UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday said a newly-elected MP criticized for liking an anti-Semitic post on social media was “not a racist in any way.”
Lisa Forbes had liked a a Facebook video expressing solidarity with victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting in March. Text accompanying the video said British Prime Minister Theresa May had a “Zionist Slave Masters agenda.”
Forbes also commented: “I have enjoyed reading this thread so much” on a post that repeated the conspiracy theory that the Mossad and CIA are behind the Islamic State terror group.
Forbes has since said the incidents were a misunderstanding and apologized, adding that she would nevertheless take anti-Semitism awareness training. But UK Jewish groups last week called on Labour to disown her. Senior British Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman on Saturday called for Forbes’ suspension while an investigation took place.
According to the Guardian, Corbyn during an appearance in Birmingham Saturday said Forbes “has apologized for the remarks that she transmitted through social media. If there are complaints about her they will be investigated, not by me, but by our party system.”
But he added: “She has made her position very clear. Lisa Forbes is a good woman. Not a racist in any way whatsoever.”
A Labour source added to the paper: “Lisa Forbes did not make any comments herself or share any posts. She liked a video about showing solidarity with Christchurch victims without reading the accompanying text, which Facebook users know is an easy thing to do. She has fully accounted for this genuine mistake and apologized.”
A joint statement by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust said this week that Forbes’ explanation that she had not seen the anti-Semitic content “stretches the limits of credulity, especially given the high profile problems in Labour and the previous anti-Semitism scandals in [Forbes’] Peterborough Labour circles.”
Forbes had also signed a letter opposing Labour’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of anti-Semitism, saying members should be free to criticize Israel’s “system of apartheid and ongoing ethnic cleansing,” according to the Jewish Chronicle. The letter expressed backing for boycotts of Israel.
The Forbes revelations were the latest scandal to rock Labour, which has been dogged by allegations of harboring anti-Semitic elements, driving many Jews away from a party once considered their natural home.
Several Labour MPs have expressed discomfort with Forbes’ recent win in a Peterborough special election due to her past statements.
The Times also reported Saturday that Labour MP Rupa Huq is the subject of complaints by former staff members over alleged anti-Semitism. Huq denied the claims, one of which was said to include a 2,500-word dossier of alleged incidents of Jew hatred, saying they are “false and malicious.”
In one complaint, Huq is accused of taunting a then-staffer over a Star of David badge on his bag.
A second complainant said Huq had a former employee “listen to her conspiracy theories surrounding the Jewish community.”
Last month the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission announced it had launched a formal investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party.
The EHRC, the main government anti-racism watchdog, said it would probe whether the main opposition party led by Corbyn had discriminated against, harassed or victimized Jews in violation of the UK’s 2006 Equality Act.
A formal investigation is rare step by the commission, which last investigated a political party in 2010, when it probed the far-right British National Party’s ban on minorities.
It may compel the Labour Party to reveal details of its handling of anti-Semitism in recent years, including internal communications such as text messages and emails.
Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive surge in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead the party.
AFP contributed to this report.