EHRC Testimonies: Labour Jews Speak Up

These are six of the 143 testimonies submitted by Jews to the EHRC inquiry into the Labour Party describing their positive experiences as Labour Party members

Twenty were prepared for the publication of the eBook Antisemitism and the Labour Party, edited by Jamie Stern-Weiner and available from Verso as a free download.

Annabelle Sreberny: Family tea with Jeremy at Westminster, circa. 1989.

EHRC Testimonies: Labour Jews Speak Up

On 1 August 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that it had launched ‘an investigation into allegations of antisemitism in The Labour Party’.

Later that month, a Call for Testimonies to be submitted as evidence to the EHRC investigation was circulated online.

In little over a week, testimonies were submitted by 143 Labour members of Jewish heritage, who had collectively been in the Labour Party for more than 1,300 years.


 

Professor Emeritus Annabelle Sreberny

CLP: Islington North
Time in Labour Party: 3 years

I understand that the ‘Campaign Against Antisemitism’ (whoever they are) has referred the Labour Party to the EHRC because of its so-called ‘institutional antisemitism’. I find this an absurd and reprehensible act for reasons that I explain below.

a) My mother Margot Sreberny was a Jewish child refugee from Germany who came to Britain on the Kinderstransport. She was a teacher and a long-standing member of the Labour Party in Hackney. She became a local activist, helping to establish the Finsbury Park Action Group, and worked very closely with Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott on many different north London campaigns throughout the 1980s and 1990s. She and Jeremy became close friends and he gave a eulogy at a public ceremony to celebrate her life. He is not an antisemite. There was never any inkling, any mention, of antisemitism in the party in all her years of involvement.

b) I, obviously a Jew, joined the Labour Party (Islington North) when Corbyn was elected leader. I was delighted that the party was moving away from Blairite neo-liberalism and had chosen a man of integrity and vision who would maintain social democratic values and policies, especially against the despicable austerity path that the Tories had chosen. His approach resonates with that of Harold Wilson in the 1960s and is not ‘hard’ left – as the mainstream media insist on describing him – but democratic socialist. He has always been active in combatting all forms of injustice and racism and has one of the best parliamentary records of fighting antisemitism which is a form of racism. I value his anti-war positions on foreign policy issues and the vexed question of rights and justice for the Palestinians, which he has always vocally supported.

c) I have never come across any antisemitism within the party. Necessary criticism of actions by Netanyahu’s right-wing government in Israel is not in itself antisemitic; rather, it is necessary that all people of conscience, Jews and non-Jews, speak out against an injustice that needs to be remedied.

d) I consider the recent incessant noise about ‘antisemitism in the Labour party’ to be a cynical and deliberate attempt to remove a progressive, decent man from office since this seems to be the only charge against him that can be made to stick through false accusation and repetition. Different groups profit from these accusations. There is evidence that the hasbara of the Israeli government has been actively fomenting them; see, for example, the Al Jazeera documentary series

‘The Lobby’. The right-wing of the Labour Party are worried about Corbyn’s popularity. The Tories, far more deeply antisemitic and Islamophobic than Labour, are delighted by this campaign. Why does the media not call this out? Why is there no EHRC investigation of them, including the current Prime Minister, for their egregious racist comments?

e) Almost no evidence has been produced about this story. The media report outrageous comments by individuals as fact, with no evidence produced by the individuals concerned and none produced by the media. Margaret Hodge’s comment that the situation is as bad as in Nazi Germany was reported as if true, rather than a traducing of the experiences of my family and so many others who did not live to speak. Stories from years ago are dredged up again and again as if they have not already been dealt with, explained, even apologised for. Much of the supposed antisemitic comment has been circulated across the internet, often by people who have nothing to do with the Labour Party. The party has put a process in place to deal with antisemitic and racist speech, more than any other political party has done. There is no new evidence of antisemitism let alone ‘institutional antisemitism’ yet the story runs and runs. Little wonder that the general public is confused about the matter.

f ) Since my submission to the EHRC a group of academics have published a book on the subject: Greg Philo et al., Bad News for Labour (Pluto Press, 2019). Their research shows that this is a ‘media panic’ fomented by continued uncritical reporting by and exaggerated headlines and stories from the media; around 5,500 stories in the British press between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019. The issue has actually involved less than 0.1 percent of a party of half a million members. Little wonder that public opinion hugely overestimates the extent of the matter, so that the average estimate given in focus groups is that 34 percent of party members are antisemitic. This moulding of public opinion has potentially enormous consequences for the future of progressive politics and the British electoral process.

