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Holocaust survivor quits Labour after being told not to speak at memorial day event

Stephen Kapos has resigned his membership after the party told him he would be expelled if he spoke at a Holocaust Memorial Day event organised by left-wing group
Stephen Kapos said that being told not to speak at a Holocaust Memorial Day event was the 'last straw' (YouTube)

An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor has resigned from the UK Labour Party after being told he would be expelled from the party if he spoke at a Holocaust Memorial Day meeting organised by a proscribed left-wing group.

Stephen Kapos, who joined the Labour Party in 1997, was asked to speak about his experiences as a child survivor of the Holocaust at an event scheduled for 27 January by the Socialist Labour Network (SLN). 

On 24 January, Kapos received an email - which Middle East Eye has seen - from the London Labour party, warning him that if he spoke at the meeting, he would most likely be expelled from the party. 

"Socialist Labour Network is a group which the NEC [National Executive Committe] of the party has determined is incompatible with Labour Party values," the email read. "Any support for the organisation would likely be deemed in breach of party rules and may lead to expulsion."

'Your attempt to effectively bar me from speaking about the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day was the last straw for me'

Stephen Kapos, Labour Party resignation letter

A left-wing group, SLN was formed in January 2022 and then banned by the party in March that year. 

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In his resignation letter to the party, also seen by MEE, Kapos said that Labour’s “attempt to effectively bar me from speaking about the Holocaust on Holocaust Memorial Day was the last straw for me”.

He stressed the importance of speaking about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor and accused Labour’s current leadership of “McCarthyism”, a reference to the campagin to smear left-wing people in the United States in the 1940s and 50s.

He said that he was not a member of SLN and had not been following the group’s activities. 

“As a child survivor and one of the fewer and fewer still living direct witnesses to the Holocaust, I feel a compelling duty to bear witness and speak out about it at any platform that would invite me and to any audience ready to listen,” Kapos, who was born in Budapest in 1937, wrote.

Labour did not respond to Middle East Eye’s request for comment. 

Labour Party rules forbid “possessing membership of, providing financial assistance to, sitting on the ruling body of or otherwise supporting (as may be defined by the NEC) any political organisation that the NEC [National Executive Committee] in its absolute discretion shall declare to be inimical with the aims and values of the party”. 

Separated from his Jewish parents as a child, Kapos spent the early part of his life dodging the forces of the Arrow Cross fascist movement, which rounded up Jews, shot them and threw them in the Danube river. 

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While most of his family was murdered in the Holocaust, Kapos survived, eventually moving to the UK after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. 

He became involved in Labour Party politics in the constituency of Kings Cross and St Pancras, whose MP since 2015 has been the party’s current leader, Keir Starmer. 

In his resignation letter, Kapos said that he “learnt about Labour values during my party activism in the period when Frank Dobson was our MP and I worked in a warm and friendly atmosphere prominently on various election campaigns”. Dobson, a former cabinet minister who died in 2019, was Starmer’s predecessor. 

Kapos wrote that the Labour values upheld by Dobson were “very different to that of the present leadership, whose values permit intimidation, banning of discussion of some of the most vital political topics, disregard for the party’s own rules, and for natural justice, the drastic reduction of inner party democracy, extreme factionalism and lack of support for striking workers”.

"In the long term this period of the party’s history will be remembered with shame," Kapos said. "This was when McCarthyism was revived and imported into the Labour Party - and into the political life of the UK itself."

Palestinian solidarity

The Socialist Labour Network describes itself as having been formed by the “merger of Labour Against the Witch-hunt and Labour in Exile Network”, two groups that believe the presence of antisemitism in the Labour Party was exaggerated as a means of undermining the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and that left-wing members of the party are deliberately being targeted for removal by the post-Corbyn leadership. 

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SLN says its “primary purpose is to continue to resist the witch-hunt and network socialists who have either been expelled from the Labour Party or left the party in dismay and disgust at the direction Labour is going under the leadership of Keir Starmer”. 

The question of Palestinian solidarity and criticism of Israel have often been at the heart of divisions within the membership of the Labour Party.

Corbyn, a longtime supporter of Palestinians, was suspended by Labour in October 2020 following his response to a highly critical report on the party's handling of antisemitism during his time as leader.

Kapos stressed that he was an “activist for Palestinian human rights and an active member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign”.

“The defence of Palestinians living under a brutal occupation is very important to me, particularly as a Holocaust survivor,” he wrote in his resignation letter. 

“Palestinians live under a system of apartheid as recognised by Amnesty International and other major human-rights organisations. Those are my political beliefs, which I claim are protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010.”

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