As I sat down to write this piece, two years after I resigned my membership of the Labour Party over its failure to tackle antisemitism, I realised just how difficult it is to convey what has happened since then. I was the first elected Councillor in the UK to resign publicly over the party’s antisemitism crisis, and I knew there would be backlash. My family even warned me against speaking to the press over my reasons for resigning, fearful of the legions of Corbyn supporters who they thought might harass me.
When I went public, I did receive threats from Corbyn supporters, which resulted in me needing police protection during public meetings. But what’s strange is that this is perhaps the least bizarre thing to have happened to me since the summer of 2018.
Anyone taking a cursory glance at Twitter would find countless conspiracy theories about me. I have been accused by Corbyn supporters, since my resignation, of things as relatively benign as having mental health problems (I don’t), to running a company that scams charities out of their money (again, I don’t). There are entire threads, with hundreds of likes, discussing whether I have lied about being raised about a single parent because I once mentioned that my father used to attend parents’ evening at my high school. Owen Jones compared my politics to that of the far-right BNP. I was a Labour member for almost a decade, worked on staff and was ultimately elected as a Labour Councillor before resigning over antisemitism. If I’m secretly a fascist, I’ve been hiding it pretty well. It goes without saying that each of these accusations are baseless. And these accusations are just the tip of the iceberg.
Explaining such things to anyone outside the Labour movement is difficult – because if they hadn’t happened to me, I would understand anyone thinking my story sounds far-fetched. Perhaps it would have been best to laugh and take heart: individuals have been reduced to telling ridiculous lies about me because they have been unable to find anything genuine with which to ruin my reputation. But my experience over the last two years is worth telling, purely because it is not unusual. It is par for the course that whistleblowers, Jewish people and anti-racist campaigners in the Labour Party have received threats, been derided with lies and with accusations of malign intent. It is why Jewish MPs attending Labour Party Conference have had to be accompanied by police officers.
As far as accusations and harassment go, I was let off fairly lightly: former Labour staffers who blew the whistle on Labour antisemitism were threatened with legal action by the party for speaking to BBC Panorama. These same staffers were mocked by Corbyn supporters on social media for saying that, at the height of the crisis, they had considered committing suicide. Other activists who blew the whistle were the subject of lengthy hate videos, and accused of being more loyal to Israel than to their home countries. MP Joan Ryan was accused of taking a million pounds from Israel to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of election – as if Corbyn had ever needed any assistance in this task.
This tendency to deride whistleblowers as malevolent is far from funny. It is a symptom of the rot at the heart of Labour antisemitism. The conspiracy theories, however ridiculous they sound, reveal that the problem of Labour antisemitism isn’t simply procedural: it’s cultural. Jewish people and their allies are now viewed by many in the Labour movement as a fifth column. We are perceived as a cabal aiming to undermine the Labour left from within, by stabbing the far left in the back with antisemitism “smears” – purely for factional reasons. This is, of course, a lie. Many of the Jewish Labour members who have spoken out about Labour antisemitism voted for Corbyn in both leadership elections; I myself voted with my council’s Momentum caucus. Part of the heartbreak and pain experienced by those who spoke out against Labour antisemitism is that we knew it would undermine Labour’s electability during such a critical period. None of us wanted to make the choice between Conservative rule and genuine anti-racism: for us, this was a decision forced on us by the Labour leadership. To claim otherwise is gaslighting.
It is because of this gaslighting that the EHRC report was needed. For those of us who have faced personal attacks, the knowledge that someone external to the party has listened to all sides and drawn the conclusion that we, in good faith, had been right to highlight a very real problem is exactly what has been needed. For this reason, the EHRC’s ruling that the Labour Party unlawfully discriminated against Jewish members is more than welcome. The simple fact that anyone is listening generates hope.
But the EHRC findings also indicate the mountain Keir Starmer has to climb to erase the problem. It reports a culture “that is at odds with the Labour Party’s commitment to zero tolerance of antisemitism.” The political culture of an organisation is far harder to change than its procedures. There is no evidence yet that this gaslighting, conspiratorial culture will shift overnight. Three of the people most accused of contributing to Labour antisemitism have made it clear they plan to continue their stab-in-the-back narrative well beyond the publication of the EHRC findings. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn’s former chief-of-staff, Karie Murphy, wrote in the Guardian that accusations of institutional racism were political smears. On the same day, disgraced former Labour MP Chris Williamson launched a crowdfunder campaign to finance his legal fees as he takes the EHRC to court. Shortly after the EHRC report was published, Corbyn himself claimed that “the scale of the problem was…dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party”.
If those responsible won’t question the message, it seems they will do what they’ve done for the last five years, to me and to others: undermine the messenger. Just as Jewish Labour members were targeted with false accusations of malign intent, so will be the EHRC. It’s easier for these individuals to keep believing that the fault is with everyone but themselves. If Keir Starmer wants to make headway, he needs to nip this smear narrative in the bud, and fast. This will require expulsions. It will be the greatest test of his leadership to date.
I entered this fight with relative privilege. I am not Jewish – and, unlike so many within the Labour movement, I can leave this battle at will. Jewish Labour members, the victims in this crisis, don’t have this choice. The abuse I have endured is minimal compared with that meted out to Jewish members who bravely took the fight to the perpetrators of this crisis, at great personal risk. And so, with the EHRC report publication, the very acknowledgment that there was ever a problem marks the beginning of a long healing process.
It creates the potential for something vital: that action may, at last, be taken to shift the poisonous culture at the heart of the party I once called my political home. If Keir Starmer manages to eradicate the gaslighting within the Labour Party, many of us may one day feel comfortable returning to the Labour ranks. But that will take time – and this is what the EHRC report represents to so many of us. That this isn’t the end, but the beginning.