Labour Party harassment of a Jewish councillor

JVL Introduction

Jo Bird is a Labour Councillor on Merseyside and a member of Jewish Voice for Labour.

She is now being threatened with disciplinary action by her own party for the fourth time in two and a half years.

In her own words: “Its time to tell the story of continuing hostility by the Labour Party towards me. I am a twice-elected Labour councillor who happens to be Jewish. My complaints of harassment and victimisation have been ignored by the Labour Party. Such intimidation in public life is not OK.”

This article was originally published by Jo Bird website on Mon 6 Sep 2021. Read the original here.

Labour Party harassment of a Jewish councillor

The Labour Party sent me yet another bullying letter on 24 August – the fourth disciplinary action against me by head office in two and a half years.

The Labour Party wrote that I may not remain a member because, more than a year ago, I gave a great speech, spoke at a meeting and signed a letter arranged by Labour Against the Witchhunt, an organisation they banned in July 2021. My legal response was submitted today, Rosh Hashonah.

Its time to tell the story of continuing hostility by the Labour Party towards me. I am a twice-elected Labour councillor who happens to be Jewish. My complaints of harassment and victimisation have been ignored by the Labour Party. Such intimidation in public life is not OK.

A long tradition of Jewish Socialism

I come from a long tradition of Jewish socialists, passionate about equality, justice and fighting all forms of racism. My part of the Jewish community are mostly descended from refugees from antisemitic fascism. Nazis persecuted us for Bolshevism.

We continue the work of Yiddish Revolutionaries, trade unionists, resistance leaders, Jewish Radicals, Kinder Scout trespassers, anti-fascist street fighters in Spain, Manchester and London, scientists, freedom-riders, anti-apartheid activists, nuclear whistle-blowers, peace protestors, anthem writers, subversive comedians, human rights defenders, and young men and women who refuse to serve in the Israeli army.

Many of us live in mixed heritage families. Many struggle to keep contact with relatives in Israel and don’t visit settlements. Most of all, we say ‘Not In Our Name’ does the Jewish state violate Palestinian human rights.

My lived experience

Along with hundreds of thousands of passionate people, I re-joined the Labour Party in 2015 and found warm welcome in our party political home. I was first elected as a local Labour councillor in summer 2018. Here are my reports from my first, second and third years.

Suspended before investigation

In March 2019, the Labour Party suspended me before investigation, for a self-deprecating play on words, despite my public apology. Like Shami Chakrabarti, I had spoken up for disciplinary system worthy of our trade union movement, based on natural justice and due process – or what I called Jew process. It’s a common Jewish pun, made famous by Woody Allen’s 1977 film, Annie Hall and not intended to cause offence.

The Labour MP for Wirral South told local members to be silent. The Party linked my name to allegations of antisemitism in the media. Like Kafta in The Trial, I am threatened me with more disciplinary action if I defend myself. Media articles did not mention that I am Jewish. I started to receive hate emails, calling me a Nazi, logged by the Police as hate crime.

My anxiety hit the roof and I modelled my responses to this Witch Hunt on courageous Jackie Walker, suspended Black Jewish comrade. I was reinstated after 9 days of public protest, with no explanation nor apology.

In October 2019, the vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel and Liverpool Riverside MP, Louise Ellman resigned from the Labour Party. My video was shared by over a thousand people and viewed 47,000 times. Many Riverside members ask me to seek selection to become their MP. But the NEC chose to interview eight other candidates and I was passed over, with no reason given.

Second suspension during NEC election

In early 2020, Jewish Voice for Labour and other left groups backed me to stand for by-election to Labour’s National Executive Committee. The Party suspended me when more Constituency Labour Parties had nominated me than any other candidate. This vexatious action was for anonymous complaints about a popular Just Jews video released five months earlier.

Sixty CLPs continued to nominate me although some other CLP officers denied their members a choice. Fellow candidates petitioned for free and fair elections. Some members invoked Spartacus and referred themselves to the Party for antisemitism. I was reinstated 9 days later by an NEC panel, with no breach of rules, no explanation and no apology. Campaigning for fairness and justice, I came fourth in NEC by-election with 46,150 votes.

