UK Labour lawmakers said set to quit party over anti-Semitism scandal

Group of 15 ‘rebels’ reportedly plan new party, push for no-confidence vote against Corbyn, as ex-Labour PM Tony Blair slams him, laments ‘truly shameful episode’

Jeremy Corbyn at a Labour event in Stretford, England, March 22, 2018. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Jeremy Corbyn at a Labour event in Stretford, England, March 22, 2018. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A group of parliament members from the UK’s Labour Party are reportedly on the verge of breaking away and forming a new party out of frustration with Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to anti-Semitism and his handling of the widespread scandal surrounding the issue.

After veteran Labour MP Frank Field quit the Party on Thursday, saying the opposition party had become a “force for anti-Semitism,” up to 15 fellow lawmakers intend to follow in his footsteps, The Times reported on Sunday.

Labour “rebels” have also been pushing to hold a no-confidence vote against Corbyn, hoping to recruit more MPs to join a breakaway, the report said.

Corbyn has been under mounting attack for his own allegedly anti-Semitic positions and has been accused of failing to root anti-Semitism out of Labour, Britain’s main opposition party. Earlier this week, Britain’s former chief rabbi Lord Sacks called Corbyn a dangerous anti-Semite. Labour dismissed that claim as absurd and offensive.

Meanwhile, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair called Corbyn’s handling of anti-Semitism “a truly shameful episode for the Labour party,” The Times said.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair takes part in a discussion on Britain in the World, held in London, May 24, 2016. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

In an interview with Euronews to be aired Monday, Blair said: “It’s causing real difficulties for those of us who want to stay in the Labour party and want to see it come back to sense.”

He added: “To see a situation where the Jewish community… feels really alienated and anxious, it’s a really terrible thing to have done.”

Ivor Caplin, a former UK minister who chairs Labour’s Jewish affiliate group, said in an interview published Saturday that the row over anti-Semitism was of concern to the public and could affect the party’s chances of forming the next government.

“It’s been depressing for members of the Jewish community, but not just for us, for members of the public as well, because they want to see the Labour party as an effective opposition to this shambolic Tory government,” he told the Guardian.

“I think that, for Labour, it is a very dangerous position to be in. It will affect any chance of a Labour government.”

The latest firestorm to engulf the party followed the revelation last month of comments made by Corbyn in a 2013 speech at the Palestinian Return Centre in London, where he said of a group of British “Zionists”: “They clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

Corbyn claimed that he had used the word Zionist “in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people.”

Two weeks ago, footage surfaced of Corbyn accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during a 2014 rally, as a Hamas flag waved behind him. Corbyn called the terror group “friends” prior to his election as Labour leader two years ago, a statement he has since walked back.

One of the photos published recently showed Corbyn hosting a panel featuring senior Hamas officials in 2012, including members convicted of murdering Israelis in terror attacks.

Earlier in August, the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn holding a wreath during a 2014 ceremony at a Tunisian cemetery in which he appeared to be standing near the graves of Palestinian terrorists involved in the slaying of 11 Israeli athletes and team members at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The photos appeared to show Corbyn in front of a plaque honoring members of the Black September terrorist organization, 15 yards (approximately 13 meters) away from the graves of those killed in a 1985 airstrike. The photos of Corbyn at the cemetery were condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jeremy Corbyn (second from left) holding a wreath during a visit to the Martyrs of Palestine, in Tunisia, in October 2014. (Facebook page of the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia)

Allegations of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour have grown since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015. Some in the party allege that Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitic abuse to go unchecked.

The issue has split the party, with some Corbyn supporters accusing opponents and right-wing media outlets of misrepresenting the leader’s views.

The dispute recently boiled over after the party proposed adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that differed from the one approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a move that was met with anger from Jewish groups and the country’s current chief rabbi.

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