Being Jewish in North Islington Labour Party

JVL Introduction

A heartfelt cry of anguish from Lynne Segal has been published by Red Pepper.

She opens her article by saying this:

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to write, yet again, about being a Jewish member of the Labour Party in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency. So let me tell you at once that it has been terrible, almost unbearable. We have had to watch a wholly false, but soon unstoppable, invention of charges of antisemitism against our MP, with our own views as Jewish members completely ignored.”

And she ends with a call for Jeremy Corbyn to be reinstated immediately.

This article was originally published by Red Pepper on Tue 3 Nov 2020. Read the original here.

Being Jewish in North Islington Labour Party

Calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement, Lynne Segal looks back on her experience of 40 years as a party member in his constituency


It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to write, yet again, about being a Jewish member of the Labour Party in Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency. So let me tell you at once that it has been terrible, almost unbearable. We have had to watch a wholly false, but soon unstoppable, invention of charges of antisemitism against our MP, with our own views as Jewish members completely ignored.

Right now, along with the many other Jewish activists I know in Islington North, I am simply devastated that this process has climaxed in the suspension of our cherished MP, and former leader. It’s so hard to accept that I must repeat again what every Jewish member I know in Islington North has frequently confirmed and it is we who actually know and regularly meet with Jeremy Corbyn – unlike most of critics. What we can confirm is that as Jews in North Islington we have always felt more than safe, more than welcome, unfailingly supported, in everything we do in the borough, and the Party. As it happens, we often feel this all the more strongly as Jews, knowing that ­– unlike Corbyn – so many who choose to speak in our name completely disrespect our commitment to antisemitism and racism of all kinds in struggles for a better world, including the vital struggle for Palestinian rights.

Personally, I have known Jeremy Corbyn since helping to get him selected, then elected, almost 40 years ago. However, battles to discredit Corbyn as antisemitic began some three decades later, after, and only after, his quite unexpected victory as leader of the party; indeed, from the very day of his victory. Methods first used by Corbyn’s opponents were the routine ways of attacking the radical Left, as ‘unrealistic’, ‘unpatriotic’, and so on. However, after his relative success in the elections of 2017, these easily verifiable systematic attempts were hugely amplified in order to undermine his leadership. Indeed, they moved into orchestrated denunciations that he was presiding over a party that was ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’. It is obviously much harder to refute an accusation that easily triggers panic and paranoia, placing those trying to assess the situation in the line of fire, even when Jewish.

Until very recently, the real prevalence of antisemitism in any political party remained unaddressed. It was only in the last few years, under Corbyn, that continuing investigations into antisemitism began in the LP. Tragically, this served as much to confuse as enlighten people, in ways too numerous to list here, but clearly tied in with Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights, and the later introduction of the IHRA definition of antisemitism making it difficult to distinguish legitimate criticisms of the Israeli state from what might be declared antisemitic.

So, let me provide a few pertinent facts. Over the years, Corbyn has had mutually supportive relations with the practising Jewish community in Islington, attending Shabbat dinners with the orthodox Chabad Rabbi, Mendy Korer, and attending numerous other official Jewish events in North London. Against some local resistance, Corbyn promoted the installation of a plaque on a demolished synagogue site in 2015 to celebrate Jewish life in the borough. Unlike most of his critics in Westminster, Corbyn unfailingly turned up to vote for motions addressing anti-Semitism in Parliament, just as he worked tirelessly against racism on every front.

This is precisely why few people are more supportive of Corbyn’s overall political project than those Jews in the LP who remain on the Left, and there are still many of us. Finally, though it is so hard to unearth, buried under mountains of misinformation, comparing two YouGov polls on antisemitism in 2015 and 2017, reveals that antisemitism had significantly declined within the LP under Corbyn.

