Top UK union boss accuses Labour MPs of ‘smearing’ Corbyn over anti-Semitism
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Protesters shout Free Palestine as 50 Labour MPs pass

Top UK union boss accuses Labour MPs of ‘smearing’ Corbyn over anti-Semitism

Len McCluskey lashes out as 50 Labour MPs accompany Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth to face activist accused of anti-Semitism; he also accuses Israel’s Labor party of ‘disgusting libel’

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

Illustrative: Leader of Britain's Unite trade union Len McCluskey. (Public domain)
Illustrative: Leader of Britain's Unite trade union Len McCluskey. (Public domain)

LONDON — Britain’s most powerful trade union leader today accused Labour MPs of “smearing” Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism.

Len McCluskey, a close ally of the Labour leader and a fierce critic of Israel, suggested that the MPs should be “held to account” for their actions.

McCluskey’s comments in an article for the center-left New Statesman magazine were released just hours after around 50 Labour parliamentarians marched alongside their colleague, Ruth Smeeth, to a disciplinary hearing where she was giving evidence against a party member accused of anti-Semitism. Several hard-left activists demonstrating outside the panel reportedly shouted “Free Palestine” as the Labour MPs marched past them.

In his incendiary intervention, McCluskey also accused Avi Gabbay, the head of Israel’s Labor Party, of a “cynical and outrageous smear” after Gabbay broke off relations with Corbyn earlier this month.

The issue of anti-Semitism has “joined a line of others in being used by a group of backbench Labour MPs to attack and undermine Jeremy Corbyn,” McCluskey argued.

McCluskey’s assault came as Corbyn struggled to contain the negative fallout from a meeting he had Tuesday with Jewish community leaders.

In a joint statement, the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council described the meeting as “a disappointing missed opportunity” and accused the Labour leadership of failing to agree to take the “minimum level of action” necessary to tackle the crisis of anti-Semitism which has rocked the party for the past four weeks.

Smeeth, who last week delivered a powerful speech in parliament detailing the anti-Semitic abuse to which she has been subjected, was appearing at a hearing of Labour’s National Constitutional Committee in central London.

The body, which has the power to expel members, was meeting to decide the case of Marc Wadsworth.

At the 2016 launch of a report into anti-Semitism in the party, Wadsworth, a pro-Corbyn activist, publicly challenged Smeeth and accused her of working “hand in hand” with the media. The accusation is considered by some as an anti-Semitic trope, harkening to conspiracies in which Jews control of media.

Smeeth walked out of the 2016 event in tears.

Neither Corbyn nor Shami Chakrabarti, the author of the report who later became a member of the Shadow Cabinet, condemned Wadsworth’s remarks.

Labour leader Corbyn was later filmed laughing and chatting with his supporter, Wadsworth, who appeared to tell him: “I outed Smeeth, bloody talking to the Torygraph.” Smeeth had been spotted speaking with a reporter from the Daily Telegraph, a Conservative-supporting newspaper, who was covering the launch.

Wadsworth claims he did not know Smeeth was Jewish and denies the charges against him. He was suspended by the Labour party over the allegations of anti-Semitism following his remarks to Smeeth at the 2016 event. Wednesday’s hearing of the disciplinary committee was to decide whether he was guilty, and if so, whether he should be expelled.

British Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth walks out of the launch of the party’s anti-Semitism report in London on June 30, 2016, after a Jeremy Corbyn supporter accuses her of controlling the media (screen capture: YouTube)

Supporters of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which campaigns against expulsions, held a protest outside Wednesday’s hearing where people were heard shouting “Free Palestine.”

Among the prominent backbenchers accompanying Smeeth were the former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Smith, who challenged Corbyn for the leadership in 2016.

The Labour MP Wes Streeting, who organized the parliamentarians to walk with Smeeth, said, “I was proud to see so many Labour MPs and peers from across the party — including shadow ministers — accompanying Ruth this morning in a show of friendship and solidarity. But no victim of abuse should ever have to walk through a protest against them to give evidence to a hearing. It is an appalling state of affairs.”

Counter-strike against ‘promiscuous critics’ from Red Len

In his article, McCluskey — who heads the Unite union, Labour’s biggest donor — issued a thinly veiled threat against Corbyn’s critics.

