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Campaign Against Anti-Semitism: UK Jews 'have been conned'

UK Labour readmits Corbyn after 19-day suspension, reviving anti-Semitism row

Ex-leader was temporarily ousted for refusing to accept damning watchdog report; as party’s executive committee lets him back in, his successor laments ‘another painful day’

UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives at the count center in Islington, north London, on December 13, 2019. (ISABEL INFANTES/AFP)
File: Jeremy Corbyn in Islington, north London, on December 13, 2019 (ISABEL INFANTES/AFP)

The British Labour party’s ruling body on Tuesday reinstated the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn following a brief suspension over anti-Semitism, UK media reported.

Corbyn was ousted pending an investigation after he refused to accept all the findings of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which said his office had broken the law in its handling of anti-Semitism complaints by Jewish members.

After the report was published, Corbyn had said in a statement that the problem of anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons,” leading current Labour leader Keir Starmer to suspend him.

But 19 days later, the party’s National Executive Committee reversed the suspension and readmitted Corbyn, multiple media outlets reported. However, the reports said Corbyn had not yet received an official notification and there was no word on potential conditions to his renewed membership or disciplinary action against him.

Corbyn said on Twitter he was “pleased” with the outcome. “Our movement must now come together to oppose and defeat this deeply damaging Conservative government,” he added.

Evidently discomfited by the decision by the committee, which he does not control, Starmer tweeted Tuesday evening that the decision marked “another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle anti-Semitism.” He said he would “not allow a focus on one individual to prevent us from doing the vital work of tackling anti-semitism. When I stood as leader of the Labour Party, I was clear that my first priority would be to root out anti-Semitism. It still is.”

The Jewish Labour Movement lambasted the decision as “extraordinary,” claiming that the panel was a “factionally aligned political committee.”

Slamming a placatory statement issued earlier in the day by Corbyn as “insincere and wholly inadequate,” the movement said: “Once again we find ourselves having to remind the Labour Party that Jeremy Corbyn is not the victim of Labour anti-Semitism — Jewish members are.”

Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive Gideon Falter said “the Jewish community has been conned.” He said the “shambolic suspension and readmission” was “nothing more than a media stunt to blunt the blow of the EHRC’s report.

“By readmitting Mr. Corbyn, the Labour Party has once again excused anti-Semitism and proved itself unwilling to address it,” Falter added. “Mr. Corbyn’s suspension should have remained in place until all of our complaints against him were investigated, but no investigation has been undertaken.”

Meanwhile, Corbyn allies welcomed the move and urged “unity” within the party.

Ahead of the meeting, Corbyn had restated his position in a Facebook post that was widely criticized for failing to feature an apology or an acceptance of the EHRC’s findings.

In the post, Corbyn said his intention in making the statement about the EHRC report hadn’t been to “tolerate anti-Semitism or belittle concerns about it.”

“I regret the pain this issue has caused the Jewish community and would wish to do nothing that would exacerbate or prolong it. To be clear, concerns about anti-Semitism are neither ‘exaggerated’ nor ‘overstated,'” Corbyn wrote.

“I fully support Keir Starmer’s decision to accept all the EHRC recommendations in full and, in accordance with my own lifelong convictions, will do what I can to help the Party move on.”

Last month, I was suspended from the Labour Party, after 54 years’ membership and four and a half years as party…

Posted by Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday, November 17, 2020

But the Jewish umbrella group the Board of Deputies of British Jews rejected “this pathetic non-apology.”

“If the party wants to show it is serious about tackling anti-Jewish racism, it will consign this statement, just like the culture which led to the EHRC’s damning findings, to the dustbin of history,” said its president, Marie van der Zyl. “To do otherwise would be a failure of leadership which would risk the party slipping backwards.”

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who leads the Jewish Labour Movement, accused Corbyn of refusing to take responsibility and of “seemingly permanent denial.”

Falter, the Campaign Against Antisemitism leader, said Corbyn’s statement “seeks to recast his comments gaslighting the Jewish community,” adding: “This is a desperate attempt to have his suspension lifted and reveals that he still believes that suspensions are something that happen on the whim of the leader as it did during his tenure, and not as a result of any due process.”

After the decision to suspend Corbyn, the former leader’s allies lined up behind his vow to “strongly contest” the “political” move to suspend him, while senior Labour figures rallied around Starmer, who succeeded Corbyn in April.

Responding to the devastating investigation — which found there were “serious failings” by the party’s leadership under Corbyn when it came to anti-Semitism, that its handling of the issue broke the Equalities Act, that Jewish people were harassed, and that Labour had “inadequate processes” for handling complaints — Corbyn said he didn’t accept all of its findings. He asserted that “the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”

Moments after Corbyn’s initial statement was released, Starmer, speaking at a press conference, said those who “pretend [anti-Semitism] is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.” Starmer said the report marked a “day of shame” for the party.

Britain’s Labour leader Keir Starmer delivers his keynote speech, during the party’s online conference from the Danum Gallery, Library and Museum in Doncaster, England, September 22, 2020. (Stefan Rousseau/Pool Photo via AP)

Labour promptly said it was suspending Corbyn “in light of his comments made today and his failure to retract them subsequently.”

Starmer has previously said that after a review, Corbyn could be expelled from the party. The review, Starmer told Radio 4 last month, could result in the first-ever expulsion of a former party leader from its ranks.

In an interview released after his suspension, Corbyn refused to retract his earlier statements, saying the “public perception” of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem was “very different” from the reality.

Vowing not to back down, he urged his followers to “stay in the party” to fight for left-wing principles.

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

The UK government investigation found that equality laws were broken by Labour under Corbyn and the party was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.” The watchdog found the party responsible for unlawful acts in three major areas: political interference in anti-Semitism complaints, failing to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism complaints, and harassment.

There were 23 instances of “inappropriate involvement” by Corbyn’s office and others in the 70 files examined in the report, the EHRC said, with interference happening more frequently in complaints of anti-Semitism than in other discrimination allegations.

The report by the state anti-racism watchdog came at the end of a year-long probe into allegations of anti-Semitism in the party. It gave Labour until December 10 to put its house in order or face possible legal action.

Corbyn had vowed to punish any party member caught making racist statements, yet he defended a number of members who made vitriolic anti-Semitic remarks, and expelled hardly any members despite more than 850 formal complaints.

Corbyn himself drew wide criticism for his own actions. Last year he expressed regret for having defended a 2012 anti-Semitic mural in London’s East End. The mural, named Freedom of Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane by the Los Angeles-based graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman. It depicted a group of men — seemingly caricatures of Jewish bankers and businessmen — counting their money on a Monopoly board balanced on the backs of naked workers.

JTA contributed to this report

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