So, let’s be clear: there is antisemitism in the Labour Party, as the recent report found; there was also some interference in the speed with which complaints were handled (though details of the nature of this interference remain ambiguous). At the same time, it is obvious that Corbyn faced an unrelentingly hostile campaign of disinformation, as compellingly confirmed by media research led by Justin Schlosberg and Laura Laker. Corbyn accepted the evidence provided by the EHRC, and said it should be acted upon. And though others may feel his timing was poor, in my view it is understandable that Corbyn should attempt to reassure Jews that the extent of antisemitism in LP had been grossly exaggerated in the media and by others not as a way to opposing antisemitism, but rather as a way of attacking him.

We should all be able to agree that any such practice undermines the importance of the very struggle it claims to support, as when the media, in line with Corbyn’s critics, promoted the false belief that 34 per cent of the LP had been accused of antisemitism, when in reality it was 0.3 per cent (exaggerated by a factor of 100).

Finally, if Starmer wants to follow the suggestions of the EHRC he will reinstate Corbyn forthwith. This is because that document explicitly protects freedom of expression, with enhanced protection under Article 10 to protect LP members who ‘express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law’.

Comments (21)

  • Anti-fascist says:

    Well and courageously spoken. Thank you, Lynne, for speaking out.

  • DJ says:

    Thankyou Lynne Segal for this convincing defence of Jeremy Corbyn. He has been subjected to an unprecedented level of demonisation by the MSM.

  • Susan Buckingham says:

    This is such a heartening response to read from a Jewish Labour Party member in Islington North – it needs the widest circulation.

  • Philip Ward says:

    Of course, it’s actually the case that none of the current leadership of the Labour Party have ever really believed that the party was institutionally antisemitic. Who in their right mind remains in a party of such a type, let alone serve as an MP or official in the party? Furthermore, is replacing the leader all that needs to be done to rid the party of this scourge?

    These observations are enough to show that this whole campaign has been riddled with hyperbole and hypocrisy.

  • Marge Berer says:

    Thank you so much, Lynne. This means a lot and should be shared widely, especially with Keir Starmer.

  • Les Hartop says:

    We need a line of Jewish party members like Lynne to march into the BBC and stand outside Starmer’s house and publicly demand to know why they are not interested in what real Jewish Labour Party members think.

  • James Simpson says:

    This is a necessary and brave statement of reality in the face of a tsunami of lies by the Labour right and centre and the media of all political stripes – especially The Guardian and BBC News. It’s time to stop this and to stand up for socialism, Palestinian rights and for Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Sam says:

    I do wish the percentages would be quoted correctly… It was 0.08%!

  • Amanda Sebestyen says:

    Thank you Lynne! What still bothers me is the redefinition of antisemitism even among socialists and Corbyn supporters, for example David Renton and some of the younger members of the Truth Defence team. Possibly this is a generational difference, but I cannot see for example how Ken Livingstone’s comments (which started off the avalanche of suspensions from Labour) were antisemitic. I do not know Pam Bromley but the words ascribed to her do not seem any more offensive than many comments I have heard from fellow Jewish friends – most of them outside the party but passionately concerned with Palestinian rights. I accept that younger people will have higher standards and different experiences, but it’s no good just writing as if antisemitism on the left is a self-evident fact.

  • Anthony Baldwin says:

    Les Hartop has suggested that Jewish members who have never. believed in the grossly exaggerated accusations that the Labour Party is overflowing with anti-semitism should march to show their opposition. Thankfully they do but when they do they are ignored by those who wish to limit the influence of the left.
    The furore over the accusation made by Ruth Smeeth that Marc Wadsworth deliberately targeted her at the meeting to publicise the Chakrabati Report and the subsequent upholding of that charge was appalling. As was the so called demonstration which followed when those supporting Marc were ignored by the MSM.
    What cannot be denied is that members who oppose Israel, because of its Apartheid status as defined by the Nation State Law, are still being wrongfully persecuted for continuing to oppose Israel’s actions such as those this week when seventy Palestinian homes were destroyed in the West Bank. No doubt those who support the political actions by Irael of this nature will also be pleased that at least the homes were destroyed by British machines proudly manufactured by JCB.
    This article is a superb justification of our last Leader and those who have maligned his name and our Party should be the ones who are feeling ashamed.

