Facing growing anger, Corbyn pushes speedy expulsion of anti-Semites from Labour

Support for UK opposition leader falls amid continuing anti-Semitism controversy; party’s Lords reject no-confidence motion in him, but warn they may reconsider

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London, on June 12, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his house in north London, on June 12, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/AFP)

The controversial leader of Britain’s Labour opposition has proposed changes to speed up the expulsion of anti-Semites from the party, amid growing frustration from its members and MPs over the issue.

Just hours after Labour’s members in the House of Lords decided not to vote no confidence in their party opposition leader, Corbyn told a meeting of the shadow cabinet that he would form a new panel of party officials with the power to immediately expel members deemed to hold offensive views.

According to British media, he told the shadow ministers that he sought to “confront this poison” of anti-Semitism in the party “and drive it out.”

His proposal did not include independent oversight over the expulsion of anti-Semitic members, as some MPs have demanded.

While the shadow cabinet, made up of the party’s top leadership, voted in favor of Corbyn’s proposal, it also said it “supports the proposal to introduce independent oversight of our processes,” according to the Guardian, citing a joint statement from shadow cabinet members.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Tolga Akmen)

An unnamed Labour source told the Guardian that such oversight was still “under discussion and consideration.”

Expediting the expulsion process for anti-Semitic party members has been a key demand of the Jewish community and many Jewish Labour members.

Citing the party’s own figures, the Mirror reported Monday that Labour had received 625 anti-Semitism-related complaints against party members in the first six months of 2019, but only eight members were expelled during that period.

As he announced the faster expulsion procedure, Corbyn dodged a problematic no-confidence vote in Labour’s Peers Group, the party’s membership in the House of Lords.

An extraordinary meeting of Peers Group representatives on Monday voted down a no-confidence motion against Corbyn, but warned that they could still pass such a measure at a later date.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, right, former prime minister Tony Blair, center right, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, center, and former prime minister Gordon Brown, rear left, attend the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph in London, November 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The warning comes after Labour’s shadow Brexit minister and Peers Group member, Baroness Hayter, was fired for appearing to compare Corbyn to Hitler, when she said senior Labour officials close to him had a “bunker” mentality not unlike the top Nazi leadership at the close of World War II.

Hayter’s comments were directed at the party leadership’s silence amid the rising furor over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

A source “close to Corbyn” told the Mirror newspaper that a no-confidence vote by the party’s Lords would be “both undemocratic and absurd for unelected peers with no mandate to seek to remove an elected leader who twice won the landslide support of Labour’s membership and led Labour to the biggest increase in the party’s vote since 1945.”

Corbyn has faced growing frustration in the party ranks over what critics have called a systemic failure to uproot anti-Semitic members.

A new poll on behalf of the Times of London revealed Monday that some 70 percent of the 1,100 Labour members polled agreed that anti-Semitism was a “genuine” problem within the party, while 48% believed Corbyn had handled the issue either fairly or very badly.

Keith Walker engaging the driver of a van transporting a billboard about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party on London’s Parliament Square, April 17, 2018. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

In contrast, 47% of those surveyed said he was dealing with Jew hatred in the party well or fairly well.

Corbyn himself admitted on Sunday that his party has a “real problem” with anti-Semitism that must be tackled properly, while also claiming that the issue had been exaggerated by some rival parties and media.

“While other political parties and some of the media exaggerate and distort the scale of the problem in our party, we must face up to the unsettling truth that a small number of Labour members hold anti-Semitic views and a larger number don’t recognize anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories.”

Corbyn told shadow ministers on Monday that the existing complaints process was “not good enough. Our members don’t want to share their party with anyone who is racist – and they want to be able to demonstrate there is no place for antisemitism among them. Some of the hate and bigotry displayed on social media would count as gross misconduct in any workplace, and must be treated similarly robustly in the Labour party,” he said.

Also Monday, Labour announced the launch of new “education materials” online to educate party members about anti-Semitism, which Corbyn said would be the first in a series on “a number of specific forms of racism and bigotry.”

Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, addresses the crowd in Parliament Square at the #EnoughIsEnough demonstration organized by UK Jewish leaders to protest anti-Semitism in the Labour party, March 2018. (Marc Morris/Jewish News)

While he insisted the claims of anti-Semitism in Labour were exaggerated, he noted that “the worst cases of anti-Semitism in our party have included Holocaust denial, crude Jewish-banker stereotypes, conspiracy theories blaming Israel for 9/11 or every war on the Rothschild family.”

He urged members to “engage with the materials we are producing […] so our movement can be the strongest anti-racist force in our country.”

The new steps come less than a week after 60 Labour peers bought a full page ad in The Guardian newspaper accusing Corbyn of “allowing antisemitism to grow in our party and presiding over the most shaming period in Labour’s history.”

Labour has grappled with anti-Semitism in its ranks since the far-left Corbyn was elected party chief in 2015, with fresh scrutiny coming after a number of former party officials accused him and his allies of interfering in efforts to address the issue, in a BBC program aired earlier this month.

One former Labour official interviewed by the BBC accused Corbyn of having “done more than anyone in modern political history to bring about the rise of anti-Semitism,” and described how interference with his efforts to deal with the problem almost drove him to suicide.

Former Labour party MP Luciana Berger (C), arrives with MPs Chris Leslie (3R), Angela Smith (2R) and Gavin Shuker, to speak at a press conference in London on February 18, 2019, where they announced their resignation from the Labour Party, and the formation of a new independent group of MPs (Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The party has been subject to an ongoing investigation by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, a government watchdog that is looking into thousands of cases of anti-Semitic hate speech in the party’s ranks since 2015.

In 2009, Corbyn called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends and said that Hamas is working to achieve peace and justice. In 2013, he defended an anti-Semitic mural. In 2014, he laid flowers on the graves of Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The following year he said British “Zionists” don’t understand British irony.

Jewish MP Luciana Berger left the party in February, calling it “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Prior to quitting Labour, Berger faced a no confidence vote, later canceled, by local party members who said she was “continuously criticizing” Corbyn amid the ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the party.

According to a poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle in March, some 87 percent of British Jews believe that Corbyn is himself an anti-Semite.

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