POLITICS
10/04/2018 16:21 BST | Updated 10/04/2018 16:22 BST

Jewish Labour Member Who Quit Momentum Brands Anti-Semitism Witchhunt Claims 'Atrociously Offensive'

Joshua Garfield: Progress and Momentum must work together to stamp out racism.

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A protest against Labour anti-Semitism in Parliament Square

A Jewish Labour member who quit Momentum because he felt “unsafe” has said claims of a witchhunt within the party over anti-Semitism are “atrociously offensive”.

Joshua Garfield stood down from the Newham branch of the left-wing grassroots group last week, after revealing he had experienced prejudice himself.

The 23-year-old, who is standing as a council candidate in Stratford, said those denying the existence of anti-Semitism within Labour were adding to the problem.

It comes as the Israeli Labor Party severed ties with Jeremy Corbyn’s office following protests by some of the largest Jewish groups in the UK, who claim the Labour leader has turned a blind eye to Jew-hate. 

Garfield - a party member for eight years - said he still supports Corbyn and believes he is committed to tackling the problem, but that racists and anti-Semites must be kicked out of both Labour and Momentum. 

“I think that the statement Jeremy put out last week was very comprehensive and he was right to acknowledge that mistakes have been made - it would have been wrong to say otherwise,” he told HuffPost UK. 

“I do believe that he and his team are committed to eradicating anti-Semitism.  They acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. 

“He [Corbyn] has always been a campaigner against racism and I have got no doubt in me that he is a believer in anti-racism.  But it was right that he acknowledged some things had been overlooked and hadn’t been dealt with quickly enough.”

Garfield said he believes the issue has been used as a “political football” and that all factions of the party should set aside their differences to tackle it. 

He is calling for Constituency Labour Party (CLP) officers to be given extra resources, support and training to educate members and weed out those who are working against party values. 

“If you are wanting to deal with the problem of anti-Semitism and you are a party member, you should be working with people in Momentum to do that, people in Progress, people in the Fabians, people in the Co-operative Party,” he added.

“It should be a collective issue, because we are united.  If you believe in equality and ending racism, there should not be point scoring, because that’s counter-productive.  I would absolutely like to see Progress and Momentum working together on this. 

“Even if there is nothing else they agree on, this I think you can safely say they will on this, because it’s about equality.  

“The hostility, the factionalism, whatever you want to call it, the infighting - one of the things that has gotten lost in that in-fighting in the last couple of years is diversity, representation and some of the core foundations of the party - one of them being anti-racism. 

“And that’s a problem, and it’s why I want to see more unity on at least this one issue.”

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Joshua Garfield is standing as a council candidate in Stratford

The youth worker said many Jewish Labour members felt let down that the issue had not been robustly tackled sooner.

“When people do ignore the concerns of Jewish members it does undermine the values of the party.  Labour is a party of equality, it is a party of anti-racism and nothing should trump that,” he said. 

“You have to tackle the inherent prejudices that exist first before you can argue that something is being used for x, y, z.  I think that’s inappropriate.

“We are seeing things as extreme as the people who claim this is a witchhunt, which is of course atrociously offensive.

“What needs to happen across the spectrum is people asking themselves ’how can I improve the way in which I respond to things, how can I stand up to people, how can I speak out and make sure things aren’t ignored’, rather than jumping to the defensive, because it just shuts down the conversation.”

Garfield said he had been “overwhelmed” with messages from people from all parts of the party after he announced his intention to stand down from his Momentum role.

“I was contacted by huge numbers of people with both good and bad intentions, but the support was definitely there and I really appreciate everyone who reached out, whether it was to offer solidarity, to explain that they also want to tackle this, even people who acknowledged that they may have played some complicit role in the problem - because silence is compliance,” he added.

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Jeremy Corbyn has faced heavy criticism

“There were people who approached me and said ‘I have noticed things, I wish I’d spoken out and I’m really sorry’ and that means an awful lot.”

He said the issue had also been raised directly with him on the doorstep while out campaigning as a candidate in next month’s local elections.

“Yes there are local elections in three weeks and yes we want to have a brilliant presence in the media, but that brilliant presence can involve us tackling a serious issue seriously,” he added. 

“Enacting all the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report is a massive first step.  What I think is more challenging is that because the party is so massive - nearly half a million members - is that it can’t be solely a top-down structure.  CLPs and wards need to tackle it on their own level and they need to make sure that the message is not being lost.  

“I think people campaigning out on the doorstep have a real opportunity to show the public that Labour takes this seriously, that Labour candidates in the local elections are doing something about it, they are not sweeping it under the rug, they are not ignoring it or dismissing it as smears.

“It should not be up to people who have experienced racism and prejudice to educate the people who have offended them. Solidarity isn’t just a hashtag.”