Obversely, the rise of the Far Right in the UK, the US, and in much of Europe, with its deep antisemitic sentiment and actions, gets short shrift in the press while such populism undermines the core of democracy as a hospitable environment for all.

g) Israel is a powerful state in the Middle East with a tough right-wing government. That government does not act in a way that all Israelis approve of, nor in a manner that all Jews around the world support. Indeed, the political debate inside Israel is vigorous and wide-ranging. The Israeli government does not speak in my name, as a British Jew. Netanyahu’s attempts to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism does not wash. Israel deserves to be criticised for its violent actions against innocent Palestinians, its destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, its continued policy of land incursions and settlement building and its crass indifference to the suffering it causes. The use of the antisemitism accusation against Corbyn and the progressive elements in the Labour Party is a ploy to protect Israel from criticism. The IHRA with its crude examples also plays to the stifling of debate about Israeli government policies and Palestinian rights.

In short, I have not heard of or experienced antisemitism within the Labour Party. Antisemitism is not to be equated with criticism of Israel. Such criticism and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic unless it manifests a hatred of Jews as Jews. This is a baseless witch-hunt and I urge the EHRC to throw the complaint out.

28 August 2018; revised 30 October 2019

 


Agnes Kory

Agnes Kory is the founder and director of the Béla Bartók Centre for Musicianship, London.

CLP: Hampstead & Kilburn Time in Labour Party: > 2 years

I am a Holocaust child survivor and a member of the Labour Party as well as Momentum. I am also a Holocaust researcher.

At no stage or point have I experienced or even noticed antisemitism in the Labour Party.

I am deeply saddened by the weaponising of such an important issue, possibly for hidden political agendas.

24 August 2018

 


Editor’s Note: Sam Glatt passed away in 2018. A tribute to him written by a close friend can be read here.

Dr Sam Glatt

CLP: Sunderland South
Time in Labour Party: 46 years

Dear Sir or Madam,

I would like to say that I am appalled to learn that Jeremy Corbyn has yet again been unfairly accused of antisemitism and my Labour Party of institutionalised antisemitism. I find this ludicrous.

I am Jewish, a 92-year-old Labour Party member, and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I was brought up in the East End of London in the 1930s so I know what real antisemitism is, and I learnt to recognise our true friends within the Labour movement.

It is ridiculous to allege that there is now any significant antisemitism in the Labour Party. My 70 years in the Labour movement confirms this and that includes recent meetings with members of Momentum who I found very welcoming.

I believe the problem is rather coming from those anti-Corbyn groups who wish to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism, and silence critics of Israeli Government policies. This distortion promotes the false concept that Corbyn and Labour are not in favour of a secure state of Israel. This in turn feeds into the understandable, sometimes subconscious fear of many Jews living here, that their safe refuge in the event of another genocide risk could be under threat.

My hope is that you will carefully review the evidence for these unfounded claims against Corbyn and Labour, reject these allegations, and reassure Jewish residents on all sides of the political spectrum, that they will be safe with a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Yours sincerely, Dr Sam Glatt


J.G.

CLP: Rugby
Time in Labour Party: 40 years

I am a 70-year-old Jew living in the Midlands. My mother was a Kindertransport refugee, most of whose family, including her parents, were murdered by the Nazis. My father was the grandson of refugees from Czarist pogroms. Both my parents were active members of the Labour Party continually from the time they left the Communist Party in the 1950s until their deaths in 2013 and 2017. Neither of them ever mentioned to me any antisemitic experiences in the Labour Party.

I have been an active member of the Labour Party since the mid1970s, in four different constituencies. In my 40 years in the party I have never experienced or witnessed any antisemitism beyond the very occasional bad taste remark and that’s not happened for at least 20 years. Furthermore, when I have asked my Jewish friends and relatives who are Labour Party members whether they have experienced antisemitism in the party the answer is the same: no.

