UK Politics

A guide to Labour Party anti-Semitism claims

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright Reuters

The internal Labour row over anti-Semitism has dragged on for over two years. Here's a guide to what's been going on.

What's the latest?

Seven MPs have quit the party citing the leadership's handling of anti-Semitism in the party, as well as its Brexit stance, as their reason for leaving.

Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey announced their resignations at a press conference.

Ms Berger said she had come to the "sickening conclusion" that the party had become institutionally anti-Semitic and that she was "embarrassed and ashamed" to stay.

Who is Luciana Berger?

Ms Berger, who is Jewish, has been the MP for Liverpool and Wavertree since 2010.

She, has openly criticised the party's handling of anti-Semitism claims and, in March 2018, attended a protest in Westminster's Parliament Square.

The MP has been the target of anti-Semitic abuse on social media and had a police escort at last year's Labour Party conference following death threats.

Members of her local party tabled motions of no confidence in her, citing her criticism of leader Jeremy Corbyn in the media, but these were withdrawn after a row erupted at the top of the party.

Ms Berger's supporters, including deputy leader Tom Watson, claimed she was the victim of anti-Semitic "bullying" - something the local party leadership denied.

They were also angry that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had suggested she could stop the moves against her by declaring loyalty to Mr Corbyn and denying she was part of a "break away".

Definition row

After a long-running row, Labour has adopted, in full, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition, and accompanying examples, of anti-Semitism.

It included an extra statement saying this should not undermine free speech on Israel. Jeremy Corbyn proposed a longer additional statement - which would have allowed criticism of the foundation of the state of Israel as racist - but this was not accepted by the party's ruling executive.

Critics have said the addition of a "caveat" undermines the international definition - but Labour says it is intended to reassure members that they can be critical of Israel without being anti-Semitic.

What else has happened recently?

Labour MP Frank Field has quit the party's group in Parliament, saying the leadership has become "a force for anti-Semitism in British politics".

The veteran MP - who is facing expulsion from the party - has represented Birkenhead for almost 40 years.

Mr Corbyn faced criticism in August after a video emerged in which he said a group of British Zionists had "no sense of English irony".

The 2013 clip was published on the Daily Mail website.

Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks branded the comments as "the most offensive statement" by a politician since Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech and accused the labour Leader of being an "anti-Semite".

But allies of Mr Corbyn said his remarks had been "taken out of context". Mr Corbyn said he was "more careful" with language now.

It's not the only row he was embroiled in over the summer.

The Tunis wreath row

The Labour leader also came under fire over his presence at a ceremony in Tunisia in 2014 which is said to have honoured the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich terror attack, during which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and killed.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Mr Corbyn deserved "unequivocal condemnation" for laying a wreath on the grave of one of those behind the atrocity.

Mr Corbyn said he had attended the event in Tunis in 2014 as part of a wider event about the search for peace.

In response, the Labour leader said Mr Netanyahu's claims about his "actions and words are false".

The Holocaust memorial event

Earlier in August, Jeremy Corbyn apologised over an event he hosted in 2010 where a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to Nazism.

After the Times published details of the event, the Labour leader said he had "on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject" and was sorry for the "concerns and anxiety that this has caused".

There were also calls for one of Mr Corbyn's allies, Peter Willsman, to quit the party's ruling body after he criticised "Trump fanatics" in the Jewish community.

In July, the UK's three main Jewish newspapers published the same front page, warning that a government led by Mr Corbyn would pose an "existential threat to Jewish life".

Earlier that month the party brought disciplinary action against the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, after she reportedly called Mr Corbyn an "anti-Semite" and a "racist".

Ms Hodge refused to apologise and the action was later dropped.

The code of conduct row

The backdrop to this was Labour's code of conduct on anti-Semitism.

In July it adopted a new code which critics, including Jewish leaders and some Labour MPs, said was not as comprehensive as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's guidelines.

The row centred on a list of "contemporary examples of anti-Semitism" cited by the IHRA, not all of which were replicated in full in Labour's version.

Labour did not accept the criticism but carried out a consultation and has now - as mentioned above - adopted the full IHRA definition and examples, along with an accompanying statement that "this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians".

How long has this been going on?

In 2016, Mr Corbyn announced an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party.

That was after his party suspended an MP, Naz Shah, and the Labour former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

Ms Shah was suspended over historical social media posts, including one suggesting Israel should be moved to the United States. When she was reinstated, she blamed the posts on her "ignorance", admitting they were anti-Semitic.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ken Livingstone has now quit the Labour Party

Mr Livingstone - a long-term ally of Mr Corbyn - was suspended in 2016 over remarks he made as he defended Naz Shah.

His comments, linking Hitler and Zionism, led to calls for him to be thrown out of Labour. He said he had been misquoted and repeatedly insisted his version of events was historically accurate. But in May of this year, he quit the party, saying his long-running case had become a "distraction" for the party and its political ambitions.

The inquiry, carried out by human rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, concluded that while the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism, there was an "occasionally toxic atmosphere" and made a series of recommendations, not all of which have been implemented yet.

In March, Mr Corbyn was criticised for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

In a message sent via Facebook, he had appeared to question a decision to remove the artist's controversial mural. He later said he had not looked at it properly, calling it "deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic".

The artist, called Mear One, denied this, saying the mural was about "class and privilege".

Also in March, the head of the Labour Party's disputes panel quit after it emerged she had opposed the suspension of a council candidate accused of Holocaust denial. Christine Shawcroft said she had not not been aware of the "abhorrent" Facebook post that had led to his suspension.

Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism

Debates about claims of anti-Semitism in Labour often involve Israel and another term, anti-Zionism.

Zionism is a political movement that supports the right of Jewish people to their own homeland in the land of their ancestors - modern-day Israel.

Some say "Zionist" can be used as a coded attack on Jewish people, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism.

What does Mr Corbyn say?

Following the "British Zionist" row, Mr Corbyn said he used the term Zionist in an "accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people".

He went on to say: "I am now more careful with how I might use the term 'Zionist' because a once self-identifying political term has been increasingly hijacked by anti-Semites as code for Jews."

Responding to criticism of his presence at the 2014 ceremony in Tunisia, Mr Corbyn tweeted that Mr Netanyahu's claims about his "actions and words are false", adding: "What deserves unequivocal condemnation is the killing of over 160 Palestinian protesters in Gaza by Israeli forces since March, including dozens of children."

Responding to news stories about the event where a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to Nazism - which dated back to his time as a backbench MP - by saying: "In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject.

"I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused."

In March, following the row over his mural remark, he said he would not tolerate anti-Semitism "in and around" Labour.

"We must stamp this out from our party and movement," he said.

"We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour Party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour Party and the rest of the country.

"I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused."

His critics say action is needed, including replicating all of the internationally accepted examples of anti-Semitism and dropping disciplinary action against critical MPs.