I have always wanted to make a difference in the world; to leave this planet in a better place than I found it. I started leafleting for the Labour Party when I was six years old. I thought my best way to make a contribution would be as a Labour MP. I stood as the Labour Party’s Parliamentary candidate against Nick Clegg in 2015 in Sheffield because of that hope. Even as I lost I held onto that hope. But if I’m honest that hope has been what has stopped me speaking out about the anti-Semitism in our Party.
I should have spoken out before now. I should have made it more widely known that I was dismayed by the decision not to adopt the full IHRA definition, by the online abuse and our failure as a Party to take a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. More than anything I should have said that I am frightened by the growing intolerance and factionalism of our movement.
The truth is that my hope and my ambition got the better of my courage; my hope for Labour to win the next election and my ambition to be part of that have until now defeated my courage to stand up against the factional, intolerant politics that dominates within the Labour Party.
I’m Jewish. My own grandparents came to this country from Czechoslovakia and Austria; just two of a handful of my mother’s family not to end up in Bergen Belsen or Auschwitz. They came here as frightened young people who knew nothing of the country they were joining or the fate of the family they left behind.
The fear that Margaret Hodge expressed last week is one familiar to many Jewish people, and many other refugees; the unique fear of those who know what it’s like to have to leave everything and everyone behind, that the world is a cruel and intolerant and – above all – irrational place.
Until now I have always believed that the Labour Party is the best defence against the type of hatred that we saw in 1930s Nazi Germany, and the bigotry now growing again in other parts of the world. The Labour Party exists to represent the interests of the many, but that cannot mean silencing or disparaging the voices of the few, and the Jewish community are few. If the UK were made up of just 200 people, only one would be Jewish.
In the last week alone, the way in which Margaret Hodge’s comments were mocked, and Len McCluskey questioned the legitimate fears of the Jewish community, has once again shown Jewish people that our empathy with minority voices has fallen victim to the intolerance of our own factionalism. When the concerns of mainstream Jewish people and groups are dismissed as overblown smears, then our commitment to anti-Semitism will rightly remain in question.
Solidarity with ethnic minority groups is not selective. Support for the Palestinian people is not an alternative to support for the Jewish community, but that is all too often how it is expressed. Let me say it now, sadly but clearly, the Labour Party currently feels like a hostile environment for all too many Jewish people like me. That is not just a stain on our movement but a tragedy for our country. Tolerance is not a spectrum, it’s binary, and right now we are on the wrong side of that divide.
As the Party begins its search for a prospective MP in Sheffield Hallam, for now, despite encouragement from local people, the growing intolerance of our movement has crushed my belief that I could play an active role in putting the Labour Party into government and Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten. I hope I’m wrong. I hope we regain the courage to respect a diverse range of voices, not just the Jewish community, but all those people with whom we disagree, without challenging their right to speak out or the good faith in which they do so. I hope we can rediscover what we used to know; that tolerance and empathy not only make us stronger as a movement but are a fundamental requirement of a transformative, socialist Party of government.
Oliver Coppard was the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Candidate in Sheffield Hallam in 2015