By Emma Picken
With the publication of the EHRC (Equality & Human Rights Commission) findings and the verdict ringing out loud and clear that the Labour Party has acted unlawfully in its treatment of Jews, I am filled with three conflicting emotions.
Relief, rage and fear.
Relief because any other verdict would have been an affront – the impact on my Jewish friends would have been devastating.
Having dragged the boulder of Labour antisemitism up the hill together for the last five years only to see it roll back down crushing my friends would have left nothing but despair in its path.
It also provides legal vindication, a historically accurate, irrefutable record and potentially a path forward.
There can be no return to the days that cultivated fertile soil for Corbynism. The rotten stench of antisemitism ignored so long within the left, that finally enveloped the party with its noxious gases, must now be addressed.
Tearing out antisemitism at its roots requires more than just soundbites. The source goes back decades in the left – a fact I was personally oblivious to when I joined the party with enthusiasm, the day after Ed Milliband lost in 2015.
So relief yes, vindication, justification, and potential for change.
So why rage? This goes back to election night, 2019. The sheer hell of that election can never be forgotten.
In so many ways, no verdict from any human rights body can be as powerful a message as the one sent to the Jewish community on Dec 12th by the electorate.
The absolute demolition of Corbyn that evening changed everything. In one fell swoop the public rejected his party, and my Jewish friends who had been making plans to leave the country could breathe again.
The days of darkness leading up to that exit poll had lifted.
The fights with people who had other priorities were over.
The fear of an institutionally antisemitic party with an antisemite as its leader running the UK were gone.
It was over.
What I heard time and time again running into the election were the words ‘This country doesn’t feel like home anymore.’
Like every other non-Jewish person involved with Labour Against Antisemitism, I know how devastating that was. How hard it was to feel the pain, and how helpless I felt and the impossibility of saying anything of comfort.
The only comfort I could give was my fight, our fight.
Some of the attacks on our members and allies over this time were abhorrent. They have had lasting impact on their lives even now. Some wounds run deep: they will need more than soundbites to heal. It’s too late now, I don’t know if they ever will.
That is my rage.
Now to my fear.
A party doesn’t become institutionally antisemitic overnight nor does it eradicate this culture overnight.
What happened wasn’t something incidental – any study of antisemitism on the left could have predicted Corbyn and all that followed in his path. A political path that had been there long before he came on the scene.
Even now, Labour stands at a crossroads. Does it eradicate the source of the stench, or simply cover it up again in the hope it stays undetectable to those without a good sense of smell until the next election?
It has that choice, and I am afraid of the party. I became afraid of Labour over the last few years and my fears were proven correct.
Too many people who should have stood by our side on Dec 12th were missing. Many people were with us, but a huge number of people in the party were not.
I feel fear because I believe these people will advocate covering the stench rather than eradicating it. This would be dangerous for the future of Labour and its ability to keep the Jewish community safe, should it rise to power at some point in the future.
There are already thousands of committed Labour activists radicalised against the Jewish community, and Labour created them. LABOUR not Corbyn.
The party did this, by the choice it made to save itself from Corbyn.
The fear I feel is that it doesn’t understand this and does not feel the need to properly address the issue. Too many people involved still feel the party is ‘too good’ and full of ‘good people’ to really rectify the roots of how it came to this.
I remained a member of the party throughout all of the last few years. I made no judgement over people staying, as I was one of them. I believed then as I believe now that only through brutally honest introspection over how abhorrent it all was – and still is – along with retributive action, can the party redeem itself from the swamp of antisemitism that engulfed it.
The party is at a crossroads, and so am I. How it deals with antisemitism and the activists that stood with the Jewish community on Dec 12th remains to be seen.
Will it take on the grip the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign) has over the union movement? Will it understand that the antizionist antisemitism paraded around by thousands of its activists needs to be fully and robustly dealt with?
Whatever its leadership says, does the party still see me, standing up against what was happening, as the enemy?
Is our small group of committed activists still the enemy?
Do we still have to be afraid of the party?
Will the voice of the 94% of Jews that refused to vote Labour, whom I proudly advocated for on Dec 12th, be given the first and last hearing in how Labour deals with antisemitism?
Will justice be done for the community that suffered so badly?
Is it still a party for those that said loud and clear, Enough is Enough?
The verdict is still out.
About the Writer:
Emma Picken is director and researcher for Labour Against Antisemitism.
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