Testimonies: Labour Jews Speak Up
In August 2018, as the Labour Party came under attack for alleged ‘institutional antisemitism’, a Call for Testimonies was circulated online.
In little over a week, testimonies were submitted by 143 Labour members of Jewish heritage, who had collectively been in the Labour Party for more than 1,300 years.
This response evidenced the strength of feeling among many Labour Jews whose experience in the movement has been misrepresented or silenced in public discussion.
Several of these testimonies are reproduced in the urgent Verso Report on Antisemitism and the Labour Party, now available to download as a free eBook. Six testimonies are available to read below.
Dr Sam Glatt
Editor’s Note: Sam Glatt passed away in 2018. A tribute to him written by a close friend can be read here.
CLP: Sunderland South
Time in Labour Party: 46 years
Dear Sir or Madam,
I would like to say that I am appalled to learn that Jeremy Corbyn has yet again been unfairly accused of antisemitism and my Labour Party of institutionalised antisemitism. I find this ludicrous.
I am Jewish, a 92-year-old Labour Party member, and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I was brought up in the East End of London in the 1930s so I know what real antisemitism is, and I learnt to recognise our true friends within the Labour movement.
It is ridiculous to allege that there is now any significant antisemitism in the Labour Party. My 70 years in the Labour movement confirms this and that includes recent meetings with members of Momentum who I found very welcoming.
I believe the problem is rather coming from those anti-Corbyn groups who wish to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism, and silence critics of Israeli Government policies. This distortion promotes the false concept that Corbyn and Labour are not in favour of a secure state of Israel. This in turn feeds into the understandable, sometimes subconscious fear of many Jews living here, that their safe refuge in the event of another genocide risk could be under threat.
My hope is that you will carefully review the evidence for these unfounded claims against Corbyn and Labour, reject these allegations, and reassure Jewish residents on all sides of the political spectrum, that they will be safe with a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
Dr Sam Glatt
Professor Emeritus Annabelle Sreberny
Family tea with Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster, circa 1989.
CLP: Islington North
Time in Labour Party: 3 years
I understand that the ‘Campaign Against Antisemitism’ (whoever they are) has referred the Labour Party to the EHRC because of its so-called ‘institutional antisemitism’. I find this an absurd and reprehensible act for reasons that I explain below.
a) My mother Margot Sreberny was a Jewish child refugee from Germany who came to Britain on the Kinderstransport. She was a teacher and a long-standing member of the Labour Party in Hackney. She became a local activist, helping to establish the Finsbury Park Action Group, and worked very closely with Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott on many different north London campaigns throughout the 1980s and 1990s. She and Jeremy became close friends and he gave a eulogy at a public ceremony to celebrate her life. He is not an antisemite. There was never any inkling, any mention, of antisemitism in the party in all her years of involvement.
b) I, obviously a Jew, joined the Labour Party (Islington North) when Corbyn was elected leader. I was delighted that the party was moving away from Blairite neo-liberalism and had chosen a man of integrity and vision who would maintain social democratic values and policies, especially against the despicable austerity path that the Tories had chosen. His approach resonates with that of Harold Wilson in the 1960s and is not ‘hard’ left—as the mainstream media insist on describing him—but democratic socialist. He has always been active in combatting all forms of injustice and racism and has one of the best parliamentary records of fighting antisemitism which is a form of racism. I value his anti-war positions on foreign policy issues and the vexed question of rights and justice for the Palestinians, which he has always vocally supported.
c) I have never come across any antisemitism within the party. Necessary criticism of actions by Netanyahu’s right-wing government in Israel is not in itself antisemitic; rather, it is necessary that all people of conscience, Jews and non-Jews, speak out against an injustice that needs to be remedied.
d) I consider the recent incessant noise about ‘antisemitism in the Labour party’ to be a cynical and deliberate attempt to remove a progressive, decent man from office since this seems to be the only charge against him that can be made to stick through false accusation and repetition. Different groups profit from these accusations. There is evidence that the hasbara of the Israeli government has been actively fomenting them; see, for example, the Al Jazeera documentary series ‘The Lobby’. The right-wing of the Labour Party are worried about Corbyn’s popularity. The Tories, far more deeply antisemitic and Islamophobic than Labour, are delighted by this campaign. Why does the media not call this out? Why is there no EHRC investigation of them, including the current Prime Minister, for their egregious racist comments?
e) Almost no evidence has been produced about this story. The media report outrageous comments by individuals as fact, with no evidence produced by the individuals concerned and none produced by the media. Margaret Hodge’s comment that the situation is as bad as in Nazi Germany was reported as if true, rather than a traducing of the experiences of my family and so many others who did not live to speak. Stories from years ago are dredged up again and again as if they have not already been dealt with, explained, even apologised for. Much of the supposed antisemitic comment has been circulated across the internet, often by people who have nothing to do with the Labour Party. The party has put a process in place to deal with antisemitic and racist speech, more than any other political party has done. There is no new evidence of antisemitism let alone ‘institutional antisemitism’ yet the story runs and runs. Little wonder that the general public is confused about the matter.
