'He's done more in four days than Corbyn did in four years'

In talk with Jewish leaders, new UK Labour chief vows to root out anti-Semitism

Keir Starmer apologizes for anti-Jewish hatred in party, promises independent complaints review process; community heads relieved, appreciative

Keir Starmer of the UK Labour party delivers a speech at an election campaign event in Harlow, England, November 5, 2019. (AP/Matt Dunham)
Keir Starmer of the UK Labour party delivers a speech at an election campaign event in Harlow, England, November 5, 2019. (AP/Matt Dunham)

JTA — Newly elected British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer told Jewish leaders on Tuesday that it is “very important to me to seek to address the disgrace of anti-Semitism in our party as soon as possible.”

At a video meeting with representatives of several UK groups, Starmer committed to setting up an independent complaints process for anti-Semitism in the party, according to a statement issued afterward. He also asked for a report on all outstanding cases to be in his hands by the end of the week.

In his victory speech Saturday, the 57-year-old human rights lawyer apologized for how the Labour Party has handled anti-Semitism within its ranks and committed to making change.

After the video meeting, which included the party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, Starmer said he repeated the apology.

“Over the last few years, we have failed the Jewish community on anti-Semitism,” he said. “Labour is a proudly anti-racist party and, going forward, it will not be enough to ‘pass the test’ on anti-Semitism. We need to set new standards for best practice.”

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

In a statement, the Jewish leaders expressed appreciation for Starmer’s focus on the problem.

“While we would have fully understood the need to focus entirely on Coronavirus at this time, Keir Starmer has already achieved in four days more than his predecessor in four years in addressing anti-Semitism within the Labour Party,” they said, referring to Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

“As we discussed with Keir and Angela, we want to have a normal relationship with Labour whereby we can discuss the full range of issues affecting our community, from religious freedom to Israel, from Jewish schools to poverty, from refugees to the environment – and not just antisemitism,” the statement said.

Britain’s Prince Charles, center, meets with Israel President Reuven Rivlin, left, and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem, Thursday Jan. 23, 2020. (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)

Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who wrote an Op-ed last November indicating that Labour under Corbyn was “unfit for high office,” praised Starmer’s remarks. “He has recognized that actually there’s only one thing that matters, and that is action,” Mirvis said. “I hope that he will indeed take swift and decisive action to eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism from within the party.”

On Saturday, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said that in Labour under Corbyn, “anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok.”

Leaders from the Jewish Board participated in the video meeting along with the Jewish Leadership Council, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Labour Movement.

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