Want Labour to be a ‘safe space for Jews’? Here are the three steps Labour must take

by Emma Picken and Euan Philipps

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s reset: the path back to power” which Uncut will be launching at Labour conference . The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election.

On October 29th, 2020, something took place that would have seemed inconceivable had it been 10 years earlier: the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that the Labour Party had breached equalities law and had acted illegally in its treatment of Jews[1].

This outcome was in part due to the vicious culture that had been imported during the Corbyn years. More importantly, however, the party was already ripe for infestation with a culture that contained both antisemitic individuals and ideas. It had little or no defence against either.

The following piece will not rehash how appalling Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour is or the depths of antisemitism  found within his fellow travellers. No one has plumbed these depths more than Labour Against Antisemitism  (LAAS), as our 20,000-page submission to the EHRC attests. Nor will we go over how Labour got itself into the position of being led by an antisemite; this has already been extensively and eloquently covered by David Hirsh in Contemporary Left Antisemitism , Dave Rich in The Left’s Jewish Problem, Alan Johnson and many others[2].

Rather, we will discuss the main areas Labour needs to address in the immediate present in order to make the party an environment where antisemitism  is no longer tolerated; how Labour can sincerely atone for the damage done to the Jewish community and its vocal allies; and how Labour can turn the ‘safe space for Jews’ soundbite into a truly secure environment for its Jewish members.

There are three elements that must all be put in place to finally rid the Labour Party of antisemitism .

The first is tackling antizionist antisemitism .

Following our extensive reporting of antisemitism , our observation in LAAS is that contemporary antisemitic discourse centres around those claiming only to be ‘antizionist’. However, antizionism is at the heart of the issue – and, in our experience, is without fail antisemitic. Thus, without tackling antizionist antisemitism , ‘tearing antisemitism  out by its roots’ is frankly doomed to failure. While internally within the Jewish community there will always be a small minority with antizionist views, the vast majority identify as Zionist, with 93% saying Israel plays a central part in their identity. Antizionist antisemitism  harms them deeply and multiple ways[3].

What must be done?

Firstly, the party must sever all ties with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). It is astonishing that a group so evidently steeped in antisemitism  is welcome within any antiracist movement; all the more so that this group is afforded so much influence within Labour policy on Israel that two out of the three leadership candidates in the last leadership elections backed the PSC pledges[4]. One of the candidates, Lisa Nandy, is now shadow Foreign Secretary[5].

There is extensive evidence of the extreme antisemitism  within the PSC[6], which stands opposed to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism  that Labour has adopted in full.

The unions, too, have not been aligned to such overt racism since the London dockers famously came out in support of Enoch Powell. The affiliation to the PSC of every single large union within Labour must be ended without delay. It is deeply ironic that Frances O’Grady feels bound to discuss ways in which the unions need to face up to their racist past, while ignoring the flourishing racism of today[7].

Secondly, Labour must firmly close its doors to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), whose banner of ‘social justice’ serves to disguise a darker aim: the eradication of Israel. BDS initiatives remove agency from Jewish business, students and academics in the diaspora. These have no impact on Israeli governmental policies, however they are a conduit for some of the most vicious antisemitic intimidation seen since the 1930s.

No right-minded Labour member would admit to supporting BDS if the above points were included in its discussion on racism, and especially not if the movement ever reached its goal – so why is this tolerated? Why is this antizionist antisemitism  treated differently to other kinds of racism? In our view, the party should not treat adherents to BDS any differently to any other racist.

What many miss is the fact that BDS is both bigoted and discriminatory. It holds Israel to standards not required by any other democratically elected sovereign state. It’s clarion call of ‘to the River and the sea’ is the call for the destruction of Israel – the claiming of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; the state of Israel. In fact, the logo on posters and T-shirts for the BDS and it’s sister organisation, The Palestine solidarity committee, clearly shows the entirety of Israel as being claimed for a Palestinian state. No two state solution or shared ownership, just the eradication of Israel.  The Labour Party must find a better way to legitimately support the cause of the Palestinian people without calling for the destruction of Israel and the alienation of the majority of Anglo Jewry.

