Top Jewish donor dumps Labour for 'endorsing anti-Semitism'

UK Labour official quits ruling body after backing Holocaust-denying candidate

Comedian Eddie Izzard to replace Christine Shawcroft, who had sought to overturn suspension of would-be councilor who shared article claiming Holocaust was a hoax

Screen capture from video of UK Labour party National Executive Committee member Christine Shawcroft. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of UK Labour party National Executive Committee member Christine Shawcroft. (YouTube)

The UK Labour Party’s Christine Shawcroft on Saturday resigned from the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), after it emerged that she had called for reinstating a local council candidate who had been suspended  for sharing an article claiming the Holocaust was a hoax.

Comedian Eddie Izzard will replace Shawcroft.

“It has been a privilege to serve on the Labour party national executive committee for the last 19 years, and I was standing down in September in any event. I have, however, decided to resign with immediate effect,” Shawcroft said in a statement, according to The Guardian.

“It is clear that my continued membership of the NEC has become a distraction for the party and an excuse for endless intrusive media harassment of myself, my family and friends. I reaffirm my complete opposition to anti-Semitism and my abhorrence of Holocaust denial, and support all measures to tackle this within the party,” she said.

Izzard, Shawcroft’s replacement, is a prominent supporter of the British Labour Party, and has campaigned vocally to stay in the European Union.

British comedian Eddie Izzard. (CC, BY, : Nickjwebb at English Wikipedia)

Last year, the British comedian was at the center of a row with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and was banned from running in the Palestine Marathon, after he refused to cancel a show in Tel Aviv.

Shawcroft’s resignation came as Sir David Garrard, a prominent Jewish donor to Labour, announced he would no longer have anything to do with the party because of the anti-Semitism scandals. The political party he once supported “no longer exists,” said Garrard, according to The Guardian. Garrard, a retired property developer, had given Labour around £1.5m ($2.1 million) under three different leaders since 2003.

Said Garrard: “As one of the former leading political and financial supporters of the Labour party, of which I was a member for so many decades, I no longer feel any affinity with, or connection to, what it seems to have become. I have watched with dismay and foreboding the manner in which the leadership has, in my view, over the last two years, conducted itself. I consider that it has supported and endorsed the most blatant acts of antisemitism. And yet it has failed to expel many of those who have engaged in the grossest derogatory fantasies about Jewish/Zionist conspiracies — and Jewish characterizations and accusations which conjure up the very kind of anti-Semitic attacks that led to such unbearable consequences for innocent millions in the past.

Garrard went on to charge that “there no longer exists a party which even pretends to maintain and promote the principles and the integrity of what always was, to me, the Labour party. On the contrary, I have been witnessing, since Mr Corbyn became leader, a philosophical and a political policy which espouses, in nearly every respect, the very antithesis of the great party under whose reputation, and under whose flag, it now seeks to fly and where so many other Jews were once so proud to stand.”

Shawcroft, who already on Wednesday resigned as chairman of the party’s internal disputes panel, had originally argued that the “alleged” anti-Semitic Facebook post was “taken out of context.” After an internal email she sent setting out her position was leaked to the Times newspaper, Shawcroft said she was stepping down from her position on the disputes panel.

Announcing her resignation from the disciplinary board in a statement, Shawcroft said when she had issued her recommendation, she hadn’t actually looked at the offending post. Only later did she become aware of the “abhorrent” content of the Facebook post that led to the suspension of Alan Bull last week.

Bull had shared a link last year on his Facebook page to an article titled “International Red Cross Report Confirms the Holocaust of Six Million Jews is a Hoax.” The article included a doctored photo of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp with the famous slogan above the gates changed from the original “Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free) to “Muh Holocaust.”

The “Muh Holocaust” phrase is a reference to the notion held by some opponents of Israel that Jewish people use the Holocaust as way of deflecting criticism of Israel, the Daily Mail reported. Prior to his suspension, Bull was a Labour candidate in the upcoming Peterborough council elections scheduled for May 3.

Bull has said that he reposted the article for purpose of debate, the BBC reported.

On Sunday Shawcroft sent an internal email to fellow members of the party’s National Executive Committee in which she wrote that Bull’s post, which she described as “a Facebook post taken completely out of context and alleged to show anti-Semitism,” was being used in a political campaign against him by rival Labour members.

“I am concerned that party disciplinary procedures are being used in the pursuit of partisan disputes in local parties, wasting a great deal of staff time in the process,” she wrote.

She also noted that the party had known about the complaint for months without doing anything about it.

“I think we should reinstate his membership and allow him to contest the ward for which he has been selected,” she wrote.

Stepping down from the disputes panel on Wednesday, she wrote: “I sent this email before being aware of the full information about this case and I had not been shown the image of his abhorrent Facebook post.

“Had I seen this image, I would not have requested that the decision to suspend him be re-considered. I am deeply sorry for having done so.”

“In light of this, I have decided to stand down as chair of the disputes panel to ensure my wrong and misguided questions on this case do not cause doubt or anxiety about our processes.”

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Referring to a large demonstration by Jewish groups against alleged anti-Semitism in Labour that was held Monday outside parliament, Shawcroft wrote: “This week we have seen a clear expression of the pain and hurt that has been caused to Jewish members of our party and the wider Jewish community by anti-Semitic abuse and language, and by the reality of anti-Semitism being denied and downplayed by others.”

During the event, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament. It was an unprecedented rally organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership, and attendees bore signs reading “No to anti-Semitism,” as pressure ramped up on Labour and its leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Also Wednesday, British Jewish leaders told Corbyn that they would only agree to his request for a meeting if he fulfills a number of conditions on tackling anti-Semitism within his party.

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council said the meeting, which Corbyn proposed after they organized the rally outside parliament, would only happen if the opposition leader took a number of public steps first, including taking responsibility for tackling anti-Semitism in his party and distancing himself from criticism of Labour lawmakers who attended Monday’s protest.

Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition party in 2015.

Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after he retained his parliamentary seat in Islington north London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Some in the party say Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians, has allowed abuse to go unchecked.

The latest furor erupted over a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn supporting the artist behind a street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes. Corbyn has said he regrets not looking closely at the “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” mural before offering support to the artist.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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