As UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted Friday to send a conciliatory message to the nation’s Jewish community for the Passover holiday, a senior official in the party claimed accusations of unadressed anti-Semitism in Labour were merely an effort to discredit the leader.
“This whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy, as we all know,” said Christine Shawcroft, who was forced to resign her position on a top panel this week after expressing support for a Holocaust-denying candidate.
Corbyn, in his holiday message Friday, sent his “warmest regards to Jewish communities all over Britain.” He said he had “always been moved by the Passover story of the Israelite escape from enslavement.”
The Labour leader said he was particularly touched by the “universal message of the struggle for liberation…one that continues to inspire many who fight for justice and equality all over the world.”
Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition party in 2015. Some in the party say Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians, has allowed abuse to go unchecked.
On Wednesday Shawcroft resigned as head of Labour’s disputes panel, after it emerged that she had called for reinstating a local council candidate who had been suspended from the party for sharing on Facebook an article that claimed the Holocaust was a hoax.
In a Facebook post Friday, Shawcoft defended her actions, saying she was “not a Holocaust denier and… would not support a Holocaust denier.” She went on to explain she “had not seen the appalling and abhorrent post” by Alan Bull before sending out a message of support for him, in which she argued that the “alleged” anti-Semitic Facebook post was “taken out of context.”
“I have been trying to support members who have been affected by all the shenanigans around Council selections, and thought this case was just another one of those,” she wrote Friday.
Shawcroft said her resignation in light of her mistake was “entirely right” but added that “This whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy, as we all know.”
“That someone who has spent his whole life fighting racism in all its forms should find himself being accused of not doing enough to counter it, absolutely beggars belief,” she added.
Shawcroft remains a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Bull had shared a link last year on his Facebook page to an article titled “International Red Cross Report Confirms the Holocaust of Six Million Jews is a Hoax.” The article included a doctored photo of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp with the famous slogan above the gates changed from the original “Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free)” to “Muh Holocaust.”
The “Muh Holocaust” phrase is a reference to the notion held by some opponents of Israel that Jewish people use the Holocaust as a way of deflecting criticism of Israel, the Daily Mail reported. Prior to his suspension, Bull was a Labour candidate in the upcoming Peterborough council elections scheduled for May 3.
On Sunday, Shawcroft sent an internal email to fellow members of the party’s National Executive Committee in which she wrote that Bull’s post, which she described as “a Facebook post taken completely out of context and alleged to show anti-Semitism,” was being used in a political campaign against him by rival Labour members.
“I am concerned that party disciplinary procedures are being used in the pursuit of partisan disputes in local parties, wasting a great deal of staff time in the process,” she wrote.
She also noted that the party had known about the complaint for months without doing anything about it.
“I think we should reinstate his membership and allow him to contest the ward for which he has been selected,” she wrote.
Stepping down on Wednesday, she wrote: “I sent this email before being aware of the full information about this case and I had not been shown the image of his abhorrent Facebook post.
“Had I seen this image, I would not have requested that the decision to suspend him be re-considered. I am deeply sorry for having done so.”
“In light of this, I have decided to stand down as chair of the disputes panel to ensure my wrong and misguided questions on this case do not cause doubt or anxiety about our processes.”
Referring to a large demonstration by Jewish groups against alleged anti-Semitism in Labour that was held Monday outside Parliament, Shawcroft wrote: “This week we have seen a clear expression of the pain and hurt that has been caused to Jewish members of our party and the wider Jewish community by anti-Semitic abuse and language, and by the reality of anti-Semitism being denied and downplayed by others.”
During the event, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament. It was an unprecedented rally organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership, and attendees bore signs reading “No to anti-Semitism,” as pressure ramped up on Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The latest furor erupted over a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn supporting the artist behind a street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes. Corbyn has said he regrets not looking closely at the “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” mural before offering support to the artist.
Also Wednesday, British Jewish leaders told Corbyn that they would only agree to his request for a meeting if he fulfills a number of conditions on tackling anti-Semitism within his party.
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the meeting, which Corbyn proposed after they organized the rally outside parliament, would only happen if the opposition leader took a number of public steps first, including taking responsibility for tackling anti-Semitism in his party and distancing himself from criticism of Labour lawmakers who attended Monday’s protest.
Agencies contributed to this report.