The second element that the Labour Party needs to deal with is the appearance of its MPs and their tacit endorsement of antisemitism  at Israel/Palestine demonstrations.

There is no escaping the blatant antisemitism  on show at these rallies, nor the hatred they inspire. A multitude of examples illustrate why no antiracist should go anywhere near them. However, instead of distancing themselves, Labour MPs have either kept silent or made meek excuses over the antisemitism  on show. Furthermore, during the most recent conflict in Israel-Palestine, MP after MP stood up alongside Hamas and Iran to castigate our military ally and the one Jewish state. If Labour were in power, would this become our foreign policy?

Disciplinary processes attached to what amounts to the official legitimisation of such extremist hatred should be implemented: enabling or indicating support for Hamas – whose military wing is still designated as a terrorist organisation – while sharing platforms with racist fanatics should have consequences for those representing the Labour Party.

The impact of these MPs’ actions during periods of conflict and the consequences for British Jews cannot be underestimated. As covered by the Community Security Trust (CST)’s recent publication, ‘The Month of Hate’[8], the real-world abuse of Jews between 8th May to 7th June 2021 was unprecedented in recent years. Meanwhile, instead of defending Jewish people against this abuse, the Labour Party could only be found, it seems, consorting with the abusers, sharing platforms with those who feel that the destruction of Israel is justified, and protesting with those too ignorant to understand what the slogan ‘from the river to the sea’ really means.

There will, naturally, be many Labour MPs who do not agree with attending these rallies, but at the time of writing, they are nowhere to be seen or heard. Their silence is as loud to the Jewish community as the rants of the extremists screaming from the podiums. And meanwhile, tragically, Jewish children and young people are suffering abuse at school and universities.

The sum total of the above is that Labour is not a safe space for Jews. The antisemitism  scandal may have exploded under Corbyn, but it was there before he took control, and the potential for Labour to be led by another antisemite will remain until antizionist antisemitism  is properly dealt with. It is not enough only to pick off the low-hanging fruit – without addressing these areas there will always be a continuous stream of antisemitic thinking feeding into the party.

If Labour acts on these points, this would also deter antisemites from wanting to join or stay in the party. It would create an environment where civil discourse over Israel can take place without falling prey to extremist doctrine, and where those with constructive ideas can be heard over the current toxic noise.

The third element is process.

Reporting members who hold (or at least can be shown to promote) antisemitic views and behaviours to the Labour Party is both arduous and thankless: the work is time-consuming and repetitive, sifting through racist content is mentally and emotionally challenging, and the confidentiality of the disciplinary process means it is unrewarding. However, the simple truth is that in an institutionally antisemitic organisation like the Labour Party there are a lot of members who are antisemitic, and so how those members are dealt with is obviously an important element of how Labour moves on from its antisemitism  crisis (if indeed it is able to).

Labour Against Antisemitism  has always argued for a zero-tolerance approach to tackling antisemitism  in the Labour Party[9]. We stated early on our belief that being seen to be antisemitic would not only be fundamentally wrong in terms of what it meant for Jewish party members and the wider British Jewish community, but also that the broader political, moral and institutional failure would be cataclysmic for the Labour Party’s reputation as a potential party of government. So it proved to be, as the Labour Party fell to its worst general election defeat in 80 years in December 2019, followed by the ignominy of the EHRC judgement in October 2020. If the Labour Party wants to demonstrate that it is a safe place for Jewish members to return to, and that it is an organisation competent and capable enough to address its own internal crises, then a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism  must be established to prove it understands why and how things went wrong, that the same circumstances will not be repeated and that those responsible (from those in senior positions of responsibility, including the PLP, to the most casual party member) will be removed.

