This morning, the Labour Party started the process of turning the page on the era of Jeremy Corbyn, an antisemite who the vast majority of British Jews regarded specifically as a threat to them.
However, retrieving the once fiercely anti-racist Labour Party from the grip of institutional antisemitism is not as simple as replacing its antisemitic erstwhile leader.
Sir Keir Starmer MP, the accomplished Queen’s Counsel and former Director of Public Prosecutions, faces a long-term campaign if he is serious about the very welcome promise he made in his victory speech to seek out antisemitism and “tear out this poison by its roots”, for its roots grew extensively under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, who Sir Keir called his “friend” in his speech.
This is not about politics; it is about justice.
We established Campaign Against Antisemitism in 2014 in response to surging antisemitic crime on campuses, online and on the streets. We never expected to find ourselves leading a media campaign to expose the antisemitic leader of a major political party, or as the complainant in a full statutory investigation into a political party by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with teams of researchers providing evidence to lawyers for our extensive legal submissions.
At our rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2014, the Chief Rabbi quoted the Torah’s exhortation: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue”. It has been Campaign Against Antisemitism’s motto ever since. Even though we have published ample information on antisemites in the Labour Party, including on Jeremy Corbyn himself, and submitted repeated disciplinary complaints, there has been little justice.
Instead, many who should have stood up for justice, including Sir Keir, instead stood by Mr Corbyn. Some offered words of opposition, but with a number of extremely selfless exceptions, their words were hollow.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer polling released last year, which was designed and analysed by King’s College London, showed quite what Mr Corbyn and his acolytes had achieved: huge swathes of British Jews were considering leaving the country over antisemitism in politics, and the vast majority considered the Labour Party to be rife with antisemitism and Jeremy Corbyn to personally pose a threat. Polling by YouGov commissioned for the study showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Despite the Jewish community doing everything it conceivably could to express its alarm and to try to stop the antisemitic rot within Labour, on December 12th 2019, Britain’s Jews held their breath wondering whether the next Prime Minister would be the antisemitic Mr Corbyn. In the end, it was not the Labour membership or its officers who rejected Mr Corbyn, it was the British public. Campaign Against Antisemitism has never supported a political party and it never will, but as voters made their decisions, polling released in the days after the election showed that millions of British voters made their choice partly on the basis of rejecting antisemitism.
Never again should a minority be put in such fear by a political party in this country.
The people who did this must now face justice, and political expedience must no longer stand in the way.
As the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir must disentangle the corruption that allowed antisemitism to be institutionalised in his Party. Those who committed antisemitic acts, those who interfered in disciplinary processes to protect them, and those who dismissed Jewish fears as being part of an orchestrated smear campaign must all be made to answer for their actions.
Campaign Against Antisemitism will be an ally to anybody seeking justice within Labour, and we will hold Labour to account if it fails, using the forthcoming report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that we have worked so hard to bring about.
It remains to be seen how Sir Keir will perform. His victory speech was welcome and promising, but his record during Mr Corbyn’s leadership was extremely disappointing.
Sir Keir has served on Mr Corbyn’s frontbench in the influential position of Shadow Brexit Secretary and has been a vocal advocate of Mr Corbyn’s leadership. He has insisted, contrary to all the evidence, that Labour is not institutionally antisemitic (in an interview, incidentally, in which he conceded that denying Labour antisemitism was itself part of the problem). He has also claimed that Mr Corbyn is not particularly to blame for the antisemitism crisis that has engulfed their Party, but rather that there is collective responsibility, thus by his own admission implicating himself.
When Mr Corbyn’s defence of the antisemitic mural in East London came to light, Sir Keir declined to condemn the Labour leader, advising instead that Mr Corbyn “had given his explanation”. In case there was any doubt as to Sir Keir’s commitment to Mr Corbyn’s leadership of Labour and his effort to become Prime Minister, during the election campaign, Sir Keir reiterated that he was “100% behind Jeremy Corbyn”.
The solutions proposed by Sir Keir offer a similar agenda to his competitors for the leadership, including resolving cases swiftly and under a fixed timetable through an independent disciplinary process; preventing the readmission of prominent offenders and suspend those who supported or campaigned for them; implementing the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recommendations in full; relating to the Jewish community only through genuine mainstream organisations; and engaging Labour’s Jewish affiliate to provide antisemitism training.
Additionally, Sir Keir has proposed scrapping Labour’s National Constitutional Committee – the Party’s main disciplinary body — in favour of the new independent disciplinary process. He has also called for an end to the imposition of parliamentary candidates by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, a process that was blamed for numerous worrying candidacies at the previous General Election.
Mr Corbyn’s toxic legacy is likely to hamper reforms. For example, in the first release of its Antisemitism in Political Parties research, Campaign Against Antisemitism showed that Labour Party candidates for Parliament in the 2019 general election accounted for 82 percent of all incidents of antisemitic discourse.
If Sir Keir takes on antisemitism within Labour, he will find an ally in Campaign Against Antisemitism. We will provide evidence and expertise to help to return British politics to a time when antisemitism in public life was an appalling exception, not commonplace. If Sir Keir fails to pursue justice for British Jews, we will hold the Labour Party to account using the forthcoming report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
We would like to take this moment to thank everyone who has helped Campaign Against Antisemitism to shine a spotlight on antisemitism in the Labour Party, from the thousands who have attended our rallies in Parliament Square and outside Labour headquarters to the many tens of thousands who signed our petition denouncing Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite who is unfit to hold a position of power, to the brave (now former) Labour members who helped provide evidence, to the journalists who worked with us to expose Jew-hatred, to the lawyers who helped us to make the case over the course of many months to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to the many volunteers of Campaign Against Antisemitism of all faiths who have worked without public praise and plenty of sacrifice to produce hundreds of case files across all political parties, to those who have donated what they could to help us to right the wrong done to Britain’s Jews. The Jewish community owes a great deal to the decency of those who saw antisemitism and stood up to it in whatever way they could. Our work to repair British politics continues, and we look forward to the day when politics is free of this ancient bigotry.
Gideon Falter, Chief Executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “As the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir has no time to lose in making good on his pledge to seek out antisemitism and ‘tear out this poison by its roots’ and rebuild relations with the Jewish community. As a Queen’s Counsel and former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir knows that this is not a matter of politics but of justice, and justice requires an impartial process of inquiry with sanctions for offenders. This must start with addressing our outstanding complaints against Jeremy Corbyn and disciplining him in order to send a message that anti-Jewish racism no longer has a home in the Labour Party.”