Starmer takes on anti-Semites

Starmer takes on anti-Semites

The leader of the Labour opposition in the UK, Sir Keir Starmer, has been widely applauded for making his gutsiest move since winning the position nearly three months ago after sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey from his shadow cabinet for sharing a tweet which contained a ludicrous anti-Semitic, anti-Israel conspiracy theory.

Ms Long-Bailey had applauded a tweet posted by a prominent Labour party supporter and activist, Maxine Peake, in which the actress referred to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and claimed: "The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd's neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services."

Ms Long-Bailey has always been a close ally of former party leader Jeremy Corbyn and her appointment as shadow education secretary was seen as an olive branch by Sir Keir to the party's hard-left wing, still a highly potent force.

Six months ago, Mr Corbyn led Labour to its biggest general election defeat for nearly 100 years and Sir Keir laid the blame squarely at Mr Corbyn's doorstep.

Throughout his five years as Labour leader, Mr Corbyn was dogged by claims that he is anti-Semitic, with many saying this was a key factor leading to his party's cataclysmic poll drubbing.

Sir Keir, on the other hand, has always been seen as more befitting the role of national political leader, representing to many Labour's best chance of regaining the keys to No.10 since Gordon Brown lost the 2010 election to David Cameron.

After all, here is a man with credibility outside of politics (unlike many MPs) after his five years as Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service.

He spent his first few months as Labour leader winning plaudits for taking a robust but fair line on Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Tory government's disastrously incompetent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, which has led to one of the highest death tolls in the world to date.

When presented with a tough decision to make within his own ranks, Sir Keir took swift and decisive action.

Nevertheless, the fallout from Ms Long-Bailey's dismissal seems to prove that Labour still has a virulent anti-Semitism problem.

In the wake of her firing, Ms Long-Bailey refused to apologise for her retweet while Mr Corbyn's allies emerged in droves to defend her and criticise the new Labour leader's decision to oust her.

John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn, for example, tweeted, "Throughout discussion of antisemitism it's always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic.

"I don't believe therefore that this article is or @RLong_Bailey should've been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her."

But the problem with this narrative is that the original allegation by Peake that US police learned their tactics from Israeli forces and then used them to kill Floyd was completely baseless.

Therefore, by singling out Israel rather than the police and security practices of other countries, Ms Peake was being brazenly racist and anti-Semitic, and so was Ms Long-Bailey in her retweet.

On Friday, Amnesty International also issued a statement confirming they have never reported on "neck-kneeling" by Israeli security agents.

This new kind of blurring of the line between Judaism and the state of Israel cannot be in the interests of Jews worldwide.

The growth in Europe of far-right parties, not to mention organisations on the other side of the political spectrum such as Black Lives Matter, will only further encourage the scapegoating and targeting of Jews.

A prime example of this conflation came from Australian journalist John Pilger on Friday, who mocked Sir Keir by tweeting "This is what Keir Starmer… calls an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory".

The tweet carried a photo of a man in uniform, presumably a police officer, with his knee pinned to the neck of a man lying on the ground, in the same manner as Floyd's murder last month.

Pilger, for reasons best known only to himself, seemed to be confirming that he too believed that Israel was the source of the "original sin" of training up American police in the use of such horrific tactics.

Will he delete his tweet and apologise now the conspiracy theory has been thoroughly debunked?

Sir Keir's first big move has pleased mainstream party supporters and, if he goes on like this, he might well regain the corridors of power for Labour in four years' time.

Nevertheless, Sir Keir still has a very long way to go to prove to the British public -- not preening celebrities such as Peake or partisan journalists like Pilger, who have become so fond of simultaneously bashing both Israel and Jews in recent years -- that he can eliminate the scourge of anti-Semitism from the Labour Party for good.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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