The UK Labour Party and Zero Tolerance for Antisemitism
Last week, at an international forum to combat antisemitism hosted by the US State Department, former Jewish UK Labour MP Luciana Berger said she was forced to resign from a party that was institutionally antisemitic. As a political figure, she said, she had been on the receiving end of thousands of antisemitic messages for months — with very little action having been undertaken by the party at that time.
UK’s new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, apologized for what happened, and said he hoped that ministers who had left the party under the previous leadership would feel comfortable to return. Even though he seemed to stop short of directly inviting them to return, in a press conference, Starmer did the right thing and unequivocally accepted the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The EHRC report was damning, concluding that there was a collective failure of leadership within the party. It found that Labour was responsible for three breaches of the Equity Act: It found that there was political interference in antisemitism complaints; that there was a failure to provide adequate training in handling antisemitism complaints; and that there was a reinforcement of antisemitic tropes by suggesting that these complaints were in fact fake smears meant to smear the party.
It appears that Starmer has indeed been a strong advocate in the fight against antisemitism, now saying that there had been a breakdown of trust between the party and the Jewish community. The party itself had been a mainstay for the Jewish community for decades as it advanced civil rights.
“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am truly sorry to the Jewish people and to the Jewish leaders driven out,” Starmer said emphatically at a press briefing. While this development and Starmer’s impassioned plea is welcomed and likely accepted by the community, it remains to be seen over the next number of months if the party can push out antisemitism. “You should be nowhere near the party” if you believe in antisemitism, he stated. Indeed, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now been excised from the party.
More significantly, antisemitism has grown in general over the years. In May 2020, it was reported to the Community Security Trust that in 2019, there were just over 1,800 antisemitic incidents that year. Indeed, there has been a steady uptick year to year; in 2013 — just 535 incidents were reported.
Beyond the Labour Party, antisemitism in the UK must be addressed on its whole. The cultural change called for by the party, must be promoted in societal terms — beyond politics. Perhaps, as some say, the vindication in all this is that the Labour Party lost the last election because the British public detested the antisemitism they observed. If that is true to form, the fight against antisemitism in the UK stands a chance. These new developments are a good start.
Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, and the former president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.