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July 24, 2019 9:12 am

New Revelations About Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party

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avatar by Manfred Gerstenfeld


British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers the keynote speech at a Labour conference in Liverpool, Britain, Sept. 26, 2016. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble.

The BBC Panorama documentary on antisemitism in the British Labour Party, broadcast on July 10, has unleashed a torrent of reactions. A number of these are important new developments.

Probably the most spectacular was a full page advertisement paid for by 67 Labour Lords in the liberal daily The Guardian. They represent about one-third of all Labour Lords. They accused party leader Jeremy Corbyn of not having defended Labour’s anti-racist values. Their key statement was: “The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective or race, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation (*except, it seems, Jews).” They added: “This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.”

It was telling that these Lords did not write an open letter. They were apparently trying to maximize their audience about their disagreement with the party leader. Quotes from the advert were picked up by other British media outlets.

An additional front of dissent opened between Labour staff members and the party’s leadership. Staff members affiliated with the major GMB trade union voted 124 in favor — with only four against — for a motion condemning the Labour press office’s response to the BBC documentary.

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The motion said that it was “unacceptable for an employee’s workload or the culture of an organization to cause staff to have breakdowns or to contemplate suicide,” which several whistleblowers claimed on the BBC documentary.

MP Dame Margaret Hodge also wrote an article in The Guardian, marking the one-year anniversary of her face-to-face encounter with Corbyn in the parliament lobby. There, she called Corbyn a racist and an antisemite. Hodge wrote that her politics have been defined by her Jewish identity in a way that she never imagined they would.  She added that she never thought she would become a victim of Jew-hatred from the hard left. Hodge also wrote that in the year that has passed, the situation within the party has deteriorated dramatically, and that the antisemitism crisis in Labour has spiraled out of control.

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair was asked in a BBC interview whether he would vote for the party in elections, amid the rows on Brexit and antisemitism. Referring to the antisemitism issue, Blair indicated that it would be difficult.

Labour has made public that it received 625 antisemitic complaints during the first six months of 2019, while eight party members have been expelled. Corbyn has now proposed changes to Labour’s complaints system to speed up the expulsion of members over antisemitism. Furthermore, a page of information on antisemitism was added to the party’s website.

In view of Corbyn previously calling genocidal antisemitic terrorists “friends” and “brothers” — and his being a part-time antisemite — many believe nothing serious will change under his leadership. Mike Katz, the Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said, “Institutional Jewish racism can only be tackled by a fully independent process.”

It has become clear that under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has become institutionally antisemitic. Nevertheless, a substantial percentage of the Labour membership is at least partly in denial about Corbyn’s role in causing this. A poll in the Times found that 70 percent of Labour members admitted that antisemitism was a genuine problem in the party, yet only 48 percent opined that Corbyn had dealt either badly or very badly with the issue. Only 27 percent agreed that Corbyn should step down now. More than 80 percent thought that Corbyn has the right leadership priorities for the country.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank.

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