‘A moment of great shame’
I GREW up learning about the Holocaust from my father who had fled to Britain as a 10-year-old Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia.
I joined the Labour Party as a teenager, determined to fight racism. A few weeks ago, I was tidying out my study and found myself writing the words “Labour Party Antisemitism” on a new folder and couldn’t believe what I was doing.
How did the party I joined as a teenager end up in a crisis like this?
Up to 20 Labour members, including one MP, have been suspended or expelled pending investigations into antisemitism. More have been reported or investigated. It has been necessary to hold three inquiries into antisemitism.
Senior figures have legitimised the myth that Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade. Others denied Israel’s right to exist, singled out the world’s only Jewish state for boycott and sanctions, or drew outrageous comparisons between the actions of Israel and the crimes of the Nazis.
After promising a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism and taking 12 months to investigate what to everyone else looked straightforward — Ken Livingstone is still fit to be a member?
It should have been enough when the Community Security Trust, Holocaust Educational Trust, Board of Deputies and Jewish Labour Movement all set out the offence he had caused.
But it is completely unprecedented to see the Chief Rabbi compelled to issue such a strong condemnation.
We in the Labour Party have to show we get this. This is the leader of Britain’s Jews saying Labour has failed to deal with prejudice against Jews because of who they are.
So this is a moment of great shame for people like me and we owe you the deepest apology.
As an MP, I’ve worked hard to support HET, Labour Friends of Israel and other communal organisations. In Dudley, a town with no Jewish community at all, I organise what has become one of the country’s largest annual Holocaust commemorations.
But all that is easy. It is easy for politicians to condemn antisemitism when you are talking about the Nazis and the Holocaust. What we must do now is sort out our own problems properly.
As just the first step, it is right that the NEC is to look at this again. Labour’s disciplinary committee found he had brought the party into disrepute, but Mr Livingstone made this terrible situation even worse by going straight to the TV studios to insist he had been right all along, so we must submit new complaints and insist they be investigated afresh.
I know this is a crisis and it’s no wonder we’ve lost the confidence of the Jewish community. But I promise to do everything I can to support my Jewish colleagues and decent party members to earn your trust again.
Ian Austin is Labour MP for Dudley North