Backed by Socialist Councillors, JVL and other left groups, Cllr Matt White and I contested election for two local government seats on the NEC, in summer 2020. 28% of Labour councillors across the country voted for us.

Intimidation before local election

In November 2020, I agreed with what Jeremy Corbyn said about “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons”. The Labour Party sent me another Notice of Intimidation, I mean Investigation, which was concluded in March 2021. There was no breach of rules, no explanation and no apology.

Antisemitism by new Labour leadership

The new leader of the Labour Party claims his first priority is tackling antisemitism (not alongside other forms of racism too). But he still has not recognised the existence of Jewish Voice for Labour.

In December 2020, while the country was dealing with another deadly combination of covid and Conservative corruption, the unconfirmed acting general secretary of the Labour Party issued some edicts. He overrules agreed Rules and safeguards for democracy and free debate, singles out Jewish members and wrote “anything that may cause members to continue to feel unwelcome and unsafe must take precedence over our rights at this time.”

When a few powerful people point at Jewish members as the reason for mistreatment of many members – this is antisemitism. The leader wraps himself in the union flag of military occupation. I experience this as far-right behaviour at senior levels of the Labour Party.

When some Labour MPs talk about antisemitism in our Party, I think about how its mistreatment of socialist Jews and these anti-Jewish policies of the leadership. But they cry wolf and blame me, my family and comrades.

Standing Against Injustice

We know that injustice comes to all of us and our communities, especially if we stay silent. One of the best ways to communicate with thousands of people is to stand for election. Backed by another great team, I stood for re-election as a local Labour Councillor.

Many ward residents said they were voting for me not Labour. They kindly asked, “What’s it like for you, being Jewish in the Labour Party who treat you so badly?” To which I answer, “It’s a hostile environment created by an oppressive regime – and support from people like you carries us through together.” We won with 61% of the vote, a vote swing of 13%, in May 2021.

Then they came for the Jews and the Socialists

In August 2021, Jewish Voice for Labour published evidence that Jewish JVL members like myself are thirty-one times more likely to be investigated for antisemitism by the Labour Party than other Party members.

The Party expelled socialist film maker and national treasure, Ken Loach, last month. Alongside myself, the Party also sent letters to dozens of other members, saying their previously legitimate political activities are now grounds for automatic exclusion unless we can magically prove we do not support newly banned groups.

The Party continues to bring itself into disrepute. Given how the Labour leadership persecutes its internal political opponents, how could they be fit to govern the country?

Political Trauma

Around half a million Labour members like myself, millions of voters at home and supporters abroad are enduring a type of vicious political violence. This Labour Party leadership are destroying good people’s work, character, livelihoods and above all, hope for a better world. No-one is safe as the cold fingers of fascism suffocate parts of political and public life.

Our experience with the Labour Party is traumatising. Welsh Labour AM, Carl Sargeant, took his own life within days of his removal from office by the Labour Party. Precious comrades are struggling with mental health triggered by similar letters from the Labour Party. Its long overdue for this continuing witch-hunt to stop. Enough already!

Everyone reacts differently to this kind of trauma. I’ve built more resilience as we go. My Jewish family didn’t schlep the red flag from Prussia to England for me to stop now.

As the Torah says, ‘Justice! Justice we shall pursue!’

Comments (36)

  • Stuart Hill says:

    Very powerful expression of righteous anger at injustices against herself and others.

  • Iain says:

    What the Labour Party and it’s agents are doing is Harassment because of a protected characteristic.
    https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/harassment/

    The evidence clearly shows that they are selectively targeting Jewish members in far greater numbers than other members.

    In the first instance a complaint needs lodging with police.
    https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-courts/discrimination/taking-action-about-discrimination/taking-action-about-harassment/

  • James Kemp says:

    Thank you for both your service to your local community and to the Labour party.

