I am an active Labour Party member in North London. But I am also a rabbi, leading a local Jewish community. The last few years have been a deeply difficult time for me. The decision to remain a member of our party was far from an easy one. But I stayed. I had faith that things would improve. And I wanted to be part of the effort to make our party one that was both free of hatred and in a position to be a party of government once again.
I feel vindicated. We have moved from the low moment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation antisemitism in Labour to the steps taken under the leadership of Keir Starmer to rebuild relationship with the Jewish community. And the polls indicate we are once again being treated as a party that may be entrusted with the privilege of serving the British people.
But unfortunately this message, one of moving forward and rebuilding, has not fully made its way into my local constituency party, Hornsey & Wood Green in Haringey. Motions supporting the likes of Ken Loach and rejecting the EHRC report still find their way into meetings. Comments are still made that are offensive and intimidating. I know Jewish party members who have not returned to local meetings for fear of the hostile environment that has developed.
Things came to a head recently at a big general committee meeting of Hornsey & Wood Green CLP. I was invited to open the meeting by reflecting on Holocaust Memorial Day. I was proud and happy to do so. But I then learned that I was to speak alongside another member: someone who I know has antagonised fellow Jewish members of our party in the past, who has used deeply offensive language to describe Israel and who was key to affiliating our local party to Jewish Voice for Labour, a fringe (and thankfully largely discredited) organisation that has been nothing but divisive. So I asked to not speak alongside this member. I offered to withdraw from the meeting in a bid to reach a compromise and avoid a conflict. No such compromise was pursued.
I did not intend to speak on the matter in any public forum after the event. But this faction within the local party has taken to relitigating and misrepresenting events in their echo chamber media spaces such as the Morning Star. They even took the step of sending emails to GC delegates – party members who are elected to attend special meetings – attempting to smear my name.
I say to these people, if you abuse your positions as office holders in the local party by attacking the local rabbi, what message do you think this sends to the Jewish community? How are we illustrating that we have learned the lessons and intend to move on from the low point of the EHRC report? And how are these actions going to serve the people of Haringey?
I am proud of my work as part of the Haringey interfaith network. I am proud to have used my leadership at the local synagogue to provide support to vulnerable asylum seekers in our borough. I will always work to bring unity, cooperation and solidarity, both within my local community and in the Labour Party. I have been comforted by the large number of party members in Haringey who have taken action to support me in recent weeks.
I have chosen to speak out, partly to set the record straight but ultimately to call on the vast majority of decent, ordinary party members to turn our backs on the bitter factionalism of the recent past. Let us turn away from antagonising the Jewish community. Let us turn away from longwinded motions at party meetings designed to parade our virtue while making no difference to the public. Let us instead find common ground, treat each other with respect and do the urgent work of connecting with the voters. Haringey and Hornsey & Wood Green deserve better. The country deserves better.
David Mason is a community rabbi and Labour party activist. He chairs Haringey’s multi-faith network and is one of the leads of sustainability project EcoSynagogue. Follow David on Twitter. No comments will be published on this article.
On London is a small but influential website which strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for £5 a month or £50 a year and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.