Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:52 am on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour 11:52 am, 20th June 2019

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, as I am sure the whole House is, for securing the debate on this important subject. Quite rightly, she has highlighted shocking examples around the world. The re-emergence of hatred of Jews—to use the phrase she prefers—in continental Europe less than 75 years after the Shoah ended is a stark warning of the fragility of our post-war norms. Surveys show that, in many parts of Europe, Jews feel unsafe and insecure while far-right parties that unashamedly parade anti-Semitic tropes gain significant numbers of votes.

However, I want to focus nearer to home, on this country; with a deep sense of shame, I want to talk about the party I have been a member of for almost 50 years. Labour has a proud history of combating racism and discrimination, and of opposing fascism and anti-Semitism. It is therefore profoundly shocking for those of us brought up in that tradition to find our party now the subject of a formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This is nothing short of humiliating for those of us on these Benches, it is causing dismay among party members outside this House, and is deeply alienating for those we might hope would vote for us, whether they are from the Jewish community or not.

It undermines the Labour Party’s whole ethos, the values of equality, decency and solidarity that brought so many of us on these benches into the Labour Party in the first place. Over three months ago, I wrote as chair of the Labour Peers’ group to Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the party. That letter expressed our dismay—no, worse than that, our alarm—at the continuing failure to remove anti-Semites from our party. I have not had the courtesy of a reply. Last week, I met two women who had been verbally and physically harassed at a meeting of their local Labour Party because they were Jewish.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated instance but, alas, it was not. The process of dealing with complaints of anti-Semitic behaviour within the party has been slow, tortuous and frequently inconclusive. Too often individuals are suspended only when their cases receive external publicity. Action was taken against one member of the party’s National Executive Committee only after a second anti-Semitic rant was recorded and publicised; he had been let off with a warning after the first one.

Too often those who have complained about anti-Semitism have been dismissed as being apologists for, or even in the pay of, the Israeli Government or Mossad, or we are told that the cases are few and far between. Any anti-Semite in the Labour Party is one too many. The party’s abject failure to deal effectively with anti-Semitism over the last three years cannot be ascribed to inadequate resourcing of the complaints and compliance function in the Labour Party head office, or blamed on inadequate or outdated processes. The failure is a political one; it is a failure of leadership.

Those of your Lordships who have been responsible for major organisations know that the tone, style and ethos of such organisations are set at the top. That is what leadership means. Leadership is not about hiding behind procedure, blaming more junior officials or allowing your acolytes to dismiss legitimate complaints as the spite of those who disagree with your political approach. We on these Benches must take on the task of cleansing our party of anti-Semitism and those who condone and foster it. If this debate tells us anything, however, it is that this is a global problem as well. Parliamentarians both here and elsewhere in the world need to make a stand. The lessons of the millions who died in Europe must never be forgotten—never.