The accusations against Jeremy Corbyn and the Left in the Labour Party are false and unjustified. To describe the Labour Party as institutionally antisemitic is absurd and betrays a complete misunderstanding oftheterm‘institutional’.Thisisnottodenythatthereisrevoltingabuse on social media, some of it antisemitic and some of it from self-styled supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, but most of it from avowedly right-wing people. Very rarely is there is any evidence that antisemitic abuse is coming from Labour Party members. Where such evidence exists, I am confident that the offenders can and will be disciplined by the party, especially now that it has finally set up effective procedures under its new General Secretary appointed under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Accusations against the Labour Party of antisemitism are driven almost entirely, in my opinion, by a burning desire to topple Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership and/or to damage the Labour Party in order to perpetuate Conservative rule.

31 August 2018; revised 31 July 2019


Rica Vivien Bird

CLP: Wirral South
Time in Labour Party: 6 years

I have been a member of the Labour Party since January 2016, and previously between 1999 and 2003, and a Labour Party supporter throughout my adult life.

My political activities, including non-party political activities in the wider labour movement, have arisen from my concerns about various issues. These have included equal rights for women, nuclear disarmament, promotion of securing peace in those parts of the world suffering armed conflict, extending provision for the under-5’s, support for women experiencing domestic abuse, campaigning for retention of community NHS services, welfare rights services for those in receipt of state benefits, opposing Apartheid in South Africa, standing up for human rights with those experiencing oppression in any part of the world, trade union defence of members at home and abroad, and campaigning on behalf of Labour in local and national elections.

Throughout these activities over many years, my experience is that fellow Labour Party activists of any faith, or none, have always been respectful and comradely towards me, taking my Jewish heritage into account. I have been involved in many disagreements with fellow activists, some of them very harsh indeed, but never because those opposed to my viewpoints were antisemitic. It’s precisely because I feel secure that members of the Labour Party will respect my heritage, as I do theirs, that I am able to continue my membership, and activities in the Labour Party, with sustained confidence.

31 August 2018


Angie Mindel

CLP: Nottingham East (Sherwood Branch) Time in Labour Party: > 2.5 years

I welcome this opportunity to give my testimony as a Jewish member of the Labour Party.

My grandparents came to the UK in the early 1900s escaping the pogroms in Lithuania and I was brought up in an orthodox Jewish Community. I was an active member of the Labour Party during the 1980s but left as I didn’t like the direction in which the party was going. I re-joined once Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader. I am now a CLP delegate and a member of the Local Campaign Forum.

In all my time in the Labour Party I have never experienced or witnessed any antisemitism at Labour Party meetings or gatherings, or from Labour Party members. There is an evident ethos of antiracism, which includes fighting antisemitism, and positive encouragement to those of all faiths and none. I am sure there is some antisemitism in the party, as there is in all other parties and society at large, and this needs to be dealt with robustly, but the data shows that this is a very tiny percentage in a party of half a million members. I also condemn the nasty online antisemitic abuse that some Jewish MPs have received and this must be dealt with. However there is no evidence that this abuse comes from Labour Party members and possibly not even Labour Party supporters. It has been demonstrated that Diane Abbott MP receives more online abuse than all the other MPs put together. It is a modern challenge as to how to deal with all online abuse that often manifests as both racist and misogynist.

The Labour Party has procedures to deal with allegations of abuse. Unfortunately, under the previous General Secretary, the system was opaque, with many unsubstantiated allegations being left uninvestigated for long periods of time. I believe that some of these allegations were malicious and designed to curtail free speech on Israel and Palestine, which I will come back to later in this submission. I welcomed the Chakrabarti Report which proposed that all cases should be dealt with transparently and with due process. For a party that advocates human rights around the globe, it should deal with its own members properly, respectfully, and with due diligence. I am hopeful that the new General Secretary will now implement the recommendations swiftly.

The so-called ‘crisis of antisemitism’ is not in fact a crisis of antisemitism within the party or by its members, given my caveat above of the small percentage of cases. This crisis has been created deliberately, largely from those outside the party – the Board of Deputies (BoD), Jewish Leadership Council, Zionist Federation UK, CAA, etc. – abetted by some within the Parliamentary Labour Party and others within the party who want to remove Corbyn as leader. This is because he is a socialist and also – mainly – because he supports the rights of Palestinians to live their lives free of oppression in their own land. Those who are bombarding him with allegations – some of which I believe are libellous – are in the main Conservative Party supporters and donors and/or advocates for the Israeli Government.

