A slew of far-left Labour MPs and outriders have come to the defence of Rebecca Long-Bailey after she was sacked for sharing an article in The Independent in which the actress Maxine Peake promoted an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
Ms Peake has apologised for promoting the notion that Israel is to blame for the racist killing of George Floyd, saying: “I feel it’s important for me to clarify that, when talking to The Independent, I was inaccurate in my assumption of American Police training & its sources. I find racism & antisemitism abhorrent & I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary.”
Sir Keir Starmer has been widely praised for dismissing Ms Long-Bailey, who has a long record of upsetting the Jewish community. (Kate Osborne also shared the article approvingly but subsequently deleted her tweet, which Ms Long-Bailey did not do.)
Nevertheless, several of his MPs have rallied to her defence, including John McDonnell, the former Shadow Chancellor, who denied that the conspiracy is antisemitic and said “I stand in solidarity with her”.
John Trickett MP wondered “what has Sir Keir got against Northern socialists from working class backgrounds?”
Meanwhile, the Socialist Campaign Group of far-left Labour MPs reportedly requested a meeting with Sir Keir about the dismissal of Ms Long-Bailey but the leader’s office declined. It is understood that the Group may be preparing a statement of solidarity.
Momentum, the pro-Corbyn pressure group, accused Sir Keir of a “reckless overreaction” and said “we stand in full solidarity with @RLong_Bailey”, while Manchester Momentum called the dismissal “shameful” and “spineless” and said it presented “any excuse they can get to purge socialists.”
Jon Lansman, a founder of Momentum who is also Jewish, said that he retweeted Ms Long-Bailey’s original tweet approving of the article and had done so – rather astonishingly – “in a break in a Labour Party antisemitism panel”, and denied that there was anything antisemitic about it. He went on to say: “Rebecca is every bit as committed to ending antisemitism in the Labour Party as I am.” Given that he had retweeted her offensive tweet during an antisemitism panel, it would appear that he is indeed as committed to ending antisemitism in Labour as she is, just not in the way he might have you think.
Others also came to Ms Long-Bailey’s defence. Owen Jones called the dismissal “an absurd overreaction” but agreed that the conspiracy theory tying Israel to the racist killing of Mr Floyd was not right and even called on The Independent to apologise for printing it, as Campaign Against Antisemitism has also done.
Others were less nuanced. Ash Sarkar called the dismissal an “utterly disgraceful decision” saying “It undermines the position the Labour Party has insisted on all along that it’s possible to criticise Israeli policy without being antisemitic. Shameful, shameful stuff.”
Asa Winstanley, a former Labour member who quit the Party after being suspended pending an investigation, tweeted repeatedly on the topic, endorsing the conspiracy theory and calling accusations of antisemitism a “smear” and referencing “Labour’s manufactured antisemitism crisis”.
Kerry-Ann Mendoza, editor of The Canary, a controversial hard-left blog under investigation by the Government’s Independent Advisor on Antisemitism, who recently used violent language against Jewish anti-racism campaigners, called the episode a “witchhunt”, endorsed the conspiracy theory and tweeted further on the matter.
Jackie Walker, the antisemite who was expelled from the Labour Party, also chimed in.
Matt Zarb Cousin, the former spokesman for Mr Corbyn, complained that Labour should have been more focused on criticising the Government and said that he is “staying in the party with Rebecca Long-Bailey”. He also slammed the reaction to Ms Long-Bailey’s tweet.
Andrew Fisher, a former policy adviser to Mr Corbyn, also described the dismissal as a “massive overreaction”.
Laura Alvarez, Mr Corbyn’s activist wife, said “I support RLB because she defends human rights”.
Other prominent activists also opined. Michael Walker called Sir Keir’s actions today “pretty snake-y”, while Rachel Shabi said: “Sacking Rebecca Long Bailey isn’t an example of ‘zero tolerance’ on antisemitism. It’s a sign of getting it wrong, over-reacting and setting a bad precedent.”
The far-left fringe group Jewdas criticised mainstream Jewish communal organisations for welcoming Sir Keir’s dismissal of Ms Long-Bailey, while the activist Barnaby Raine implicitly endorsed the conspiracy theory, saying: “Imagine caring so little about Jews that you casually equate opposition to global police violence with hating us, just so you have an excuse to sack an old political opponent.”
On 28th May 2019, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a full statutory investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party following a formal referral and detailed legal representations from Campaign Against Antisemitism, which is the complainant.
In the first release of its Antisemitism in Political Parties research, Campaign Against Antisemitism showed that Labour Party candidates for Parliament in the 2019 general election accounted for 82 percent of all incidents of antisemitic discourse by parliamentary candidates.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer 2019 showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Campaign Against Antisemitism advocates for zero tolerance of antisemitism in public life. To that end we monitor all political parties and strive to ensure that any cases of concern are properly addressed.