The Jewish ex-MP received a standing ovation as she declared the Labour Party was “turning a page” on racism
Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Racists who joined the Labour Party and tried to “break” Jewish members have failed, the party’s conference has heard.
Former Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, from the Jewish Labour Movement, said she felt “sick” being in Brighton as she feared receiving more abuse.
But she struck a defiant tone as she insisted the party is “turning the page on the blight of anti-Semitism that has infected” the party, adding to the abusers: “You failed. We’re still here.”
Reforms under discussion at the party’s conference include a fully independent complaints process to tackle anti-Semitism.
Labour published its plan for a major overhaul in response to the highly-damning report by the equality watchdog into its handling of the issue under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Opening the debate, Labour’s National Executive Committee member Mark Ferguson said: “I want to start, from this chair, on behalf of the whole party to say sorry to our Jewish members.
“Sorry to our Jewish members, supporters and those in the wider community. Rest assured it will not happen again.”
Current leader Sir Keir Starmer was in the room for the debate.
Ms Smeeth told delegates: “I stand here with mixed emotions.
“Relief that we can finally turn the page on the blight of anti-Semitism that has infected our party. Anger that it has taken five years to get here.
“Disbelief that despite the hurt of so many Jewish members, there are people in here today who say it was all a smear.
“And sorrow that so many wonderful friends were forced to choose between their faith and their politics.”
Ms Smeeth said this was her 22nd year at Labour Party conference, adding: “And yet I feel sick at the idea of being in Brighton knowing that I will be a target for more racist abuse for being here.
“But I’m here to help deliver the promise that Keir made when he became leader.
“He promised the country he would root out the anti-Semitism that has infected our party and end the anti-Jewish hate which undermines the values we were founded to protect.
“It breaks my heart that racists thought they had a place in the Labour Party, that Jewish members, usually women, were threatened, abused and bullied every day not by the BNP or the EDL but by those who claimed to share our values.”
Ms Smeeth added: “These racists tried to break Jewish members, to hound us out of our party and to scare us into silence.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
“Well conference, I have news for them: you failed.
“We’re still here, JLM is still here, and today we need to send a message to the vile racists and bullies who thought that our party could become a home for Jew hate.”
Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge said there was “enormous relief and immeasurable hope to every Labour Party member who has been a victim of vile anti-Jew hate”.
She added: “This has been a horrible and difficult time for Labour Jewish members.
“Their bravery should be applauded, the distress they endured recognised.”
Dame Margaret went on: “My message is simple: never again.
“Never again can anti-Jew racism pollute our party.
“Never again can we become a hostile environment for Jews.
“Never again can the complaints process be manipulated with serious complaints ignored and victims silenced.”
After Dame Margaret concluded her speech, a shout of “apology for Palestinians” could be heard in the hall with Mr Ferguson warning members to be respectful during the debate.