“I look with disgust at the behavior of the Corbyn-hater MPs who join forces with the most reactionary elements of the media establishment,” he wrote.

He added that he understood “why there is a growing demand for mandatory re-selection.” This is the process which makes it easier for hard-left dominated local parties to block moderate Labour MPs from standing for re-election.

UK Labour MP Wes Streeting. (courtesy)

McCluskey suggested that “promiscuous critics” who “wish to hold Corbyn to account can expect to be held to account themselves.”

McCluskey wrote that “a small number” of Labour members express “entirely unacceptable anti-Semitic views and attitudes” and said that combating such behavior is “not merely legitimate, but essential.”

But, he continued, “just as it is legitimate to raise and combat anti-Semitic views, it is also legitimate to contextualize the attacks of right-wing MPs without being accused of minimizing or denying anti-Semitism.”

“I have fought anti-Semitism and anti-Semites all my life, including physically on the streets on occasion, and I need no lectures from anyone else on the subject,” McCluskey wrote. “I am not sure that some of the voluble backbench critics of Jeremy Corbyn can say as much.”

McCluskey reserved some of his strongest words for Gabbay. He quoted the Israeli Labor chairman’s attack on Corbyn’s “hostility … to the Jewish community and the anti-Semitic statements and actions you have allowed.”

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

This, argued Unite leader McCluskey, was a “disgusting libel of which Gabbay should be ashamed.”

“In my view, withdrawing those remarks is essential for any resumption of normal relations with the Israeli Labor Party,” McCluskey continued.

“I have not heard a single one of the Labour leader’s critics on this issue, including my friends in the Jewish Labour Movement, acknowledge that Gabbay [has] gone too far,” McCluskey said.

The Unite leader singled out a number of Labour MPs by name, accusing them of forming “a dismal chorus whose every dirge makes winning a Labour government more difficult.”

In a reference to Labour MPs who last week defied the party leadership and supported Britain’s role in the US-led bombing of Syrian chemical weapon facilities, McCluskey suggested: “There is, to say the least, a marked overlap between those who backed Theresa May in risking a new bloody intervention in the Middle East, and those who work overtime trying to present the Labour Party as a morass of misogyny, anti-Semitism and bullying.”

Illustrative: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (3rd from right) during a debate in the UK parliament over anti-Semitism within the party. (Screen capture: Parliamentlive.tv)

McCluskey also appeared to denounce Labour MPs who participated in last week’s parliamentary debate on anti-Semitism, which saw Corbyn come under attack.

“To watch as these so-called social democrats tried to demean and attack, in front of our enemy, a decent and honorable man who has fought racism and anti-Semitism all his life … made my stomach churn,” the Unite leader argued. “To see Tory MPs cheer and applaud them was shameful.”

MPs are no longer willing to be dismissed

A number of the Labour MPs attacked by McCluskey responded with defiance.

“No abuse, intimidation or threats of deselection will prevent me from voicing the concerns of my Jewish constituents about anti-Semitism in the Labour party,” Tweeted Streeting. Also on Twitter, Ian Austin suggested, “Can’t Len McCluskey understand how offensive it is for Jewish people who have been caused such distress by anti-Semitism in the Labour Party for him to dismiss their concerns as smears?”

Referring to a legal challenge to McCluskey brought by a rival he narrowly beat when he ran for re-election as Unite’s general secretary last year, John Woodcock, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said, “Len McCluskey should focus on jobs for Unite members while he remains in post.”

Under Corbyn’s leadership, the union and the party have become increasingly intertwined. Unite’s former political director, Jennie Formby, this month became the party’s new general secretary, while McCluskey’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, also serves an adviser to Corbyn.

Last year, McCluskey claimed that allegations of anti-Semitism in the party were “mood music that was created by people trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.”

“I’ve never been at a meeting where there was any anti-Semitic language or any attacks on the Jewish nation; they would have had short shrift at any meeting that I was at,” The Guardian quoted McCluskey as saying.

Anger at McCluskey’s comments sparked a campaign by the pressure group We Believe In Israel, calling on him to apologize. Its director, Luke Akehurst, labeled as “perverse” the Unite leader’s dismissal of concerns about anti-Semitism as being politically motivated.

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