Labour Anti-Semitism: Why Starmer is right to grab the bull by the horns
In his very first speech as Labour leader, Keir Starmer called anti-Semitism “a stain on our party” and promised to “tear out this poison by its roots”. Oratory aside, his actions have so far backed up his pledges to the Jewish community. In late June, he sacked Corbyn ally and former leadership hopeful Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet for sharing a tweet propagating conspiracy theories about Israel. While the sacking prompted fresh attacks from the Labour left that Starmer was purging socialist voices and bringing the party further to the right, it marked a highly significant moment for the party: that anti-Semitism, in whatever form, will no longer be allowed to go unpunished.
The importance of an aggressive approach towards anti-Semitism cannot be understated given that new cases of anti-Jewish tropes continue to surface from Labour officials on the regional level. One such example is Labour councillor Anne Pissaridou from Brighton and Hove, who was suspended on July 15th for sharing an article from 2016 concerning the Rothschild family. Hers was the second such dismissal after her colleague Nicole Brennan was suspended in March for protesting against the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism – a subject that marred the previous Labour leadership, too, since it was only in September 2018 that the IHRA definition was formally adopted by the party’s ruling body. (These two cases alone have collapsed Labour’s already fragile control of Brighton and Hove City Council, leading to the Greens now forming a minority administration.) Unsurprisingly, both councillors were elected on a Momentum platform. In fact, the rise in anti-Semitism within the Labour Party seems almost perfectly correlated with the rise to power of the Labour left in 2015. It can hardly come as a surprise, therefore, that Corbyn and his allies were so slow and weak to punish anti-Semites in the party, that anti-Semitic Labour activists were effectively emboldened and empowered, while Jewish Labour members have been made to feel like second-class citizens. It is a disgrace that this was allowed to happen, and it should serve as an embarrassment to all Labour supporters, but that is why it is so vital that Labour’s ‘new management’, as Sir Keir described it at PMQs, act with force and swiftness in ridding the party of anti-Jewish racists, and righting the wrongs of the past five years.
Of course, to restore trust with the Jewish community, it is not simply a question of chucking out the anti-Semites by the collar – it is also vital to re-establish positive ties with Jewish groups and collaborate to make the UK a better and safer place for Jewish people. To this effect, Starmer has already had a positive impact: after a leadership call with Jewish leaders, Starmer was praised for having “achieved in four days more than his predecessor in four years in addressing antisemitism within the Labour party”. This speaks to how effective the new Labour leader has shown himself to be in bringing about the start of a culture change within the party, but also lays bare the amount of damage Corbyn and his allies did to the party’s reputation and its relationship with the Jewish community. Starmer’s decisiveness in stamping out anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head also has wider implications – it demonstrates conviction and strong leadership, qualities that contrast heavily with the incumbent bumbling resident of Number 10. The electorate have noticed this, too. An Opinium survey carried out from the 9th-10th July found that on the question of strong leadership, Boris Johnson scored a net negative rating of -2, while Sir Keir Starmer attained an impressive +28, illustrating that voters are so far more convinced by the new Labour leader than the faltering prime minister.
Despite the party being under ‘new management’, however, the impact of the old guard is still being felt. Whistle-blowers inside the party who sounded the alarm on anti-Semitism during Corbyn’s tenure are considering suing Labour. Such legal action is also reportedly draining the party’s finances, putting massive strain on electioneering resources. Sir Keir has inherited a party in total disarray, whose legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the voters have gone into freefall. Big bucks will surely need to be spent on revitalising Labour’s image and agenda, and communicating this to the electorate. But the legal havoc wreaked by Corbyn and his team have jeopardised our ability to do this.
Starmer has made a sound start to the role, and his firm handling of the anti-Semitism scandal is, and will continue to be, an important litmus test in determining whether Labour has learned its lessons or not.
(Photo: By Rwendland - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88887038)