The media have picked up on this as if the Jewish Community is of one mind and allegiance and that the BoD et al. speak for all UK Jews. This is most definitely not the case – they certainly do not speak for me or for many Jewish people. Stating that all Jews support Zionism is extremely dangerous as it equates support for Israel – and its actions – with all Jews. Similarly that those of us who oppose Zionism are ‘the wrong kind of Jew’ and that our voices should not be heard. I and many Jews say, ‘Not in my name’.

Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong antiracist campaigner, and there is ample evidence of his campaigns against antisemitism and his support for the Jewish community in various forms over the years. I find it offensive that he should be being accused of antisemitism, including by those like Margaret Hodge who saw fit to scream abuse at him in Parliament and likened her own treatment to that of Jews in the holocaust.

Many of us have had meetings with Palestinian speakers disrupted and intimidated by members of the Zionist Federation and it was these individuals who had shouted down a Palestinian speaker who Corbyn was referring to in the latest manufactured incident.3 His words should not be taken out of context. The subsequent attack by Lord Sachs – former Chief Rabbi – comparing Corbyn with Enoch Powell and the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech is not only libellous but is offensive to all those who have suffered racist attacks over the years arising out of Powell’s speech.

We are currently witnessing the most horrific daily human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, with illegal land grabs, humiliation and intimidation, imprisonment of children, innocent protestors being killed and maimed in cold blood with live fire, and a regime that has just passed Nation State laws giving citizenship rights only to Jewish people that are reminiscent of those in Germany in the 1930s. It is incumbent upon all of us to shout out loud and clear that this must be stopped, to call for Government sanctions against such a regime, and, yes, to be able to call it out as racist and make any historical comparisons that are relevant. It is not antisemitic to be anti-Zionist. Zionism is a political ideology – also held by many Fundamentalist Christians – that has been opposed by many Jews since its inception in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

What should be investigated at this time, in addition to those actions of the Israeli Government classed as illegal under International Law, is the interference by a foreign state – Israel – in all our political parties, with its influences on MPs and Labour Party members. It could start by investigating both Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel – where their funding comes from and what it is being used for. There is ample evidence out there, e.g. from the Al Jazeera’s undercover filming of ‘The Lobby’.

In addition, an investigation should take place into the so-called Campaign Against Antisemitism, whose charitable status should exclude them from participating in any political activity but who have stated that they aim to take Jeremy Corbyn down. Their recent online petition, on Change.org, is deeply offensive and is in fact an incitement to violence against Jeremy Corbyn, the threat of which is, as we know following the murder of Jo Cox MP, a dangerous reality.

In conclusion, I believe the current crisis is being whipped up by those who want to silence criticism of Israel and to topple the Leader of the Opposition. The Labour Party stands proudly for Free Speech and human rights, as well as antiracism in all its forms, and we must be able to stand up to these bullies and continue to speak out.

I welcome the opportunity to give testimony to this enquiry and hope that my voice will be heard.

30 August 2018

Comments (7)

  • Roisin Dargan-Peel says:

    It is very heartening that many Jewish people are standing up for fairness and truth. I sincerely hope that their voices are heard because they are, at the current time, not being heard by the mainstream media.

  • Talal Karim says:

    I have known Jeremy Corbyn for almost 40 years. As Annabelle Sreberny comments in her testimony , her late mother Margot Sreberny had worked closely with Jeremy through the Finsbury Park Action Group. Jeremy has always stood on the side who have been oppressed or discriminated against. He passionately believes in fairness, equality and justice. Until he became Leader of the Labour Party , no body had accused him of being anti semite. This is part of a right wing conspiracy to damage his reputation. As Annabelle points out criticism of Israel’s policy in its treatment of Palestinians does not mean you are anti semite. it took us 40 years to campaign against the evils of an Apartheid system in South Africa until it was defeated in 1993. I welcome the comments made by members of Jewish Voice for Labour and stand by them

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    obviously, after the EHRC has reported, the JLM should no longer be allowed to affiliate to the Labour Party where they spread their vile venom.
    There may also be a case for expelling all who espouse Zionist colonialism ( and without colonialism, Zionism is nothing)

  • This is an incredible document and well worth a read. As a British Jew I am very proud to be a member of the Labour party as were my parents and their parents before them. I am appalled at the lengths to which some members of our community will go to cast doubt on Labour’s record on anti-racism and antisemitism. There are many reasons to criticise Labour, especially for the turn it took under Tony Blair, but never its policies on race and my only concern in this regard has been that some members of the party have been overzealous in their efforts to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism and have thereby cast doubt on the role of Jews in Labour. This document is therefore all the more remarkable for the evidence it provides of a strong and principled core of Jewish Labour members who will not abandon the party or their humanitarian principles.