    While we may disagree on staying I accept that is everyone’s right to chose their course I am old and broken and tired of the same stupid fight with the right-wing.

    I will be always supporting and admire fellow socialists that fight for everyone and I don’t believe you get told enough thank you.

  • John Brooke says:

    Its terrible that you should be subjected to this. Everything you say above rings of truth. We will keep fighting in the Labour party on behalf of our Jewish Socialist comrades and for many others who are being discriminated against and this is ignored because all attention is focussed on a very narrow and false definition of anti-semitism.

  • Harry Law says:

    In my opinion Jo Bird has been the subject to a course of conduct which has caused her alarm or distress on at least two [2] occasions [it appears she has] she should make a complaint of Harassment to the police.

    2 Offence of harassment.

    (1)A person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of [F1section 1(1) or (1A)] is guilty of an offence.
    7 Interpretation of this group of sections.

    (1)This section applies for the interpretation of sections [F1sections 1 to 5A].

    (2)References to harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress.

    [F2(3)A “course of conduct” must involve—

    (a)in the case of conduct in relation to a single person (see section 1(1)), conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person, or

    (b)in the case of conduct in relation to two or more persons (see section 1(1A)), conduct on at least one occasion in relation to each of those persons.]

    Jo Bird has an excellent case, which should be pursued, if not other innocent individuals will be persecuted.

  • Ruth Sharratt says:

    Brilliant and moving writing. What can I say – It’s why I have left the Labour Party as I feel there is no way to change the cancer that is now at the heart of the LP. I do want to fight this fascism which has spread to silence dissent in so many areas of life. I do feel the LP isn’t the place to do it although groups such as JVL are powerful voices, and I will do my best to stand with you against these vicious attacks.

  • David Hawkins says:

    I am overwhelmed with emotion about this, almost unable to express myself.
    Jo is just a good Jewish woman who I am very proud to call a Facebook friend.
    Her persecution by racist Labour officials is just shameful, so disgusting I can’t even express it properly.
    If Jo isn’t a cherished, honoured, loved member of the Labour family, what is the point of Labour ?
    Even the Tories wouldn’t persecute a decent, honourable, local councillor in this way.
    Evil, racist, anti Semitic people are now running the Labour Party.
    Labour has become a Racist Endeavour and in my view the only path forward is to resign and make sure these nasty, vindictive, racists never get elected.
    Jo I’m sure would not agree with me. Jo believes in Labour and her loyalty does her credit. But her loyalty is treated with contempt and disrespect and honestly comrades I see no prospect whatever of Labour changing.

  • Ieuan Einion says:

    Thank you Jo Bird for these inspiring words. As the Chilean song “El Pueblo Unido” says: “the people will win for the truth is in their hearts,” and you have proved yourself to be a true woman of the people. Hasta la victoria siempre. No pasaran! Venceremos!

  • Derek Clifford says:

    Well done Jo! Great piece of writing. There’s no doubt the party apparatchiks and leadership have been working overtime against left wing Jewish members. I supported your nomination for the NEC at my CLP but a member objected that you had been suspended twice, and was not interested in the explanation. So the effect was real and discriminatory.

  • Alan Wright says:

    Excellent summary of what’s going on under Starmer’s leadership. This information needs to be broadcast far and wide so that the general public are under no illusions that the Labour Party can now be trusted to look after their interests in the unlikely event of them winning a General Election any time soon.

  • michael murray says:

    How can the Labour Party think they can afford to lose comrades with the quality of Jo Bird? How can they think their reckless behaviour won’t have repercussions for membership retention – or public acceptance ?

  • Vince Martin says:

    The current Party Leader and General Secretary have shown themselves determined to destroy the Left in the Labour Party and with it any hope of a Labour Government of any stripe for perhaps a decade. I despair as I await a letter accusing me of auto-exclusion for simply being a member who joined after being inspired by Corbyn’s vision for the United Kingdom. This is no longer the party I joined, it has no vision, no tolerance and, sadly, no future.

