Jewish councillor in Newham speaks out about hostility against Jews in the Labour Party
PUBLISHED: 10:00 15 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:07 16 July 2019
A Jewish councillor who appeared in a BBC programme about antisemitism in Labour has said the party needs to clean up its act.
Cllr Joshua Garfield who represents Stratford and New Town on Newham Council appeared in the Panorama documentary entitled Is Labour Anti-Semitic? last Wednesday.
It features interviews with Labour members including Cllr Garfield who describe their experiences of hostility against Jews.
Cllr Garfield said: "The Labour Party locally needs to clean up its act."
He described a culture of antisemitism with messages exchanged in March 2018 in a constituency Whatsapp group called West Ham Corbynistas.
In it members attack "zionists" after Christine Shawcroft's resignation from Labour's National Executive Committee after she disputed the suspension of a candidate accused of Holocaust denial.
A zionist believes in the development and protection of a Jewish nation in Israel.
One message reads: "Who will be sacrificed next at the altar of zionism?"
Another states, "We must stop giving in to the zionists" while a third says, "[The right wing] have smelt blood and will now keep going".
Cllr Garfield said: "If somebody raises concerns about anti-Jewish racism outside the context of Israel-Palestine and the immediate response is a reference to "zionism" the responder is making excuses for anti-Jewish racism and using antisemitic tropes to do so.
"This is not uncommon on the left and it's one of the many reasons the Labour Party is in its current mess."
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At a West Ham CLP meeting afterwards Cllr Garfield reported that an NHS campaigner urged members to focus on the health service rather than antisemitism which was described as "a distraction".
"We were shocked," Cllr Garfield said. "At that point nearly half the room applauded."
He reported members who complained about the comments being targeted.
Cllr Garfield said: "People locally who express antisemitic views need to be kicked out of the party. There needs to be zero tolerance to this.
"Through inaction [antisemites] have grown their influence and power. [Antisemitism] is a cancer that spreads."
He called for West Ham CLP to be put into special measures saying it was unsafe for some members and urged those in charge to show "real leadership".
Cllr Garfield said the Panorama documentary had revealed the scale of Labour's antisemitism problem.
"It's a crisis of culture," he added.
On whether the programme was balanced, he said the journalist who made it, John Ware, approached Jeremy Corbyn for an interview but the Labour leader declined.
"He made every attempt to make sure it was impartial," he said.
Labour could turn the situation around but needed to take decisive action, he added.
West Ham CLP has not responded to a request for comment.