UK Labour’s No. 2 admits anti-Semitism row could hurt party at the ballot

Days before election, amid leaks showing unresolved complaints about anti-Jewish sentiment, John McDonnell says Corbyn’s party learned its lesson from ‘horrible, horrible period’

Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, speaks ahead of the Grenfell fire one-year anniversary solidarity march organized by Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigade's Union, in Westminster in London, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, speaks ahead of the Grenfell fire one-year anniversary solidarity march organized by Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigade's Union, in Westminster in London, June 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

A top leader of Britain’s Labour party apologized on Sunday for “the suffering we’ve inflicted” on the British Jewish community and admitted that the anti-Semitism scandal rocking the party could affect its prospects in the country’s December 12 general elections.

“We’re doing everything possible and we are going to learn more lessons and we want to be the shining example of anti-racism that the Labour party should be,” John McDonnell, a close ally of Labour’s far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn and his effective number 2, said in a BBC interview on Sunday.

Jewish groups and others have accused Corbyn of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party, and of being anti-Semitic himself. Corbyn and his supporters have rejected the charge, claiming Labour had made an effort to clamp down on anti-Semitic members.

But documents leaked from the party’s internal disciplinary department and publicized on Sunday showed over 130 cases of party members expressing virulently anti-Semitic views, including calls for the extermination of Jews, and being allowed to remain in the party for months and even years after complaints against them were filed.

Some of the cases involved Labour members calling for the “extermination of every Jew on the planet” and labeling them “bent nose manipulative liars.”

Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn holds his party’s manifesto book aloft as he addresses a crowd outside the venue of a general election campaign event in Swansea, south Wales, December 7, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

The documents show that half of 100 cases dealt with between the summer of 2018 and May 2019 ended with no action taken or with just a warning, a Sunday Times report said. Some members were ordered to attend diversity training — which Labour has not set up.

The cases that reportedly went unpunished included members denying and distorting the Holocaust, sharing news stories about “a Jewish agenda to obtain the conquest of the gentile world,” and saying it is justified to have a “dim view of the Jews.”

Asked if the complaints of the Jewish community could affect the party’s ballot-box showing, McDonnell, Labour’s top voice on economic issues as shadow chancellor of the exchequer, told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show,” “I worry that this has had its effect. We’ve done everything that I think we can possibly do. We’ve apologized to the Jewish community.”

He added that Labour must “learn lessons, of course we have, all political parties. Because it isn’t just the Labour party.”

He said he hoped the party emerged from “this horrible, horrible period… actually showing respect to the Jewish community and tackling this issue and enabling the Labour party to tackle anti-Semitism in our wider society.”

Illustrative: Anti-Israel activists react outside a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London, September 4, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Trying to control the damage from the Sunday revelations, McDonnell insisted the Sunday Times report was outdated, and there were now “well below” the 136 cases cited by the paper still outstanding.

“It was a small number, but I don’t care how many it was,” he said. “One anti-Semite is too many, and what we’ve done is we’ve started kicking them out in numbers. The reports this morning that I saw in the papers cited a number of examples. Those people have been expelled or suspended.”

According to the leaked documents, it reportedly took Labour more than ten months to expel a staffer from Nottingham who last year said that “Jews represent a viral infection that need to be completely eliminated” and added that he wanted the “complete extinction of all Jews.”

The party refused to say whether it had referred that case to the police.

Also in 2018, a member from Birmingham called for drowning all Jews in the Red Sea since they are “a cancer on us all,” explaining that there was “no need for gas chambers anyway gas is so expensive and we need it in England.” He was only expelled more than eight months later.

Louise Ellman (courtesy)

Other cases included Labour members blaming the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and IRA terrorism on Jews, and saying the family of former Jewish Labour MP Margaret Hodge were “rancid” and “all in it together… the family of Israel.”

“This reduces to rubble my party’s claim that anti-Semitism in the party is being dealt with,” commented former Labour MP Dame Louise Ellman, who recently quit the party after 55 years.

“It is beyond belief that members can make statements of Holocaust denial and call for Jews to be completely exterminated yet remain in the party for months or years or receive a mere slap on the wrist,” she added.

Responding to the Times article, Labour argued that the number of outstanding cases cited was “categorically untrue” and added that offenders would now be expelled within weeks after a new fast-track procedure was introduced by Corbyn.

“This is proof of the robust action the party is taking to root out anti-Semitism. No other party has introduced rapid expulsion processes,” it said.

British Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. (Sophie Brown/CC BY-SA 4.0/ Wikimedia commons)

On Thursday, a dossier from the Jewish Labour Movement accused Corbyn of personally engaging in anti-Semitism in nine cases.

The accusation was featured in a damning 53-page report filed to a body tasked with probing anti-Semitism within the UK’s main opposition party.

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.

Corbyn has insisted that he is not anti-Semitic and his party has dealt with the problem. Last week, he said he was “sorry for everything that has happened” regarding the ongoing tensions between his Labour Party and the British Jewish community, after earlier refusing to say so when repeatedly asked by the BBC’s Andrew Neil.

Last month, Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis took an unprecedented stand urging voters to see the “new poison” that has taken root in the party, and expressing fear for the fate of Jews in the country should Corbyn become prime minister.

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.

The Britain Elects poll aggregator has put the Conservatives at 42 percent, Labour at 33% and the Liberal Democrats at 13%.

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the snap election — the third in Britain in nearly five years — last month to try to get a parliamentary majority which would enable him to secure backing for his Brexit deal.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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