In February this year Old Town ward councillor Dany Louise resigned from the Hastings Labour party citing failure of its national leadership to deal with anti-semitism within its ranks. In particular she referred to the treatment of Jewish MP Luciana Berger, who was then about to quit the party, as “disgraceful”, and said that “the level of denial by Jeremy Corbyn supporters leaves me in despair”.

Local Conservative politicians Amber Rudd and Cllr Rob Lee (who has been acting in recent weeks as agent for her replacement as constituency candidate, Sally-Ann Hart) were quick to pile in with support for Cllr Louise. Ms Rudd, then still in office as Work & Pensions Secretary said: “Labour has treated its Jewish MPs disgracefully and has allowed hostility towards Jews to fester. And now a Labour councillor in Hastings has rightfully quit the party because of its failure to tackle vile anti-semitism.” Cllr Lee added: “The Labour party has a serious problem with anti-semitism which its leadership is failing to take seriously”.

“Endemic and unchecked” 

At the time of the resignation neither Cllr Louise nor her Tory  backers suggested that she had experienced any anti-Jewish behaviour or sentiment in Hastings, either personally or as council representative. But on 25th November she posted a lengthy WordPress blog which begins: “Although I concentrated on the national picture in my resignation letter, I could have cited antisemitism in Hastings & Rye CLP (Constituency Labour Party). My experience is that it is endemic and unchecked in this organisation.”

The blog chronicles a long series of local incidents which Cllr Louise characterises as anti-semitic, including the instigation of multiple anti-Israel motions at party meetings, and refusal to avoid major religious dates for non-Christians when setting the yearly council calendar – but also, apparently most offensive to her sensibilities, the appointment of another Jewish Labour councillor Leah Levane as chair of the party.

It may be wondered quite how this appointment can be reasonably described as evidence of anti-semitism. But it is clear that, as far as Cllr Louise is concerned, Cllr Levane is not the right kind of Jew: she is co-Chair of Jewish Voice For Labour, “a deeply problematic organisation…. which supports and enables anti-semites in the Labour Party,” according to Cllr Louise.

This may also account for Cllr Louise citing this newspaper, the Hastings Independent Press, as complicit in the racial prejudice she claims to be endemic in the local party. 

HIP Features

In April 2018 (HIP Issue 100) Alan Bolwell, now our Politics editor, wrote a feature article headlined “Anti-Semitism On The Left”, in which he reported a demonstration in Parliament Square called by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council to protest against alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party. Mr Bolwell described these groups as having “a conservative, right-wing, pro-Israeli institutional identity”, and contrasted them with another Jewish group Jewdas, with whom Mr Corbyn had shared a convivial Passover dinner on the evening after the demo, whose members were (according to the Guardian newspaper) ”political activists who make fun of establishment Judaism”. The article concluded that the problem might not be one of anti-semitic prejudice but of competing political strands within Jewish society.

In her recent blog Cllr Louise states that this article was “full of ignorance and misinformation about the Jewish community, and came close to saying that all Jews were rich conservatives” – a doubly unwarranted comment, since not only was the article at pains to differentiate one group of Jews from another but at no point made any reference to the wealth (or otherwise) of any of them.

Cllr Louise’s peculiar version of anti-semitism then picks up on a further article headlined “The Insider” published by HIP in October this year (Issue138). Writer Ben Bruges was reporting on an appearance by Israeli dissident Miko Peled at what Cllr Louise describes as an “evening of anti-Israel rhetoric at the White Rock Hotel”. She complains that this received “a glowing write-up in the Hastings Independent Press”.

As the heading indicated, Mr Peled has an impeccable family background from within the Israeli political and military establishment: his grandfather was a signatory of Israel’s Declaration of Independence; his father was a general in the Israel Defence Force; and his niece was killed in a Palestinian suicide attack in Jerusalem in 1997. But still the wrong kind of Jew from Cllr Louise’s perspective – one who is highly critical of the politics and social attitudes of modern Israel and who urges an international programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions against it. Does that make him and his supporters anti-semitic? Apparently so.

Electoral Context 

Cllr Louise’s underlying determination to conflate local intra-Jewish infighting with historically monstrous anti-Jewish prejudice might in normal times be dismissed as the confusion of an insignificant zealot. But it is more serious than that. She unleashed her blog at a time designed to have maximum electoral effect in a marginal constituency. On the following day the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ephraim Mirvis was given top billing on national media when speaking of “a new poison – sanctioned from the very top – [that] has taken root” in the Labour party, and pronouncing “that the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety” at the prospect of a Labour victory.

It’s not possible from a local perspective to assess the reality of claims of anti-semitism elsewhere in the national body politic. One wonders, however, when reading Cllr Louise’s blog and speculating on her motivations for publishing it, how much of the recent national debate has been based on similarly slanted material. 

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