In terms of what ‘zero-tolerance’ would mean in practice, we believe there needs to be a fair but low burden of evidence to prove an antisemitic mindset (contextualised against the IHRA definition of antisemitism ) and that the level of punishment would tend towards the most severe. This is not to suggest that there would be a totally draconian approach – there needs to be leeway for genuine mistakes and education – but where there is a clear pattern of evidence of antisemitic views then that person should not be a Labour Party member. They are a potential danger to Jewish party members and their presence in a mainstream political party is a threat both to the integrity of the Labour Party’s internal democratic processes and to the safety of our national democracy.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and specifically during the period that Jenny Formby was General Secretary, reported expulsion rates were pitifully low – somewhere around 2%[10]. Following the EHRC Report, which stated the Labour Party “must live up to this commitment [of zero-tolerance]”[11] and “must make it clear that antisemitic conduct by members will not be tolerated”[12] , there were obvious expectations that there would be a significant increase in the numbers of expulsions. Unfortunately, although expulsions have increased markedly they are still too low, possibly as low as 24%[13] (or one in four) of cases serious enough to get to NCC and NEC level. Undoubtedly better, but still nowhere near the expulsion rate of 80 or 90% that would be closer to most people’s expectation of a zero-tolerance policy. The reason for this reluctance to expel may have something to do with the spate of recent court cases brought by expelled and suspended members against the Labour Party[14]; even though the plaintiffs lost on the most recent occasion, a financially weakened Labour Party is understandably reluctant to pursue further cases against opponents who seem backed by seemingly limitless crowdfunding campaigns and even, it is alleged, one major trade union.

Either way, the Labour Party must find another way of increasing its expulsion rate to demonstrate that it is serious about zero tolerance. One way has been to proscribe groups[15] such as Labour Against the Witch-hunt and the Labour in Exile Network, whose raison d’etre had been to oppose efforts to tackle antisemitism  and to support expelled and suspended members. Other groups that could be targeted include the Labour Representation Committee (of which former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is Life President) and People’s Momentum, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn group set up by Jon Lansman in 2015. Proscribing both these groups would provoke a huge backlash but is arguably a necessity for Labour’s electability even without the positive impact it would have on removing antisemitic party members. Another option would be to toughen the party’s rulebook on antisemitism , and so reduce the possibility of losing court cases to disaffected expelled members that way.

These changes would require an appetite for the Labour Party to actually exceed the recommendations of the EHRC Report. While fulfilling the demands of the EHRC should go a long way to addressing Labour’s antisemitism  crisis (and there are still many gaps in the Labour Party’s Action Plan that still need to be delievered), we feel more action is required – the EHRC’s investigation was, after all, restricted by its own parameters and so the findings and response are similarly limited. The Labour Party is also an institution and like most institutions is also subject to internal resistance to change. What those currently in charge of the party must avoid is a route to reform that satisfies only the most basic requirements of the EHRC in the short term: any resultant changes risk being superficial and temporary, and inauthentic to an electorate who are sick of being taken for fools by the Labour Party. Simply saying ‘that’ll do’ on Labour Party antisemitism  is a recipe for disaster, what Starmer and his supporters must ask is ‘what’ll work?’ instead.

Identifying whether what the Labour Party is doing to tackle antisemitism  is actually working is the final part of the process of reform, and has the potential to provide benefits in terms of understanding how to tackle both anti-Jewish racism and other forms of racism in other settings. External polling should be carried out on party members views over time to gauge whether levels of antisemitism  are coming down, indicating whether the Labour Party’s broader strategy is working. Antisemitism  training and education initiatives need to be monitored and evaluated to ensure their efficacy and value for money, so they don’t become box-ticking exercises and are genuinely transformative experiences for those members sent on them, playing a significant role in tackling antisemitism  and challenging antisemitic attitudes. The findings will naturally have an ongoing function in shaping how the Labour Party balances its future antisemitism  strategy.

