MP who quit Labour says anti-Semitism ‘intimately related’ to arrival of Corbyn

UK lawmaker Joan Ryan reportedly received threats of rape and that she be ‘thrown in the ovens’; senior UK Labour official says party has small anti-Semitism problem

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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

A former Labour MP who recently left the UK party to join The Independent Group (TIG) said Sunday that anti-Semitism was not a problem in the party until Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

“It is intimately related to their politics, to their organization and to the processes that now operate in the Labour Party,” Joan Ryan told Sky News, adding that she had no confidence it would be eradicated.

“Labour don’t understand the problem,” Ryan said. “Anti-Semitism is a problem for everybody,” she said, noting that Labour has “consistently and repeatedly refused to deal with” anti-Semitism.

Nine Labour MPs have quit the party in recent weeks, many of them citing anti-Semitism within the party.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn waves to delegates after giving his keynote speech on the final day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, northwest England on September 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF)

After leaving the party for TIG, Ryan, who chaired the Labour Friends of Israel, received threatening letters including death and rape threats. One letter writer, declaring support for Corybn, reportedly wrote that Ryan should be “thrown in the ovens.”

Ryan told the outlet the threats were “deeply misogynist” and “full of the most appalling language.”

“Threats won’t stop me doing my job,” said Ryan, who is not Jewish. “It’s an attempt to bully, to control, to stop you being honest and saying what you think,”

A senior lawmaker for the party said Sunday that while the party does have a minor problem with anti-Semitism, it is not institutional but rather the actions of a tiny number of members.

John McDonnell’s remarks came as an internal row brewed within the Labour party between the deputy leader and the general secretary on how to deal with complaints of internal anti-Semitism experienced by members.

While admitting that “clearly there is a problem,” McDonnell told Sky News that “I reject outright that Labour is institutionally anti-Semitic.”

He said figures show that only 0.1 percent of members have been involved anti-Semitic incidents.

Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, speaks ahead of the Grenfell fire one-year anniversary solidarity march organized by Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigade’s Union, in Westminster in London, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

“It’s a tiny number but it’s still a problem,” he said. “I do not want one anti-Semite in our party, I do not want one piece of evidence of someone being anti-Semitic. We’ve got to eradicate it from our party.”

He added that Labour’s leadership realizes there is an issue that needs to be dealt with and that the only disagreement is regarding the claims that “the Labor party is institutionally anti-Semitic or institutionally racist.”

Corbyn himself has admitted “time and again” that there is a problem and that it needs to be addressed, McDonnell insisted.

On Saturday The Guardian reported emails seen by its sister paper, The Observer, showing that even shortly after Corbyn declared last year that Labour would have “zero tolerance for anti-Semites,” some officials continued to oppose taking action against members accused of anti-Semitic behavior.

The emails, dated from March to May 2018, showed that, among others, an official acting on behalf of Labour general secretary Jennie Formby was against suspending several members accused of anti-Semitism. Formby is in charge of dealing with claims of hatred toward Jews.

Responding to the report, Labor deputy leader Tom Watson tweeted Saturday that the process of dealing with “racism and abuse had failed.”

“If correct, this story suggests unacceptable political interference in dealing with antisemitism cases,” he wrote. “I will be urgently consulting with colleagues before giving a fuller response.”

After revealing he received 50 complaints of anti-Semitism the week before, last Monday Watson told Labour colleagues that he was personally going to become involved in complaints of anti-Semitism so that he could raise them with party leadership.

In an email seen by the Guardian he asked that all complaints sent to Formby also be sent to him.

Formby responded by telling Watson it is “absolutely inappropriate for you to set up a vague parallel complaints monitoring system.

“You will undermine the work that my staff and I are doing and will confuse and pollute the existing formal process, compromising it and slowing it down,” she said according to the Guardian.

British Labour Party Deputy Secretary Tom Watson addressing the House of Commons, January 16, 2019 (Screen capture: YouTube)

Undaunted, Watson responded saying, “Too often those who have suffered antisemitic abuse have not heard anything about the outcome of their complaint.”

“It is my responsibility as deputy leader of the Labour Party to ensure people have confidence in our complaints system and our ability to deal transparently with the scourge of antisemitism.”

Labour has been rocked by charges of anti-Semitism in its ranks since the hard-left Corbyn became head of the opposition party in 2015, with Corbyn himself also facing such accusations — which he has denied.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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