Whether since the earliest days of Jewish artisans battling for representation within British trades unions at the time of the first ‘hostile environment’ at the turn of the 20th century, or later forming electoral pacts with the Transport and General Workers Union to defeat the Passfield White Paper in Parliament, the history of Poale Zion, renamed the Jewish Labour Movement, has always featured days both easy and difficult.
In response to persecution, pogroms and later the Shoah, the Labour Party has over the last century offered solidarity to the Jewish community, standing by its side in hard times and reflecting the hopes and aspirations of a largely impoverished migrant community.
Whether this emancipation took the form of anti-racist struggles in Britain, or through the hop of national self-determination in the shape of what was to become the State of Israel, Labour and the Jewish community were as one.
Today, as a culture of antisemitism, obfuscation and denial grips the Labour Party, it would be remis to look back over the last century of JLM’s affiliation, without recognising that there have always been points of disagreement.
Today’s discord feels different. In the wake of the resignation of Luciana Berger MP from Labour, our parliamentary chair, many in the Jewish Labour Movement have questioned our ongoing commitment to remain affiliated to the party.
Just in the last few weeks alone we have seen our worst fears confirmed. Political manipulation of the disciplinary process. When caught out by the leaks from those blowing the whistle, a tissue of denial and obfuscation. The scale of Labour’s antisemitism crisis brushed under the carpet.
Three of those accused arrested. Knowing for well that there may still be more to come, and that we have yet to see the worst of it fills us with dread and despair.
This week began in a remarkable way. Demonstrating the compassion, concern and skill of a true statesman, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown released to the country a message of solidarity for us.
It was a timely reminder that true leadership, the kind so lacking in today’s politics, must be about standing up for what is moral and right – even in the face of overwhelming odds and a chorus of criticism. Like his keynote address at our conference last year, Gordon’s contribution was entirely his own. We did not solicit his support. He just gave it.
For Jewish Labour members it was a clarion reminder that we are not alone. Pride and strength come from those around you. We need it now more than ever. Not just from prime ministers and parliamentarians, but also from within the community, our community, the one we work to defend each and every day.
There are those who believe that we must stay, stand and fight the antisemitism our members have experienced, and equally those who believe the time has come to walk away from the party. As the outcome of our emergency general meetings demonstrated, for the majority, for now, that time has not yet come. It may well still.
However, equally clear is the commitment that there can be no return to the status quo. In referring the party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, JLM has made a clarion declaration that we now believe the Party is institutionally racist. It will be for EHRC to make findings.
In the interim, we have rededicated ourselves to root out antisemitism from the Labour Party and hold accountable those with the power, position and influence to do something about it.
Their failure is not our failure, and they alone must own it.
This article is an extended comment that first appeared in the Jewish News, taken from JLM’s pamphlet “Solidarity and Discord”, a history of JLM’s 99 year affiliation to the Labour Party