Labour’s denial and victimhood

As obvious as this may seem, it apparently needs to be stated: antisemitism  did not happen to the Labour Party, it happened to the Jewish community. Antisemitic abuse is still happening to the Jewish community and this has become mainstream because of the Labour Party. Yet Labour appears to be in denial about who the victims of the antisemitism  crisis actually are, and views itself as the victim of the antisemitism  crisis.

Now that Corbyn has lost control, much of the party behaves as if the explosion of antisemitism  was somehow nothing to do with them; that the thousands of Labour members radicalised under Corbyn are not still a huge and devastating problem for UK Jews (the number of people probably goes into millions if you include voters); and that while many people fought to ‘save Labour’ and rescue the country from Brexit, the by-product was a huge increase in racist bullying and hatred towards its tiny Jewish community. The mainstreaming of antisemitism  has neither been acknowledged nor redress offered by the current party leadership.

Many Labour MPs spoke of their ‘devastation and shame’ following the EHRC verdict, and about how they couldn’t believe this had happened in Labour. Yet the very act of making this statement seems to be one of removing their own agency from what happened, rather than being an opportunity to acknowledge and make amends for the role they had played. Yes, there are the obvious villains and heroes, but staying silent is an active choice. Too many kept quiet or made excuses, while telling the electorate twice that Jeremy Corbyn should be Prime Minister.

There seems to be a temptation now among MPs and party members to disassociate from any responsibility to undo the damage the Corbyn years created and instead to congratulate themselves on his removal as leader.

Adding insult to injury, too often those who walked away or took an uncompromising stance against Corbyn are swept aside as though it is they who are defective. Those still pushing to suggest Labour has a deep-rooted problem with antisemitism  are seen as a nuisance now Labour is ‘under new management’ – even though no organisation can possibly get a clean bill of health so soon after being found institutionally racist. The fact that party culture has not undergone fundamental review – in order to ensure that an antisemite will never lead the party again – is a monumental mistake.

The damage will take years to undo.

The Jewish community isn’t buying any of it, and why should they? They know it’s not true that Labour is a safe space when 82 CLPs pass motions against the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from the party.

Excluding those who took an uncompromising position from the party is damaging and immoral. Many who walked away risked everything when they did so: careers cut short, pilloried by those supporting Corbyn and too often seen as inferior by many of those who stayed and fought. The impact on them and on those who were forced out[16] has not been addressed by the current leadership.

These people are considered heroes amongst the Jewish community, and many will not trust the party until they are both welcomed back in and feel the party has sufficiently changed to want to join.

Considering the complete breakdown of trust between the Jewish community and the Labour Party, the treatment of those who walked away or staunchly opposed Corbyn as somehow ‘not Labour’ is very revealing. When only 6% of a minority community is prepared to vote for the party that supposedly fights racism[17], taking a view of those who couldn’t stomach the pretence as surplus to finding the solution is absurd and destructive. These people are the only ones truly standing up for the Jewish community and should be integral to repairing Labour’s tattered reputation over antisemitism .

Labour’s tribalism must be set aside when dealing with antisemitism  – just as the Party’s moral compass was when it allowed a racist to lead it for 5 years.

Corbyn was a part of Labour tradition and that is what needs to change, before the party slides back into complacency, believing it is ‘job done’. As the hard left are driven back into submission, every other part of Labour needs to ask itself: ‘What role do I play in fixing this institutionally antisemitic party, and how do I make sure it never happens again?’ The party needs to stop feeling sorry for itself and start listening to those still talking about antisemitism .

Given how difficult the Labour Party has found coming to terms with the scale of its antisemitism  crisis, we do not expect all of these recommendations to be accepted immediately or to be welcomed particularly warmly. To be frank, however, the Labour Party long ago lost the right to be sensitive about the levels of racism within its membership and needs to face up to the reality that heavy surgery is necessary to its future survival. If Starmer and the moderates wish to retain control of the Labour Party after the next general election then they need to win seats, and to do that they must persuade the electorate that Labour has changed. If those changes are simply cosmetic then voters will smell a rat: there is nothing to be lost by the leader going all out on the fight against antisemitism .

