Labour’s Anti-Semitism Crisis


When collective memories collide, we should search for common ground.

By Richard Burden

Originally published by HuffPost, August 28, 2018

Is it possible both to respect the shared identity which the vast majority of Jews feel with Israel while also recognising the shared experience of dispossession which Palestinians feel just as deeply?

What do you do when the rights and collective memories of different peoples who face racism collide? That is a question which has been much in my mind recently over whether Labour should adopt all 11 examples attached to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism without any additional words to clarify their meaning.

At the centre of disagreements has been whether describing Israel as a “racist endeavour” should be regarded as prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism. Those who urge Labour to define such descriptions of Israel as anti-Semitic insist that doing so in no way inhibits criticism of Israeli Governments or their policies. Rather, they ask us to acknowledge the alarm bells which many Jews hear when arguments about the conflict in the Middle East appear to call into question Israel’s right to exist.

We are right to be reminded of those alarm bells. Denying the right of Israel to exist can feel to many Jews far more visceral than a comment about a particular state structure. It feels like a threat to Jewish identity, to the right of Jews to self-determination and ultimately to their own survival. The collective memory of the Holocaust is real and it is raw. Nobody should doubt the importance to Jewish identity of knowing there is a refuge of last resort.

A couple of years ago, a Rabbi put it to me like this. She said that Israel is not only the place where you know your safety as a Jew is paramount. It is also where you know your right to be yourself as a Jew is secure – whatever may happen elsewhere. A friend in my local Labour Party said something similar to me recently – relating what he felt explicitly to the knowledge that a third of his family had been murdered in the Holocaust.

The depth of shared experiences like these live on in the collective memory of successive generations. They underpin the pain and anger which so many in the Jewish community feel when they hear that Labour is neither listening to them nor acting on their concern about anti-Semitism. Understanding those things – and being seen to act on them – will be vital if Labour is to win back the trust of that community.

Read the full article here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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