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Labour leader Starmer accuses Long-Bailey of antisemitism over shared article

Former leadership rival sacked for tweeting interview in which actor Maxine Peake suggested US police were taught 'neck kneeling' by Israeli secret services
Long-Bailey was a close ally to former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (AFP/file photo)

Britain's opposition Labour Party sacked shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey on Thursday after she shared an article on social media in which it was suggested that the US police officer who killed George Floyd had received training from Israeli forces. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused Long-Bailey of posting an article that included an "antisemitic conspiracy theory".

The article in question was a wide-ranging interview with British actor Maxine Peake for the Independent website, which was published on Thursday. 

Long-Bailey retweeted the article early on Thursday, with the comment: “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond.”

In the interview, Peake is quoted as saying: “Systemic racism is a global issue… The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

An initial version of the article referred to a 2016 Amnesty International report on training programmes for US law enforcement officers in Israel. The reference has since been removed.

In a statement, Amnesty International said it had “documented appalling crimes under international law and human rights violations meted out to Palestinians by members of the Israeli security forces”.

But it said it had never reported that “neck kneeling” was a tactic taught by Israeli secret services.

“Allegations that US police were taught tactics of ‘neck kneeling’ by Israeli secret services is not something we’ve ever reported and the article in question has rightly been amended to acknowledge that,” it said.

Palestinian activists and human rights campaigners have shared images since Floyd's death of Israeli security forces personnel appearing to use similar restraint techniques in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

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Such comparisons have revived concerns about widespread US exchange programmes that send American police officers to train under Israeli law enforcement and military officials.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesperson, told Middle East Eye: “There is no procedure that allows an officer of the Israel police department to carry out an arrest by placing a knee on the neck of a suspect."

He said the technique could not have formed part of Israeli training programmes delivered to American police officers.

"It doesn't exist in any [Israeli] police textbook," he said.

But Fady Khoury, a Harvard Law School civil and political rights attorney with Adalah legal centre for minority rights in Israel, told MEE: “There is plenty of documentation out there of violent arrests that involve kneeling on detainees' heads and necks.

"We have seen this not only in the occupied territories when soldiers perform arrests, but inside Israel by police officers as well."

Peake later wrote on Twitter that her remarks about American police training and its sources had been "inaccurate".

"I find racism & antisemitism abhorrent & I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary," she wrote.

In later tweets, Long-Bailey said her Twitter post was not an endorsement of all aspects of Peake's comments in the article.

"I retweeted Maxine Peake’s article because of her significant achievements and because the thrust of her argument is to stay in the Labour Party," Long-Bailey said. "It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article."

A spokesperson for Starmer, who was elected as the party's leader earlier this year, said that he "has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority".

Long-Bailey was a close ally of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who faced accusations of antisemitism throughout his leadership, which ended in April 2020. Corbyn and his supporters have rejected the accusations. 

A former solicitor, Long-Bailey ran against Starmer in the Labour leadership contest, winning almost 28 percent of the vote. She was appointed education spokesperson in April and has served as MP for Salford and Eccles since 2015.