f) Since my submission to the EHRC a group of academics have published a book on the subject: Greg Philo et al., Bad News for Labour (Pluto Press, 2019).Their research shows that this is a ‘media panic’ fomented by continued uncritical reporting by and exaggerated headlines and stories from the media; around 5,500 stories in the British press between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019. The issue has actually involved less than 0.1 percent of a party of half a million members. Little wonder that public opinion hugely overestimates the extent of the matter, so that the average estimate given in focus groups is that 34 percent of party members are antisemitic. This moulding of public opinion has potentially enormous consequences for the future of progressive politics and the British electoral process.
Obversely, the rise of the Far Right in the UK, the US, and in much of Europe, with its deep antisemitic sentiment and actions, gets short shrift in the press while such populism undermines the core of democracy as a hospitable environment for all.
g) Israel is a powerful state in the Middle East with a tough right-wing government. That government does not act in a way that all Israelis approve of, nor in a manner that all Jews around the world support. Indeed, the political debate inside Israel is vigorous and wide-ranging. The Israeli government does not speak in my name, as a British Jew. Netanyahu’s attempts to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism does not wash. Israel deserves to be criticised for its violent actions against innocent Palestinians, its destruction of Palestinian infrastructure, its continued policy of land incursions and settlement building and its crass indifference to the suffering it causes. The use of the antisemitism accusation against Corbyn and the progressive elements in the Labour Party is a ploy to protect Israel from criticism. The IHRA with its crude examples also plays to the stifling of debate about Israeli government policies and Palestinian rights.
In short, I have not heard of or experienced antisemitism within the Labour Party. Antisemitism is not to be equated with criticism of Israel. Such criticism and support for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic unless it manifests a hatred of Jews as Jews. This is a baseless witch-hunt and I urge the EHRC to throw the complaint out.
28 August 2018; revised 30 October 2019.
CLP: West Ham (lead delegate to 2019 Labour Party conference)
Time in Labour Party: >30 years
I would like to submit the following points to the National Executive Committee (NEC) before it takes a decision on its definition of antisemitism.
I have some credentials on this question. My grandparents were penniless refugees from pogroms in the Tsarist Russian empire, driven from their homes by riots, slaughter and arson. Soon afterwards, my maternal grandfather was the victim of an antisemitic murder in Liverpool.
My father Sydney Silverman was a left Labour MP for 33 years until his death, personally responsible for introducing the historic private member’s bill which abolished capital punishment. At the time of the holocaust, he was a Zionist. In 1940 he was elected chair of the British section of the World Jewish Congress, and in this capacity he was among the first to warn the world about Hitler’s ‘final solution of the Jewish question’ and to mount a desperate worldwide campaign to save European Jewry from genocide. Three days after my birth, he visited the newly liberated Buchenwald and Belsen Nazi concentration camps as a member of a parliamentary delegation. He supported the establishment of a Jewish state as a homeland for displaced holocaust survivors, but he was later to fiercely oppose Israeli participation in the Suez war in 1956, and died in 1968 outraged at the Israeli occupation of the West Bank after the 1967 war.
In my early teens, as well as a member of the Young Socialists I was also a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth organization. I joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 and have been a member all my life, with the exception of the long ‘New Labour’ years. I have encountered occasional manifestations of antisemitism in my life, but never within the Labour Party.
The charge that the Labour Party and specifically Jeremy Corbyn are soft on antisemitism is outrageous. It is the latest and most bizarre of a series of monstrous smears by the right-wing establishment. If we were to believe them, then Corbyn is somehow simultaneously a pacifist, a terrorist, a Stalinist, and a Czech spy. Now this lifelong campaigner against racism is branded an antisemite too. One wonders when he has the time to tend his allotment.
I wouldn’t blame the Israeli diplomatic service for promoting such accusations; it is their job to use every means at their disposal to avoid the election of a British government sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. In this case the smear campaign has been taken up by the British establishment, and unfortunately endorsed by that wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, because of the failure of its earlier palpable slanders.
This campaign is even dirtier than the ‘Zinoviev letter’ faked by MI5 to damage Labour in the general election of 1923, or than Churchill’s lie in 1945 that if Labour won the election, it would establish a Gestapo police state. It is of course the Tory party that is riddled with racism. It was a Tory government which introduced the 1905 Aliens Act that blocked Jewish immigration from the East European pogroms, and it was a Tory MP who founded the Right Club in the 1930s to ‘expose the activities of organised Jewry’. British immigration policy throughout the Nazi period was designed to keep out at least ten times as many Jews as it allowed in. During that period, it was the Daily Expresswhich carried the infamous headline ‘JEWS DECLARE WAR ON GERMANY’ and the Daily Mail which screamed ‘HURRAH FOR THE BLACKSHIRTS!’ Churchill personally made repeated racist comments against Jews.