  • rc says:

    Members of Islington North CLP have been disenfranchised. They have a valid complaint against the LP/General Secretary. They have every right to know on what charge JS has been suspended.They should use the complaint form available on the LP website and reproduced on Skwawkbox in the last 48 hours.

  • RC says:

    We should not ascribe venality or cynicism to KS etc without evidence. Opposition to AS has converted through hysterical virtue-signalling into hatred of Palestinians and their supporters.
    The LP has a long and boastful history of persecution of the Palestinians and indeed other Arabs, largely arising out of its imperialist history (still transmuted, rather than abandoned, let alone self-criticised). When will ”Labour List” or the New Statesman publish the appeal from scores of notable Palestinian LP members that their voices be heard?
    This imperialist history is complicit with Zionist denigration of diaspora Jews – Zionist colonists (unlike the already resident, largely Orthodox, Jews) were portrayed as heroic pioneers, serving or at least benefiting the Empire; they were ‘redeeming’ themselves as well as Eretz Israel.
    Hence the LP’s successful opposition to 1930s self-government proposals for Palestine, and the unanimous resolve of 1944 Conference to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians – a Conference policy that was very successfully – and bloodily – executed by the Palmach and the Hagana. British imperial forces passively supervised these massacres just as the IDF supervised the Falangist atrocities at Sabra and Shuttle in 1982.
    Far from being from the start an antiracist party, the LP has frequently lurched into racism. I remember denouncing Shirley Williams in 1968 to her face vis a vis the government’s opposition to the Kenyan Asians: she wrung her hands and bemoaned ‘it’s our followers. there’s nothing to be done with them’.(PPS to Callagahan, who was worse). That was leadership ? or triangulation?
    No doubt in the blissful friendly era enjoined by the GS in his latest circular
    Palestinians and their voices will be enthusiastically welcomed…..

  • rc says:

    Shatila, of course, not “shuttle”. Wretched auto-correct – as bad as “auto-suspension” – almost!

  • Rosa says:

    I have been a member of the Labour Party since the age of 14, more year ago than I care to remember. My four grandparents were founder members of the ILP. My grandfather was a member of the Bund. My parens met at Conference. Without doubt anti Semitism exists everywhere, including the LP, but I have never experienced it. Do you think my parents/grandparents and I would not have not noticed? Whilst I accept complaints may not have been dealt with as speedily as they should, the public has been presented with the “fact” that anti Semitism is a huge and growing problem in the LP. It is not, but to say so risks expulsion.

  • Tony Dennis says:

    As a non-Jewish socialist, I find it heartening that a comrade like Lynne Segal should speak out so unequivocally in defence of Corbyn. As socialists, we all need to make our stances crystal clear – implacable opposition to racism of any kind, including anti-semitism, and equally implacable resistance to bullying and witch-hunting by the political Right, both in and out of our Party.

  • Myra sands says:

    An excellent response to the totally illegal and unjust hounding of a wonderful man. Hoping Shami Chakrabarti pursues the issue through the Courts to get him reinstated with a generous apology.

  • Leigh Maire says:

    A very interesting read and refreshing to a completely disillusioned socialist like myself

  • Gregory Douglas says:

    Lynne Segal’s commentary on Jeremy Corbyn was refreshing and as a Jew myself I have never thought of Jeremy in any other way

    PS: I’m sure RC you didn’t mean the ‘LP has a long and boastful history of persecution of Palestinians’. Surely you meant to write ‘Israel has….’ ?

  • Phil Barber says:

    Yes, it’s disgraceful that even discussion of these matters is now apparently an offence, and one with a very severe sanction. Very unhealthy, dangerous in fact

  • Caroline Oreilly says:

    Wonderful , so pleased you wrote this.

  • Salim Desai says:

    Does anyone ever question Corbyn what he meant when he called Hamas and Hizballah “ his friends “ ?
    Why does Corbyn make statements that he then retracts pleading ignorance?

Comments are now closed.