Jeremy Corbyn
Politics & Current Affairs

Labour’s Anti-Semitism Row: Jeremy Corbyn Returns5 min read

Sir Keir Starmer has readmitted Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s former leader, after an anti-Semitism row, but not as an MP.

After the now former MP for Islington North was suspended from the party, there has been a decision to readmit Jeremy Corbyn.  He was dismissed for criticising both politicians, outside and inside the Labour Party, and the media for “dramatically” overstating the problem of anti-Semitism. This was following a report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into the problem, published at 10 am on Thursday 29th October.

Keir Starmer talking
Credit: Rwendland

Sir Keir Starmer released a statement shortly after Mr Corbyn’s suspension, saying, those describing the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as “exaggerated” or a “factional attack” were “part of the problem and should be nowhere near the Labour Party”. He later clarified his statement, adding, although the suspension was “difficult” – and not his but the party’s general secretary, David Evans – “it was the “right action”. 

The anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party is nothing new. To understand this, there has to be a distinction between key terms: Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism.

What is the distinction?

Anti-Zionism is the opposition to the State of Israel to which many Jewish people claim they have a right.

Anti-Semitism is the prejudice against Jewish people, which has been in existence for centuries. 

The State of Israel was declared in 1948 and since the distinction between two terms has blurred. It is not always clear whether criticism of Israel is merely a criticism of the Government or motivated by prejudice of Jewish people. Some have even accused anti-zionism is only a modern form of what is actually anti-semitism. Others claim such accusations only serve to “silence reasonable criticism of Israel”. 

What has Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have to do with all of this?

The Labour Party was initially very popular with the Jewish community. This was when the party supported the State of Israel. However, their support shifted when, after the Middle East War of 1967, Palestians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip came under the occupation of Israel. Since the Labour Party, a left-wing party, has traditionally always spoken up for the rights of minorities, their support is now for the Palestinians, who have faced severe restrictions under Israeli rule under the guise that, without a peace settlement, Palestine may pose a threat to Israel.

In recent years, Jeremy Corbyn has personally been criticised for being “too slow to stamp out” anti-semitism from within the party, due to which some Jewish MPs feel unsafe and the party has seen resignations over the way Mr Corbyn handled anti-semitism in the party as its leader. 

Jeremy Corbyn talking
Credit: Chatham House, London
Suzanne Plunkett © Copyright 2017

What do MPs say of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension, and, now, readmittance? 

Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension caused mixed reactions. 

The Socialist Campaign Group, a body representing Labour Left MPs tweeted on the day that they “firmly oppose the decision to suspend Jeremy Corbyn”, pledging to “work tirelessly for his reinstatement” – although this statement was not supported by all within the body. 

The Labour MP for Nottingham East, Nadia Whittone said she was “saddened” by his suspension but did not support his statement. John McDonnell warned the party was “drifting towards a hell of a row over use of language, misinterpretation, followed by overreaction”, suggesting he did not support the suspension. 

Mixed reactions

The Jewish Labour Movement called this step “extraordinary” and “After his failure of leadership to tackle anti-Semitism, so clearly set out in the EHRC’s report, any reasonable and fair-minded observer would see Jeremy Corbyn’s statement today as insincere and wholly inadequate.” 

Former Labour MP, Dame Louise Ellman, said the decision was a “backward step”. The co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, Amanda Milling criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s readmittance in a letter to Sir Keir Starmer in which she said Sir Keir claimed the party was under “new leadership” and should now “prove it” by “permanently” expelling him. 

 Among those who supported Mr Corbyn’s return is Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite Union and a “close ally of Mr Corbyn”, who described the reinstatement as “correct, fair and unifying decision”.

The co-Chairperson of the co-Corbyn Group, Jewish Voice for Labour, Jenny Manson, told the BBC Newsnight host,  “an awful lot” of the group’s members are “happy” he has been readmitted. She added, they would be “very sad indeed” if the whip wasn’t returned to him.

 

Will his whip return? Would this be right?

The whip is unlikely to be returned to Jeremy Corbyn for at least another 3 months. The Leader of the Labour Party said he would not be welcoming him to the parliamentary Labour Party because Mr Corbyn’s response to the report “undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour Party’s ability to tackle anti-semitism”. Although, the situation would be “kept under review”, he said. 

This has triggered backlash. Some Labour MPs have accused the leader of “jeopardising” the party unity”. The co-Chair of the grassroots group, Momentum, said Keir Starmer was“making it up as he goes along”. He further called it a “blatant attack on the left at a time when Labour should be united in taking on the Tories”. 

Corbyn’s critics

However, Labour MP, Neil Coyle, an “outspoken critic” of Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to anti-semitism as leader, said the independent process that Sir Keir Stamer said would be set up in response to the report should look at the case. He said that the new Labour Party was delivering on his “self-confessed first priority” to “rebuild trust” between the party and the Jewish Community.

The whip cannot be restored until the new, genuinely independent complaints process assesses this case and ensures a fair decision is made”, which he said was a “legal requirement” and the “morally right thing to do”, he added.

 

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