Former Labour Councilor “Got Blocked at Every Point” Trying to Implement Anti-Semitism Training
Dany Louise is an independent councilor from the U.K. who bravely took a stand against anti-Semitism in the British Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. A former Labour member, she left the party in February 2019 when she witnessed Jew-hatred becoming normalized in Hastings, a town on England’s southeast coast that happens to be a hotbed of pro-Corbyn, anti-Israel activism. In October 2020, against all odds, the Labour-dominated municipal Council of Hastings adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism through Dany’s initiative. In an exclusive interview, Dany shared her experiences in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party with Tamara Berens at CAM.
Dany Louise always had an interest in public service. She was motivated by the Jewish principle of tikkun olam, translated as “to repair the world,”
“Back in the 1990s I did human rights work in Sri Lanka. I was part of the team sent to observe the first free and fair elections there in 16 years, and I have always worked in the public sector.”
In 2016, Dany decided that she wanted to get involved in local politics. “The situation in Hastings was that there had been a very male-dominated Labour group that had actually passed a policy of actively recruiting women candidates for local election in winnable seats.” Dany was uncertain about getting involved in national or international politics but was intrigued by the possibility of giving back to her town. “I genuinely wanted to contribute to the town. I hoped that local politics would be less dysfunctional than national politics.”
By late 2016, the issue of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism was already a national concern in Britain. “I was aware of anti-Semitism in the Labour party and that was why I took a long time making up my mind. If I join this party am I complicit in anti-Semitism?”
However, most believed at the time that the problem was confined to Labour’s top echelons. “Although there was anti-Semitism in the Labour party, I didn’t think I had seen it in Hastings.” Across the country, Jewish Labour voters like Dany held on to the hope that Corbyn’s personal prejudices would not infect the rest of the party.
Just as Dany decided to get involved, the state of affairs worsened rapidly. “I could see it creeping closer and closer to Hastings. At a mass canvass, I heard a Labour councilor starting to rant about Israel, in an obviously hostile way. I stopped the conversation I was having and started listening. The councilor was talking about the Israeli military bombing a school and civilians cheering, as an illustration of how evil Israel is. I was the only person who intervened.”
When Dany challenged him politely, the councilor lost his temper. “He started screaming at me and wagging his finger and shouting, “condemn that, they bombed a school, condemn that!” As he became more and more aggressive, no one told him his behavior was inappropriate. “That set alarm bells off, I must say. He screamed at me as I left “you’ve just called us all anti-Semites.” The man in question was a long-standing Labour councilor. “I didn’t realize the centrality of Israel and anti-Israel rhetoric. I just hadn’t come across it before.”
By 2018, it had become evident that anti-Semitism was subverting the party from within, as prominent Jewish members of the Labour party were targeted with vile abuse and harassment by pro-Corbyn activists.
Particularly horrifying was Corbyn’s inaction in response to former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s comments about Nazism and Zionism. (Livingstone stated that Hitler was a Zionist and doubled down when questioned. Corbyn suspended Livingstone but refused to expel him from the party, despite mounting pressure from moderate Labour parliamentarians.) “I remember discussing Ken Livingstone and a longstanding officer said “maybe he’s right” about Hitler being a Zionist.”
2018 was also the year that the Jewish community in Britain took decisive action in response to rising anti-Semitism in the Labour party. In March, a Jewish protest entitled “Enough is Enough” outside Britain’s parliament attracted hundreds of demonstrators. It was the community’s first major public statement regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
But in conversation with a senior member of the Labour constituency party in Hastings, Dany found that this brave demonstration had only resulted in more hostility. The senior member objected to the demonstration and suggested that “Jews should complain quietly” instead.
In May of that year, Dany Louise was elected as a Labour councillor. She quickly set about trying to educate her fellow councilors about anti-Semitism, but her efforts were met with incessant hostility. When Dany suggested that Labour members receive training from the Jewish Labour Movement on recognizing and combating anti-Semitism, her request was blocked by the leader of the council.
In addition, the council had arranged for meetings to take place on two of the most important days in the Jewish calendar: the Jewish new year and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Dany presented her objection to meetings being held on these days and suggested that religious dates should be inputted into the calendar to avoid similar issues in the future. Her request again met resistance, with the Leader saying “it isn’t possible”.
As a proud Jew, Dany is a member of a small minority in Hastings. The Jewish people in Hastings with the loudest voices are founders and members of “Jewish Voice for Labour,” a pro-Corbyn group which alleges that charges of anti-Semitism in the Labour party are fabricated for political gain. “Particularly in Hastings where there isn’t a formal Jewish community, it seems very few people have come across Jews before, and particularly proud Jews.” At first, Dany felt that anti-Semitism in Hastings might be due to ignorance rather than an institutional problem. “The vast majority of the community probably have not met many Jews and actually don’t understand the religion, the culture.” When individuals in Hastings do come across Jews in the town, they often encounter a pro-Corbyn, anti-Israel perspective. “What they hear via these people they believe, and think, “well, this must be right,” without recognizing that these are in fact fringe views.
Nearly every Labour meeting that Dany attended featured an anti-Israel motion put forward by, as Dany describes it, “two of Hastings’ very own “as-a-Jews.”
“Privately I wondered what Israel had to do with the very serious issues that Hastings faces – real poverty and hardship for too many people, too much poor-quality housing, lack of employment opportunities, and low standards of educational attainment. These subjects were rarely discussed at any of the Labour Party meetings I attended.”
Jewish Voice for Labour gained international attention for its attempts to white-wash anti-Semitism. With Leah Levane of Hastings as co-Chair of the organization, fringe speaker Miko Peled was invited to speak at their launch at the Labour Party conference. He alleged that denying the Holocaust should be considered protected free speech. Levane was also elected to Hastings Council in May 2018 and mounted a counter-demonstration to the “Enough is Enough” protest, arguing that accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party amounted to a “witch-hunt.”
In February 2019, Dany resigned from the Labour Party. In her resignation letter, she wrote: “I have struggled with all this for many months and concluded that doing nothing implicates me. I am not willing to turn a blind eye to this situation.”
Dany explains that the decision was not one she took lightly. “I genuinely became a councilor because I wanted to contribute to Hastings and make life better for people. I’m someone who takes commitments very seriously. I’m determined and I don’t give up easily.” But Dany could not remain in the party. “It was a slow realization that these people were not who I thought they were. Their behavior eroded my respect for them. I got blocked at every single point, really to the point where I couldn’t respect them anymore or believe they had any integrity on the big issues.”
Dany’s decision to leave the Labour Party did not deter her from raising awareness about anti-Semitism. “It was important to me because if I didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to happen. I was determined that Hastings Council would adopt IHRA and therefore formalize protection against anti-Jewish racism.” In October of this year, after an enormous amount of work and considerable obstruction from the Labour Group, Dany succeeded in her goal. For Dany, Hastings’ adoption of the IHRA definition is important in order to “protect Jewish people in Hastings and elsewhere, but also as an article of principle that Jews should be included in anti-racism policies.”
Dany is pleased and relieved that the Labour group “did the right thing by adopting IHRA.” Dany’s actions should serve as a reminder to local politicians everywhere that standing up for your principles really can pay off.
What advice does Dany have for people facing anti-Semitism at a local level, with little support?
“In terms of being in a minority there’s three things: do not give up, do not despair, and find allies. You need allies locally and you need allies nationally and maybe even internationally. The upside of this horrendous time is that while I’ve lost a lot of acquaintances, I have met a whole new network of people who care much about this as I do.”
Dany Louise’s letter detailing her experience in Hastings is available on her website.