The shameful case of anti-Semitism in British politics

The EHRC report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party has now been published.[1] The headline summary is that:

“The Party is responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act (2010) relating to:

  • political interference in antisemitism complaints
  • failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints
  • harassment”[2]

Before I go on with further comment about the specific issue here I would like to make a general comment about anti-Semitism and racism more broadly.  Over the years I’ve had a lot of contact with people involved in politics. I was involved in student politics at a senior level for another national party whilst at University. Sadly, in my experience anti-Semitism (and this is going back over 25 years) has been present across the political spectrum as have other forms of racism and prejudice.  I also have to say that even more sadly I have witnessed racism and anti-Semitism in church contexts too.  We are all living in glass houses today.

In terms of the report, the first thing to say is this, that this level of unlawful and abusive behaviour is disturbing.  The Labour leadership from that time period including and in particular Jeremy Corbyn should be held to account both for the things they said and did and for the things they failed to say and do.  I would also gently suggest that if we have one example of political interference and harassment then that probably betrays a wider political culture of “any means necessary.”

The difficult truth is this. That the current leadership, organisation and parliamentary party cannot simply wash their hands of this and say “It wasn’t on our watch.” It was on their watch. They chose to continue as members of the shadow cabinet, to take the whip and to work towards putting into Government those people that everybody already knew were responsible for these actions.  We did not need to wait for a report to tell us these things, Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger told us -and their colleagues failed to support them, protect them and stand with them. Again, I must point out that members of other political parties have been happy to be complicit in things we all knew to be wrong in the pursuit of power.  Furthermore, the whole political class must surely take responsibility for this. I never got the impression that the other parties took Anti-Semitism seriously. For them it was just another (and sadly in this case quite limited) opportunity to make political capital at the Labour Party’s expense.

However, we as a wider society need to take responsibility too.  That this level of anti-Semitism was allowed to take hold of a mainstream political party, that our concerns about the seriousness of the matter were low down the list behind Brexit, economic competence and perhaps positions on terrorism should raise alarm bells.  I have personally found that of all the potential controversies I can write about and have written about over the past few years, this subject tends to gain little traction or interest. This emphasises my point above that when looking at this through party political lenses, other politicians found that there was very little political capital to be made here.

In summary I think that we have seen that so often

  1. We tend to decide on action based on how much attention/interest there is in something rather than what is morally right
  2. We are quick to excuse ourselves and others because we assume that people like us cannot possibly do wrong.

I would therefore first of all encourage all of us to search our hearts and reflect on our own behaviours. Do we fall into the same types of sin described here?

Secondly I would call upon Keir Starmer and the shadow cabinet to publicly repent and to take the knee on this matter. It is not about simply putting right the past wrongs of others it is about sharing and owning the guilt and shame here. 

Thirdly, if other political leaders are considering this as a party political opportunity they need to think again. They need to reflect on their own failings in terms of racism, harassment etc.  They need to own up to their part in this scandal by failing to treat it seriously.  So Boris Johns, Ed Davey, Nicola Sturgeon and other party leaders need to join in this act of public national repentance.


[1] The full report is available to download https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/investigation-into-antisemitism-in-the-labour-party.pdf

[2] https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-work/news/investigation-antisemitism-labour-party-finds-unlawful-acts-discrimination-and

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