  • Frank Lerner says:

    I missed the request for depositions regarding the EHRC. I presume it’s too late.
    [Afraid so – JVL ed]

  • Andrea Reid says:

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Really. I respect your courage in speaking out, and bow to your much greater knowledge and experience, both as members of the Jewish Community and as long term Labour members.
    If it was ‘institutional’ you would have experienced it. I’m so grateful that you haven’t. It gives me back my faith in what we’re doing.
    The alternative would have been devastating.
    I cannot imagine the distress this has caused for you and other Jewish Comrades.
    As a Labour member myself, and a non Jew, it has been a nightmare for me, being called ‘Anti-Semitic Scum’, and trying to decide which story to believe, without seeming to validate the accusations. I have even been the subject of 2 attempts at entrapment, the last being just yesterday, by a reporter at the Bristol rally. Thankfully l spotted her doing it to another colleague and knew not to engage.
    The longer this has gone on, the more apparent it is, that this is not a just battle based on righteous anger, to wipe out the scourge of anti-semitism…l’m already in that particular army fighting alongside you…but rather it’s a battle between the left and right wing, with anti-semitism as the weapon, and left wing Jews casually placed in the cross fire of political ambition. It is also increasingly obvious that it is intended to silence critics of Nethanyu’s policies.
    My revulsion towards those policies has never been based on Nethanyu’s ethnicity or faith, or the Country where those policies are formed. It has quite simply been at the deliberately inhumane treatment of other human beings, who happen in this case, to be Palestinian. My revulsion would be as virulent if any of those factors were different.
    My disgust at barbarity does not make me an anti semite.
    The accusations fly so thick and fast on Social Media, that as a decent and very self critical human being, who is wanting to avoid the use of tropes, or ill informed comments, l find myself spinning, second guessing, double checking and questioning if l’m an anti-semite, because the person(s) commenting often say they’re Jewish, and so are more qualified than l to assess… Even if they’re Tory/Right Wing plants pretending to have Jewish Heritage, which there have been a lot of, l could hardly say l don’t believe them, in case l’m wrong and inadvertently offend a member of the Community….so l retreat and stay silent. Their work is done.
    The plants don’t want open discussion. They want another head to display.
    Were it truly about the abhorrence of Anti Semitism, surely all voices would be heard and there’d be no such thing as the ‘wrong kind of Jew’ or vile smears such as ‘Kapo’ or ‘Collaborator’ thrown at Jews who support Corbyn.
    When one half of the argument is being so blatantly silenced, it becomes apparent that the real motivation is not justice. The most telling point in the whole issue, has been that the only protection offered in all of this, has been to the interests of those making the allegations, rather than the Jewish Community as a whole.
    The weaponisation and trivialisation of such a heinous crime, the deliberate division of a community, the fear and distress it has stoked amongst Jewish people, the delays it has caused in people accessing justice, the increased risk of being accused of ‘crying wolf’ when support is needed for real cases of anti semitism, all for the sake of political and financial gain, is to me, so vile and callous that it is anti semetic in itself.
    Michael Rosen and Noam Chomsky, amongst other great Jewish minds, have helped me greatly with their observations, and l’m so grateful for their balance and insight.
    I greatly appreciate your input and l’m glad to read one of you confirm the numbers are indeed as low as Formby has reported, although the numbers can’t be low enough, and l know we have work to do.
    It is however, a direct contrast to the persistent mud slinging by the media.
    That said, I’ll be ecstatic when we hit zero.
    Please take care and thankyou again. I hear you. Much solidarity to you all.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Alasdair MacVarish raises the question of the affiliation of the JLM to the Labour Party.

    Obviously, now isn’t the time, but the position of the organisation really does require scrutiny in the light of its anti-Labour stance at this election. Individuals have been expelled or suspended from the Party for much lesser offence.

    What should be obvious is that, unless the organisation becomes unequivocal about the neo-colonialism and racial discrimination within the current Israeli State and Occupied Territories, it cannot continue to be an affiliate of the Labour Party.

Comments are now closed.