Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Why I will stay and fight

Rooting around in a bin to find a family member’s discarded Labour membership card, I asked myself why I still bother. But as a Jewish progressive, nothing will deter me fighting antisemitism where it exists, explains Stefan Rollnick

Despite the brilliant efforts of anti-racists in our party to hold the party establishment to account, and despite the National Executive Committee’s adoption of the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, examples included – I do not feel like celebrating.

The NEC’s decision does not change the fact that Jewish members of parliament in our party, particularly the female MPs, are receiving unimaginable antisemitic abuse – even from their own members. It does not change the fact that – to paraphrase former Labour organiser-turned-comedian Matt Forde – by resigning, Ken Livingstone was better at dealing with Ken Livingstone than the Labour leadership was. It does not change the fact that Peter Willsman, now on the record offending many Jews, was endorsed by our fellow members as worthy of a leadership role. The scenes of fellow members getting selfies with him on his way into the NEC meeting made me ask myself: is this still my party?

Adopting the minimum standard for protecting Jewish Labour members from discrimination is not something I can rejoice in. And a caveat giving members permission to question whether the Jewish people’s endeavour to find a state of their own might be racist, adds to a long list of insults.

Two weeks ago, my dad – a once enthusiastic Jeremy Corbyn supporter – threw his Labour membership card in the bin. From the age of about 16, my dad and I have argued about politics. One of the cornerstones of growing up in a Jewish household, for me, was not anything religious: it was sitting down every Friday night and talking around the dinner table about politics. Corbyn was often on the agenda, and still is – only now, it is for different reasons. Now, I sit here with his membership card in my wallet (yes, I did retrieve it from the bin, and yes, I do love the Labour party so much I will root around bins for them), waiting for the day I can give it back to him. The caveats, the silence, the kicking the can down the road just became too much. My dad is now leaving the party until he is convinced Labour wants him back.

Read more: What the response to Willsman tells us about antisemitism in the Labour party

Is this demoralising? Yes. Is it getting harder to answer questions from concerned family members about why I am still committed to the Labour party? Absolutely. It is not despite this, but precisely because of it, that Jewish progressives have to stay and fight.

The antisemitism crisis is not about how many people have noticed the story in the news – it goes beyond politics. It is not even about whether Corbyn himself is an antisemite – it is bigger than that. It’s about a wider movement in the western democracies that is trying to paper over the cracks of history. This controversy can only propagate in an environment that has forgotten the horrors of the Holocaust, and the inherited anxieties of Jews all over the world.

The IHRA definition does not infringe on the rights of Labour members to call out the mistakes of the Israeli government – nor should it. My great auntie, who is over 90 years old, gets up at 5.30am every day from her home near the West Bank to stand at border and take notes on the behaviour of the border guards. For me, she is the perfect metaphor: a love of Israel and an unwavering pursuit of justice. The fact that this could ever be a contradiction tells you all you need to know about the state of this discussion.

I am hoping that one day soon, with the help of progressives and committed anti-racists from all wings of our party, I will be able to give my dad his membership card back.

That is when I will be celebrating.


Stefan Rollnick is editorial assistant at Progress. He tweets @StefanRollnick


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Stefan Rollnick

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