(April 6, 2020 / JNS) The U.K. Labour Party elected Keir Starmer over the weekend as its new leader, replacing Jeremy Corbyn, who has long been accused of letting anti-Semitism plague the party, in addition to himself holding hateful views against Jews and the State of Israel.
Starmer, 57, succeeds Corbyn, who announced after British elections in December that he would step down as party leader. In what was the Conservative Party’s biggest victory since 1987, Labour suffered its worst defeat since 1935.
The former prosecutor won 56.2 percent of the Saturday vote of more than 500,000 Labour members, defeating Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey (27.6 percent) and backbencher Lisa Nandy (16.2 percent) for the leadership spot.
In his acceptance speech, Starmer apologized to the Jewish community and pledged to eliminate the anti-Semitism in the party, calling it a “stain.”
“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities,” he said. “On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry. I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”
Starmer’s wife, Victoria Alexander, is Jewish and has extended family in Tel Aviv.
“My wife’s family is Jewish. Her dad is Jewish; their family came over from Poland. The extended family live in Israel,” he told Britain’s Jewish News in February.
Starmer has never been to Israel, but said that he’s in regular contact with the extended family and has “various visits planned, basically to take our kids for the first time.”
He told the Jewish News, “I do support Zionism. I absolutely support the right of Israel to exist as a homeland. My only concern is that Zionism can mean slightly different things to different people, and … to some extent it has been weaponized. I wouldn’t read too much into that. I said it loud and clear—and meant it—that I support Zionism without qualification.”
Starmer added, “If the definition of ‘Zionist’ is someone who believes in the state of Israel, in that sense I’m a Zionist.”
Some concern over new deputy
However, Starmer is “a member of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East, a parliamentary group that promotes support for the Palestinians and campaigns for ‘peace and justice in the Middle East through the implementation of international law and respect for human rights,’ ” reported The Times of Israel.
He has also come under criticism for inadequately combating anti-Semitism in the party under Corbyn.
Starmer was criticized in 2017 for inviting the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, which has praised Palestinian suicide-bombers who targeted Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada from 2000-05, to address the House of Commons.
Also on Saturday, Angela Rayner became Labour’s new deputy.
In 2015, Rayner published an article titled: “Inside the Factory of Genocide,” where she referenced anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein’s work The Holocaust Industry, where the author claims that American Jews exploit the Holocaust for financial and political gain. Rayner called the work “a seminal book.”
“For Ms. Rayner to refer to his book as ‘seminal,’ therefore, is to abuse the Holocaust to promote the perception of negative Jewish character traits; namely notions of dishonesty and greed,” said the U.K.-based Campaign Against Antisemitism in a dossier about her on its website. “This trope is now so widespread that, in a recent survey, a third of Europeans expressed the opinion that Jews exploit the Holocaust.”
In January 2018, Rayner reposted her article on Facebook on Holocaust Memorial Day. Rayner apologized the following November after that was discovered.
“I was reflecting on my visits to Auschwitz and speaking about the importance of remembering the Holocaust in order to continually challenge and confront anti-Semitism,” she said. “I regret the choice of quote I used to illustrate it, and now that I know more about the context I would not make that reference again.”
“I apologize for what was a genuine misunderstanding, in what was always intended to be a message of solidarity with the Jewish community,” continued Rayner. “This underscores the importance of engagement with the Jewish community to improve understanding about this issue.”
‘Rid the party of anti-Jewish racism’
Nonetheless, Jewish groups welcomed Starmer’s election as Labour’s new leader.
“We were very pleased that he and all the other leadership contenders signed up to the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges on anti-Semitism,” said the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl. “Now they must act to rid the party of the awful disease of anti-Jewish racism.”
“Keir Starmer’s election and commitment to assertively take on antisemitism are rays of light in what has been for Jews a particularly dark period in British history,” said American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris. “We agree with our partner organization, the British Board of Deputies, that concrete action to assertively eliminate hatred of Jews inside the Labour Party must now follow Sir Starmer’s pledge.”
Gideon Falter, the chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, expressed optimism though noted that Starmer has to tackle the issue of anti-Semitism in Labour immediately.
“As the new leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir has no time to lose in making good on his pledge seek out anti-Semitism, and ‘tear out this poison by its roots’ and rebuild relations with the Jewish community,” he said.
“As a Queen’s Counsel and former director of public prosecutions, [he] knows this is not a matter of politics but of justice, and justice requires an impartial process of inquiry with sanctions for offenders,” added Falter. “This must start with addressing our outstanding complaints against Jeremy Corbyn and disciplining him in order to send a message that anti-Jewish racism no longer has a home in the Labour Party.”
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