British cabinet minister Michael Gove, a close ally of newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson, called allegedly anti-Semitic expressions by an incoming Conservative MP a “cause for concern,” but warned against jumping to conclusions before an independent investigation is concluded.
Just days before the December 12 UK general elections, the Conservative party announced it had opened investigations into three of its own candidates over specific allegations of anti-Semtism.
The announcement came December 7, as the rival Labour party was battling widespread accusations from the British Jewish community that its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had tolerated rising anti-Semitism in the party that was once a political home to a large majority of the UK’s Jewish voters.
The Conservatives trounced Labour in the Thursday race, delivering the left-wing party’s worst result since 1935. The Conservatives took 365 seats, a jump of 48 seats and well above the 326 needed for an outright majority. Labour lost 60 seats to receive 203, some of them in districts it had held unchallenged since the end of World War II.
But days before the Conservatives’ success at the ballot box, concerns were raised about three of its candidates’ views on Jews.
Sally-Ann Hart, running for the constituency of Hastings, shared a video in 2012 with an image implying that Jewish billionaire George Soros controls the European Union. Separately, she liked a Nazi slogan on Facebook.
St. Helens South and Whiston candidate Richard Short questioned in a tweet in 2013 whether Jewish journalist Melanie Phillips’s allegiance was to the UK or Israel.
Lee Anderson, running in Ashfield, was reportedly a leading member of a Facebook group that promotes conspiracy theories about Soros, a favorite bogeyman of the right.
In its December 7 statement, which named the three candidates being investigated, the Conservative party said it was committed to “stamping out the scourge of anti-Semitism in our society and supporting our Jewish community.”
After the announcement, Labour called for all three candidates to be suspended from the Conservative party, drawing a Conservative response indicating the party would not rush to judgment.
“Our complaints process is rightly a confidential one but there are a wide range of sanctions to challenge and change behavior, including conditions to undertake training, periods of suspension and expulsion, and these are applied on a case-by-case basis,” the party said.
Gove was asked in a Sunday interview on Sky News about the investigation into Hart, who won the seat in the Thursday vote.
“It is a cause of concern,” he said, according to quotes carried by the Jewish Chronicle. “But what I cannot do is pass judgement here until that independent investigation has concluded.”
He could not say whether Hart was being considered for a prominent parliamentary post.
Asked about Anderson, who also won his seat, Gove said he was “not aware that there is any question” about Anderson’s party membership status or parliamentary assignments.
“We do need to be scrupulous looking at the behavior of all candidates. There is no place for anti-Semitism, for Islamophobia or for any form of prejudice in our politics, but it is important that when allegations are made they are properly and promptly investigated,” he said.
On Friday morning, after the extent of Labour’s rout became clear, Gove declared that Britain’s Jewish community should “never have to live in fear again.”
“I want to say something to a very special group of people, our Jewish friends and neighbors,” Gove said in a speech at a victory rally in London.
“You have had to live in fear for months now with concerns we will have a prime minister who trafficked in anti-Jewish rhetoric and embraced anti-Jewish terrorists. You should never have to live in fear again,” Gove said. “Today we celebrate a victory for the British people. They comprehensively rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s politics.”
Labour was rocked by the anti-Semitism allegations, which drew an unprecedented rebuke of Corbyn by Britain’s otherwise nonpartisan chief rabbi.
Early this month, Corbyn was accused by the Jewish Labour Movement, one of the oldest groups affiliated with the party, of personally engaging in anti-Semitic acts on nine occasions.
The accusation was featured in a damning 53-page report filed by the group to the body tasked with probing anti-Semitism within Britain’s main opposition party and its failure to adequately deal with complaints about the matter.
Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry. Thousands of cases of alleged hate speech against Jews have been recorded within Labour since 2015, when Corbyn was elected to lead it. The party is currently being formally investigated by the UK’s anti-racism watchdog.
Much of the worry over Corbyn is spurred by revelations about his 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.
Corbyn has vehemently denied the accusations of anti-Semitism, and his supporters have charged that media bias and pro-Israel activists facilitated the campaign because of his pro-Palestinian views.
Agencies contributed to this report.