Former Labour MP quits party over anti-Semitism row

Former Labour MP quits party over anti-Semitism row

Tom Harris, who represented Glasgow until 2015, says Corbyn-led party is ‘just not the place for me any more’

Former Labour MP Tom Harris. (Screenshot)
Former Labour MP Tom Harris. (Screenshot)

A former UK Labour MP and transportation minister has resigned from the party after over 30 years as a member amid mounting accusations that Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn, has become a haven for anti-Semites.

In his letter to party headquarters this week, Tom Harris said the party was “just not the place for me any more,” according to a Guardian report.

“It’s not a comment on any people who have chosen to remain. This is just what’s right for me. It’s just a personal thing,” he told the Scottish newspaper the Herald.

Harris represented Glasgow from 2001-2015, and was transport minister from 2006-2008.

Harris has been a critic of Corbyn, writing a number of columns in the UK media this year slamming the Labour leader. In March, Harris penned a piece in the Telegraph titled “Jeremy Corbyn apparently cares more about power than expunging anti-Semitism from Labour” in which he said the party “could acknowledge that problem’s existence, confront it and deal with it. Or it can shrug, mutter something about UN security council resolutions and continue to court the support of those on the far left who are the source of the problem.”

“Jewish members of the party have scant reason for optimism about which course will be pursued,” he wrote at the time.

Harris published a book last year titled “Ten Years in the Death of the Labour Party 2007-2017,” where he outlines “the seeds of Labour’s travails and its hostile takeover by the hard left.”

Corbyn has faced growing criticism since Friday for an opinion piece in which he dismissed accusations from the British Jewish community that the prospect of his party coming to power posed an “existential threat” to Jews.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves the stage after delivering an address at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 24, 2018. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images via JTA)

Corbyn had been expected to make a speech to the Jewish community, but ultimately published an article on the Guardian website Friday entitled “I will root anti-Semites out of Labour — they do not speak for me.”

The opinion piece addressed mounting accusations that Corbyn’s party is a haven for anti-Semites and that, if not one himself, he has done little to stop them.

“I do not for one moment accept that a Labour government would represent any kind of threat, let alone an ‘existential threat,’ to Jewish life in Britain, as three Jewish newspapers recently claimed,” Corbyn wrote, before dismissing it as a kind of “overheated rhetoric.”

“This statement from Jeremy Corbyn bears all of the hallmarks of his spin doctors’ usual techniques,” Gideon Falter, head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, told the Daily Mail. “He has released a vague and meaningless article, just as the Jewish community goes home to begin the Sabbath.”

UK Jewish newspapers unite against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, July 2018. (via JTA)

The editor of one of the newspapers dismissed Corbyn’s article in a tweet on Friday.

“So keen is Corbyn to engage with Jews that he publishes this (awful) piece on a Friday night, for a Saturday paper. So not a single observant Jew can engage with it,” wrote Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard.

The Labour leader was also accused of a “copy and paste” apology, with critics noting the similarities between Friday’s article and one he wrote for London’s Evening Standard newspaper in April.

The article also came under fire from the Jewish Labour Movement, which called for action, not words.

“Today, other than another article bemoaning a situation of the Party’s own making, nothing has changed. There is no trust left. We find ourselves asking once again for action, not words,” JLM said in a statement.

Corbyn claimed on Friday that “driving anti-Semitism out of the party for good, and rebuilding that trust, are our priorities,” before vowing to take Jewish fears seriously.

“I do acknowledge there is a real problem that Labour is working to overcome. And I accept that, if any part of our national community feels threatened, anxious or vulnerable, not only must that be taken at face value but we must all ensure those fears are put to rest,” he wrote.

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/JTA)

Pressure on Corbyn has intensified after a series of anti-Semitic scandals involving both members of the party and himself.

Last month, the party’s ruling body and leadership endorsed a code of conduct that excluded several of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance examples of anti-Semitism.

The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is the benchmark for countless organizations, as well as 31 countries including the US, Canada, Germany, France, and the UK itself.

The party has come under fire from Jewish members of Labour and the British Jewish community for not adopting the full definition — particularly several items that define anti-Semitism masquerading as legitimate criticism of Israel.

The current Labour guidelines on anti-Semitism, approved last month, omit at least four points featured in the original IHRA list, including accusing Jews of “being more loyal to Israel” than their own country; claiming that Israel’s existence is a “racist endeavor”; applying a “double standard” on Israel; and comparing “contemporary Israeli policy” to that of the Nazis.

Among the scandals personally involving Corbyn that have emerged in the last week alone were the revelations that he gave an interview to Iraqi TV in 2015, in which he called the Balfour Declaration “bizarre” and questioned the founding of Israel; that he hosted a parliamentary event in which a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to the Nazis; and that in 2011, Corbyn was among a group of predominantly Labour politicians who proposed changing the name of Holocaust Memorial Day to “Genocide Memorial Day – Never Again For Anyone,” to reflect that “Nazism targeted not only Jewish [people].”

In the past Corbyn has called the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups his “friends.” In 2016, an interparliamentary committee accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

read more: