How seriously is Labour taking the investigation into its anti-Semitism problem by the UK equalities watchdog? Well, in the early hours of this morning it was celebrating the election in Peterborough of a woman accused of anti-Jewish racism. Her campaign had been supported by around 60 Labour MPs as well as hundreds of activists.
Just over a week after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched its investigation into Labour, we now have in Lisa Forbes an MP who both the anti-racism group Hope not Hate and the Labour party’s Jewish affiliate, The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), are demanding has the whip removed before she even steps into Westminster.
Forbes has insisted that she believes anti-Semitism is ‘abhorrent’. But she liked a Facebook post saying Theresa May had a ‘Zionist Slave Master’s agenda’ and on another occasion, announced she had ‘enjoyed’ a Facebook thread which said Islamic extremists were created by Mossad and the CIA.
She also added her name to a petition denouncing Labour signing the internationally recognised IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. So, she is someone who says they find anti-Semitism abhorrent, but perhaps not when Jewish people define it.
When the revelations about this behaviour emerged the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, which represent British Jews, urged Labour to pick a new candidate. They were ignored. As usual.
There were excuses of course. She hadn’t meant to actually like the anti-Semitic part of the post, apparently. It was akin to Jeremy Corbyn saying he hadn’t realised the anti-Semitic mural he didn’t want to be pulled down was racist because he hadn’t looked at it properly. Have you ever mistakenly liked a Facebook post claiming Zionists are slave masters for politicians? Me neither.
Even until a few days ago, however, there were a few Jews still hanging on to the hope that there were still good people within Labour who were fighting the racism from within. But then, in some ways, something even worse happened.
Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, who has acknowledged the huge problem in the party and in February said he would take personal charge of anti-Semitism complaints within the Labour party, supported the Peterborough candidate.
He’d asked the Jewish community to trust him to sort out this mendacious evil and we did. But then he went and campaigned for someone who – at best – has a gaping blind spot for anti-Semitism.
He was joined by other moderate MPs including Hilary Benn, Stephen Kinnock and Catherine West; two of which signed a letter in March to the JLM apologising for, ‘letting our Jewish supporters and members down.’
They said then: ‘Each of us recognises the leadership role we must ourselves play in addressing this toxic racism, calling out those who seek to make solidarity with our Jewish comrades a test of foreign policy and proudly standing with them in saying and acting to ensure antisemitism has no place in the Labour movement at any level. We know words mean little when not backed by deeds.’
Indeed, words mean little when not backed by deeds. Three months later they campaigned for someone the JLM had asked them not to support. Party loyalty came first; what about British Jews?
Also there banging the drum for Forbes were several MPs who have had their own issues with anti-Semitism. There was Chris Williamson, who has been suspended from Labour after insisting the party had been ‘too apologetic’ over anti-Semitism. There was Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, who was caught out saying that he hadn’t said ‘Zionism is the enemy of peace’ when a video was discovered showing him saying exactly that. And, of course, there was Jeremy Corbyn.
These are the people who run Labour.
What this barrage of MPs throwing their weight behind Lisa showed was that the anti-Semitism claims against her didn’t matter. They should be ignored. Not important. Not true.
Now there are still a few good people in Labour who are appalled by this. Other moderates including Wes Streeting, Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips refused to campaign in Peterborough. Jess wrote on Twitter this morning that she could not be proud about the election of this Labour MP because: ‘It shows that anti-Semitism is becoming normal in the party. Lisa ignored and endorsed anti-Semitic things. With every case the party’s values chip away and our ability to stand up against hate erodes.’
She is of course right. But sadly voices like hers are becoming increasingly faint amid the stinking miasma of a growing number of people accepting anti-Jewish racism.