Former leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (right) and his successor Keir Starmer talk to journalists in Brussels, Belgium, March 21, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Thierry Monasse-Getty Images)
Former leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (right) and his successor Keir Starmer talk to journalists in Brussels, Belgium, March 21, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Thierry Monasse-Getty Images)

Corbyn suspended from Labour after report finds the party committed ‘unlawful harassment’ against Jews

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Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from Britain’s Labour party after he disputed a report released Thursday that found that the party under his leadership was responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” against Jews.

The report was published Thursday by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism. It said that Labour under Corbyn, who led the party from 2015 to earlier this year, failed to address and resolve antisemitic behavior in its ranks. Among its recommendations, which are legally binding, was that Labour “must live up to its commitment to be a political party with zero tolerance of antisemitism” and give anti-racism training to its staff and members.

In a reaction to the report, Corbyn said that “the scale of the problem has been dramatically overstated for political reasons.”

For that statement “and his failure to retract” his words, he was suspended from the party, a spokesperson for Labour told journalists Thursday. His title as party whip, or speaker, was also suspended. The decision to suspend Corbyn came his centrist successor, Keir Starmer, according to the BBC. Corbyn said his suspension was “political” and vowed to “strongly contest” it.

The report, the most exhaustive and significant one published to date about Labour’s antisemitism problem, was started in May 2019. It is the first time the government commission has had to focus on a mainstream political party.

“Our investigation found that the Labour Party breached the Equality Act 2010 by committing unlawful harassment through the acts of its agents in two of the complaints we investigated,” said the report, which is based on hundreds of testimonies and cases.

There have been “serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints across the Labour Party, and we have identified multiple failures in the systems it uses to resolve them,” the report said.

The report is a significant development in the ongoing internal struggle within the party between Corbyn loyalists and more centrist allies of Starmer, who was elected in April.

Today’s report is not the first of its kind: In 2016, an inter-parliamentary review produced a damning report on Corbyn, who among other actions has praised a mural of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of Black men; placed a wreath on a monument commemorating Palestinian terrorists; and endorsed a blanket boycott of Israel.

Under his watch, Labour members made antisemitic statements both publicly and online. In response for criticizing Corbyn and his handling of the situation, some of the party’s more centrist members were inundated with online abuse. Some Jewish Labour members, such as Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman, were taunted with antisemitic comments on social media.

By 2019, about 50 Labour lawmakers had either resigned their posts or quit the party entirely to protest Corbyn’s leadership.

Corbyn had vowed to kick out anyone caught making antisemitic statements, and he did have some members expelled. But many others were not, including former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who repeatedly said publicly that Adolf Hitler was in cahoots with Zionists.

Starmer, a centrist, has apologized to British Jews for the growth of antisemitic sentiment in the party’s ranks under his predecessor, calling it “a stain” and vowing to “demonstrate a change of leadership” to “restore the trust of the Jewish community.”

He called Thursday a “day of shame” for the party and promised to implement the report’s recommendations “as soon as possible in the New Year.”

The findings of today’s report neither reveal much new information about Labour nor reflect the current mindset of its leader. But the report does provide the most exhaustive verdict to date on Corbyn’s legacy, and it plays a role in an internal struggle being waged within Labour now between Starmer and his allies and the supporters of Corbyn who remain in the party, said Jonathan Sacerdoti, a founding trustee of the Campaign Against Antisemitism watchdog.

“Corbyn is gone, but the problem of Labour antisemitism hasn’t,” Sacerdoti told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Labour’s membership and overall makeup changed during Corbyn’s tenure as leader. Long the country’s center-left mainstay and the political home for most British Jews, the party swerved far to the left. Corbyn has introduced sweeping tax proposals and remained neutral on Brexit amid support for it among his populist base.

Labour’s ranks swelled with members who favor the more left-wing policies, and many of them believe that Jews are societal “oppressors,” Sacerdoti said.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews addressed this point in their reaction to the report.

Corbyn “will rightly be blamed for what he has done to Jews and Labour, but the truth is more disturbing as he was little more than a figurehead for old and new anti-Jewish attitudes. All of this was enabled by those who deliberately turned a blind eye,” their statement read.

Marie van der Zyl, the board’s president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, still welcomed Corbyn’s suspension.

“His shameless comments today showed that he remains part of the problem and is an obstruction to the resolution of the issue,” she wrote.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder praised Starmer following Corbyn’s suspension. “We commend Labour’s new leader,” Lauder wrote in a statement, “for his proactive approach to combating antisemitism within the UK’s political leadership.”

Even though Corbyn and his cronies no longer run Labour, they are still a force to be reckoned with within the party. Starmer, who inherited a polarized movement and an electoral low point of 202 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons, the British parliament’s lower house, has had to calculate his moves carefully to keep an uneasy balance of power, Sacerdoti said.

The new report may “make it easier for Starmer” to make additional bold moves, Sacerdoti added.

The report’s authors seemed to address this scenario in their 129-page document.

Labour should “continue to build on its new leadership’s statement regarding its failure to deal with antisemitism, and acknowledge its responsibility for not living up to its commitment to zero tolerance of antisemitism,” the report’s recommendations chapter read.

“We remain concerned that the current process does not ensure fair and transparent sanctioning of antisemitism complaints, and fails to implement the recommendations of previous reports,” the report added.

Starmer, a 57-year-old former prosecutor married to a Jewish woman, has had his every move highly scrutinized by the Jewish community. He has promoted multiple lawmakers with strained relationships with the Jewish community to party leadership positions, including Afzal Khan, a lawmaker who in 2015 shared a video on Facebook with captions about the “Israel-British-Swiss-Rothschilds crime syndicate” and “mass murdering Rothschilds Israeli mafia criminal liars.” Khan later apologized, but then reportedly claimed the video was not antisemitic.

But in June Starmer demoted a key Corbyn ally from her post for praising and retweeting an article that claimed falsely that Israeli secret services trained U.S. police in knee chokeholds of the kind that led to the death of George Floyd.

It was a message to all those who share her “Socialist politics” that it “has no place within Starmerism,” according to Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of the far-left Tribune Magazine and a critic of Starmer.

Starmer’s “political project is to present Labour to the British establishment as a safer pair of hands, a less disruptive force, than even the Tories,” Burtenshaw wrote. “Such an approach might win an election.”

Cnaan Liphshiz, Netherlands-based Europe Correspondent for JTA
Cnaan Liphshiz

JTA Europe correspondent


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