This month saw the first ever parliamentary debate in the chamber of the House of Commons on anti-Semitism. Apart from the topic, what really separated it from the everyday debates on more mundane issues was the raw emotion on show. Unusually, Parliament spoke with one voice, but Jeremy Corbyn was not listening.
The rise in anti-Semitism in the Labour party has coincided with Jeremy Corbyn’s elevation to party leader. Since then there has been a sharp increase in frankly shocking racist incidents: attacks on social media, heckling, hounding, distortions about the holocaust, and abuse of MPs at meetings and in the streets.
My friend Rob Halfon spoke hauntingly of the ‘air tightening’ for British Jews across the nation and perhaps summed up the debate best in his metaphor of the Labour leadership as the three unwise monkeys who saw no anti-Semitism, heard no anti-Semitism and did nothing about anti-Semitism.
Other Conservative colleagues made important points, but they were all of them overshadowed by the brave and deeply personal speeches given by some Labour MPs. Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth, both excellent and honourable MPs, in particular gave powerful contributions describing the anti-Semitic abuse they had suffered and the litany of hate-filled messages they had received from supporters of Mr Corbyn.
The redoubtable John Mann MP, while not a Jew himself, is the Chairman of the cross-party parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism. He gave an impressive speech recounting the rape threats his wife and daughter had received simply because of his staunch defence of the Jewish community in Parliament and for his lambasting of Mr Corbyn’s ambivalence towards anti-Semitism.
The Labour movement, once lauded for its anti-racist principles, has been undermined and poisoned from within by the influx of Mr Corbyn’s supporters and the safe space created in which anti-Semitism has grown within the party. While it was uplifting and, in a sense, liberating to hear the debate take place - it was also shocking and depressing that it needed to be heard at all in 2018.
The Government’s response was robust. Home Secretary Amber Rudd rightly committed the Government to doing all it could to stamp out this, perhaps the oldest form of racism; it was clear the debate had moved her as much as other Members in the chamber.
In contrast, the Shadow Home Secretary’s contribution was so ill-judged as to be bizarre. In under a minute, Ms Abbott managed to turn the debate on anti-Semitism into a speech about herself, claiming she had received “more online abuse than all the women MPs in all the parties put together”. This might be true, but ignored almost entirely the preceding debate, called to address the prolific and clear Jew-hate in her party. She was beyond insensitive and left MPs – including many on her own benches - visibly incredulous.
For those of us who remain steadfast allies to the Jewish community, we will continue to call out anti-Semitism wherever we see or hear it, nor stand by and do nothing - we will fight to eradicate this poison once and for all.
Jeremy Corbyn is targeting our area at the local elections and wants to flip council control – already on a knife edge of one seat - to Labour. Imagine Mr Corbyn’s elation if his Labour party gain control of a council that represents one of the largest Jewish communities in the country. I do not want to see him able to claim that the election of his candidates in an area like Barnet proves he can shrug off the accusations of anti-Semitism engulfing him and his party.
Published in the NW Circular magazine, April 2018.