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7th November 2020

Labour and anti-Semitism: Why this needs to be taken seriously

Kerry McCall looks into how Labour has failed to tackle anti-Semitism after Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party
Labour and anti-Semitism: Why this needs to be taken seriously
Photo: Sophie Brown @ Wikimedia Commons

I am a Labour voter, and have been a member of the party since 2016. I have always voted Labour in the hope of ousting the Conservative government, not to mention that their policies generally align with my political values.

But I have been disturbed this week to see fellow supporters and party members continuing to downplay, or deny, the fact that Labour has had internal problems surrounding issues of anti-Semitism.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation into anti-Semitism found the Labour party responsible for: interfering with anti-Semitism complaints, failing to adequately train those handling complaints of anti-Semitism, and harassment towards those making accusations within the party.

Issues were also highlighted by the Jewish community themselves during the last general election. 47% of Jewish people surveyed said they would consider emigrating if Jeremy Corbyn won the election, and the majority viewed Labour’s policy towards anti-Semitism as ‘lax’.

This speaks volumes. If Jewish people do not feel safe when imagining living under a Labour government, and if they do not feel as though accusations of discrimination are being taken seriously, then this is something worth investigating and tackling.

Anti-Semitism is a form of racism, and it should be treated as such. The EHRC report showed that the Labour Party failed to prevent anti-Semitism or, at worst, simply accepted it and did nothing.

The fight against racism has been amplified over the past few months through the international Black Lives Matter campaign, and young people have been striving to educate themselves on issues of race in the hope of making positive changes to society.

Yet, somehow, racism towards Jewish people is being overlooked, and is not causing anywhere near as much concern as it should. Accusations of anti-Semitism need to be acknowledged, investigated, and resolved, just as any other accusation of racism should be.

For Corbyn to respond to the EHRC report on social media by arguing that the number of accusations had been exaggerated, whilst in the same statement championing a “zero-tolerance policy towards racism”, is hugely problematic.

Accusations of racism on any scale, small or large, should ring alarm bells for political leaders.  Corbyn’s almost instant diminishing of the scale of the issue, as opposed to accepting and apologising for the mistakes, shows little promise of progress. It indicates a sense of stubbornness, by refusing to admit any level of responsibility.

Obviously, racism is prevalent in other political parties in Britain. Islamophobia within the Conservative party is, in my opinion, deeply rooted, and should undoubtedly be looked into just as the Labour party has been investigated.

The fact that this has not yet happened, however, is not an excuse to ignore Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. Yes, it is wrong that the Conservatives have not received similar treatment. No, that does not mean accusations of anti-Semitism can be dismissed.

I am positive that if Boris Johnson were to respond to accusations of Islamophobia in his party in the way that Corbyn has responded to the findings of this week, he would face immense criticism from his opponents on the Left, and his reputation as a racist would be highlighted immediately.

If Labour had not taken recent action, I would likely have withdrawn my party membership. Thankfully, it seems they are no longer refusing to accept wrongdoing, and are beginning to reckon with their mistakes.

Whether you support Keir Starmer’s takeover as leader of the Labour Party or not, he has taken steps to reassure Jewish Labour voters, and has taken a far tougher stance on dealing with anti-Semitism.

The new leadership promptly promised Jewish leaders that a proper complaints procedure would be set up to deal with all outstanding cases of anti-Semitism in the party. Now, Labour’s response to EHRC, as well as to Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the report, shows hope that issues are being properly addressed, and that those who continue to downplay anti-Semitism in any form are facing consequences.

Labour still has a way to go in rebuilding bridges with the Jewish community, and in mending their reputation. However, recent actions are, fortunately, far more indicative of this ‘zero-tolerance policy’ towards racism that Labour must strive to pride itself on in the future.

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