AROUND 60 Labour members turned up at the Kingsgate Community Centre for the hastily-arranged special constituency meeting in Hampstead and Kilburn last night, called to discuss the party’s response to the anti-Semitism controversies of recent weeks. The late-notice session was organised after Labour councillor Phil Rosenberg publicly complained that the issue had been skipped at a meeting earlier this month. In the end, Phil was unable to attend this new meeting, which decided, unsurprisingly, that anti-Semitism was bad and should be confronted, but also heard three different proposals over what to submit to the Chakrabarti inquiry set up by Labour to work out how deep its problem with racism is, and how it should be tackled.
Jay Stoll, part of Tulip Siddiq’s press team and a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, argued for the problem to be given full recognition and for rule changes to make it easier to clamp down on anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, and other forms of racial prejudice wherever it emerges and to quickly expel those found guilty.
In contrast, a proposal came from the Kilburn (Brent) branch which said there was outrage at a “lie that anti-Jewish racism is rampant in the Labour Party”, and that organisers needed to “cease victimising those who work for Justice for Palestine.” This suggestion was not supported in a vote of members.
In the end, Hampstead and Kilburn card-carriers instead voted for a submission which recognised the importance of the issue and the need to take action, but also strident claims that members of the party had used the anti-Semitism row to attack Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing comrades.
The chosen motion, argued for by Kilburn councillor Thomas Gardiner, said:
“Jeremy Corbyn has rightly taken a stand against anti-Semitism and has been swift to take action to suspend and investigate members where allegations have been made. It must be recognised that the thankfully small number of allegations about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party mostly pre-date Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and have been amongst members whose membership pre-dates his leadership. Jeremy Corbyn is a life-long anti-racist and it is wrong to have tried to link him to allegations that have emerged.”
“The factional use which a few within the party have tried to make of anti-Semitism has been wrong and has been counter-productive in dealing with the problem. The problem could undoubtedly have been tackled better if it had not been used factionally. Left-wing members of the party should not have been made to feel they were being collectively accused of anti-Semitism… Jewish members are clearly genuinely hurt by anti-Semitism which they have witnessed inside and outside of the party. The recognition that others have misused accusations for factional ends should not in any way detract from our recognition of Jewish members’ genuine experiences and our commitment to tackling anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism wherever they are found.”
Constituency members, having settled on this submission, are also now also calling for a free debate on Palestine and warn that it is “not helpful to combating anti-Semitism if all criticism of Israel is mischaracterised as anti-Semitism, as this distracts from dealing with the true incidents that occur.”
How did this all go down? Well that depends which side of the room you talk to. There were, by all accounts, some heated moments. In general, however, there is recognition that having been skipped from agenda last time, it was right to hold a fresh meeting and a gladness that the constituency has now had a debate on anti-Semitism. No longer can Tulip Siddiq’s constituency members stand accused of not discussing it. The left of the party, having got support for their comments on factional attacks, meanwhile feel satisfied with the markers they have put down.
It is possible to detect some irritation, however, from others over the fact that Jay Stoll’s proposal, even when amended to take out comments about factionalism, was not the one taken forward to Chakrabarti though. “If this was a meeting about tackling Islamophobia and we had two proposals to go forward which were quite similar and we chose the one being argued for by the non-Muslim instead of the one being proposed by a Muslim, how would that have gone down?,” said one member who was there last night. “It’s the same here. In a way, I would have liked to have seen the JLM proposal go straight up against the mad Kilburn Brent branch proposal. Rather than have something in between, then we would have seen where people really stand on how important the issue is.”
Another who didn’t see it the same way, however, said this morning: “The request was for members to discuss the issue, even though some were concerned it would pre-empt Chakrabarti. If you ask for a full debate, as they did, you have to accept that all members from all backgrounds will have an input. The premise of the meeting could never have been: we’re going to discuss anti-Semitism but we can only vote on what the JLM’s interpretation of what’s happened.”