Labour has yet again shown it doesn’t care about its Jewish members. Jeremy Corbyn said earlier this year that “there is no place for anti-Semitism or any form of racism in the Labour party”. But not for the first time – and not for the last – Jews who still belong to the party have been sidelined.
The latest cause for disquiet is the decision yesterday by the party’s National Executive Committee. Not content with scrapping the party’s student wing ahead of next week’s gathering in Brighton, the NEC has now agreed new rules concerning the handling of allegations of anti-Semitism and disciplinary procedures for expelling members. Yet it has done so without consulting the Jewish Labour Movement, the Labour party’s oldest Jewish affiliate group. To make matters worse, the debate on these changes is scheduled to take place at conference on Shabbat, or Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. This means that orthodox Jews who want to take part in the debate won’t be able to.
So to summarise: the NEC has decided to allow a debate on how the party handles allegations of hate towards Jews, on a day when some Jews can’t participate in the debate.
Would Labour treat any other group this way? Would the party hold a discussion on the handling of Islamophobia on a day when Muslims couldn’t participate? It seems unlikely.
Jewish Labour Movement has reacted angrily. In a statement, the group says: “the party wishes to make sweeping changes to the disciplinary rules on anti-Semitism, without consulting us, it’s only Jewish affiliate, or any communal organisation. To add insult to injury, they will debate these changes at conference on the Jewish Sabbath, when religiously observant Jewish Labour delegates will be silenced, unable to participate in the debate.”
So what are the changes being debated? The rules would give new powers to the party’s general secretary and a group of NEC officers to expel members guilty of anti-Semitism. Labour claims that this will speed up the process of booting out anti-Semites. But given the party’s track record of dealing with such cases, it is no surprise that many Jews are sceptical.
Instead this looks like an attempt to hand over control of who is – and isn’t – kicked out of the party for anti-Semitism to a few individuals close to the leadership. With Jeremy Corbyn enjoying a majority of support on the NEC, this again is evidence of the centralisation of power in the party.
In short, it’s good news for Corbyn. But bad news for the dwindling number of Jews who still believe they have a home in the Labour party.
The Jewish Labour Movement spoke for many such members when it said these alterations “will simply streamline the process of letting anti-Semites off the hook.”
Enough is enough was the slogan used to protest the inaction of Labour to anti-Semitism. Perhaps a different slogan is called for: nothing has changed. And nothing will change while Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party.
Tali Fraser is a student and former Labour activist