‘If I, after the last three months, am staying on in the Labour Party then so are you.’
These were the words of Ruth Smeeth at the Jewish Labour Movement rally against antisemitism and racism. Smeeth has been subjected to endless antisemitic, sexist and homophobic abuse over the last few months, with 23,000 messages of abuse on a 24 hour period and several death threats meaning that personal security was required at party conference. Louise Ellman has faced moves from her local Momentum group to deselect her, singling out her Jewish identity. Luciana Berger has constantly received antisemitic abuse online and in person, culminating in a prison sentence for a neo-Nazi. These experiences have not only been felt by these three inspirational Labour members of parliament but by multiple members of the parliamentary Labour party and activists all around the country. But I take heart and immense strength from the fact that I am not alone in the fight to express my identity within the Labour party and have people that I can look up to for support.
Sadly, I do not know which of my identities is more under threat and unwelcome in the Labour party right now. I am a proud Clause I socialist, believing in the need to fight for socialism through parliamentary means. I am a proud Zionist, believing in the need to fight for the continuing right of self-determination of the Jewish people in Israel alongside a Palestinian state. I am a proud Jew, believing in the need to continue the traditions and practices of my ancestors and stand up for my community when it is under attack.
For some, leaving the Labour party is a principled move to say ‘I can no longer support this party leadership.’ This is an understandable viewpoint when the only identity one has to defend is the fact that they believe in a radical and electable Labour government as the greatest vehicle for social change. But defending my rights as a Zionist and as a Jew is not limited to the confines of the Labour party. It pains me to say but it is nonetheless true that in 2016 I have to fight for both of those on a daily basis. I fight that battle in the student movement and in society because I will never stand by and do nothing when antisemitism exists in our society. Because of this, I am more determined than ever to stay a proud member of the Labour party and root out this evil.
That is not a fight that I can do alone. So many incredible people have shown their willingness to join in this fight but we still have a long way to go. I am heavily indebted to my comrades in Labour Students, Barnet Labour and many others who have always stood by my side when the Jewish community have been under attack.
Our basic values of tolerance, respect for others and a kinder, gentler politics is under threat. Any Labour government should strive to underpin those values but if we can’t even manage that within our own ranks then we have no chance of power.
So stay – stay because the Labour party is more than one man, stay because the values and aspirations we hold dear can only be achieved through the Labour party in power, stay because we have a fight on our hands to defend our basic values.
Stay because I need your solidarity.
Liron Velleman is youth and students officer of Jewish Labour Movement and youth officer of Chipping Barnet CLP. He tweets at @vellstells
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