Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has taken a first step in restoring trust with the Jewish community by demonstrating a zero tolerance policy against anti-Semitism.
Starmer sacked Shadow Education Secretary Minister Rebecca Long-Bailey after she retweeted and praised an article by Maxine Peake that included a conspiracy theory linking Israel to the racist killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A spokesman for the Labour leader confirmed Starmer had asked Long-Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet.
“The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory,” they noted.
“As leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Anti-Semitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.”
The disgraced MP, a leadership rival to Starmer, is the first high profile casualty of the Starmer leadership.
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl thanked Starmer for backing his words on anti-Semitism with action in removing Long-Bailey from the high-profile post.
She said, “We and others gave her the opportunity to retract and apologise. To our surprise and dismay, her response was pathetic. Her position as Shadow Education Secretary was therefore untenable. There can be no space for this sort of action in any party and it is right that after so many challenging years Labour is now making this clear under its new leader.”
Campaign Against Anti-Semitism chief executive Gideon Falter noted his organisation had been critical of Starmer’s early handling of incidents within the Party, especially the fact he had not yet announced a timetable for reforming the Party’s broken disciplinary process.
But he applauded Starmer’s action’s regarding Long-Bailey.
“His swift and firm action in this case appears to indicate that he is taking our comments on board and has shifted up a gear,” he noted. “Sir Keir’s decision sends a clear message to those in the Labour Party’s ranks who still think that antisemitism is a grey area.”
Falter continued, “We were disconcerted that one of Sir Keir’s first moves was to appoint her to his Shadow Cabinet given her long history of denying the extent of antisemitism in the Labour Party, but he has put that right today. We now expect that Long-Bailey will be the subject of disciplinary proceedings under an overhauled system which must be fair, transparent and efficient.”
Before Starmer’s action, Long-Bailey was criticised for sharing Peake’s article, where she discussed the killing of Floyd, noting that “the tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
In a statement on Twitter, Long-Bailey said she issued a clarification of her retweet of the article “agreed in advance by the Labour Party Leader’s Office”.
After being instructed to take both the agreed clarification and her original retweet of Peake’s interview down, she added, “I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision.”