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UK's Labour accused of 'purging Jews' from party over antisemitism claims

Jewish Voice for Labour tells EHRC that Jews almost five times more likely to face antisemitism charges than non-Jewish members
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to members of the media in Cleckheaton Memorial Park during a visit following Labour's victory in the Batley and Spen by-election, in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire on 2 July, 2021 (AFP)

A new report says that Keir Starmer’s Labour “is purging Jews from the party” - with Jews almost five times more likely to face antisemitism charges than non-Jewish members.  

It states that British Jews are experiencing "discrimination, victimisation and harassment" inside the UK's Labour Party.

These statements are found in a submission by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). A left-wing, pro-Palestinian Jewish group, JVL was founded in 2017 and has been a consistent supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The group says it is submitting its report to the EHRC because it believes its members "increasingly experience administrative persecution by the Labour Party as a form of discrimination".

'For the first time in my life as a Jew living in the UK I feel persecuted, hated and shunned by the apparatus of the Labour Party and the loud voices of some sections of the Jewish community'

- Jenny Manson, JVL co-chair

Approached by Middle East Eye, the Labour Party did not respond to the JVL’s claims.

In its report, the left-wing group additionally says that members “increasingly experience administrative persecution by the Labour Party as a form of discrimination, targeted not just at our political beliefs but at the nexus of these beliefs with our Jewish identity”.

Jenny Manson, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, who is herself under investigation by the Labour Party, told MEE: “For the first time in my life as a Jew living in the UK I feel persecuted, hated and shunned by the apparatus of the Labour Party and the loud voices of some sections of the Jewish community. The weapon used too often is to call us JVL activists antisemitic. Bizarre and wicked.”

“Those who should defend us - the courts, the media, politicians - turn from us as if we are dangerous and distasteful,” she added.

Jewish Voice for Labour claims to represent some 350 Jewish Labour members, along with some 800 non-Jewish "solidarity" members and a small number of Jewish "supporters".

It told the EHRC: "Our Jewish members do not feel safe in the Party and this is experienced agonisingly like the persecution our families have experienced over centuries".

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When MEE put this statement to the Labour Party it did not respond. JVL says investigations against left-wing Jewish members have been "disproportionate". 

According to Labour statistics, by March 2021 there had been 1,450 "actioned complaints" against Labour party members in relation to allegations of antisemitism - equivalent to 0.29 percent of Labour’s membership, which averaged 500,000 between 2015 and 2020, when Corbyn was leader.

By contrast, says JVL, there were at least 35 actioned complaints against Jewish members. This is equivalent to 1.4 percent of Jewish members, who the group estimate to have numbered around 2,500 during the same period.

In evidence that has also been submitted to the Forde Inquiry into Labour’s leaked report on antisemitism, JVL says that the disproportion gets even larger when it comes to action against its own members.  

Jewish Voice for Labour asserts that its members are 20 times more likely than non-Jewish Labour members to face antisemitism complaints. That number appears to rise for JVL’s officers and committee. Nine of JVL’s 16 officers and committee members have been investigated for antisemitism, with three currently suspended. 

"This means that 53 percent of JVL officers have faced actioned complaints of antisemitism, a rate 180 times higher than non-Jewish Labour Party members," the group says.

'Taking sides'

The claims jar with the stated aims of Labour’s leader. Starmer, who replaced Corbyn last year, has sought to define himself against his predecessor by promising zero tolerance on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

Under Corbyn, Labour was plagued by allegations that members were targeting Jews with antisemitic abuse.

In May 2020, an EHRC report said there was a culture in Labour “which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it". It put some of the blame for these “serious failings” on Corbyn’s leadership.

In response, Corbyn described antisemitism as "abhorrent", but said "the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons". Starmer then suspended him from the party and Corbyn now sits as an independent MP.

'Labour now limits its engagement with British Jews to groups who claim to represent "the Jewish community" but who in fact represent only one position within it'

- Jewish Voice for Labour

Starmer’s allies say he has taken a much harder line than Corbyn on antisemitism and made progress on tackling the issue. Jewish Voice for Labour contests this, arguing that the new Labour leader has instead taken sides in an argument among British Jews.