  • Nick Jenkins says:

    Solidarity with you, Jo… you are a good person!

  • Moshé Machover says:

    My admiration and total solidarity with comrade Jo Bird!

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    Well said Jo.
    I can only admire your strength and fortitude against this bombardment.
    This harrasment by the leadership is a disgrace and further undermines the fragile and crumbling democratic framework of the party.
    As you say, by its actions the Labour Party continues to bring itself into disrepute..
    Solidarity Jo.

  • graham harbron says:

    Really good explanation of how an ordinary true Labour member feels and experiences the current leaderships purge of the left. Shows the hypocrisy of the charges of antisemitism and how they can be twisted to suit any agenda. The actions of the leadership is destroying the party which I believe is there intension all along.

  • bob cannell says:

    They will lose eventually. Their actions are unjustifiable and unjust. We need people like you Jo to keep pushing, keep pointing out the injustice, the discrimination the anti-semitism in their actions. I have never known a more incompetent or sectarian Labour Party leadership.

  • Nicola Grove says:

    Right on Jo. If it weren’t for you and other Jewish comrades, I would be out of this party. I am so ashamed of what is happening in the name of Labour.

  • Johnnie BYRNE says:

    Thank you, Jo. Not just you, so many others too.
    It really is time we all find the courage to call out this lost, anti-Semitic leadership.

  • Mary Davies says:

    Love & Solidarity to Jo.

  • Linda Edmondson says:

    I am full of admiration for you, Jo, and all the comrades who stick to their principles and loyalties when the party you work for treats you like dirt. But it must surely be possible to take legal action against the party. For harassment, for retrospectively disciplining members for supporting groups which were legal at the time of their support, for breaking the party’s own rule book. I cancelled my membership last year and have no intention of trying to rejoin while this cabal is directing it. But I continue to hope that Starmer and his repulsive general secretary will be ousted before too long. Taking legal action against them might generate the energy to get them out. Here’s hoping!

  • George Wilmers says:

    The Labour Party under its present leadership is a proto-fascist party. Whether that condition can be reversed by its members is a contentious issue, but the omens are not good. If it becomes clear at the party conference that the condition is irreversible, then it must be recognised that the party has become the most dangerous reactionary force in the UK – more dangerous even than the Tories because its very existence gives false hope and is the greatest obstacle to change. The argument that in spite of its corruption socialists should support Labour because “there is no alternative” is simply false; politics abhors a vacuum, and if the Labour party were to disintegrate, the conditions are such that a socialist party would quickly arise to take its place.

    However because socialists will inevitably disagree on the exact point at which the party becomes unreformable, they should agree a common strategy with a common set of basic principles: (1) only to provide active support to LP candidates who are genuine socialists, and (2) for those OUTSIDE the party, to actively campaign AGAINST nonsocialist LP candidates.

    How to detect those who must NOT be supported? Fortunately that is easy, because the Starmer leadership has helpfully provided the required criterion by stipulating that vocal support for the Palestinian people is simply verboten in the LP. So those Labour functionaries or candidates who are not prepared to defend the basic rights of Palestinians are either nonsocialists, cowards, or opportunists – in no case should they be supported. Let us turn the proxy litmus test which these proto-fascists have set up against them.

    If socialists within and outside the party collaborate in this way by agreeing a common pledge, then every socialist who is expelled will provide a new militant free from the party rules who will hasten the inevitable fracturing of the party to the advantage of the left.

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    I left the Party once the anti-semitic policies of Starmer were clear.
    It was a local councillor who pursuaded me to rejoin to fight the right. JVL`s fight inspires me to continue. Looking back at history, its frightening how the door to creeping fascism and anti-semitism has been opened by Evans, Starmer and their acolytes.
    Jo – I hear your resillience and fight. Keep going!

  • Stephen Tiller says:

    Great admiration for Jo. Such a staunch comrade and true socialist.

