Is it difficult being a Jew in the Labour Party? No

By Cllr Sue Lukes

People increasingly ask me if I find it difficult being a Jew in the Labour Party. Oddly, nobody asked me before Jeremy Corbyn became leader, although I have been a member for more than 30 years.

The fact is, until recently, it was difficult. Not because of anti-semitism, which I have only once experienced, in the 1980s. It was because I felt that, in the New Labour years, my Jewish values were often in conflict with a leadership that favoured the rich over the poor, or the racist over the stranger whom we should welcome.

Why did I stay? Because I stood for the principles on which the party was founded, because in Islington I found fellow members and an MP, Jeremy Corbyn, who embodied my values of social justice, and because no other party could make the real social changes we desperately needed.

So, when that MP became leader, and hundreds of thousands of like-minded people tripled our membership, I felt inspired to stand for the council, proud to represent my party and the ward that has been my home for so long.

I know we have much to do, to safeguard our local services and rebuild the country once we get a Labour government. I know those holding power will not give it up easily, in and out of our party.

The anti-semitism allegations were initially a surprise, one that hurt precisely because so many of us had been fighting racism for so long, often with no support from some “old guard” MPs. The party sorted out a dysfunctional disciplinary system, originally not set up to tackle hate speech and social media, and got on top of it.

We can’t stop people sending abuse to MPs, but we can chuck them out of the party if we know who they are, and we do. In fact, the overwhelming majority of complaints referred to the party involve people who are not actually members.

For me, being Jewish is not a free pass. I expect my members and residents to hold me to account if I cosy up to warmongers or privatisers rather than helping the vulnerable or poor.

So, is it difficult being a Jew in today’s Labour Party? No, it is where we can be “a light unto the nations” and where we must be to pursue social justice. Join me in doing that.

CLLR SUE LUKES
Labour, Highbury East

This piece first appeared as a letter to the Islington Tribune