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Anti-Semitism row 'stirred up' to attack Corbyn, says suspended Labour official

Labour MPs are calling on Jeremy Corbyn to suspend the party's former disputes chief amid the ongoing row over anti-Semitism
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons, where anti-Semitism will be debated on 17 April (AFP)

LONDON - A senior Labour official who was forced to resign as chair of Labour’s disputes panel after she opposed the suspension from the party of a Holocaust denier, has claimed the anti-Semitism row threatening to divide the party is “being stirred up to attack" Jeremy Corbyn.

On Thursday night almost 40 Labour MPs and peers, including several members of the frontbench team, called on Corbyn to suspend Christine Shawcroft amid the ongoing row over anti-Semitism within the party.

This came after Shawcroft, a key Corbyn ally, was asked to resign from her role on Wednesday by Corbyn after it emerged she opposed the suspension from the party of a Holocaust denier.

Now, the Labour MPs, led by Siobhain McDonagh MP, have called for Corbyn to demand that Shawcroft should also be removed from the party’s powerful National Executive Committee (NEC).

However, Shawcroft responded on Friday with a Facebook post claiming that she would "not support a Holocaust denier" and claiming the "whole row" over anti-Semitism is being used to attack Corbyn.

She wrote: "This whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy, as we all know. That someone who has spent his whole life fighting racism in all its forms should find himself being accused of not doing enough to counter it, absolutely beggars belief."

Her comments, which look likely to reignite the row, threatened to overshadow a Passover message issued by Corbyn on Friday in which he said he hoped to move towards closer relations with the Jewish community.

In the message, released on Friday afternoon, he admitted Labour needs to "do better" in the fight against anti-Semitism and insisted he was an "ally" in the fight against abuse.

However, he risked angering Jewish groups by saying it is “sometimes harder to see [anti-Semitism] closer to home”, than abroad.

His Passover message, which comes after he issued five separate media releases on anti-Semitism this week, came after Jewish Labour peer Lord Winston told the BBC's This Week programme that Corbyn had “encouraged and endorsed” anti-Semites.

'Deeply offensive to Jews'

In a leaked letter to the party leader, the group of around Labour 40 MPs and peers, which includes several Corbyn allies, said it was “deeply concerned” that Shawcroft is still serving as a member of the NEC.

The letter added that her continued role on the body is “deeply offensive” to the Jewish community, as well as Labour members who are battling widespread allegations of anti-Semitism.

Frontbenchers Mike Kane, a shadow schools minister, Jonathan Reynolds, a shadow Treasury minister, and Lord Hunt, a shadow health minister, also signed the letter.

It was also signed by Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth, in addition to a number of backbenchers who have been consistently critical of Corbyn’s leadership.

But senior party sources told the website PoliticsHome that Shawcroft will not step down as she is not standing for re-election to the NEC, so will automatically be removed in September.

Corbyn allies have also reportedly insisted that as Shawcroft was elected to the NEC, the party leader does not have the power to remove her. Critics say he could however call for her to stand aside.

Corbyn supporters have also said that the anti-Semitism complaints are a "smear" against the party leader, in comments which have sparked furious debate on social media and counter-claims of anti-Semitism. Corbyn himself has said this is not the case.

Unbridled power in the Labour Party 

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Lord Blunkett, a former Labour home secretary, said that “in an ideal world” Shawcroft would be suspended from the party, but that it was unlikely because figures around Corbyn had “acquired unbridled power in every element of the Labour Party structure”.

Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: "Christine Shawcroft should be suspended from the Labour Party and kicked off the NEC. Those who defend Holocaust deniers should have no place in the Labour Party. If Jeremy Corbyn is serious about his new zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism he will deal with this as a matter of urgency."

Corbyn personally told Shawcroft to step down as chair of Labour’s disputes panel after it emerged that she sent an email defending Alan Bull, a former party candidate suspended over anti-Semitism allegations.

