What can the Labour party do to better tackle antisemitism? Richard Angell offers 10 immediate steps to take the initiative
‘Enough is enough.’ The message from Parliament Square was powerful yesterday. To have mainstream Jewish organisations protesting Labour’s apathy to antisemitism was a sad moment. On Jeremy Corbyn’s latest statement on the antisemitic mural he finally said the words people were looking for last week: ‘sorry’. We all make errors of judgement but being prepared to apologise for them is an important quality in the frontrunner for prime minister. The fact people fear a pattern requires more forthright response. The inaction to date speaks volumes – the Jewish community see it as complicity and the antisemites see it as an endorsement. That is how a culture builds and how an organisation can become institutionally racist.
Speaker after speaker said some version of ‘words are cheap, it is time for action’. They are right. So what can Corbyn and Labour do to tackle antisemitism in the party? There are 10 things that could be quickly done to show real desire to change.
First, tell Ken Livingstone he is out, never coming back and not welcome at any Labour party, leader’s office or affiliated trade union events ever again.
Second, give the Compliance Unit the resources it need to process the complaints about antisemitism, ensure the National Constitutional Committee meets to hear the cases and write to everyone under investigation to demand of them that they make themselves available for hearings.
Third, call a special meeting of the National Executive Committee to reaffirm the Labour party’s full support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism and make clear that any engagement in Holocaust denial is not compatible with Labour membership – this is equally applicable to council candidate Alan Bull in Peterborough through to film maker Ken Loach.
Fourth, Corbyn could make a speech to a Jewish audience or with the Jewish press, on antisemitism, its history and its various manifestations. Point out that anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitism but can be and often is – and that is not acceptable. Make clear that there are plenty of reasonable to criticisms of the state of Israel, its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza and the government of Israel – especially Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing coalition – but none of them are should include antisemitism, age old antisemitic tropes or likening Israel to the Nazis or apartheid South Africa. Use of ‘Zio’ and Zionism as a pejorative word or term of abuse should lead to automatic suspension.
Five, establish a Twitter and Facebook profile that singles out antisemitic supporters of his leadership – Scott Nelson and the like – with a simple instruction: ‘Either delete your tweet or delete your Twibbon – you do not do this in my name.’ Every time one of these repugnant antisemites rears their ugly head send the message and keep doing it until they get the message. This one act could do a lot to clean up the Labour twittersphere and Facebook for Jewish members, councillors and members of parliament.
Six, implement the final recommendations of Shami Chakrabarti’s report.
Seven, commission the Jewish Labour Movement to do a full audit of the of the actions taken since Jan Royall’s report, Chakrabarti’s report, the home affairs select committee’s investigation, highlight any outstanding actions and any further recommendations they would include and instruct the chair of the equalities sub-committee of the NEC to personally see they are implemented.
Eight, commission Jewish Labour Movement-led training for the NEC in modern antisemitism and unconscious bias like Labour Students have done. It should be compulsory and attended by the leader himself.
Nine, once and for all set up and independent complaints procedure, run by a third party that can deal with bullying, sexual harassment and that would include antisemitism. No one has confidence in the Labour party processes anymore, and rightly so, not least because the leader’s office cannot help themselves but interfere.
Ten, stop all attacks on the Jewish Labour Movement, which has been affiliated to Labour since the 1920s. That means making clear that JLM will not be stripped of its best practice awards, that JVL is not eligible for local or national affiliation, and asking Katy Clark to confirm that the relationship between JLM and the party, including its representation on the NEC through the socialist societies collective, will not be diminished by the democracy review.
Of course, it is on all of us to help create the movement we want to see, and that means organisations in the wider labour movement must do their bit.
Labour’s NEC and its leadership should ask the affiliated trade unions to clarify in their rules that those who are kicked out of the Labour party for racism or hate speech – while they are entitled to workplace representation – should not have a role in their union’s democratic structures and no say whatsoever over their union’s dealing with the Labour party. It should also be impressed upon Momentum that the group must enforce its own rules that those who have been kicked out of the Labour cannot be members of Momentum. Reports that a number of such people continue to appear at local Momentum group meetings allows them to continue to play a role in our party that they should no longer have.
Incoming Labour general secretary Jennie Formby went to Twitter on Sunday to say she ‘look[s] forward to working with [Corbyn], with Jewish organisations & with the NEC to ensure our complaints [and] disciplinary procedures are robust, transparent [and] fair. There is no place for antisemitism within our movement’. We should take her at her word. But no more words, just actions.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell
If you are looking for a way to show solidarity with British Jews and fellow members of the Labour party become a supportive member of the Jewish Labour Movement now: jewishlabour.org.uk/join
Photo: Kate Dearden
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.