Keir Starmer, the new UK Labour leader who took over from Jeremy Corbyn in April, has acted in stark contrast with his predecessor by swiftly dumping Shadow Education Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet after she shared allegedly antisemitic material on Twitter.
Long-Bailey shared a tweet praising an interview with actor Maxine Peake, where Peake shared the conspiracy theory connecting the choking death of George Floyd to alleged training of US police by Israeli law enforcement. Israel has issued emphatic denials, as have police officers involved in exchange programs with Israel, and these denials have been confirmed by Amnesty International.
“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,” an Amnesty spokesperson told The Guardian.
This is important because biased Amnesty International articles and reports attacking US-Israeli police cooperation have long been cited as a key source by those making conspiratorial allegations that Israel is somehow responsible for US police brutality.
(For more information on how anti-Israel activists are attempting to hijack the anger at Floyd’s murder into baseless attacks on Israel and Jews, see AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro piece in the upcoming July edition of the Australia-Israel Review.)
Long-Bailey, affectionately referred to as RLB by her supporters, was effectively the spiritual successor to Corbyn and had the backing of Corbyn’s left-wing factional group Momentum in the leadership contest against Starmer. She ultimately placed second.
Praise for Starmer – as well as antisemitic brickbats
Starmer positioned himself as the unity candidate, bringing together the party’s left and right to build consensus on a way forward after UK Labour’s landslide defeat in the general election against Boris Johnson.
Starmer’s quick action in the Long-Bailey case won him praise from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The move was also strongly supported by many Labour MPs and the British Jewish Labour Movement, which welcomed the decision.
At the same time, Starmer was the subject of a vicious attack on social media by elements on the British left accusing him of being in the pay of Zionists and Jews.
In an interview in The Guardian prior to his election as Labour leader, Starmer was asked if he would be willing to take decisions unpopular with the party membership.
“Of course there have got to be difficult decisions,” he said. “I’m not going to shy away from those difficult decisions, and we’ll confront each of them as they arise”.
In contrast to Corbyn – who repeatedly refused to engage with the Jewish community on stamping out antisemitism in the British Labour Party – Starmer signed up to the Board of Deputy of British Jews’ 10 pledges to tackle antisemitism in January.
“The handling of antisemitism [in Labour] has been completely unacceptable. It has caused deep distress for the Jewish community, which we must all accept responsibility for and apologise,” Starmer said at the time.
Since his election as party leader, Starmer and his deputy leader Angela Rayner, have spent many meetings and Zoom calls listening to the concerns of mainstream British Jewry, and promising to implement reforms. His timely sacking of Long-Bailey, without hesitation or equivocation, will likely go a long way toward testifying to the genuineness of his commitment on those front.