‘A mo­ment of great shame’

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY IAN AUSTIN

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

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