• Jo Bird

Labour Party harassment of a Jewish councillor

Updated: Sep 7

The Labour Party sent me yet another bullying letter on 24 August - the fourth disciplinary action against me by head office in two and a half years.

The Labour Party wrote that I may not remain a member because, more than a year ago, I gave a great speech, spoke at a meeting and signed a letter arranged by Labour Against the Witchhunt, an organisation they banned in July 2021. My legal response was submitted today, Rosh Hashonah.

Its time to tell the story of continuing hostility by the Labour Party towards me. I am a twice-elected Labour councillor who happens to be Jewish. My complaints of harassment and victimisation have been ignored by the Labour Party. Such intimidation in public life is not OK.

A long tradition of Jewish Socialism

I come from a long tradition of Jewish socialists, passionate about equality, justice and fighting all forms of racism. My part of the Jewish community are mostly descended from refugees from antisemitic fascism. Nazis persecuted us for Bolshevism.

We continue the work of Yiddish Revolutionaries, trade unionists, resistance leaders, Jewish Radicals, Kinder Scout trespassers, anti-fascist street fighters in Spain, Manchester and London, scientists, freedom-riders, anti-apartheid activists, nuclear whistle-blowers, peace protestors, anthem writers, subversive comedians, human rights defenders, and young men and women who refuse to serve in the Israeli army.

Many of us live in mixed heritage families. Many struggle to keep contact with relatives in Israel and don’t visit settlements. Most of all, we say ‘Not In Our Name’ does the Jewish state violate Palestinian human rights.

My lived experience

Along with hundreds of thousands of passionate people, I re-joined the Labour Party in 2015 and found warm welcome in our party political home. I was first elected as a local Labour councillor in summer 2018. Here are my reports from my first, second and third years.

Suspended before investigation

In March 2019, the Labour Party suspended me before investigation, for a self-deprecating play on words, despite my public apology. Like Shami Chakrabarti, I had spoken up for disciplinary system worthy of our trade union movement, based on natural justice and due process - or what I called Jew process. It’s a common Jewish pun, made famous by Woody Allen’s 1977 film, Annie Hall and not intended to cause offence.

The Labour MP for Wirral South told local members to be silent. The Party linked my name to allegations of antisemitism in the media. Like Kafka in The Trial, they threaten me with more disciplinary action if I defend myself. Media articles did not mention that I am Jewish. I started to receive hate emails, calling me a Nazi, logged by the Police as hate crime.

My anxiety hit the roof and I modelled my responses to this Witch Hunt on courageous Jackie Walker, suspended Black Jewish comrade. I was reinstated after 9 days of public protest, with no explanation nor apology.

In October 2019, the vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel and Liverpool Riverside MP, Louise Ellman resigned from the Labour Party. My video was shared by over a thousand people and viewed 47,000 times. Many Riverside members ask me to seek selection to become their MP. But the NEC chose to interview eight other candidates and I was passed over, with no reason given.

Second suspension during NEC election

In early 2020, Jewish Voice for Labour and other left groups backed me to stand for by-election to Labour’s National Executive Committee. The Party suspended me when more Constituency Labour Parties had nominated me than any other candidate. This vexatious action was for anonymous complaints about a popular Just Jews video released five months earlier.

Sixty CLPs continued to nominate me although some other CLP officers denied their members a choice. Fellow candidates petitioned for free and fair elections. Some members invoked Spartacus and referred themselves to the Party for antisemitism. I was reinstated 9 days later by an NEC panel, with no breach of rules, no explanation and no apology. Campaigning for fairness and justice, I came fourth in NEC by-election with 46,150 votes.

Backed by Socialist Councillors, JVL and other left groups, Cllr Matt White and I contested election for two local government seats on the NEC, in summer 2020. 28% of Labour councillors across the country voted for us.

Intimidation before local election

In November 2020, I agreed with what Jeremy Corbyn said about “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons”. The Labour Party sent me another Notice of Intimidation, I mean Investigation, which was concluded in March 2021. There was no breach of rules, no explanation and no apology.

Antisemitism by new Labour leadership

The new leader of the Labour Party claims his first priority is tackling antisemitism (not alongside other forms of racism too). But he still has not recognised the existence of Jewish Voice for Labour.

In December 2020, while the country was dealing with another deadly combination of covid and Conservative corruption, the unconfirmed acting general secretary of the Labour Party issued some edicts. He overrules agreed Rules and safeguards for democracy and free debate, singles out Jewish members and wrote “anything that may cause members to continue to feel unwelcome and unsafe must take precedence over our rights at this time.”

When a few powerful people point at Jewish members as the reason for mistreatment of many members - this is antisemitism. The leader wraps himself in the union flag of military occupation. I experience this as far-right behaviour at senior levels of the Labour Party.

When some Labour MPs talk about antisemitism in our Party, I think about how its mistreatment of socialist Jews and these anti-Jewish policies of the leadership. But they cry wolf and blame me, my family and comrades.

Standing Against Injustice

We know that injustice comes to all of us and our communities, especially if we stay silent. One of the best ways to communicate with thousands of people is to stand for election. Backed by another great team, I stood for re-election as a local Labour Councillor.

Many ward residents said they were voting for me not Labour. They kindly asked, “What’s it like for you, being Jewish in the Labour Party who treat you so badly?” To which I answer, “It’s a hostile environment created by an oppressive regime – and support from people like you carries us through together.” We won with 61% of the vote, a vote swing of 13%, in May 2021.

Then they came for the Jews and the Socialists

In August 2021, Jewish Voice for Labour published evidence that Jewish JVL members like myself are thirty one times more likely to be investigated for antisemitism by the Labour Party than other Party members.

The Party expelled socialist film maker and national treasure, Ken Loach, last month. Alongside myself, the Party also sent letters to dozens of other members, saying their previously legitimate political activities are now grounds for automatic exclusion unless we can magically prove we do not support newly banned groups.

The Party continues to bring itself into disrepute. Given how the Labour leadership persecutes its internal political opponents, how could they be fit to govern the country?

Political Trauma

Around half a million Labour members like myself, millions of voters at home and supporters abroad are enduring a type of vicious political violence. This Labour Party leadership are destroying good people’s work, character, livelihoods and above all, hope for a better world. No-one is safe as the cold fingers of fascism suffocate parts of political and public life.

Our experience with the Labour Party is traumatising. Welsh Labour AM, Carl Sargeant, took his own life within days of his removal from office by the Labour Party. Precious comrades are struggling with mental health triggered by similar letters from the Labour Party. Its long overdue for this continuing witch-hunt to stop. Enough already!

Everyone reacts differently to this kind of trauma. I’ve built more resilience as we go. My Jewish family didn’t schlep the red flag from Prussia to England for me to stop now.

As the Torah says, ‘Justice! Justice we shall pursue!’

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