Former Prime Minister Tony Blair last night told a packed Board of Deputies of British Jews President’s dinner that antisemitism in Labour was “absolutely killing the party”.
Mr Blair was in conversation with broadcaster Natasha Kaplinsky at a central London location in front of an audience of more than 400. Also attending were Home Secretary Priti Patel, actor Tracy-Ann Oberman, who was featured in this year’s appeal film, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, ambassadors, representatives of different faiths and the Jewish community’s senior rabbinic and lay leadership from across the denominations.
Tony Blair, who received a standing ovation from the audience, said: “Let me be frank, there is going to be a complete battle in the Labour Party because what has happened over these past years – particularly over antisemitism – is absolutely killing the party.”
He added: “I think in this election there will be more people who look carefully in a non-tribal way – they will look carefully at the candidates in their constituency to a bigger degree than at any election I can remember.”
However he went on to say: “There are really good Labour MPs that are standing in this election. People I know, people I’ve worked with. People who have stood up very strongly on antisemitism in the Labour Party and I want to see them supported.”
On Israel, he said there was “a need to explain Zionism and the way Israel was created and why it deserves support today… Israeli democracy is a real democracy”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, who proposed the loyal toast, paid tribute to the Board of Deputies. She said: “The Board of Deputies has been tireless in educating British society about Judaism, building interfaith bridges, defending the interests of British Jews, and confronting antisemitism in all its awful guises. Your work ranges from the level of individual communities and synagogues, right to the highest levels of Government, as I well know. Your presence in our communities and your advocacy of tolerance is more important than ever at a time when many British Jews are feeling uncertain about the future. So I want to be clear – this Government is always on your side.
She added: “we will always support the work of the Board of Deputies, which has benefited each and every member of British society. It has won you the respect and admiration of many, myself included.”
In her speech, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “Whether it’s the ongoing uncertainties over the General Election and Brexit; antisemitism going unchecked in the Official Opposition; far-right terrorist attacks on synagogues in the United States and Germany; obsessive criticism of Israel; or even risks to the UK’s supply of etrogs – it has never been more important to have a strong Board of Deputies, changing the narrative and leading the fight for our community.
Marie also paid tribute to Tony Blair: “When Tony Blair was leader of the Labour Party – and, indeed, Prime Minister – there was not the slightest question about any of the big parties being tolerant of antisemitism. Tony Blair has long been a true friend of our community and he continues to stand alongside us in our fight for justice. I know that he shares our horror that a creation of the last Labour Government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has launched a statutory investigation in to whether the current Labour Party itself is institutionally antisemitic. When the dust settles after the election, I hope that the Party’s current – or future – leaders will learn from his example that things can – and indeed must – change.
The dinner was also addressed by European Jewish Congress President Dr Moshe Kantor, Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron and Senior Vice President Sheila Gewolb.
Photos: Sam Pearce
Left to right: Natasha Kaplinsky, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Tony Blair, Marie van der Zyl