  • Helen Marks says:

    Jo has shown enormous resilience in the face of what is undoubtedly harassment. The charges are not only nothing to do with antisemitism but they are so trivial as to be farcical. This is another example of where the Labour Party is trying to expell a left wing Jew bit also a member who has worked so hard for the Laboir Party. What a way to show thanks!!

  • Chris Main says:

    Jo’s principled courage is an inspiration to us all.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    Good on you jo goodness what sort of people are these so called Labour leaders.? They are a absolute disgrace. I left the LP because I could no longer stand MPs like Mann Hodge Streeting Woodcock Austin. It appears that there are many more like them.
    What to do . Well the Labour party it seems is destroying it self.
    Why are they doing this. What is the point?? There is hope the young do not read the right wing press /media They generally better educated . The over 60s my lot will eventually go.
    yes there is a need for a socialist party that is about fairness justice . That treats its members and supporters with respect.

  • Dr. Steven Cowan says:

    Inspiring. I wish you were my M.P. I hope you are billed to speak at one of the larger fringe meetings at the forthcoming conference.

    I’ve had to stop attending Labour Party meeting because at times they sound like right wing rallies. The real target is socialists, socialist thinking and socialist policies.

  • Bob Grimes. says:

    As someone who was expelled i 2019, for supporting the Palestinian struggle, I know exactly how you feel. I met Jo at CentralHall, Liverpool a few years ago , JC was speaking there that night. She is a lovely young lady, a credit to the LP. We must resist this Witch hunt.

  • Monika Lenox says:

    I am not Jewish, but I am a socialist and I wish the Jewish Left all the best.

  • Rebecca Hall Moss says:

    I’m
    So sorry to hear about this. It must have caused you so much hurt and pain. Good luck with the struggle. I am Jewish and have left the Labour Party because I believe they don’t have space for any meaningful discussion about the oppression of the Palestinian people which I do not want continued in my name.
    You are doing the right thing and I admire your courage.

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    Jo is a real inspiration as evidenced by past and current comments. Glad to see others suggesting at legal options, even though there have been some setbacks in the past. (I wonder How JVL’s last submission to the EHRC is going?)
    Coming back to Jo, I still remember her ‘Jew process’ quip, certainly long in the vein of Jewish humour. Anyway Jo, time surely to take Jewdicious action against the fourth rate arbiters of right and wrong.

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    Solidarity, Jo!

  • Bernard Grant says:

    Behind all this harassment by the Leadership and his GS is, the protection of Israel, stopping criticism of its behaviour towards the Palestinians, which is frankly disgusting and breaking International Laws. You will also be harassed if you support the Palestinians in their struggle against the actions of Israel. How can this be stopped? It is very difficult to even think of ways to combat these attacks, the only conclusion that I can see is to start a New Labour Party and make sure it isn’t infiltrated by people like Starmer, Evans and all those MPs that support Israel.
    We have lost tens of thousands of true Socialists since Starmer became Leader and it is only going to get worse.

  • Good to hear these words ” the Labour Party HAS become the most dangerous reactionary force in the UK”. However this is not completely true. The present leadership of Labour now has that distinction. So far not too many people have been fooled (Starmers abysmal electoral performance) I suggest an enormous vote of no confidence in the “leadership” a constant barrage of Email and letters to Starmer attacking him on every point where we KNOW his policies are dishonest and savagely detrimental to the Labour Party. Perhaps he might understand that the Israelis support him, the right wing media support him, arms dealers probably support him every right wing faction on this planet will support him but those in his own party do not.

  • John Bowley says:

    Bravo, lovely brave Jo Bird. You have already expressed it all so well.

    I recall Jo a few years ago speaking out against the pervasiive Big Lie that our British Jewish members feel uncormfortable within the majority left wing CLPs of the Labour Party. It is a lie spread for political gain by the used to ruling rotten establishment wing of the Labour Party and establishment media accomplices.

    Jo Bird is a genuine socialist and is also a genuine moderate, with her wide spread of working on behalf of all communities, not just a narrow few.

    Jo’s genuine popularity is evident by the large amount of support for her.

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