Labour Against Antisemitism - non Jewish Brits fight back from within

LAAS “punches far above its weight,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a British Jew who has been involved in some of the most vocal protests against Labour’s antisemitism problem.

By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ/JTA
October 4, 2018 18:58
2 minute read.
BRITISH LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote in local government elections in London on

BRITISH LABOUR Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to vote in local government elections in London on May 3. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Steeped in antisemitism accusations involving him and his supporters, British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has made many Jewish enemies — including inside his own party.

But one of his most effective critics is not Jewish. He is a meteorology student at the University of Reading who describes himself as “just a kid with a laptop.”

Denny Taylor, 20, has used that laptop to keep a running tally of party members who have flouted Labour’s own guidelines against hate speech and report them to the party’s ethics review panel.

Horrified at the revelations about Corbyn’s ties to antisemites, Taylor set up Labour Against Antisemitism, or LAAS, in 2016 with a few dozen non-Jewish and Jewish volunteers. He was 18 and had voted the previous year for Corbyn.

It was LAAS that last month reported to Labour’s ethics panel on an old recording in which Corbyn declared that Zionists “don’t understand English irony.” The group has flagged 1,200 alleged members who it said have breached the party’s guidelines against hate speech and has a backlog of about 2,000 additional cases of people engaging in what LAAS considers antisemitic rhetoric. LAAS has not reported the latter yet, according to its spokesman, Euan Philipps, who also is not Jewish.

LAAS “punches far above its weight,” said Jonathan Hoffman, a British Jew who has been involved in some of the most vocal protests against Labour’s antisemitism problem — including a poster campaign in London earlier this year.

The “small group of volunteers,” to which Hoffman does not belong, “has achieved great success in raising the profile of antisemitism in the Labour Party, and is now the first port of call for media like the BBC, The Times and Sky News,” he told JTA.

Corbyn, a far-left politician who was elected to lead Labour in 2015, has alternated between vowing to address Jewish concerns and dismissing them. In August, he called many Jews’ existential fears about a Corbyn-led government “overheated rhetoric.”

He also has refused to apologize for his own controversial actions, including his honoring in 2015 of dead Palestinian terrorists and saying in 2013 that local “Zionists” lack a sense of irony.

Amid attacks by Labour moderates, Corbyn’s worsening relationship with British Jewry sunk to a new low in August when former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a lord and probably British Jewry’s most eminent representative, called Corbyn “an antisemite.” The Jewish Labour Movement, a group of coreligionists within the party that once was British Jewry’s political home, has threatened to sue Corbyn and dismissed his promises to fight antisemitism as lip service.

Corbyn supporters dismiss many critics either as “Zionists” — Corbyn himself has acknowledged that the term has often been “hijacked” by antisemites as code for Jews — or Labour rivals seeking to weaponize antisemitism claims.

Such criticism is harder to pin on LAAS, according to Taylor.

Beyond having non-Jewish members from across the political spectrum within Labour, “We primarily file complaints that are well-documented,” Taylor said. He traces his commitment to fighting antisemitism within Labour to a desire to “make up for the damage” that Corbyn and other of his erstwhile supporters helped cause to the United Kingdom.

The ethics board of Labour — a party eager to shake off its image as a hub for antisemitism — is forced to act on the complaints on Corbyn’s behalf, making the complaints and subsequent disciplinary actions more difficult for his supporters to dismiss than an external criticism.


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