Facing Chorus of Criticism Over UK Labour Antisemitism, Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn Announces ‘Disciplinary Action’ Against Prominent Jewish Critic
As the antisemitism scandal that has engulfed Britain’s opposition Labour Party for the last three years reached a fever pitch on Thursday, party leader Jeremy Corbyn remained defiant, threatening disciplinary action against one of his Jewish critics after she called him an “antisemite and a racist.”
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Corbyn confirmed “action will be taken” against Dame Margaret Hodge – a Jewish Labour member of parliament and veteran party figure – as she confronted the Labour leader in the parliamentary chamber during a crunch vote on Brexit. Calling Corbyn an “antisemite and a racist” to his face, Hodge, who is the descendant of Holocaust survivors, added: “You have proved you don’t want people like me in the party.”
Corbyn’s spokesperson said that “under the terms of the Parliamentary Labour Party rules there has to be respect between colleagues.” Hodge’s behavior “was clearly unacceptable under Labour Party rules,” the spokesperson said.
Hodge has strongly denied the claim of anonymous Labour Party sources that she swore at the Labour leader. Making her case independently in a searing oped for The Guardian newspaper, she stressed that “complaints to the Labour party about antisemitism from party members have been dealt with in a desultory manner.”
“The powerful ‘Enough is enough’ demonstration organized by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council in March has effectively been ignored,” Hodge wrote.
Asserting that Labour “chose to make the party a hostile environment for Jews … It chose to entrench antisemitism,” Hodge remarked that she “chose to confront Jeremy directly and personally to express my anger and outrage.”
“I stand by my action as well as my words,” the MP declared.
At the root of Corbyn’s latest conflict with the UK Jewish community is the definition of antisemitism drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which has been adopted as a foundation for policy and practical action by numerous organizations globally and in Britain – including the UK and Scottish governments, the Welsh Assembly, the Crown Prosecution Service, the College of Policing, the National Union of Students and more than 120 local authorities. On Tuesday, Labour’s National Executive Committee rejected the definition, citing four theoretical examples in the text that deal with the overlap of anti-Zionism and antisemitism as the reason for its objection. The party instead adopted an alternative “code of conduct on antisemitism” that has been bitterly criticized by Jewish leaders and several senior Labour Party figures.
“In today’s Labour party, it is possible to argue that Israel is a Nazi-like state that should be wiped from the map, and that any Jews who say otherwise are probably paid by Israel to do so, and not be hauled up for antisemitism,” wrote Dave Rich – head of policy for the UK Jewish Community Security Trust (CST) – in a Guardian oped. “You may be told that your language is insensitive or impolite and asked to go on an education course, but your anti-racist reputation will remain intact.”
The controversy could yet split the Labour Party. On Thursday, the Jewish Chronicle newspaper in London published an editorial statement urging Jewish Labour MPs and their allies who are opposed to Corbyn to formally break with the party.
The paper argued that Dame Margaret Hodge’s public confrontation with Corbyn “has set in train events which cannot be predicted with certainty.”
“But already Jewish Labour MPs and their allies describe a ‘civil war’ with the Corbynites and say that they are at the ‘point of no return,'” the editorial stated. “They cannot back down…That surely means resigning the Labour whip and forming a new bloc of independent Labour MPs.”
On Thursday evening, around 700 British Jews gathered in central London’s Parliament Square for a fresh protest against Labour’s antisemitism.
A statement from the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which organized the rally, said that by “trying to redefine antisemitism his way, Jeremy Corbyn has left no doubt that he is the leader of an antisemitic institution, and he is perfectly happy with that.”
“The Labour Party should be abandoned by all decent people,” the statement continued.
Other political commentators have noted that Corbyn’s repeated clashes with British Jews could cost him support from the broader UK public, at a time when Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s government risks collapse over the Brexit negotiations with the EU.
Veteran pundit Polly Toynbee wrote in her column that Corbyn and Labour “mortally offending British Jews…risks being the hot story at Labour’s September conference, blanking out all that matters most from Brexit to benefits, housing to health.”