Only three years ago, it was the Mail which made a thinly veiled antisemitic attack on Ed Miliband’s father, while the Sunpublished an unflattering picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich—another antisemitic jibe.
No party has done more to resist all forms of racism than Labour. It is significant that no other parties have come under any similar pressure to adopt any such charter as the IHRA document.
I believe that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is deeply flawed. It is clearly designed to protect the Israeli state from legitimate criticism. It is also inconsistent. For instance, it argues that it’s antisemitic to ‘deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour’. In that case, how then can it also be antisemitic to ‘accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations’? Either Israel is a homeland for Jews worldwide, in which case it has a right to expect their loyalty, or Jews have an obligation to give prior loyalty to the country in which they live. The IHRA apparently wants it both ways.
I should add that I reject any comparison of such crimes as the current atrocities in Gaza to those of the Nazis as grossly disproportionate and provocative. By implication it mitigates the crimes of imperialism as a whole. Israel is not engaged in systematic genocide: it is not rounding up Palestinians, cramming them into concentration camps and gassing them by the thousands. It is practising the standard brutal murderous repression of all imperialist powers, regional or global. The hands of American imperialism in Latin America and South-East Asia, or of French imperialism in North Africa, or of Belgian imperialism in the Congo, or of the South African apartheid state at Sharpeville, are also dripping with blood. British imperialism also has on its hands the deaths of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators mown down in the Amritsar massacre, systematic torture and mutilation in Kenya’s Hola death camp, and the gunning down of peaceful demonstrators in Northern Ireland on Bloody Sunday. There is no need to invoke the Nazis: it’s quite enough to condemn Israel for behaving like the British.
I urge the NEC to stand by its current definition of antisemitism and to resist the caterwauling of proven racists to adopt a definition which would brand as antisemites legitimate critics of Israeli government policy. It is time to fight back against the establishment’s lies.
2 September 2018; author details updated 18 November 2019.
Emeritus Professor Frank Land OBE (London School of Economics)
Frank Land OBE is the UK's first professor of Information Systems.
Professor Frank Land (right), receiving his OBE.
CLP: Totnes (former branch chair, South Woodford)
Time in Labour Party: >3 years
I am, and have been a member of the Labour Party for many years and have served as branch chair (South Woodford) for a considerable period in the 1950s and 60s. I am an 89 year old Jew, refugee from Nazi Germany in April 1939, and as such very sensitive to real antisemitism. I lost a number of relatives in the holocaust and other members of my family are scattered throughout the world, including Israel.
Like many of my fellow refugees I am critical of some aspects of Israel’s conduct vis-á-vis Palestinians and Israel’s own Arab minority. That does not make me an antisemite or what defenders of all Israel’s actions term ‘a self-hating Jew’.
I can say with total confidence that the Labour Party does not harbour institutional antisemitism and that its leader Jeremy Corbyn is not an antisemite. There is no widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party or any evidence of such, though, of course, as with any population, there are pockets of antisemitism. When individuals are identified they are suspended from the party. As a Jew who has lived through and witnessed real antisemitism, I bitterly resent the attempt to conflate a critique of specific Israeli policies and actions with antisemitism.
We as Jews, victims of the holocaust, should be the most sensitive to the suffering of other oppressed people. As such we should be in the forefront in confronting oppression from wherever it comes.
23 August 2018.
CLP: Holborn & St. Pancras (Kentish Town)
Time in Labour Party: approx. 40 years
My name is Stephen Kapos and I am a child survivor of the Holocaust.
I was seven years old in Hungary, in 1944 briefly in a camp in Budapest, had to wear the yellow star, and later in hiding on false papers.
I have been an active member of the Labour Party for the last some 40 years.
I have never experienced or witnessed antisemitism within the Labour Party.
I think that the antisemitism charges against Labour are false and are weaponised by the right against the policies and leadership of the party.
The party should stick to its version of the IHRA definition including its own version of the related examples.
With best wishes,
Agnes Kory is the founder and director of the Béla Bartók Centre for Musicianship, London.
CLP: Hampstead & Kilburn
Time in Labour Party: >2 years
I am a Holocaust child survivor and a member of the Labour Party as well as Momentum. I am also a Holocaust researcher.
At no stageor point have I experienced or even noticed antisemitism in the Labour Party.
I am deeply saddened by the weaponising of such an important issue, possibly for hidden political agendas.
24 August 2018.