Thanks to Labour, there are now a far larger number of antisemites in the UK than there were 6 years ago. Only when the party understands its obligations in undoing this can it begin to make amends and rebuild trust for the Jewish community.

Emma Picken is a director of Labour Against Antisemitism  (LAAS) providing research to numerous journalists for exposure Antisemitism . 

Euan Philipps has acted as spokesperson and communications lead for LAAS since the group started in 2017. Formerly a CLP chair, he is no longer engaged in local party activism and is dedicated to challenging antisemitism  in the Labour Party and the wider British political Left.

Both Emma and Euan are spokespeople for LAAS and the writing of this piece is a group collaboration to reflect the views of very many within the Jewish community. The editor is Mina Kupfermann, with special input from Fiona Sharpe and Alex Hearn and credit to the whole LAAS team. 

[1] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/inquiries-and-investigations/investigation-labour-party

[2] To understand Labour antisemitism , we need the detail and the big picture – The Jewish Chronicle https://www.thejc.com/comment/opinion/to-understand-labour-antisemitism -we-need-the-detail-and-the-big-picture-1.506449

Fathom – Fathom Report | Institutionally Antisemitic: Contemporary Left Antisemitism  and the Crisis in the British Labour Party https://fathomjournal.org/fathom-report-institutionally-antisemitic-contemporary-left-antisemitism -and-the-crisis-in-the-british-labour-party/

Jeremy Corbyn’s Antisemitism  Crisis: A Timeline | CAMERA https://www.camera.org/article/jeremy-corbyns-antisemitism -crisis-a-timeline/

https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.26613/jca/3.2.54/html

[3] The Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel https://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk337
Israel and The Middle East – Board of Deputies https://www.bod.org.uk/issue-areas/israel-the-middle-east/

[4] Labour’s policy on Israel and the Palestinians should not be dictated by PSC | Luke Akehurst | The Blogs https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/labours-policy-on-israel-palestine-should-not-be-dictated-by-psc/

[5] Lisa Nandy backs Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s pledges, including right of return – The Jewish Chronicle https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/lisa-nandy-backs-palestine-solidarity-campaign-s-pledges-including-right-of-return-1.496849

[6] The Palestine Solidarity Campaign of Jew hatred | Marc Goldberg | The Blogs https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-palestine-solidarity-campaign-of-jew-hatred/

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/swathe-of-antisemitic-abuse-is-uncovered-at-group-backed-by-jeremy-corbyn-a4136681.html?amp

[7] PressReader.com | TRADE TALKS: IN­TER­VIEW WITH TUC BOSS https://www.pressreader.com/uk/eastern-eye-uk/20210709/281487869344323

[8] https://cst.org.uk/news/blog/2021/07/15/the-month-of-hate

[9] https://twitter.com/LabourAgainstAS/status/941212618580221955?s=20

[10] https://labourlist.org/2019/02/jennie-formby-provides-numbers-on-labour-antisemitism -cases/

[11] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/investigation-into-antisemitism -in-the-labour-party.pdf p. 3

[12] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/investigation-into-antisemitism -in-the-labour-party.pdf p. 8.

[13] https://labouragainstas.org.uk/news-and-comment/labours-disciplinary-stats/

[14] https://www.cityam.com/expelled-labour-members-lose-high-court-antisemitism -battle/

[15] https://labourlist.org/2021/07/labours-ruling-body-agrees-to-proscribe-socialist-appeal-and-three-other-groups/

[16] Forced Out: The Labour Antisemitism  Resignation Letters – Goldsmiths Research Online http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/27993/

[17] EXCLUSIVE – ELECTION POLL: One quarter of UK Jews set to vote Lib Dem | Jewish News https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/election-poll-2019-survation-jn/


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9 Responses to “Want Labour to be a ‘safe space for Jews’? Here are the three steps Labour must take”

  1. Anne says:

    Thank you this well researched article.
    Sorry again to go off subject, but if Uncut is serious about why voters have moved away from Labour then look no further than Uncut itself. This web site has been a breeding ground for Trolls. Uncut has failed to control the comments section of this web site – it is responsible not only for the articles it presents but also the comments section.
    If there is to be a Mark Two of Uncut then there has to be more organisation and better researched articles. There has to be a legal framework with an appropriate complaints section. Maybe this might be better achieved by coming under the umbrella of the official Labour Party web site.
    It is time for the present Uncut – in its present form – to turn off the lights and close its doors.

