I joined the Labour Party at a young age in large part because as a young Jewish woman whose family had experienced hatred and persecution in the Holocaust, I felt a strong responsibility to challenge prejudice and discrimination. I wanted to promote tolerance and support the most vulnerable in our society. These were values I felt the Labour Party embodied and I used to feel a strong pride in being a member. But no longer. I now feel ashamed of my party and have decided I need to resign my membership.
I’ve been involved with the Labour Party as long as I can remember. My mum was a Labour Party councillor and most of my mum’s friends were involved in the Party in some way. I helped out leafleting and as soon as I was old enough, I joined the Labour Party. It felt natural to follow the example of people I admired and respected, who were trying to tackle the rife inequality in the area where I grew up. Far from a conflict between my Jewish identity and being a Party member, the two seemed to be in sync. Now I feel I have to choose.I’ve been wrestling with whether to stay in the Party for some time but enough now really is enough. Watching MP Luciana Berger resign over the torrent of abuse she received for being Jewish and seeing my own family personally affected by it has been the final straw.
The problem first really hit home at the time of Ken Livingstone’s outburst. Two new members in my local Labour Party branch started a discussion about Livingstone in the pub. They said there was “no problem of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party’ and that“it was a deliberate Tory plot, perpetuated by the mainstream media”. When I said my grandfather has been persecuted by the Nazis, their response wasn’t one of empathy but that “Livingstone who was being persecuted.”
It soon became a toxic atmosphere in my constituency party. Those who denied the problem were cheered. A man, who it transpired spreads pure anti-Jew hatred online, was applauded when he stated that Livingstone was speaking ‘an inconvenient truth’ and there was ‘a desire on the part of the Nazis to see an increase in Jewish settlement in Palestine’. My mother in challenging such comments was then asked to apologise to him and step down from holding a role in the local party. She was told not to return if she found such discussions emotional. She made a complaint over a year ago yet has heard nothing.
I’ve had people I thought were friends tell me antisemitism in Labour shouldn’t be discussed because ‘it distracts from the real issues’. It has made the threat of antisemitism a lot more real for me because it has made me question who I can truly rely on. My grandpa, a Holocaust survivor, was always clear to me; I need to leave a Party that is creating a hostile environment for Jews. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s right.
I’m left wing but my belief in the redistribution of wealth and investment in our public services cannot be traded with increasing tolerance of race hatred. The Community Security Trust reported a 16% increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 2017 to 2018. Whilst the Labour Party should be at the forefront of the fight against antisemitism, instead it has itself become institutionally anti-Semitic. Of course, lots of party members are appalled by anti-Semitism and I respect all those who are staying to try and challenge it from within.
Nevertheless, institutional discrimination is about the culture, the leadership and the structure of an organization. Jeremy Corbyn and those around him have failed the Jewish community. The failings of those at the top are numerous from the rant by NEC member Pete Willsman dismissing the concerns of 68 Rabbis simply as “Trump fanatics” to the clear interference of the leader’s office in the outcome of antisemitism cases. The numerous suggestions put forward by the Jewish community and Jewish Labour Movement, the Party’s oldest affiliated organisation, on how to solve this problem have largely been ignored. It feels like the Jewish community has pleaded for the Party to change but instead it keeps being rebuffed and humiliated. All of this points to a severe institutional problem.
Many times, I hoped things would get better and defended my membership but the Labour Party by tolerating antisemitism has led to it becoming more acceptable in our politics. That is not a party I could ever endorse, let alone be a member of.
Labour should be, and once was, the natural home for Jewish people. In my opinion, it is no longer. I just hope that one day it will be again.
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