Louise Ellman, British MP, recently returned to the Labour Party. Photo Flickr James O'Hanlon

UK Labour needs to do better

I’m young, interested in politics, and consider myself a progressive. I’m counting down the days until my eighteenth birthday (211 at the time of writing this), not so that I can drink or go out clubbing, but so I can vote. So why don’t I support Labour, a party known for dominating the youth vote; surely it seems the obvious choice for someone like me? Someone who believes in taxing the rich, saving the environment, LGBTQ+ rights and funding the National Health Service. The catch is I’m Jewish. Despite the new Labour leader Keir Starmer’s best efforts, I’m not convinced they stand with the Jews. 

Let’s rewind. On Thursday, October 29, 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its damning report revealing the findings of their investigation into antisemitism within the Labour Party that was at the time headed by Jeremy Corbyn. The EHRC’s investigation was prompted by complaints made to the EHRC by the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement in the summer and autumn of 2018. The report highlighted “serious failings in the antisemitism complaint handling system”, “significant failings in the way the Labour Party has handled antisemitism” and “serious failings in leadership.” It also identified instances of harassment, political interference in anti-Semitism complaints and the use of anti-Semitic tropes. 

Recently, Keir Starmer has been credited, and rightly so, with taking a vital step forward. Labour’s annual conference in Brighton voted last month to set up an independent complaints process for claims of racism. At the same conference, Keir Starmer welcomed the return of Louise Ellman, a Jewish former Labour MP who had previously resigned from the party in protest at the antisemitism revealed to have happened under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. She was now rejoining following the changes made to the party’s rules on discrimination. This indicates positive progress and is certainly something to be celebrated. 

However, Israel remains an obsession for some Labour members and their criticism of the country remains a contentious issue for Jews when the line between legitimate criticism and antisemitism is so hard to identify. For example, at the same conference celebrating the return of a Jewish MP, some Labour delegates heightened tensions with their demands for sanctions against Israel for its alleged “apartheid” policy towards Palestinians. Brought to attention during the conference in Brighton was a motion insisting on action that halts “the building of settlements, reverses any annexation, ends the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza.” The IHRA definition of antisemitism includes criticism targeting the state of Israel that holds the country to a higher standard than others and denies the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example, through claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour. So why was this motion allowed to pass? Why was it considered acceptable for Labour delegates to compare the situation in Israel to a system of institutionalised racial segregation? The frontlines of Parliament have become an increasingly hostile place for Jewish politicians, so much so that several on the Labour benches have withdrawn, and understandably so. It also cannot be denied that it took the EHRC’s report’s release a year ago to force the party to act. Others, like me, feel without a political home and in need of reassurance that the efforts to win over Jews by both Labour and Conservative alike are not merely performative. I desperately want to see Labour combat antisemitism with deeds rather than words, Starmer has vowed to “tear out the poison” of antisemitism within his party and I commend this endeavour; now let’s see it happen. I want to trust Labour to support my values, but they need to do better.

Mischa Gerrard is an upper sixth student and the Head Girl at Bruton School for Girls in the UK. She is a staff writer for Fresh Ink for Teens. Mischa is interested in history and politics and hopes to pursue a career in journalism.

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