  2. Tafia says:

    German Exit Polls are out. If they are accurate (they usually are), it’s going to take a minimum 3 and probably 4 party Coalition to form a majority government. Forecasts are:-

    CDU/CSU: 24.7% – 198 seats
    SPD: 24.9% – 197 seats
    Greens: 14.8% – 117 seats
    FDP: 11.3% – 89 seats
    AfD: 11.2% – 89 seats
    Die Linke: 5% – 40 seats
    Others: 8.1% – 1 seat.

    Possibly a Left/Right ‘Grand Coalition’ on the cards?

  3. Ann Onnimus says:

    If you actually cared about making the Labour Party a safe space for Jews then perhaps, instead of writing extremist conspiracy-theorist rubbish about antizionism being automatically antisemitic and BDS being about “the eradication of Israel”, perhaps you could talk about some actual realities of Labour’s treatment of Jews in the Starmer era, like the leader of a Jewish socialist group being expelled from the party on spurious retroactive grounds and physically ejected from conference: https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/jvl-co-chair-marched-out-of-labour-conference-and-expelled-from-party/

  4. Well Thank you to Emma and Euan for writing such a succinct piece. Just a few questions from someone who thinks he is neither an anti-zionist or a anti-Semite.

    1/ Why are so many more Jewish party members being suspended, expelled or disciplined under Starmer in his short time as leader than were under Corbyn? Were they the wrong sort of Jews?

    2/ Would you call for the expulsion of Gerald Kaufman, an ex-Labour Party MP, if he were still alive over his support of sanctions against Israel?

    3/ During the Battle of Cable Street wasn’t the Board of Deputies an anti-Zionist organization which called on Jews not take part in stopping Mosley marching through the East End while the Communists, the ILP, the Young Zionists and many Labour members, and it has to be said London dockers of Irish descent, did?

    I could ask many more questions of your piece but I will bite my tongue for now except to say it is not up to the BoD to say who needs to be expelled from Labour just as it isn’t for their Moslem or Christian equivalents.

  5. Tafia says:

    And Germany faces months of negotiations and the end of which can only result in a highly unstable government.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Danny I found it off that people who weren’t Jewish who claimed to be a bit Jewish to get away with their anti semitism

  7. Terrific piece, really well done Emma and Euan.

    The 15 Lies in the disgraceful anti-Israel motion yesterday – passed around 2-1 on a show of hands – show that far from ‘closing the door to antisemitism”, Labour remains unelectable for the vast majority of Jewish voters.

    https://onthedarkside410122300.wordpress.com/2021/09/27/the-15-lies-in-labours-anti-israel-motion/

  8. John P Reid says: ‘who weren’t Jewish who claimed to be a bit Jewish to get away with their anti semitism’

    John I will say it, although you know it already, the leadership is expelling members who are Jewish, not people pretending to be Jewish. It seems there are good Jews on the right but left wing Jews are anti-Semites.

  9. Are you having a laugh??

    Emma and Euan have harassed socialist jews along with Hoffman since 2016 at least. Hoffman (Labour Against AS consultant) was convicted of assaulting a Palestinian protester and Fiona Sharpe their other consultant joined in with the hateful antisemitic parodies run by members of LAAS such as Zoe Kemp. Euan and Emma will NEVER represent Jews and the fact you have included them in any authority on your site has pretty much negated your validity as a voice on the left.

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