The Labour Party is drowning in accusations of anti-Semitism. Last spring, Luciana Berger resigned over it. Now she is standing for election herself.
The Finchley and Golders Green constituency has a high Jewish population Photo: Daniel Zylbersztajn
The large hall of the Alyth Synagogue in North London is packed. Tonight, the three parliamentary candidates for the local constituency of Finchley and Golders Green are speaking here. The event is tightly organized: Sound recordings and photos are prohibited, Rabbi Josh Levi asks pre-sorted questions – with no exchange of arguments with the audience.
The reason for this is probably that this is one of the focal points of the election campaign. Luciana Berger’s candidacy for the Liberal Democrats is symbolic of this. The high-profile Jewish politician was formerly the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree. But last spring she resigned from Labour, accusing it of institutional anti-Semitism. She now plans to stand for election in Finchley and Golders Green, whose 20 percent Jewish population is one of the highest in the country.
"I had a lot of confrontation within Labour because I am Jewish, but I stood up to it," she told the synagogue. Labour has not taken a stand against the nationalism growing as a result of Brexit, Berger added.
But people in the area don’t exactly give the impression that they were just waiting for Berger. "A miscalculation and a waste," criticized kosher spirits wine merchant Ian Freedman, 45, of Berger’s candidacy. Most here are happy with current Assemblyman Mike Freer, Freedman says.
Nearly 70 percent voted to remain in EU
Freer, a non-Jewish Conservative, replaced a long-serving Labour MP who died in 2010. Freer has, according to many, campaigned positively for the constituency and its Jewish people, including for subsidies for security arrangements.
On the election: On Dec. 12, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will elect a new parliament. The result will determine the future of the country: whether the Brexit will be carried out or not, and possibly also whether the British state as a whole will remain united or not. The taz accompanies the election campaign with a loose series of impressions from different constituencies and milieus.
Nevertheless, Freer retained the constituency in 2017 only with a narrow majority of 1,657 votes. This may be due not least to the Tories’ pro-Brexit position. Almost 70 percent voted here in 2016 to remain in the EU.
Luciana Berger, now the candidate of the most unambiguously pro-EU party, wants to profit from this. Just two years ago, however, the Libdems only managed a measly 6.6 percent here. Anyone walking through the district will count dozens of posters for the Conservatives in front yards and on window panes, but only a few for the Liberal Democrats. In fact, among those interviewed by taz, only one person will consider voting for Berger – Jewish doctor Tessa Davis, 39. "I think Berger is brave and I’m not convinced that the Conservatives are committed to the UK’s NHS healthcare system," she says.
The other day, May and Johnson came to visit
The Conservatives are doing everything they can to defend the constituency. Nineteen-year-old first-time voter Miriam-Zehava Mills works in a store selling Jewish religious commodities. The other day, Theresa May and Boris Johnson came to visit on different days. "I think Johnson is a buffoon whose party was responsible for cuts to the NHS, among other things," Mills says. "But it’s hard not to vote for him as a Jew, after all the revelations about anti-Semitism within the Labour Party and party leader Corbyn’s closeness to Jew-haters."
The allegations against Labour are not abating in the election campaign. Last week, an internal report came to light that the Jewish federation within the party, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), had submitted to the UK Human Rights Commission EHRC. The EHRC is currently investigating allegations of institutional anti-Semitism in the party. According to the JLM, at least 130 cases in the party have not been dealt with, although the party leadership claims to have the problem under control.
It lists, among other things, how Jewish members were called child murderers, had to listen to comments such as that "Hitler was right" or were told to "shut up, damn Jew."
Also, the report reports that party members had stated that Jews were overrepresented in the capitalist system, which gave the "Israel-Zionist lobby" its power. It is primarily about attacking people simply because they are Jews, it says. One London membership chairman is even said to have subjected Orthodox Jewish people to special treatment in party membership applications with home visits.
Problems at the Tories, too
The problems at Labour had also shed light on problems in the Conservative Party. In November, 25 Conservatives were kicked out of the party for racism or Islamophobia. Several others, including three parliamentary candidates, have been accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. Boris Johnson was forced to apologize for a newspaper column in which he compared Nikab-wearing women to letterboxes.
Ross Houston, Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green, repeatedly apologized at the synagogue for anti-Semitic incidents in his party. Houston became a candidate after a Corbyn-loyal candidate resigned. She had alleged that accusations of anti-Semitism were being used as a weapon against Labour.
At the synagogue, Freer, a Conservative, says he will do everything he can to keep Corbyn out of the prime minister’s office – and received the loudest applause. In Golders Green, however, a majority of non-Jews live alongside the Jewish population. Like everywhere else in the country, the Brexit and social issues are at the center of their concerns. The outcome of the election here is open. Reason enough for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to have his picture taken once again in a Jewish bakery in Golders Green last Friday, just to be on the safe side.