Nothing prepares you for seeing a colleague in tears over antisemitism.
Labour deputy leadership hopeful, Rosena Allin-Khan, speaks about her heritage informing her fight against Jew-hate, and her commitment to mending ties with the community.
“There is nothing that prepares you for seeing a colleague in tears,” says Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, one of five hopefuls standing for Labour’s deputy-leadership.
Committed to winning back the trust of the community – and standing up for MPs such as Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth who are no longer in Westminster – Allin-Khan, currently the MP for Tooting, seems sincere in her battle against hate.
She grew up as the daughter of immigrants – her father hailing from Pakistan, her mother from Poland, herself the descendent of resistance fighters killed by the Nazis.
But she’s aware that hate and prejudice won’t be solved over a chat with tea and biscuits.
Before her career in politics, she was a humanitarian doctor, working on the ground with Palestinians, while her mother’s family from Poland were killed by the Nazis.
It’s these experiences which allow her to reconcile speaking out against Israeli policies, while committing herself to the fight against antisemitism, drawing praise from the community in carefully balancing these issues.
The first of her pledges is to meet with the Jewish Labour Movement, should she get elected. It would be “essential to the restructuring” of relations, and “how we rebuild trust.”
She is also keen on an education program, saying “people use antisemitic tropes and they don’t even realise what they’re doing and they repeatedly do so.”
While indicating she would speak with “any group that was looking to acknowledge there was a problem, and work towards coming up with a solution to fix it” she adds that she is the “only deputy leader candidate who hasn’t nominated a leader”.
She’s willing to “work with whomever the leader is” on rebuilding trust.
Calling the demise in relations between the community and the party “sad” and “terrible”, she opens up about “people I know that I am very close to, who have been really brave and speaking out antisemitism in the party.”
“They have received torrents of abuse and nothing’s been done about it”.
“Any leader seeing something like this unfolding needs to be all over it”, she says.
But was Corbyn’s team responsible? She says they were not the “cause of the antisemitic problem in Labour, I think they didn’t deal with the problem, well enough”.
Yet, she’s under no illusions as to the extent of the problem, saying it must be tackled “from a grassroots membership level first and take it all the way to MPs themselves”.
“The complaints process wasn’t dealt with properly”, Allin-Khan says, adding: “As people began to show antisemitic abuse .. the more they saw it wasn’t being dealt with the more they felt able to do so.”
On mending ties, she wants an “independent” process for tackling complaints with “outstanding cases to be dealt with within a particular time”, and “automatic expulsion” for antisemitism, though she wouldn’t be drawn on whether she would intervene, like Tom Watson, who she is trying to succeed.
Her drive to fight antisemitism is in part inspired by her heritage.
“My mum’s Polish and I lost lots of family during the war. They were not Jewish, but they fought alongside Jewish friends and my great uncle died during that time, my grandma was pregnant in the Warsaw ghetto with my uncle.”
“That whole experience is a very real part of my history, and it is a shared history that I understand deeply and I’m very saddened about with the Jewish community.
She was embroiled in a dispute with the Israeli Deputy Ambassador in 2016, following a radio discussion about Palestinians’ access to medical aid.
After revealing the two had met in person to discuss the issue, she was accused of being “bought by Zionists”, facing significant online abuse.
Her response drew praise, with Dave Rich from the Community Security Trust saying it “illustrated the difference between pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist”.
She says: “I am a doctor, and have been a humanitarian doctor for my whole professional life.”
“It is possible, and fair, to identify areas where there could be improvement to somebody’s life and health and not to conflate that with a whole antisemitic issue.
“ I will always be proud to stand up for people’s basic human rights, and I’m also very aware of my history and my shared history with the Jewish community.
I feel it’s perfectly possible to manage the two.”
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