‘Chalutzim’ means ‘pioneers’ in Hebrew. Many of the early founders of the Labour Movement were Chalutzim from the mainstream Jewish community. That is why what happened last Thursday in the local elections is so distressing. It was the first complete electoral collapse of Jewish voters for Labour.
In 2010, 2015 and even 2017, Labour underperformed but still held a sizable minority of Jewish voters. On Thursday those who had stuck with us because they were Labour through and through said ‘enough is enough’. It is the only explanation for the collapse in every target ward in Barnet, losses across the west of Haringey, Kersal ward in Salford, as well as wards in Bury, Liverpool and Hackney. There were exceptions. Notably the courageous campaign of a council candidate for Bury Council who made his mission to rid the Labour Party of antisemitism core to his campaign. Or in three safe Labour wards in Barnet with a sizeable Jewish community. But these were the exceptions to the rule – wherever voting-age Jews lived in high numbers, the Labour Party paid a price for its incompetence, betrayal and attitude towards the community that helped lay the party’s foundations.
But some wish to paint a different picture. The alt-left blog Skwawkbox, which has a record of spreading fake news, claims that because Labour increased its share of the vote in Barnet and in Gateshead, there is no problem. But that’s just illiterate and self-defeating propaganda. Gateshead has a large Jewish community because it is home to world eminent Yeshivas. Jews travel from all around the world to study at Gateshead. So, whilst there may be a lot of Jewish residents, the number of eligible electors is likely to be considerably smaller.
In Barnet our vote share went up because the Labour electoral strategy worked – but the backlash from Jewish voters, their neighbours, friends and loved ones who stand with them was clear. Anyone who was knocking on doors will tell you, in the words of Barnet Labour’s leader, Barry Rawlings, that we couldn’t tell “if the next person we spoke to would accuse us of racism.” He said it “hung over the campaign like a storm cloud about to break.”
Barnet was Labour’s number one target and we suffered a catastrophic defeat. We went from No Overall Control to a Conservative majority of 13.
The day after our loss and after a few rounds of explaining what happened to the media I suddenly started to receive a torrent of online abuse. Skwawkbox starting ‘liking’ some of the abusive tweets. I quickly recorded a video to tell people what this website was doing and posted it online, which led to a further barrage of abuse.
Wherever voting-age Jews lived in high numbers, the Labour Party paid a price for its incompetence, betrayal and attitude towards the community that helped lay the party’s foundations
In response, and to his credit, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, messaged me and asked for a meeting to discuss this issue and the wider issue of Labour antisemitism and its impact on Barnet. I am seeing him tonight and what I will be telling him is that fake news, conspiracy theory websites such as Skwawkbox provide a dark place for antisemitism to fester and be nurtured. Antisemitism’s dark past started with conspiracy, ending in gas chambers. History has taught us this. He and others should come out and say clearly that such websites are not part of our Labour movement’s discourse and that they are detrimental to our success and to our anti-racist, evidence-based Enlightenment values.
I look forward to talking to John. I am going to tell him hard truths: that there was rarely a canvass session over the past month in Barnet where we did not lose votes over antisemitism. And I am going to ask that he, Jeremy and the Shadow Cabinet come to Barnet as soon as possible to apologise to our activists and the Jewish community. The issues raised by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council remain outstanding. The Party can no longer hide behind process.
We need actions not words. Starting today.
Adam Langleben is the former Labour councillor for West Hendon ward, Barnet council