POLITICS
21/08/2018 06:00 BST | Updated 21/08/2018 08:47 BST

Former Labour Candidate Oliver Coppard Refuses To Stand For Party Again Over 'Intolerance’ Towards Jews

Oliver Coppard ran against Nick Clegg in 2015.

Phil Noble / Reuters
Oliver Coppard has spoken out about the "growing intolerance" of the Labour movement

A Jewish Labour member has pulled out of contesting a key seat at the next election because the party has created a “hostile environment” for Jews.

Oliver Coppard, who stood against former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in 2015, was one of the favourites to stand for Labour in Sheffield Hallam at the next vote.

When he last contested the seat, Coppard slashed Clegg’s majority by almost 13,000, paving the way for Labour candidate Jared O’Mara to win the constituency in the 2017 snap poll.

But with O’Mara quitting the party after being investigated for sexist and homophobic comments, Coppard – who did not put himself forward for selection last year – has been urged by local activists to contest the seat for Labour once again.

But in an exclusive blog for HuffPost UK, the highly-rated activist revealed he could no longer represent a party which has allowed a “growing intolerance” of different groups.

He singled out Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey’s attack on the leadership of the Jewish community, in which the trade unionist accused them of “truculent hostility” and urged them to “engage in dialogue and dial down the rhetoric.”

Writing for HuffPost, Coppard admitted that he had stayed silent as the row over anti-Semitism engulfed his party out of a sense of personal ambition, but he could no longer keep quiet.

He said: “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.”

He added: “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.”

Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have been engulfed in controversy after failing to endorse the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in its entirety.

The Labour leader has also come under fire for attending a controversial event at a Palestinian Martyrs Cemetery in Tunis in 2014. 

The Labour Party currently feels like a hostile environment for all too many Jewish people like me. Oliver Coppard

It was the row over whether Corbyn laid a wreath commemorating the founder of the group behind the 1972 Munich Olympic attack at that event which prompted McCluskey to write a blog defending the Labour leader and questioning the motives of leaders of the Jewish community.  

Coppard, who lost family members in the Holocaust, claims the “growing intolerance of our movement” has “crushed” his belief that he could help make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, adding: “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.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms.

“All complaints about antisemitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”