Bull was accused of sharing an article on Facebook with the headline “International Red Cross report confirms the Holocaust of 6m Jews is a hoax”. He initially said the post had been edited, before saying he posted the article without comment to spark debate.

In her email to party colleagues, Shawcroft, who is also a director of the Corbyn-backing grassroots Momentum campaign group, said the local party had made a complaint as it wanted to attack Bull for “political reasons” and that his post had been “taken completely out of context and alleged to show anti-Semitism".

Her email was subsequently leaked to the Times newspaper, prompting Corbyn to call for Shawcroft to stand down from her role overseeing Labour’s disciplinary process.

She said: "I sent this email before being aware of the full information about this case and I had not been shown the image of his abhorrent Facebook post.”

An ongoing scandal

The letter comes as Corbyn is battling to confront the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal surrounding the party, which saw leading Jewish groups protest outside Parliament on Monday. The row shows no sign of going away, and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom has announced that MPs will debate anti-Semitism in the Commons on 17 April.

The letter also comes as the Daily Telegraph reported fresh allegations that Labour had quietly reinstated at least six councillors who had posted anti-Semitic messages online. The newspaper reported that it had seen evidence that senior party members were investigated over posts made on social media, including messages about blood libel, Zionism, linking Israel to the Islamic State group and the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic tropes.

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, who works with British Jewish groups and Palestinian justice campaigners, told MEE in a statement: “The number of people spreading or casting a blind eye to ignorant, prejudiced ahistorical conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and the like is just appalling, no ifs no buts. It is in all parties but this does not mean the left does not have an issue.”

He added: "My issue with Jeremy Corbyn is the lack of leadership on the issue and the way that he has handled it, which has created a climate where many Jews do genuinely feel very uncomfortable being part of the party he leads. Like many, I do not believe he himself is anti-Semitic but I do argue that he simply has not acted hard and fast enough to make it as unacceptable as it should be."

Sue Lukes, a member of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), told MEE it was "perfectly possible" to accept there was an issue with anti-Semitism within a "small percentage" of Labour supporters and to claim that the issue was being used politically against Corbyn.

She said: "To a certain extent, it is difficult to stir things up unless there is some basis for it, and there may be an issue but people are [jumping] on the back of it to pursue other aims in the party."

JVL was founded last year to campaign for Palestinian rights, but has been accused by some in the Labour Party of not doing enough to call out anti-Semitism. It also organised the counter-protest against Monday's "Enough is Enough" anti-Semitism rally. Corbyn has described its members as "good people"

Zero tolerance for anti-Semitism?

Corbyn has emailed party members to pledge a “zero tolerance” approach to anti-Semitism. He said: “Abuse and personal attacks of any kind, on social media or in person, are never acceptable.

“I am committed to ensuring our party is a welcoming and secure place for everyone. I offer all Jewish members my assurance that this applies equally to them. I want all of us to hear Jewish voices and listen.

“If you are not Jewish, I want you to better understand the importance of this issue and what we can do together to ensure our party remains true to our values.

“Zero tolerance for anti-Semitism means what it says. We will not accept it. We have to get this right, all of us. Because divided societies cannot achieve justice.”

In further fallout from the row, MPs issued a formal protest after pro-Brexit group Leave.EU was accused of posting an Islamophobic tweet which suggested Labour was not addressing anti-Semitism to gain electoral support from British Muslims.

The tweet read: "Is it any wonder that Labour can't be bothered to deal with the disgusting antisemitism in their party when they are so reliant on the votes of Britain's exploding Muslim population? It's a question of maths for these people, not justice!"

Protesters stage a demonstration at a rally against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party on Monday (MEE/Jamie Merrill)

The message was condemned by MPs on all sides of the House of Commons, including by Conservative MP Anna Soubry and Labour MP Wes Streeting, who serve as co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which lodged a complaint.

Streeting said: "Muslim and Jewish communities will be disgusted by this cynical attempt to stir up hatred and division. Muslims and Jews know what it is like to experience prejudice based on their race and religion and will stand together against this type of rhetoric."