Like Jeremy Corbyn, any British politician who condemns Israel’s treatment of Palestinians risks being sucked into the vast, toxic sludge surrounding the issue of antisemitism
The day after Labour leader Keir Starmer suspended his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, from membership of the parliamentary Labour Party, the Daily Telegraph published an article headed “Keir Starmer must go further…” by freelance journalist Angela Epstein. It contained a new list of demands. “It is not enough,” wrote Epstein, “that Jeremy Corbyn… has been suspended. Or that he has had the whip removed… He needs to be ‘sacked’ as an MP. And booted out of parliament.”
There is, of course, no legal mechanism for expelling Corbyn from parliament. He has committed no crime and was overwhelmingly re-elected by his constituents as recently as last December.
No matter; Epstein has a plan for overcoming this difficulty. She suggests that Starmer move an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, which for the moment only provides for the expulsion of sitting members sentenced to a year or more in prison.
For good measure, she also wants the former director of the National Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty), Shami Chakrabarti, who conducted an internal inquiry into the Labour Party’s handling of alleged antisemitism, to be expelled from the House of Lords, and Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who made a fairly mild speech critical of Israel, subject to some unspecified “censure”.
Walking a fine line
Other lobbyists have submitted to the Labour Party’s complaints department a list of 15 Labour MPs who they want to see purged. Some appear to regard criticism of Israel as evidence of antisemitism. The line is a fine one and, given the sensitivities, should be walked with care.Antisemitism report: By suspending Corbyn, Starmer is tearing Labour apart
Many of those shouting loudest appear not to have read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report that triggered the recent uproar.
As Peter Oborne and Richard Saunders have pointed out in Middle East Eye, one of the report’s main criticisms of Labour’s internal processes appears to relate to the period when Corbyn’s sworn enemies were still in charge of the party machine. Oborne and Saunders even suggest that alleged interference by the leader’s office seems to refer to attempts by the leader’s office to discover why so little progress was being made.
What is Corbyn’s offence? To be sure, he has over the years been unwise in some of the platforms he has shared and some of the company he has kept, but his principal offence is that he was the first leader of any major British political party not to be an unequivocal supporter of Israel.
Corbyn’s election as Labour leader brought more than 200,000 new members into the Labour Party. Many were young idealists attracted by his evident authenticity; others were former Labour members who had left the party over previous disappointments, not least the Blair government’s support for the US invasion of Iraq.
The rise of Corbyn also attracted a small number of far-leftists whose views were not in tune with Labour values, and a relative handful of antisemites attracted by his record of support for the Palestinians. It is the latter who are the source of Labour’s recent woes, and Corbyn is not wrong when he says their activities have been blown out of all proportion by those who have a different agenda.