Some of the ‘pledge’ demands by the board of deputies are deeply concerning
14 February, 2020
• AT the start of the Labour leadership campaign the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) released 10 pledges that they insist the candidates sign up to.
I, and other members, have deep concerns about some of these demands. Sir Keir Starmer, my MP, was the first of the leadership candidates to sign the pledges and I feel this was a mistake.
As a human rights lawyer he was the one candidate with the moral authority to have said no, and could have said: “I oppose anti-Semitism but this is not the way to deal with it. I pledge to clamp down on genuine anti-Semitism while preserving natural justice, and our rights of free speech particularly with regard to Palestinian rights.”
He failed, putting enormous pressure on the other candidates who knew that they would be furiously attacked if they didn’t follow suit – by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) internally, the BoD, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Chronicle.
We especially object to the threat to suspend members who support other members whom they feel have been wrongly suspended, only for their friends and family to be suspended too for supporting them.
An ever-widening circle. This is the road to McCarthyism, to the witch-hunting of the 1950s.
Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, candidates for the deputy leadership, reject the demands from the BoD, and got the loudest cheers at the hustings from Labour members for saying so.
Labour members do not like their arms being twisted. Immediately the BoD condemned both MPs.
Another demand from the BoD is that a group within the Labour Party which believes that Israel is central to Jewish identity, the Jewish Labour Movement, is to be given sole rights to teach us about anti-Semitism.
The BoD specifically says that other Jews in the party should have no role. As Donald Trump says of some American Jews, they “don’t love Israel enough”.
Anti-Semitism like all other forms of racism is a scourge on our party and our society. We need clear educational strategies for working to oppose all forms of racism and proper disciplinary procedures for dealing with offences that can’t be dealt with in other ways.
But we do not need a witch-hunt and we do not need to be bullied. The BoD demands are illiberal and undemocratic, and contrary to Labour values.
We need a Labour leader who will fight anti-Semitism, while standing up for human rights, for the party and the membership.
DR PAUL O’BRIEN