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OPINION: Let’s hope for positives from this shabby scandal

As Hertsmere Borough’s Labour and Cooperative Party leader, I have mixed feelings about the news that the Conservative Party has reprimanded leading Hertsmere councillors and their electoral agent for promoting and pursuing a negative and unfounded personal campaign against Councillor Dan Ozarow.

The independent panel commissioned by the Tories concluded that this campaign led to those councillors “exposing themselves to allegations of antisemitism” and “may well have encouraged others” in the tirade of antisemitic abuse suffered by Cllr Ozarow and his family.

The investigation process bears all the hallmarks of the kind of system I and other Jewish Labour colleagues campaigned for our own party to adopt since the Chakrabarti report publication. A serious, heavyweight, legally experienced investigation panel. A reasonable time frame from complaint to conclusion. Good communication with the victim. And, critically, party leadership acceptance of the findings without intervention or interference.

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Labour has made huge strides in handling antisemitism under Keir Starmer’s leadership – I hope it pays attention to this textbook example of complaint handling as an exemplar.  Equally, I hope the Conservatives take heed of Labour’s new-found speed and assertiveness when it comes to suspending, expelling and punishing members who play fast and loose with antisemitism. Those reprimanded in this report must face meaningful sanctions.

In smearing a Jewish politician within his own community, they incited actual antisemites to embark upon a campaign of hate against Dr Ozarow, which included physical threats against his family and unborn baby.

Equally significant for me is how this shabby incident appears to be a new mutation of the weaponisation of antisemitism (and opposition to antisemitism) for party political gain.  What we now know were cynical, unfounded attempts to smear Cllr Ozarow as an enemy of Israel and supporter of terrorism were designed to leverage Jewish communal fear and vulnerability for party political gain.

In smearing a Jewish politician within his own community, they incited actual antisemites to embark upon a campaign of hate against Dr Ozarow, which included physical threats against his family and unborn baby.

We’ve seen Conservative councillors in Hertsmere engage in weaponisation, smears and incitement on multiple occasions over the past five years. I’ve been a victim of it myself.  At the same time, they failed to make good on a promise to allow a full discussion about tackling antisemitism at the council’s executive. They target letters at houses with mezuzot, infantilising Jewish voters in the process.

Hertsmere’s Conservative MP, Tory national chair, Oliver Dowden, misappropriates the Jewish community in speeches at extremist American policy institutes, promoting hardline policies, yet he has remained silent on these latest developments in his own back yard. His weaponisation of Jews in global political discourse is the international parallel to what his councillors were doing back home.

I say to my Conservative colleagues, enough is enough. Let’s collectively agree to fight antisemitism together, to fight the growth of groups such as Patriotic Alternative and Britain First, both active and growing in Hertsmere.

Political antisemitism appears in cycles and affects all parties. Recent reports from Enfield and Manchester indicate that Conservatives in local government must address such concerns.

I hope something positive will emerge from Cllr Ozarow’s experience and that this pernicious cycle will now be broken. Perhaps that long-promised Hertsmere Council discussion on antisemitism will happen and set a template for other local authorities to follow and adopt.

Source: Jewish News

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