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UK's Labour Party torn apart by anti-Semitism row

  • Published at 03:54 pm March 5th, 2019
British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn
British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during the Party of European Socialists annual meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, December 7, 2018 Reuters

Nine MPs have quit the party in recent weeks to sit as independents

Britain's main opposition Labour party is in turmoil over mounting allegations of anti-Semitism on leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn's watch - and the party's way of dealing with the issue.

The row has exposed deep divisions between Labour members denouncing Corbyn's complacency, and his hard left supporters defending him to the hilt.

Nine MPs have quit the party in recent weeks to sit as independents, with many citing alleged anti-Jewish racism seeping through Labour's ranks as a primary reason.

One of them, the Jewish lawmaker Luciana Berger, received death threats amid a slew of abuse.

She concluded that the party has become institutionally anti-Semitic since Corbyn took over in 2015.

Adam Langleben, 32, who is Jewish, joined Labour in 2006 but quit in February.

"I decided to leave because the party is no longer the party I decided to join 13 years ago," Langleben told AFP.

He was elected to the local authority in Barnet, north London, a borough with a significant Jewish community.

Losing his seat in last May's local elections, he said the backlash at the polls was because "Jewish voters did not want to vote for the Labour Party."

He said he received death threats and a "torrent of abuse" from Labour members who claimed that he was working for the Israeli government, while hate mail was sent to his home address.

Langleben submitted a dozen complaints to the party which went nowhere. Eventually, he threw in the towel.

The polemic has been running since veteran socialist Corbyn came to power in the party, bringing an influx of new members with him.

Corbyn, 69, has spent his political life backing pro-Palestinian causes.

He insists he is not anti-Semitic and has pledged to "root out" the problem which he recognises has "occurred in pockets" within the party.


Matters first came to a head in March last year when a series of incidents and events led to the rare step of British Jewish leaders writing a joint letter claiming "enough is enough." Protests were held outside parliament.

The letter claimed a "repeated institutional failure" within Labour to tackle the problem and accused Corbyn of siding with anti-Semites "again and again."

In July, the party drew up a new code of conduct on anti-Semitism - but it stopped short of signing up in full to the definition drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Peter Mason, national secretary of the Jewish Labour Movement, told AFP that the relationship between the party and the community was now "fundamentally fractured."

However, Jenny Manson has a different point of view. Co-chair of the pro-Corbyn Jewish Voice for Labour group, she told AFP that she had "never experienced anti-Semitism in the Labour Party."

She said the allegations had "a quality of a witch-hunt, McCarthyism" about them, and were aimed at destabilising Corbyn's leadership, which has veered away from its centrism under former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Conspiracy theories

How did a party, whose last leader Ed Miliband was Jewish, find itself in such a situation?

Professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the University of London, said surveys suggested anti-Semitic attitudes were no more widespread within Labour than other parties.

However, two subjects get the Labour left "to talk about Jews": one is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and "the other is the left populist critique of corrupt elites," he said.

Discussion of stereotypes and conspiracy theories associated with Jews has flourished online.

"They draw on the idea that Jews are exerting a malign conspiratorial power through their supposed control of international finance, sometimes of the media," said Feldman.

Jon Lansman, who founded the pro-Corbyn grassroots Momentum movement, said on Twitter last month: "Of Labour's 500,000 members, perhaps a few hundred are hardcore anti-Semites.

"If we improve our processes, we can make sure they are kicked out."

In August, Corbyn admitted that Labour had a "real problem" with anti-Semitism.

However, the party's handling of the issue continues to provoke turmoil.

Last Wednesday, Labour MP Chris Williamson was suspended following claims that the party has been "too apologetic" about anti-Semitism.

At the weekend, general secretary Jennie Formby and deputy leader Tom Watson engaged in a heated war of words about how complaints should be dealt with.

Some have given up trying to fix the problem, like Langleben, who now supports the fledgling Independent Group created by Berger and others who fled the Labour ranks.

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