Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

Labour's suspension of Corbyn sends exactly the right message to Jews like me

I was never more ashamed to have voted for a Labour candidate during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, than when I read his response to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission report (EHRC) yesterday morning.

Instead of confronting his own role in the report’s withering verdict – which found that Labour had breached the Equality Act in its mismanagement of antisemitism claims – Corbyn went on the attack. By lambasting political opponents and ‘much of the media’ for their ‘dramatically overstated’ view of anti-Jew hatred within the party, Corbyn showed he has learned nothing. 

I saw the quotes before I saw who made them – and, in my worst fears, couldn’t imagine they had been made by Corbyn himself. 

Reading Corbyn’s statement gave me unwanted flashbacks to the debacle of a press conference staged by Corbyn four years ago to launch the Chakrabarti Report into antisemitism within the party. 

That absurd event, which saw a Jewish Labour MP accused by a party member of colluding with the ‘right-wing media’ – itself an antisemitic dog-whistle – brought Labour’s inability to handle its own members’ racism to national attention. The meaningless whitewash of a report barely made an impression.

Thankfully, the EHRC went much further than that yesterday. With the long-awaited analysis concluding Labour made ‘serious failings’ and would have dealt with antisemitism better ‘if the leadership had chosen to do so’, the EHRC pointed a finger squarely at Corbyn’s mismanagement of the party. 

Poignantly, the 130-page report also found Corbyn’s Labour ‘responsible’ for unlawful harassment and discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act – legislation passed by the last Labour government.

The spectacle of a Labour-established watchdog finding the party in breach of Labour’s own equalities legislation shows how much ground it must cover before Jews begin to trust the party again.

I count myself in that camp. A victim of left-wing anti-Jew prejudice on a number of occasions, I realised while at university that even committed ‘anti-racists’ are capable of the same intolerance they make a point to oppose.

It’s in beard-stroking questions about ‘loyalty to Israel’ (a country I have never been to) and ‘globalist tendencies’ (a statement I still don’t quite understand) where such prejudices show themselves.

Antisemitism on the left isn’t about big noses or tight fists but more often a conspiratorial worldview which alleges a global cabal of Jewish control and puppetry. A bit like the mural Corbyn wanted Tower Hamlets council to leave up. 

It’s less crude than what we hear at school – and yet more insidious.

It’s not as severe as what I heard on football terraces in Essex, which included scores of West Ham fans whistling to evoke the gas chambers of the Holocaust and goad rivals Tottenham. 

But it’s damaging in its own way and deserving of confrontation by political leaders whose careers, they tell us, are built upon battling exactly those types of discrimination. 

Labour’s suspension of Corbyn yesterday is therefore a major step forward and a statement of purpose from Starmer in causing the right trouble.

It sends a message to Corbyn and his allies that belittling and minimising claims of antisemitism within Labour is just as harmful as making them. It says that people in power must challenge their friends when they make antisemitic claims, as Corbyn didn’t in the case of Ken Livingstone. 

And most importantly, the suspension says that upkeeping a façade of party unity is less important than ridding Labour of its racist faction. It is depressing and unsurprising that Corbyn’s allies – including union boss Len McCluskey – responded to the suspension with talk of ‘chaos’ and ‘party splits’ rather than engaging with the reasons for it.

Focusing on holding the party together when it caters to people like Corbyn is a fool’s errand. Starmer’s actions yesterday show he knows a public and potentially embarrassing spat with the Corbyn wing is ultimately a better outcome than brushing things under the carpet – something Corbyn’s Labour got unnervingly good at.

Yesterday began as another bleak day for Labour’s Jews, with the report and Corbyn’s shameless statement providing a stark reminder of how much needs to be done for the party to be truly inclusive again.

But news of Corbyn’s suspension will have filled British Jews with great hope in the new accountability faced by those who seek to diminish our suffering. Initial public opinion data on the decision – within Labour and among the broader population – is similarly encouraging.

Optimism is a weird feeling to have about anything at the moment, but after yesterday it’s hard not to believe that this might just be a new Labour.

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