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OpEds

After much hard Labour, British Jews have options

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If you’ve caught a glimpse of the general election campaign in Britain this week, you might have noticed the word “change” splashed across your screen. The Labour Party’s messaging is dead simple: after 14 years of Conservative government, it’s time for change. A change of government, a change to our political culture, and – if polls are to be believed – a dramatic change to our party system, the likes of which is historically unprecedented.

But underpinning all of that is the dramatic, fundamental, and irreversible change to the Labour Party itself under Keir Starmer’s leadership.

I know how much the party has changed because I have seen it firsthand.

I first joined the Labour Party in 2016 as a 15-year-old, believing, as I do today, that Labour is Britain’s best vehicle for progressive change.

But as a Jewish member, I was appalled at then-leader Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to antisemitism and the rising tide of anti-Jewish racism within the party membership.

What was the right thing to do? Was it better to leave on a point of principle or stay and fight, even if it seemed futile?

Unbeknown to me, an organisation named the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – Labour’s Jewish affiliate of 100 years – was grappling with the same question. Its answer, however, was resolute: you don’t solve anything by walking away.

In September 2017, I went to my first major Labour Party event as a volunteer with JLM. It was the annual Labour Party conference, held along the Brighton seafront. For many Corbyn-supporting delegates, the event was one of jubilation – the party had performed unexpectedly well in the snap election held just a few months previously.

But for the Jewish members gathered there, it couldn’t have been more different.

A fringe event flirted with Holocaust denial; someone handed out leaflets quoting Reinhard Heydrich. In one especially toxic episode, I was physically harassed and had antisemitic abuse shouted at me. Looking back now, I’m not sure why I didn’t leave and never come back.

What I experienced wasn’t unique and paled in comparison to the abuse experienced by other Jewish members and MPs, especially women. We felt we had to choose between our community and our party.

But JLM and its allies across the Labour movement dug their heels in and fought like hell. We fought for the soul of the Labour Party, the Jewish community, and the country.

Over the following two years, we resolved that if the Labour leadership couldn’t be trusted to police its own party, then someone else would have to do it for them.

So, we compiled thousands of pages of evidence, helped in the end by incredibly brave party staffers who were prepared to blow the whistle on what they were seeing in the dysfunctional disciplinary processes.

Our submission was considered by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, set up under Tony Blair’s Labour government. After many months of deliberation, it made an unprecedented ruling: Labour had broken the equality law in its treatment of Jewish members. The party was given a set of legally binding actions to follow.

In the intervening period, Labour had suffered its worst defeat since 1935 under the leadership of Corbyn. The country had comprehensively rejected Labour’s implausible policies, the anti-Western stance of its leadership and, of course, its antisemitism.

Out of the ashes of that defeat, a new leader came along, elected by a landslide and promising change.

In Starmer’s first speech as Labour leader, delivered by video message due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he promised to tear antisemitism out by its roots. He said the test for success would be whether those Jewish members who had to leave the party felt safe enough to return.

But ultimately, it was actions not words which would count.

Starmer set to work straight away. The dysfunctional disciplinary system, which had been subject to political interference, was replaced with an independent process. Finally, members who had engaged in antisemitism began to be expelled en masse. Organisations that engaged in antisemitism denial were proscribed.

Corbyn, having been leader of the party just months before, lost the Labour whip after downplaying the extent of antisemitism in the party. Starmer meant business.

Three years later, in February 2023, the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that Labour had been taken out of special measures. Having fulfilled all of the report’s obligations, it now had a clean bill of health.

Luciana Berger, a Jewish Labour MP who had been bullied out of the party in 2019, decided it was time to return.

Candidates who were unsuitable to be MPs were barred from running, and the leadership rules were changed to prevent a future hard-left leadership.

But Starmer recognised that changing the Labour Party was about more than just structural change, it was about culture too. And an organisation’s culture is set from the top.

Because of his leadership, and the hard work of Jewish members and MPs over many years, the Labour Party of 2024 is unrecognisable to the party of 2019.

I think the moment this truly hit home for me was when I returned to the party conference in 2023. As we were gearing up to a giddy final pre-election conference, the unthinkable happened.

Hamas’s appalling terrorist attack on 7 October took place the day before the conference started. As we watched the harrowing scenes unfold, our blood ran cold, and we worried for our future.

But the atmosphere inside the conference and the support for Israel was remarkable. When a moment’s silence was held in the conference hall for the hostages and the victims of Hamas’s attacks, you could have heard a pin drop.

At the Labour Friends of Israel vigil two days later, the entire leadership and shadow Cabinet were present. One thousand party members showed up, and another thousand queued outside.

Amidst some of the worst days imaginable, we saw that our party had our back.

So as Britain’s Jews prepare to vote on Thursday, 4 July, the choice on the ballot paper couldn’t be more different to 2019.

Where Corbyn was once Labour leader, he has now been expelled and is running as an independent. Where hard-left fantasies once adorned the pages of Corbyn’s manifesto, Starmer’s plan puts fiscal discipline and credible policies first.

But most of all, where once we had to vote as British Jews, at this election, our community has a choice again.

  • Jack Lubner is the South of England organiser at the Jewish Labour Movement. Recently, he was elected national chairperson of Young Labour.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Gary

    July 4, 2024 at 12:54 pm

    Labour under Starmer said they will stop arms exports to Israel and dozens of Labour candidates send out pamphlets in Palestinian colours, Starmer said he wants to have people jailed for criticizing Muslims or Islam. Labour is bad for Jews and will destroy Britain. Labour have discussed prosecuting British Jews who serve in the IDF Any Jew who votes Labour in the UK is a disgrace.

  2. Sunface Jack

    July 6, 2024 at 10:24 am

    As a south African with some Jewish Family members, I call article this calling the kettle Black.

    Many Jewish people aligned themselves with the ANC’s (Terrorist Struggle) but called it against the “Apartheid” struggle. It wasn’t it was a Marxist onslaught against the country.
    Most too probably weren’t aware that it was British inspired either, Whaaat you shout? Yes, Mbeki, Mandela and Tutu who you thought were on your side were knighted as Knights of Malta by the British Monarch. The same Monarchy who approved concentration Camps for the Afrikaners.
    Many Jewish donated to the ANC including Natie Kirsch and it was well known that the Sun City’s Sol Kerzner did too. While most South Africa Jews took the silent, implicitly conservative position of the Board of Deputies, the great majority of white South Africans involved in “the struggle” were Jewish and many were Communists. Most were lawyers.

    You wouldn’t have dreamed on admitting it now, that in fact you were fooled. They have turned against the Jewish people and sided with Russia and broght the case of Genocide at the ICJ.

    Just an honest comment IMO.

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