UK Labour's Antisemitism Advisory Board Has Problems

Under the leadership of Keir Starmer, the UK Labour Party has appointed a new Antisemitism Advisory board following the alleged failure of its members to deal with complaints of antisemitism. Chaired by Labour’s General Secretary David Evans, Labour announced the membership of its new board last week, which consists of nine “Jewish stakeholders” who will be responsible for handling disciplinary procedures involving antisemitic incidents within the party once the board officially starts its work later this year. However, the board membership has drawn criticism from Jews on the left for its lack of political diversity, the poor record of many of its members on racism, and the undemocratic appointment process. The limited political perspectives of the board will have serious implications for both Jewish discrimination and representation. Rather than representing a solution to antisemitism, the board is but the latest in a string of scandals surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party.

The new board constitutes part of Labour’s response to the recommendations of the controversial Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on antisemitism in the party in October 2020. The executive director of the EHRC, Alastair Pringle, praised Labour’s plans for the new board when they were announced in December last year, noting that the body is “satisfied these changes are realistic and achievable and we will continue to monitor and work with the Labour party so this plan is adhered to.” According to the Jewish Chronicle, the new board is intended to “develop educational material on antisemitism” and to tackle racism, anti-Jewish and otherwise. 

Yet the anti-racist aims of the board seem to be at odds with what we know of some of its high- profile members, which include Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Margaret Hodge, who was applauded by the British National Party for racist remarks she made about migrant families in the UK in 2007, and the Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement Mike Katz, who has come under fire for defending Labour staffers accused of anti-Black racism in a leaked internal report last year. It also includes the Board of Deputies president Marie Van Der Zyl, who recently commended Trump on a popular BBC show for his “good” foreign policy work. 

These do not seem like the political records of those best suited to preside over antisemitism accusations, let alone serve on an anti-racist panel. 

Even during the planning stages of the board, the admissions process was criticized by left-wing Jews for their overt exclusion by organizations with a right-wing political agenda. Despite the “independent” nature of the advisory board, power was reportedly given to the right-wing Board of Deputies as well as the right-leaning Jewish Labour Movement to veto appointed members. Meanwhile, nominees from the Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) and the Labour MP John McDonnell, all of whom have ties to or have expressed solidarity with anti-Zionist campaigns, were rejected. The alleged involvement of the Board of Deputies in admissions is especially concerning, since they are a “non-Labour group with an explicit, constitutional commitment to Israel,” as a recent JVL article put it. 

Rather than representing a range of political positions that is inclusive of left-leaning Jewish communities, the chosen board members are further proof of the commitment of Labour to silencing the left-wing views of Jewish party members under Starmer’s leadership. The circumstances under which these members were appointed not only suggest that the nomination process was underpinned by a right-wing political agenda, but also indicate that it was actually unconstitutional. Alongside the JVL, who labeled Starmer’s call for board nominations a “sham,” Vashti Media founder Rivkah Brown referred to the appointment process as “performative.” In a recent TyskySour podcast episode, the left-wing Jewish journalist argued that “the way that the board has been selected doesn’t even represent the Labour Party itself,” since it was not democratic and since “no left-wing Labour MPs were consulted.”

Brown also voiced her dismay at the choice of board members who are not committed to social justice work. “What characterizes [the majority of the board],” Brown argued, “is that they are not anti-racists.” She added, “These include people like Mari van der Zyl who wouldn’t condemn Trump’s racism, the Jewish Leadership Council, whose members believe that the concept of Islamophobia is ‘moronic’ and whose members…donate to settlements in Hebron.”

The right-wing political tendencies of members of the new board seem to perpetuate the growing concern among BAME and left-wing Labour members that there is a “hierarchy of racism” being erected within the party, in which fighting antisemitism seems to be taken more seriously than other kinds of racism, at least superficially. While Labour’s new Antisemitism Advisory Board demonstrates a desire to deal with antisemitism in the party (albeit in specific ways), the documented racist abuse perpetuated by party members against Black Labour MPs has yet to be dealt with. What is more, those who have openly supported the anti-racist movement, like Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, have been suspended from the party. 

There is irony to be found in Labour’s establishment of a board in charge of advising on racism at the same time as it is purging anti-racists from the party.

While a distinctive form of discrimination with its own historical and ideological context, antisemitism is just one of many different kinds of racism. Any group charged with confronting antisemitism should also be committed to addressing other forms of racism which we know intersect with and reinforce one another, and depend on similar logics of hate. In order to tackle the pervasive culture of racism that has long existed within the party, it is essential that Labour strives to account for the perspectives of its left-wing Jewish and BAME members in all current and future anti-racism work.

Topics: Anti-Semitism
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How to cite this page

Baker, Emily-Rose. "UK Labour's Antisemitism Advisory Board Has Problems." 24 February 2021. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 20, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/uk-labour-party-has-new-antisemitism-advisory-board-and-its-got-problems>.

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