achievements brought about by, the strong links between the Jewish communities and the progressive left. The litany of Jewish figures who provided both practical and intellectual contributions to every group on the socialist left, and each Labour government here in the UK, is so extensive that marking some individuals out when I could mention so many is invidious. David stands in this tradition, and were it not for him being taken from us far too soon, I know that he would have made an important direct contribution to the debate over the last few years.

As David writes, “the left has not always taken antisemitism seriously”. Indeed, it was as a result of my concern about the rise of the “new antisemitism” in Britain and Europe that, while serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2002, I asked David to write the aforementioned paper. David’s warning to all of us then — that “there are signs that in treating Jewish fears about anti-Jewish sentiment as merely a device to muzzle criticism of Israel ... [the Left] is in danger of repeating the historic error of those ... who dismissed hatred of Jews and threats to their well-being as merely a delusion and the symptom of an ephemeral conflict” — should have been heeded by the Labour Party itself. Had it been, this would have headed off the morally and politically catastrophic growth of antisemitism within the left.

I am proud of Labour’s record in government between 1997 and 2010 in tackling antisemitism. We invested in the security of Jewish schools, reformed how race and religious hate crimes were prosecuted, and provided funding to the Holocaust Educational Trust to ensure young people understood its truth and contemporary relevance.

The Holocaust Educational Trust is now an essential part of our society and I remember well the influence it has had on young people who, in my own constituency, came back from a school visit to Auschwitz determined to warn the whole town of the evil that antisemitism can do. In our memorial gardens is a plaque from their Anne Frank Week with wise words from the late Jonathan Sacks inscribed on it.

Having spoken at the planning enquiry in support of its construction, I hope they will soon complement their work with the building of the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre.

Our record was part of a rich Labour tradition which is brought to life in this work and I am proud of all those who continue to stand in, and fight for, that tradition.

In September 2018, I spoke at the Jewish Labour Movement’s conference. I wanted to show the Jewish community that there were those of us in the Labour Party who were determined to make a stand and try to right the wrongs then being inflicted on the Jewish community. The fight we were engaged in was, I said, one for the very “soul of the Labour Party”. The battle against racism is “about who we are. Our conscience means we don’t just stand up for the rights of some people, some of the time, it means we stand up for the rights of all who are oppressed, all of the time.”

If in recent years Labour failed to build resilience against antisemitism in our politics, we must correct this now under Keir Starmer’s strong leadership.

As we seek to put the dark chapter of the last five years behind us, we must redouble our effort to rebuild Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community. There will understandably be a great deal of suspicion on the part of British Jews and their communal organisations. We now have to acknowledge, and work to overcome, the deep and justified anger and hurt felt.

The next chapter of the story David so generously started for us is yet to be written.

But I have confidence that with perseverance and a determination to stand up for what is right, we will overcome.

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