“Previous leaderships,” it states, “sought to hear from diverse Jewish perspectives. But the party now limits its engagement with British Jews to groups who claim to represent ‘the Jewish community’ but who in fact represent only one position within it.”

It adds: “The party is in effect collaborating with these groups to delegitimise Jewish dissent.” 

The left-wing Jewish group defines itself as being part of the “universalist Jewish tradition for freedom”, declaring itself “committed to the struggle against all racism, including antisemitism, and for freedom and justice for all, including the Palestinian people”.

It states that “it is novel for the majority of Jews in the UK to be told that we are represented by the Board of Deputies and, for those on the left, by the Jewish Labour Movement” - both groups are to the right of JVL.

Critics of Israel

In its report, Jewish Voice for Labour cites a number of case studies and examples, including the testimony of Diana Neslen, a disabled Jewish widow from Ilford in Essex who speaks of being targeted by "extreme right-wing Zionist groups". 

She says this is because she and others like her are not unconditional supporters of Israel "and we remind them of the ethnical dimension of Judaism".

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, the former vice chair of the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency Labour party, describes herself as "a committed anti-racist, anti-war campaigner for decades”. She says she has “taken a leading role in many campaigns for justice for Palestinians, including as a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians". 

Wimborne-Idrissi says that "everyone raised in a Jewish family setting, grows up knowing what antisemitism is in the depth of their being". 

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Yet she describes being charged with antisemitism by anonymous accusers, as things she said in a private meeting were taken out of context. "I am not alone in feeling we Jews whose voices are being silenced must defend ourselves vigorously and look for justice outside the party," she said.

Jewish Voice for Labour contends that the party is currently "pursuing disciplinary cases against members who have been critical of Israel or expressed support for Palestinian rights", rather than antisemites. 

JVL’s report acknowledges that "in a few of these cases it has been reasonable to conclude that there was antisemitic motivation and the party was duty bound to take firm action". 

However, it also says that "in far more cases the alleged offences were only motivated by distress at Israel’s actions and any reference to Jews was in the context of support by Jewish organisations for Israel’s actions".

A recent report by the Community Security Trust antisemitism monitor said antisemitic attacks in the UK had risen during Israel’s conflict in the besieged Gaza Strip in May, recording 1,308 incidents between January and June 2021.

Where's Labour?

When Middle East Eye asked Labour, “Does the Labour Party accept that it has a responsibility to represent non-Zionist (or post-Zionist) Jewish British socialists?” there was no reply.

'I am not alone in feeling we Jews whose voices are being silenced must defend ourselves vigorously and look for justice outside the party'

- Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, JVL member

JLV insists that: "Jewish socialists who are vocal advocates for Palestinian rights and for holding Israel to account for its breaches of international law, perceive that the party is unwilling to protect them from abuse by other party members".

It adds that "they are both insulted as antisemites and their right to identify themselves as Jews is constantly denied".

"The assumption of disciplinary investigations is that all Jews are Zionists and/or that anti-Zionists are not proper Jews and indeed are antisemitic, delegitimising an entire swathe of Jewish opinion and tradition," the JVL report says. Again, the Labour Party declined to comment on this statement.

Jewish Voice for Labour further complains that “no duty of care” is fulfilled for abuse victims, and the party has abandoned the group’s members with "the possibility of their hurt never considered". 

The submission follows a Middle East Eye article by Richard Sanders in September in which Manson said that at least 24 Jewish members of the party had come under formal investigation at one time or another, many of them more than once. 

Sanders quoted JVL committee member Mike Cushman, who has himself been investigated in the past, saying: "For a Jewish person, to be accused of antisemitism is as devastating as to be confronted with antisemitism. It's even worse when the accusation comes from someone who isn't Jewish themselves."

The article quoted Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who said the purge of alleged antisemites in the Labour Party had had a “chilling effect” on advocacy work for Palestinians. 

Contacted about the concerns raised in the Sanders article, the Labour Party told MEE: "The Labour Party takes all complaints of antisemitism extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken."