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Lessons from our victory over Corbyn’s anti-Semitic leadership

The investigation and ouster of the UK Labour party head offers a case study for responding to far-left extremism worldwide

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in Islington, north London, December 16, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/PA via AP)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in Islington, north London, December 16, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/PA via AP)

So Trump has lost. The populists are on the retreat. But not just on the right. In the UK, last December, we were perilously close to our own variety of populist, albeit on the left, being elected. Jeremy Corbyn was a stone’s throw away from becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and controlling the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

While the world is rightly focused on the US election results, a significant chapter in the history of modern British Jewry was written not two weeks ago. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the independent regulator of UK equality law, published its long-awaited report on anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

The damning two-year investigation found that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn breached UK equality law. For the first time in British political history, a major political party was found guilty of harassment and discrimination. The Labour Party had allowed racist members to victimize Jewish people.

The report’s impact was not confined to Jewish party members. Indeed, its reach and ramifications may be felt far and wide. There is a global dimension to anti-Jewish racism within parts of the far left. Examples include parts of the Democratic Party in the USA or the French far left led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon – someone considerably more open about his anti-Semitism than Jeremy Corbyn, and someone that Corbyn’s own faction Momentum hosted a couple of years ago at its conference. Many such populists have run similar campaigns to that of Corbyn’s Labour. They use the same tactics of harassment and victimization of Jews as those Labour was found to have committed.

Unfortunately, Labour’s hard left faction is still in denial about its shameful track record.

There are lessons from our experience here in the UK that I hope enable swifter and sustained victories in the worldwide effort to confront anti-Jewish racism. Anti-Semitic behaviour such as that of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, which features in the report, is a daily occurrence in progressive circles around the world. That the defender of UK equality law ruled as it has might inspire other similar bodies to take an analogous approach.

Our resolute and uncompromising actions were perhaps unusual in the history of British Jewry. Yet they speak to our confidence about our place in British society. I am proud of how communal leaders and organizations coordinated and deployed our respective strengths in this fight. I am grateful for the courage and conviction of allies who demonstrated the value of relationships built over many years. I am reassured by the unequivocal findings of the EHRC highlighting that “unlawful harassment … included … suggesting that complaints of anti-Semitism were fake or smears” and debunking unfounded suggestions this is related to debates on Israel.

Indeed, the reported conduct included comments that “diminished the scale or significance of the Holocaust; expressed support for Hitler or the Nazis; and conspiracies about the Rothschilds and Jewish power and control over financial or other institutions.” There can be no denying that left-wing anti-Jewish racism depressingly draws on the same hate and tropes as right-wing anti-Semitism.

For many British Jews, this was the first time they felt real fear in this country. Reports suggested many considered leaving Britain were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister. For most of us, his defeat brought huge relief and our faith in the decency of the British public was vindicated. They felt our pain, shared our fear and stood by us in our struggle.

Unfortunately, Labour’s hard left faction is still in denial about its shameful track record. Nothing demonstrated this more than Jeremy Corbyn stating on the day the report was released that anti-Semitism in Labour was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” Rightly, the party summarily suspended him.

Denial itself has become a major part of the problem among Corbyn and his supporters. I saw it myself up close when I met with him in 2018. Then as now, his complicity to the acts carried out in his name was truly shocking.

Thankfully, this view is not taken by his successor. We have met Labour Leader Keir Starmer and are reassured by the measures he is beginning to take to remove the stain of anti-Semitism from the party. There is no quick fix, but we do have cause for cautious optimism.

Most of the Labour Party has accepted the EHRC’s findings and pledged to adopt its recommendations in full. By law, Labour must, by 10th December, respond to the EHRC with a comprehensive plan to make the party a safe home for Jews as it once was. Genuinely progressive political parties around the world should review this action plan once it has been submitted to the EHRC and take their own steps to ensure that never again will the anti-Jewish racism of far-left fringes be allowed to ascend to the leadership of a mainstream political party.

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