Holocaust survivor’s son quits UK Labour over ‘extremism, anti-Semitism’
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Holocaust survivor’s son quits UK Labour over ‘extremism, anti-Semitism’

Ian Austin, the adopted child of a refugee, is ninth MP to quit the British opposition party, but says he won’t be joining the newly formed centrist Independent Group

Illustrative: UK Labour MP Ian Austin accuses party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism during a Commons debate on April 17, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Illustrative: UK Labour MP Ian Austin accuses party leader Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism during a Commons debate on April 17, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

A ninth British lawmaker on Friday announced he had left the Labour Party, accusing it of having a “culture of extremism, anti-Semitism and intolerance” under leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Ian Austin told the BBC that the leadership of the party had failed to tackle the problem of hatred toward Jews, and had turned the party into a “narrow sect.”

“I grew up listening to my dad, who was a refugee from the Holocaust, teaching me about the evils of hatred and prejudice,” Austin told the BBC.

“One of the main reasons I joined the Labour Party as a teenager here in Dudley more than 35 years ago was to fight racism and I could never have believed I would be leaving the Labour Party because of racism too,” he said.

Austin has frequently criticized Corbyn in the past, saying that under his leadership some members of the Labour Party “go beyond legitimate and passionately held views about the plight of the Palestinians and tip over into anti-Semitism.”

Last year he faced disciplinary action by the party after accusations he swore at party chairman Ian Lavery during a “heated discussion” about Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism.

Austin is the adopted son of a Holocaust survivor and has always said his politics and his father’s story are inextricably linked.

“That left me with a lifelong conviction that prejudice leads to intolerance, then to victimization and eventually to persecution, and that every one of us has a duty not to stand by, but to make a difference — to fight discrimination, intolerance and bigotry wherever we find it,” Austin told Parliament in a speech to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in 2012.

Related story: A quiet English town fights anti-Semitism thanks to a Holocaust survivor’s son

However, Austin said he was not joining eight other ex-Labour lawmakers and three Conservatives who this week formed the centrist Independent Group.

Labour MP Joan Ryan, chair of Labour Friends of Israel (Courtesy)

Joan Ryan, who headed the Labour Friends of Israel, announced late Tuesday that after four decades in the party she was leaving Labour to sit with the newly formed Independent Group in Parliament.

Ryan, the MP for Enfield North in London, said the party had become “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism” under Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians. She had long expressed concerns about Corbyn.

Seven Labour legislators quit Monday, accusing the party leader of failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party and of mounting a weak opposition to Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for leaving the European Union.

The breakaway lawmakers hope to gain members from among disgruntled pro-Europeans in both the Labour and Conservative parties.

The original seven announced Monday they were breaking away and forming an independent group.

“This has been a very difficult, painful but necessary decision,” one of the MPs, Luciana Berger, said at a hastily arranged press conference in London, calling the party “institutionally anti-Semitic.”

“I am leaving behind a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation,” she added.

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)

Earlier this month Berger, who is Jewish, faced a no confidence vote, later canceled, by local party members who said she was “continuously criticizing” leader Corbyn amid the ongoing row over anti-Semitism in the party.

Many Labour lawmakers are unhappy with the party’s direction under Corbyn, a veteran socialist who took charge in 2015 with strong grassroots backing.

They accuse him of mounting a weak opposition to the Conservative government’s plans for leaving the European Union, and of failing to stamp out a vein of anti-Jewish prejudice in the party.

Labour lawmakers last week sent an angry letter to Corbyn over what they described as a lackluster response from the party’s leadership to lawmakers’ calls for transparency over its handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

Earlier this month, lawmakers unanimously passed a motion demanding that party leaders provide detailed data in writing by February 11 on the handling of complaints about anti-Semitism, with some MPs accusing top officials in the party of covering up the figures.

The internal party motion passed at Labour’s weekly parliamentary meeting in the lower house, escalating internal rifts over the issue. The motion called “on the party leadership to adequately tackle cases of anti-Semitism, as a failure to do so seriously risks anti-Semitism in the party appearing normalized and the party seeming to be institutionally anti-Semitic.”

MPs also demanded that party officials such as General Secretary Jennie Formby or leader Jeremy Corbyn attend the meeting to answer questions about the data.

Jennie Formby at the 2016 Labour Party conference. (Wikimedia commons/Rwendland)

But the seven MPs said in their letter last week that no one came to speak to them at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. An email containing just nine months’ worth of information was sent to lawmakers by Formby 90 minutes before the meeting, they said.

“The failure to respect the request for this simple information does nothing to dispel the accusation that Labour is an institutionally anti-Semitic organization,” the seven MPs charged.

Some lawmakers also flatly rejected the figures, saying they don’t believe them.

In her email, Formby offered details on the extent of anti-Semitism complaints between April 2018 and January 2019, saying 673 complaints were received by party institutions about Labour members. (An additional 433 complaints were revealed to be against individuals who were not actually members of the party.)

Of these, 211 were deemed sufficiently serious to warrant an investigation, leading to 96 Labour Party members being immediately suspended. In another 44 cases, members left the party voluntarily once challenged with evidence of anti-Semitism. Another 12 were expelled from the party by the National Constitutional Committee, the only body with the authority to do so.

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/Tolga Akmen)

Several hundred others were either given one-off written warnings or their cases were dropped over lack of evidence. In all, just over 300 individuals were investigated or suspended for anti-Semitic actions in the nine months covered by the figures.

The row in the party comes amid rising levels of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Britain and a spike in Jewish concern over anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

Last week, British Jewry’s watchdog and security group, the Community Security Trust (CST), reported that 2018 had seen the third consecutive record high for reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. At 1,652 incidents nationwide, it was 16 percent higher than the previous year and the highest number since CST began keeping track in 1984.

Meanwhile, an EU report published in December found some 90% of Jews across Europe felt that anti-Semitism had increased where they live.

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