This Friday evening, Jewish people around the world will be sitting around their table reciting the story of Passover, which tells the story of their slavery, oppression and deliverance from slavery to freedom in the land of Egypt, and they will all be saying a word: ‘Dayenu’. Enough.
The message ‘Dayenu’ was delivered to the leadership of my party this Monday night in an unprecedented rally against antisemitism within my party. It is utterly disgusting that it has come to this and I ask myself “how have we reached this point?”
I am a third generation non-Jewish Labour councillor. My father and grandfather both served as Labour councillors and now I serve as Leader of the Labour Group and Opposition on Barnet Council, the borough with the highest Jewish population in Europe.
I know our movement. My history is Labour’s history and because of this, I understand why the Jewish community are so angry. I am angry. My party was built with the help of Jewish people. Our unions were built with the help of Jewish people. Many of the basic civil rights and liberties all people enjoy today were hard fought by the Labour movement and the Jewish community. Our movement’s history and founding is intertwined with the history of British Jewry. The Labour Party is often referred to as the greatest force for social change in modern history; it would not have been so without the Jewish community. For the many Jews I speak to, the current situation feels like the ultimate betrayal of our collective history.
For years now I have slowly seen the rise of antisemitism within the wider political left, and in more recent years this has infected the mainstream left and the Labour Party. Together with colleagues in Barnet, we have been consistent, uncompromising, and we have always taken our responsibility towards all of our minority communities extremely seriously. All allegations of racism must be treated equally and the victim must always remain at the forefront of any investigation. Anyone who blames the victim for racism they receive is no Socialist and has no place in our party.
We were the first council in the country to pass the IHRA definition of antisemitism. More recently we called for Ken Livingstone to be thrown out of the party and for him to be told to never come back. We have consistently spoken out in total solidarity with our Jewish communities.
It has become abundantly clear to the majority of Jewish residents I speak to in Barnet that this blind spot is real for Corbyn and especially for some of his followers
If Jeremy wants to see how he can work with the Jewish community, then Barnet is a great place to come. He can meet my mainstream Jewish council candidate colleagues who range from members of Orthodox Jewish synagogues to Rabbi Danny Rich, senior rabbi of Liberal Judaism. He can talk to Andrew Dismore AM who successfully campaigned for Holocaust Memorial Day to be established, and he can speak to Sara Conway another of our Jewish candidates, who co-founded a Muslim-Jewish Women’s Group, Unity, and runs sessions with ‘Solutions Not Sides’ to help find a better way through discussion on Israel and Palestine, or to Adam Langleben who helps run the Jewish Labour Movement and has been at the forefront of confronting this issue within Labour for years, or to Liron Velleman who works for the Union of Jewish Students. He can see how we listen and respond to our community and build links both with the Jewish community and on an inter-faith basis. Like the Jewish synagogue that provided space for our Somali Bravanese community when their Welfare Centre in my own ward of Coppetts burned down. Barnet is a story of how Labour and the Jewish community are deeply intertwined and work in harmony, not prioritising one community over another.
I have known Jeremy Corbyn for decades. He was my Union Regional Rep at NUPE. Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party and the matter of his leadership has been settled, twice. I have no doubt that he is an anti-racist. But even anti-racists can have blind spots. It has become abundantly clear to the majority of Jewish residents I speak to in Barnet that this blind spot is real for Corbyn and especially for some of his followers. Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories, comparisons of Jews to Nazis, claims of Jews being responsible for the slave trade, amongst other vile tropes, have all become acceptable in parts of our party if they are made under the guise of anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian campaigning. But, they often are made completely outside of this context. I am a Zionist and I am pro-Palestinian nationhood. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Being pro-Palestine can never be used to justify any kind of antisemitism. Using one to justify the other is the modern ‘socialism of fools’.
Anyone who uses such comparisons or makes such remarks are no better than the far-right fascists, and Jeremy Corbyn needs to say this loudly and clearly. And those who have sought to support Jeremy by denying the anti-Semitism are inadvertently undermining him and they should publicly retract these comments and apologise to the Jewish community.
Denying that this guise exists is not just insulting, but it actually perpetuates antisemitism and feeds further anger and prejudice.
We also need to be clear and honest that the current atmosphere within the Labour Party is too factional. It is precisely because of this factionalism that Jeremy has to lead from the front on this issue. For many, it won’t matter that I am writing this, or that almost over 100 Labour MPs, peers and councillors stood with me and the Jewish community in Parliament Square on Monday night. We are seen as the enemy by some within Labour. It requires our leader to be explicit about what the Jewish community are upset about, to take measurable action, pledge to back the expulsion of specific individuals and for him to join the Jewish community in saying Dayenu. Enough is enough.
Cllr Barry Rawlings is leader of the Labour Group and Opposition, Barnet Council