Labour rule change leads to con­fer­ence clashes


LABOUR’S ADOP­TION of a new rule aimed at tak­ing a tougher ap­proach to com­bat­ting an­ti­semitism has re­ceived a cau­tious wel­come from Jewish groups after an ac­ri­mo­nious party con­fer­ence.

Un­der the rule, the ex­pres­sion of an­ti­semitic views — along with other forms of hate speech such as Is­lam­o­pho­bia, sexism and ho­mo­pho­bia — will lead to ex­pul­sion from the party.

But a se­ries of an­ti­semitic com­ments and clashes over Is­rael and the role of Jewish ac­tivists within the Labour Party left some Jewish del­e­gates feel­ing too scared to at­tend con­fer­ence ses­sions.

Oth­ers crit­i­cised the po­si­tion of the Jewish Labour Move­ment, which pro­posed the new rule.

The group said it had se­cured a “de­ci­sive po­lit­i­cal vic­tory”, but one Labour MP de­scribed JLM as “Cor­byn’s use­ful id­iots”, say­ing it had been “played” by the Labour lead­er­ship so that it could now por­tray the party’s of­fi­cial Jewish group as sup­port­ing Mr Cor­byn.

A lead­ing Jewish Labour fig­ure said the rule change was a “dou­ble-edged sword” — while it had strength­ened JLM’s “le­git­i­macy”, the “long-term tra­jec­tory is dif­fi­cult”.

There was par­tic­u­lar anger over a leaflet pub­lished by the JLM on the eve of the vote which asked sup­port­ers to “help Jeremy Cor­byn fight an­ti­semitism”. It came as key al­lies of Mr Cor­byn re­peated their claim that al­le­ga­tions of Jew-hate in the party were smears de­signed to harm the Labour leader.

One se­nior com­mu­nal fig­ure said: “We may have won the bat­tle but lost the war. I felt very un­com­fort­able lis­ten­ing to the de­bate.” An­other long-stand­ing Jewish

Labour ac­tivist said that de­spite the new pol­icy, Tues­day had been “the worst day in my time in Labour”.

A se­nior JLM fig­ure was adamant the out­come rep­re­sented a “big re­sult” and urged the com­mu­nity to con­sider the long-term ben­e­fits. The group had, it was claimed, “turned” Mr Cor­byn to its view, se­cur­ing his sup­port and that of the in­flu­en­tial hard-left Mo­men­tum group which is loyal to him.

The Board of Deputies wel­comed the new rule, with chief ex­ec­u­tive Gil­lian Mer­ron say­ing it was “a step in the right di­rec­tion”.

How­ever she later crit­i­cised Mr Cor­byn’s speech to the con­fer­ence as “a missed op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress specif­i­cally the is­sue of an­ti­semitism”.

At var­i­ous meet­ings, party sup­port­ers ques­tioned the Holo­caust, com­pared Is­rael to the Nazis and called for Jewish groups to be ex­pelled from Labour, prompt­ing the Equal­ity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion to say that Labour “must do more to es­tab­lish that it is not a racist party”.

Tues­day’s de­bate on the con­fer­ence floor ahead of the vote on the new rule was marred by an­gry scenes. Naomi Wim­borne-Idrissi, of the Jewish Voices for Labour group, warned that those seek­ing changes should “be care­ful”. She also claimed Jews who pro­moted the new rule had been “run­ning” to brief right-wing news­pa­pers in­clud­ing the Mail and the Tele­graph.

Leah La­vane, a del­e­gate from Hast­ings, re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion after she said it was not an­ti­semitic to crit­i­cise Is­rael’s “de­spi­ca­ble be­hav­iour”.

In a pas­sion­ate speech, Mike Katz, JLM’s vice-chair, said the party should en­sure any mem­bers en­gag­ing in any form of hate should be “kicked out on their ear”.

Izzy Lenga, a Na­tional Union of Stu­dents vice-chair, tweeted after the de­bate that she felt more un­safe and un­com­fort­able on the con­fer­ence floor than at stu­dent events.

Miko Peled, an Is­rael-born anti-Zion­ist ac­tivist, told a fringe event there should be free speech on ev­ery is­sue, in­clud­ing the Shoah. The same ses­sion saw Is­rael com­pared to the Nazis. He said: “This is about free speech, the free­dom to crit­i­cise and to dis­cuss ev­ery is­sue, whether it’s the Holo­caust: yes or no, Pales­tine, the lib­er­a­tion, the whole spec­trum. There should be no lim­its on the dis­cus­sion.”

The event drew a fu­ri­ous response, with

Labour Friends of Is­rael di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Ger­ber call­ing Mr Peled’s com­ments “be­yond dis­grace­ful”. Tom Wat­son, the party’s deputy leader, said there would be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­tivist’s ap­pear­ance. A se­ries of Mr Cor­byn’s al­lies took to the air­waves, fur­ther wors­en­ing the at­mos­phere. When Ken Loach, the film­maker and Is­rael critic, was asked by the BBC about Mr Peled’s re­marks on the Holo­caust, he said: “His­tory is there for us all to dis­cuss.”

In a ra­dio in­ter­view on Tues­day, Ken Liv­ing­stone, the for­mer Mayor of Lon­don who is sus­pended from the party for re­marks about Hitler and Zion­ism, said there had been a “dis­tor­tion of the scale” of an­ti­semitism in Labour. “Some peo­ple have made of­fen­sive com­ments, it doesn’t mean they’re in­her­ently an­ti­semitic and hate Jews,” he said.

Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union, at­tended an event on Mon­day or­gan­ised by the Jewish Voice for Labour group which op­posed the rule change. He later told the BBC he be­lieved the an­ti­semitism row of the past two years was “mood mu­sic that was cre­ated by peo­ple who were try­ing to un­der­mine Cor­byn”.

John Cryer, chair of the Par­lia­men­tary Labour Party, told a fringe meet­ing that he had seen “some of the tweets from paid-up Labour Party mem­bers and I am not kid­ding you, it makes your hair stand up”. On Tues­day af­ter­noon, War­ren Mor­gan, the Labour leader of Brighton Coun­cil, wrote to the party’s gen­eral sec­re­tary warn­ing that the author­ity might ban its own party from hold­ing fu­ture con­fer­ences in the city if it did not clean up its act on Jew-hate.

Mr Cor­byn did not at­tend the Labour Friends of Is­rael re­cep­tion on Tues­day evening — the first such ab­sence by a Labour leader in liv­ing mem­ory.

Joan Ryan, the LFI chair, read a mes­sage from Mr Cor­byn, but was dis­rupted by heck­lers who shouted “where is he, why’s he not here?”.

Emily Thorn­berry, the Shadow For­eign Sec­re­tary, who at­tended in­stead, said Mr Cor­byn was busy pre­par­ing for his “big speech” to the con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day. As she spoke, Mr Cor­byn was at a party be­ing held by the Mir­ror news­pa­per. He later tweeted pic­tures of him­self at three re­cep­tions run by trade unions.


Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn after de­liv­er­ing his speech

Mike Katz

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