Controversy dogged the UK Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, this quarter, leading to a diplomatic row with Israel’s Labor Party. The affair began when Corbyn, a longtime critic of the Israeli occupation, attended a Passover Seder organized by Jewdas, a self-described “radical” Jewish group. The UK press picked up the story after Jewdas’s Twitter account posted (4/3) an “Israel-Palestine prayer” read at the meal. “We take a moment to consider how shit the State of Israel is in general and particularly at this moment,” it read.
In the lead-up to local elections across the UK on 5/5, the Labour Party came under renewed accusations of anti-Semitism after the schism within Labour between the old guard and the new progressive wing over new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s break with the party’s traditional pro-Israel positions and rhetoric. Although hints of controversy surfaced amid Corbyn’s rise to party leadership in 9/2015 (see JPS 45 ), it dominated the UK press in 2/2016 after former Labour leader Ed Miliband indefinitely postponed his planned address to the Oxford University Labour Club in protest at the club’s decision to support Israeli Apartheid Week (2/22–28). Labour Club cochair Alex Chalmers resigned, claiming that many of the club’s mbrs. had “some kind of problem with Jews” (Guardian, 2/17). As Labour’s national students’ group launched an inquiry into the alleged anti-Semitism, previous incidents came under reexamination. Gerry Downing’s 8/22/ 2015 tweet about the “Jewish question” and Vicky Kirby’s summer 2014 social media posts suggesting Hitler might be a “Zionist god” appeared to some critics as part of a trend rather than random incidents.
The controversy escalated in 4/2016. Labour suspended MP Naz Shah (4/27) after a conservative blogger dug up Facebook posts she made in 2014 suggesting that Israelis move en masse to the U.S. The party also suspended former London mayor Ken Livingstone (4/28) after he made comments, defending Shah; in an interview that day, Livingstone alleged that Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” and suggested that the Israel lobby had a “wellorchestrated campaign”to “smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.” Amid intensifying complaints from Labour Party elders, Corbyn announced (4/29) an independent review of alleged anti-Semitism within the party, but the issue was far from settled at quarter’s end.