Former UK minister: Anti-Semitism row risks chances of next Labour government

Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement Ivor Caplin is not planning on leaving the British party, but says the problem must be solved ‘quickly and effectively’

Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)
Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

A former UK minister and current chair of Labour’s Jewish affiliate group said in an interview published Saturday that the row over anti-Semitism was of concern to the public and could affect the party’s chances of forming the next government.

“It’s been depressing for members of the Jewish community, but not just for us, for members of the public as well, because they want to see the Labour party as an effective opposition to this shambolic Tory government,” Ivor Caplin told the Guardian.

“I think that, for Labour, it is a very dangerous position to be in. It will affect any chance of a Labour government.”

Caplin, who stood down as an MP in 2005, said that he wasn’t considering leaving the party, but that the ongoing crisis was starting to affect some within the party.

Ivor Caplin, a leader of the Jewish Labour Movement. (YouTube screenshot)

“In some constituencies, the constant aggressive nature of some people is wearing on activists and that is not right,” he told the newspaper. “One of the founding traditions of the Labour party is we are able to have different views but walk out and go for a drink afterwards, because that is what Labour is about. It is not about aggressive, nasty behavior.”

The chair of the Jewish Labour Movement also claimed that most members of the party were concerned about anti-Semitism, including those who had voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be leader, and said that it was up to the leader to solve the crisis.

“Jeremy has won two leadership elections, he did better in terms of seats than we had expected in 2017, and he is the leader. I would rather we solve this problem quickly and effectively rather than make it just about the leader of the Labour party.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been under mounting attack for his own allegedly anti-Semitic positions and for failing to root anti-Semitism out of Labour, Britain’s main opposition party. Earlier this week, Britain’s former chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, called Corbyn a dangerous anti-Semite. Labour dismissed this claim as absurd and offensive.

Veteran British lawmaker Frank Field quit the Labour Party grouping in Parliament Thursday, saying the opposition party had become a “force for anti-Semitism.”

The latest firestorm to engulf the party followed the revelation last week of comments made by Corbyn in a 2013 speech at the Palestinian Return Centre in London, where he said of a group of British “Zionists”: “They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faces the media after delivering the Alternative MacTaggart lecture exploring the role of the media, at the Edinburgh Television Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, on August 23, 2018. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

Corbyn claimed that he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”

Two weeks ago, footage surfaced of Corbyn accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him. Corbyn called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader two years ago, a statement he has since walked back.

One of the photos published recently showed Corbyn hosting a panel featuring a senior Hamas officials in 2012, including members convicted of murdering Israelis in terror attacks.

Earlier in August, the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn in 2014 laying a wreath at the grave of the Palestinian terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Jeremy Corbyn (second from left) holding a wreath during a visit to the Martyrs of Palestine, in Tunisia, in October 2014. (Facebook page of the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia)

Allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour have grown since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Some in the party allege that Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitic abuse to go unchecked.

The issue has split the party, with some Corbyn supporters accusing opponents and right-wing media outlets of misrepresenting the leader’s views.

The dispute recently boiled over after the party proposed adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that differed from the one approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a move that was met with anger from Jewish groups and the country’s current chief rabbi.

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