Wednesday 9 May 2018

The sorry tale of anti semitism in the UK Labour Party

How has it come to this? Seriously. It is a question I am asking myself a lot recently.

Lets start with a bit of historical perspective. As a teenager attending North London Roman Catholic schools in the 1970's, I remember anti semitism being endemic. Not at our house, because my Father was an ex WWII RAF pilot who detested fascists and knew where that path lead, but it was all around at school. When I was twelve, we saw the Israeli raid on Entebbe, freeing Jewish hostages in Uganda. My Father as an ex military man was highly impressed. I mentioned this to a school friends Dad, and his response was to  sit us down and explain in great detail all manner of terrible things that the Jewish people had allegedly done. This disturbed me greatly. At the time, everyones parents were viewed as wise and trustworthy, so I seriously wondered why my Dad hadn't filled me in on these terrible things. As I trusted my Father, I eventually asked him about this. He explained, in no uncertain terms, that my friends Father was unintelligent and uneducated. He went further and explained that all around the world, evil minded politicians seek scapegoats to blame, minorities to terrorise and mobs to whip up hate with. He explained about Moseley in the UK in the 1930's and how such people were treacherous. My father had worked in the Middle East after the second world war as a commercial pilot. He had an office in Jerusalem, when it was part of Palestine before the creation of Israel. He explained that the reason the United Nations created Israel was quite simply because "across the globe, the Jews are a minority everywhere. The international community failed them in the face of Nazism. After the second world war, it was recognised that the way to ensure that this did not happen again was to give them a homeland where they could be a majority. That would at least mean that Jews across the world knew there was somewhere safe for them if another Hitler came along". I noted this down in my diary in July 1976. It seemed important and worth noting.

In September 1978, I changed schools. I departed Finchley Catholic High School and started at Orange Hill Senior High School. At Orange Hill, Jewish pupils were probably the largest single group. Jewish holidays would see the school empty out. Many of my friends were Jewish, some had parents and grandparents living with them who had directly experienced the holocaust. Not that I'd thought different, but it became clear from day one that my Jewish friends were no different from anyone else. We'd go to each others houses, listen to the same music. I had Jewish girlfriends and Jewish bandmates. It was of no concern to me that they had a different religion and everyones parents welcomed all and sundry. Most were Labour party supporters. I discussed this with one girlfriend who told me "Labour has always been the party that Jewish people trust. The Tories are the establishment. If you read a history book, you will realise that the establishment are no friends of Jewish people. They were the ones who tried to block refugees fleeing the Nazi's. No Jew could ever support the Tories as far as I am concerned". It made perfect sense.

Forty years later, things could not be more different. I am in touch with many of my OHSHS friends, on Facebook and through regular reunions. Things are different today. There is no trust in the Jewish community of Labour. Even those that have kept the faith are troubled by what is going on. How did it get to this? How has the Conservative party gained the trust of Jewish voters whilst Labour has lost it so spectacularly? I personally doubt that there is any less anti semitism in the national Conservative party than there is in the Labour party. I just think that amongst the Tories, the anti semitism is perhaps a different flavour. I suspect that southern metropolitan Conservative voters (such as we have in Barnet) are pretty much unaffected by such nonsense. Most will have Jewish friends, schoolmates and work colleagues. They will be sensible people who are comfortable in a multi racial/ethnic society. Any residual anti semites are likely to be from the older generation and are sensible enough to keep their views to themselves. I suspect that in the Shires, the story may be markedly different, not least from a few incidents I've witnessed over the years.

But I suspect the real story isn't so much that the Tories have shifted. It is what has happened with Labour. Under Tony Blair, there was no issue within the Labour party and there were still many celebrity Jewish supporters. As Blair declined, the hard left of Labour aligned itself with the Palestinian cause. This is very much a metropolitan phenomenon, as I suspect that Middle Eastern politics is off the radar of the outer reaches of our communities. Many of the hard left metropolitan Palestinian sympathisers do not believe that the cause they are supporting amounts to anti semitism. They believe that criticising the Government of Israel is a completely different thing. The Jewish community sees it rather differently. The Palestinian movement has never dropped its aim of calling for the complete destruction of the state of Israel. A majority of people in the British Jewish community see the prospect of this as the first step towards the next holocaust. What started as concern for Palestinians suffering in the West Bank and Gaza has to some extent been hijacked and we've seen all sorts of people seeing the outer reaches of the Labour movement as a sanctuary for all manner of hard line anti semitism, such as global banking conspiracies and holocaust denial.

Where Labour has failed miserably is that they've not robustly dealt with members who have made all manner of statements which are clearly anti semitic. It should be quite simple. If someone is a member of the Labour party and they are tweeting, posting on Facebook or in any other way propagating anti semitism or any other form of racism, they should be kicked out. The Labour party had no problem at all kicking me out in 2010, without even asking me for an explanation or offering me the chance to defend myself. This was for standing as a Lib Dem candidate whilst still a member. I had resigned in 2009 and had the emails to prove it, but they were not in the slightest bit interested. I just received a letter out of the blue saying I had been expelled. My request to have a hearing as I had broken no rule was rejected out of hand. I was simply told "I could re-apply in five years".

When I discussed the issue of anti semitism with a Labour candidate at the election count last week, I was told that "people cannot be summarily booted out of the party without a proper hearing and a chance to explain themselves". This is utter nonsense. Of course they can. I am living proof. I know that for many ultra left Labour loyalists, quitting the party and standing for the Lib Dems is a far more serious matter than a bit of anti semitism, but for most sane and rational people, it is incomprehensible.

I am past the stage where I'd consider rejoining the Labour Party. I don't think that either the Conservative or Labour party reflect the British public anymore. I suspect that people think the Conservatives are a "less risky option", although given their attitude to Brexit, I suspect they are not a safe option. What I can say without a doubt is that Labour has an issue with the Jewish community in the UK and if that is not a concern for the party, a party based on the principles of equality and justice, it should be. Last year when Jeremy Corbyn confounded expectations at the general election, Labour was given an unexpected opportunity to prove it was back as a serious political force. If they can't sort out the bad apples who are besmirching it, then it does not deserve the trust of anyone.

No comments: