UK Labour leader Keir Starmer and senior members of his part recently hosted members of Israel’s Labor party, taking them door-to-door to meet with residents as part of a local elections campaign in north London.
According to a report Thursday in the Guardian, Starmer hosted nine Israeli officials, among them Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Chen Arieli, Labor chief executive Nir Rosen and senior staff from party leader Merav Michaeli’s office.
The Israeli delegation met with Labour Party members David Lammy, David Evans and Morgan McSweeney, discussing campaign tactics with them. Party member Wesley Streeting also hosted the delegation for dinner.
The interaction, described by The Guardian as a “charm offensive,” underlined the stark contrast with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party. Corbyn is a bitter critic of Israel, who in 2016 rejected an invitation from then-Israeli opposition and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog to visit Israel and tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
Accusations of anti-Semitism within party ranks plagued Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, and were seen as a significant factor in its crushing defeat in December 2019’s general elections.
British Jews deserted the party in droves because they believed that Labour had become institutionally anti-Semitic under Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian politician who was elected leader in 2015, with widespread accusations that Corbyn himself was an anti-Semite — something he denied.
Corbyn was accused of failing to deal with hundreds of incidents of anti-Semitism within his party. A number of former party officials accused him and his allies of interfering in efforts to address the issue. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism, accused Corbyn in a 2020 report of being responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” against Jews.
In 2018, Labour and its Israeli sister party — then led by Avi Gabbay — cut ties. The suspension of relations applied only to Corbyn’s office, however, and not to the party as a whole.
Gabbay accused Corbyn of showing hostility toward the Jewish community in the UK and allowing antisemitic statements and actions from his party officials.
לאור התנהלותו של ג'רמי קורבין, מנהיג הלייבור הבריטית, אשר אינו ממלא את תפקידו בבלימת תופעות אנטישמיות בסביבתו וזאת בנוסף להצהרות ציבוריות שלו הנושאות מטען של שנאה כלפי ישראל -לפני שעה קלה שיגרתי אליו מכתב המודיע על ניתוק הקשר ושיתוף הפעולה בינינו. pic.twitter.com/kChW6fYH7F
— Avi Gabbay אבי גבאי (@GabbayAvi) April 10, 2018
Michaeli’s international adviser Jonathan Cummings was cited by The Guardian as expressing a “great relief” to be in renewed warm contact with the UK party.
He also said the Israeli delegation did not expect to be given so much time and attention by senior members of the party.
“Our main concern was always about antisemitism and the Jewish community – anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, that was almost a secondary issue. We wanted to be on the right side, supporting the community here,” he said.
Michael Rubin, director of Labour Friends of Israel, described the visit as “an important landmark in the rebuilding of the deep and historic relationship with our sister party,” according to the Guardian.
Responding to reports of antisemitism within the party, Starmer, who took over the Labour leadership in 2020, has vowed to take decisive action against any members making antisemitic comments, while reconnecting to the Israeli branch of the party.
Drawing some criticisms from his party’s left, Starmer questioned a report published earlier this year by Amnesty International that claimed that Israel was an apartheid state and fired a party member who compared Israeli police tactics to the murder of George Floyd in the US.
Corbyn was suspended from the party by Starmer, his successor, after insisting the party’s problems with antisemitism had been overstated.