OPINION: Like Israelites in the desert, it’s time Labour reached the Promised Land

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OPINION: Like Israelites in the desert, it’s time Labour reached the Promised Land

Former Board of Deputies deputy Tal Ofer on why he's decided to return to the Labour Party after five years away from his political home.

Jeremy Corbyn. Pic: Sky News
Jeremy Corbyn. Pic: Sky News

Slightly less than five years ago, in the peak of Labour’s antisemitism crisis I decided to resign as a party member, after working for a Labour MP, canvassing for party candidates and even standing twice in local elections.

The final straw for me was the decision in July 2018 of the party’s National Executive Committee not to adopt the full IHRA definition of antisemitism.

My fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party continued from outside the party, in particular being part of the Board of Deputies, where I was involved in devising the Jewish community strategy of dealing with Labour’s antisemitism problem.

Our ‘Enough is Enough’ demo managed to bring to Parliament Square, thousands of Jews from all parts of our diverse community; who could have believed that Jeremy Corbyn would manage to unite the Jewish community?

I therefore welcomed with cautious optimism the election of Sir Keir Starmer as the new Labour leader, after the party achieved in 2019 its worst result in an election since 1935.

However, I have not re-joined then as I waited on the party to show that under its new leadership, action would be taken on antisemitism. It was clear this won’t be a quick fix but a lengthy process, where the party will have to do better on the disciplinary side but also on the training side.

Tal Ofer. BOD Presidents Election 13385 Photo John Rifkin.

It was a breath of fresh air to see antisemitic councillors suspended swiftly and antisemitic members expelled, yet there were and still are a handful of MPs who still downplay the severity of Labour’s antisemitism crisis and claim it was ‘weaponised’ by the Jewish community, even after the EHRC report was quite clear how Labour committed ‘unlawful acts’ and failed to tackle antisemitism.

The party reaction to EHRC and the action plan it announced, were steps in the right direction, as was removing the whip off Jeremy Corbyn. The creation of the antisemitism advisory board was a major step to address the findings of the EHRC report – as the board include senior members from Jewish Leadership Council, Board of Deputies, CST, Jewish Labour Movement and Antisemitism Policy Trust.

Last week, when Labour’s NEC decided to bar Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election, it became clear to me that it was now safe for me to re-join the party I love. I have received a lot of messages of support from friends in the party who I know and from many other whom I don’t know – the common theme was happiness to see me back at home, and in such a crucial time when the country needs a Labour government after 13 years of Tory shambles.

Last week, when Labour’s NEC decided to bar Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election, it became clear to me that it was now safe for me to re-join the party I love.

I’m not under any illusions that the problem of antisemitism has been eradicated completely in the Labour Party, but I’m confident now that it won’t run rampant. I hope that I can dedicate my time as party member now to do more door-knocking, helping the wonderful Jas Athwal to become Ilford South next MP, supporting my MP and friend Wes Streeting in his important work as Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary.

And who knows, maybe at some point in the future standing again for election as a Labour candidate.

The timing couldn’t be more apt as we are going to read this week as part of Passover, the story of exodus, which tells us how the Israelites were in exile in Egypt and eventually after being oppressed, have managed to escape and eventually found the Promised Land.

Myself and thousands of other British Jews were in exile and not for a short time, but now I’m back home and I hope that I can give confidence to more comrades to join and help Labour win the next election – as we say,  L’shana Habaa.

  • Tal Ofer served as deputy at Board of Deputies between 2015-2021
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