Note: This article by Luke Akehurst, Director of We Believe in Israel, appears on the Jewish News website on 30 September 2016 and can be found here.
Labour’s Annual Conference in Liverpool was both better and worse for Jewish and Zionist members of the party than many had expected this time last year.
Better because there has been no push at all to shift Labour policy on Israel.
Not a single motion was submitted on Israel by any Constituency Labour Party, so the policy stays as it was in the 2015 Manifesto: opposition to boycotts and support for the Two-State Solution. This is a totemic issue for the Hard Left but they don’t feel strong enough to push it yet.
The pro-Palestinian fringe meetings were downbeat, focused only on settlements, not on any broader agenda. The MPs who spoke from the platform at these events took a moderate and considered line. In fact, most of them are people who spent the summer trying to unseat Corbyn as leader.
The Israel/Palestinian conflict isn’t the litmus test of support for Corbyn we would have expected – the pro vs anti Corbyn division runs through the middle of the Palestinian camp.
Better also because of the very visible, robust and assertive presence of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). LFI had a very prominent position in the exhibition area and their biggest ever reception.
The JLM ran training on antisemitism and their delegate Mike Katz made one of the speeches of conference, with a barnstorming call for rule changes to tackle antisemitic abuse in the party, greeted with a standing ovation (and a lone heckler).
The two organisations ran a packed-to-capacity rally against antisemitism. Israel was well-represented by the Ambassador and other diplomats, Labor MK Michal Biran, and a very visible delegation from Labor’s youth wing.
Better because Jeremy Corbyn used the strongest wording on antisemitism he has managed yet in his leader’s speech, and at the LFI reception surprised everyone with a carefully worded and balanced speech on both Israel and antisemitism, in sharp contrast to the car crash last year where he would not even say the word “Israel”.
Worse, because the level of antisemitism experienced during the year has been unprecedented.
Worse, because it’s a disgrace that a democratic socialist party committed to anti-racism even has to discuss antisemitism in its own ranks.
Worse, because there were antisemitic incidents at the conference.
Worse, because Corbyn has been slow to back up his words with action against the culprits.
Worse, because the National Executive Committee failed to include any rule changes to tackle antisemitism – even those suggested by the Chakrabarti Review – in those it tabled at conference.
Corbyn’s election and re-election has opened the doors of Labour to an anti-Zionist and sometimes antisemitic Hard Left who are emboldened and unapologetic.
Labour is a tough place to be a Jew or a Zionist. That’s a disgrace.
But LFI, JLM and their supporters are fighting back with vigour, courage and panache.
The battle is not yet over to restore Labour to being the natural home for British Jews and Zionists. It has only just begun.