The man who chairs the local Labour party has hit out criticism levelled against his party by local MP Amber Rudd who said earlier this week, “Jewish people in Hastings and Rye deserve far better than a local Labour Party obsessed with peddling conspiracy theories about Jewish people.”
Ken Maitland, chair of Hastings and Rye Constituency Labour Party, said: “I reject entirely Amber Rudd’s claims about our local party. We are a vibrant, welcoming and diverse local party which is absolutely committed to fighting racism and antisemitism.
“Anti-semites are a tiny minority within our party of over half a million people but one anti-semite is too many. Polling has shown that anti-semitic attitudes are higher among Conservative voters than Labour voters so clearly all parties must work together to tackle this prejudice across the political spectrum.
“We are very pleased to have a close relationship with members of the local Jewish community and the many active Jewish members in our CLP. We will always ensure our meetings are welcoming, comradely and without any discrimination.”
Earlier in the week – following the local Labour party’s approval of a motion calling for the reinstatement of MP Chris Williamson, suspended from the Labour Party last week for alleged antisemitic remarks – Ms Rudd said: “This… shows that the local Party is infected with antisemitism.
The Hastings and Rye CLP’s motion called for the ‘immediate and unconditional’ reinstatement of Mr Williamson. It went on to attack those who have recently left the party which – as well as a number of high-profile national party figures – includes Hastings Borough Councillor Dany Louise who quit just two weeks ago saying the ‘level of denial’ by Jeremy Corbyn supporters over Labour’s antisemitism problem left her ‘in despair’.
The Hastings and Rye CLP motion says: “…these figures, some who ‘love the party’ but protested against its alleged ‘institutional antisemitism’ walked out and their co-thinkers who stayed have launched outrageous slanders but have faced no charges for bringing the party in to disrepute.”
Local activists say that ‘crying wolf’ over antisemitism could cause ‘valid warnings’ to go unheard and does ‘no service to Jews’, it says: “Such cheap exploitation as a political football is also deeply shameful.”
“We believe that this orchestrated campaign now rising to a crescendo with staged resignations… suggests that accusations of antisemitism are being criminally mis-used in an unscrupulous way to destroy the Corbyn-led Labour Party,” the motion concludes.
Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hastings is Peter Chowney and he told Hastings In Focus o Sunday that the motion was moved by a Jewish party member who felt strongly about the current situation and the treatment of Chris Williamson. He said however, that it was an ‘internal party motion’ which he understood had been addressed to the Labour Party General Secretary Jennie Formby.
On the wider issues of antisemitism within the party Mr Chowney said: “I have never experienced any antisemitism in the Hastings and Rye Labour Party and no complaints of any member of the local party about antisemitism have ever been made, as far as I know.
“I understand it has happened elsewhere though, in terms of Labour Party members making antisemitic statements on social media in particular and where it does, it should be dealt with through the Labour Party’s disciplinary process. That process has in the past been rather slow and opaque, but I understand that the backlog of disciplinary hearings and complaints – about all sorts of things, not just antisemitism – has been cleared and complaints are being addressed more swiftly.”
Ms Rudd was quick to go on the attack calling on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy Tom Watson to put the Hastings and Rye CLP under ‘special behavioural measures’ she said: “I’m calling on the pair to personally oversee efforts to rid the local branch of ‘repeated and flagrant’ acts of Jew baiting.”
Ms Rudd went on: “Jewish people in Hastings and Rye deserve far better than a local Labour Party obsessed with peddling conspiracy theories about Jewish people. For too long the Labour Party in Hastings and Rye has deliberately goaded and baited Jews with hateful language and got away with it.
“This latest salvo is a disgrace and shows that the local Party is infected with antisemitism. I know there are Labour Party members and councillors in Hastings who are appalled by this. They need to raise their voices and Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson must immediately place the CLP under special behavioural measures and personally oversee efforts to treat this infection.”
Supporting her accusations Ms Rudd says the weekend’s motion is the latest in a series of antisemitic issues emerging from the local Labour Party. She highlights the case of Michelle Harris, shortlisted as Labour candidate for Hastings and Rye, who was pulled out of the race after she drew comparisons between Israel and the Nazis, she had written: “I have often said the Holocaust victims who died with dignity must be turning in their graves at the horrors done in the name of Judaism. Gaza is a ghetto being shelled.”
When Ms Louise, councillor for the Old Hastings ward, quit the party last month she said Labour had become a ‘welcoming environment for antisemities’.
She went on: “Decent people hold their hands up in horror when the victims tell them they are being antisemitic.
“People and institutions who are sincere about not being racist learn to change their attitudes, behaviour and procedures for the better. They recognise that they have rightly been called out for unacceptable behaviour.”
One member of Hastings and Rye Labour party told Hastings In Focus she thought the local party’s action was ‘disgraceful’ while one life-long Labour voter told us: “I just don’t understand why they have got involved in this way. It’s hard for me to say this but it makes it very difficult for me to consider voting Labour again.”