UK Jewish Labour Movement backs Lisa Nandy for party head; Thornberry drops out
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UK Jewish Labour Movement backs Lisa Nandy for party head; Thornberry drops out

The leader of Labour Friends of Palestine and a harsh critic of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, Nandy has said she was ‘ashamed’ by anti-Semitism in the party

Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy in January 2019 (YouTube screenshot)
Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy in January 2019 (YouTube screenshot)

British Labour MP Lisa Nandy on Friday received the endorsement of the Jewish Labour Movement for leadership of the party, amid an ongoing race to replace outgoing, highly controversial leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Nandy said she was “honored” by the support of JLM.

The JLM, one of the oldest societies affiliated with the party, did not send members out to canvass for Labour candidates ahead of the elections last December, in which Corbyn led Labour to a landslide defeat, amid a rift with the party over its handling of charges of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was eliminated from the race Friday after failing to secure enough nominations from local constituencies, leaving the contest as a three-way between Nandy, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey.

(L-R) British Labour leadership candidates, Emily Thornberry, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy pose for a photo during the Leader hustings event in Liverpool, north west England on January 18, 2020. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

Starmer is currently seen as the clear front-runner in the race, to be decided April 4, with Nandy something of a long shot. Both he and Nandy are seen as centrist candidates, while Long-Bailey is part of Corbyn’s inner circle and the preferred candidate on the party’s left wing.

Starmer was a close second to Nandy in the JLM vote, winning 45 percent of votes to Nandy’s 51%. Thornberry won only 1.9% and Long-Bailey received 1.4%.

During a televised debate Thursday all of the candidates apologized to Jewish party members for Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism within the party and said much more needed to be done to tackle the issue. All vowed to make it a top priority if elected.

Labour Party lawmaker Keir Starmer speaks to the media following the launch of his campaign to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, in Stevenage, England, Sunday Jan. 5, 2020 (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

Nandy said she was “ashamed” by racism in the party, called the matter an “existential” threat and added she had at one time considered leaving her position in Labour over it. “We gave the green light to anti-Semites,” said Nandy. “Never again do I want to be door knocking with members of the party and be called racist.”

Nandy is also notably the head of the parliamentary group Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, which currently numbers 91 of the party’s 202 MPs in the House of Commons. Starmer and Long-Bailey are also members.

She has accused Israel of violating international law and human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, and has called Israel’s policies “the deliberate destruction of the hopes of a generation.”

Labour is reeling from its worst election defeat since 1935. The successor to veteran socialist Corbyn will be charged with fighting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to reshape Britain’s economy after taking it out of the European Union on January 31.

Accusations of anti-Semitism within party ranks have plagued Labour under Corbyn’s leadership, and are seen as a significant factor in its crushing defeat in December’s elections.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home in Islington, north London, December 16, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/PA via AP)

A number of former party officials accused him and his allies of interfering in efforts to address the issue, in a BBC program aired this summer. Corbyn has come under prolonged attack — including from within the party — for allegedly allowing anti-Semitism to spread in the party and for initially refusing to adopt fully the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in Labour’s new code of conduct.

Much of the fear of Corbyn was spurred by revelations about his past record that have emerged since he became Labour leader. These include him describing Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”; defending an anti-Semitic mural in East London; and a seeming willingness to associate with alleged anti-Semites, terrorists and Holocaust-deniers.

Labour’s sharp shift to the left during Corbyn’s four-year rule saw it sign up in December to what was officially dubbed “the most radical [election platform] in modern times.”

The party was also injected with a new wave of members who embraced socialism and rejected the more moderate “New Labour” approach of former prime minister Tony Blair.

This new membership ultimately decided to take no stance on Brexit at all — a position aimed at appeasing both the euroskeptic trade unions and EU-backing voters around London.

Post-election studies showed voters pinning Labour’s loss on its indecision over Brexit and seeming inability to confront anti-Semitism.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Britain’s Shadow Business secretary speaks on stage during the Labour Party Conference at the Brighton Centre in Brighton, England, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Yet Starmer served as a senior member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and delivered a keynote address at the party last conference in September.

“Don’t trash the last Labour government and don’t trash the last four years,” he said in January.

Long-Bailey has been branded a “continuity Corbyn” candidate by the media and is backed by the party’s hard left.

She conceded that “we didn’t get our messaging right” and “were not dealing with [anti-Semitism] effectively.”

But both she and Starmer have called for party unity and castigated the last nine years of Conservative rule.

The next UK election is not set to be held for another five years.

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