General election: Why Ian Austin is wrong about Labour and anti-semitism – Brian Wilson

It is a mistake to blame all Labour candidates for the anti-semitism of some ultra-left party members, writes Brian Wilson.

Holocaust survivor and Italian life senator Liliana Segre now has a permanent security escort after receiving hundreds of hate messages (Picture: Luca Bruno/AP)
Holocaust survivor and Italian life senator Liliana Segre now has a permanent security escort after receiving hundreds of hate messages (Picture: Luca Bruno/AP)

I have been in Italy and found it, as ever, wonderful and welcoming. Of course, it has its dark side as manifested in the experience of an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, Liliana Segre.

Ms Segre is a life senator who tabled a motion to establish a commission for combating hate – anti-semitism and all forms of ethnic and religious racism. The motion passed in spite of right-wing parties abstaining.

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She has been subjected to hundreds of hate messages and now has a permanent security escort. Ms Segre fled persecution in 1943 and after failing to secure refuge in Switzerland – always worth remembering – and was sent to Auschwitz where her father and grandparents were killed.

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Anti-semitism is perhaps the most insidious form of racism because it is so deep-rooted and caused so many horrors in the past. It is fanciful to pretend it does not exist in all societies and political creeds.

The Labour Party, where I had never witnessed any trace of it, were fools to open the door to ultra-left sects which have always had that strain within them. They now have to deal with a problem of their own making.

It is still foolish to portray Labour as “anti-semitic” as a reason for not supporting utterly blameless candidates. It is also unworldly to believe there are not forces at work exploiting this theme for political ends – ie the return of a Tory government.

In that context, I found this week’s performance by Ian Austin, a former Labour MP, quite revolting. He could have departed with dignity and wise words. Instead, he sought to inflict maximum damage on former colleagues.

Addressing issues, as Ms Segre did, takes real courage. Sabotage and betrayal take none.