Labor at the heart of controversies.

The British Labor Party has been in turmoil for several weeks, due to comments deemed anti-Israel – even anti-Semitic – made by two legislative candidates.


which are reminiscent of a chapter that Labor is trying to erase.

One of the candidates, Azhar Ali, was stripped of Labor's nomination in the parliamentary by-election in Rochdale, in the north of England, which was held on Thursday February 29.

In recordings obtained by The Mail, this candidate claimed, during a meeting last fall, that Israel had deliberately let Hamas carry out the October 7 attack in order to later justify intervention in the Gaza Strip.

For 48 hours, the Labor Party supported its candidate, who apologized “unreservedly”.

But after new anti-Semitic remarks from him came to light, the party suspended him on February 12 and withdrew its support.

With the deadline to present another Labor candidate having already passed, Azhar Ali will have to sit as an independent MP in the House of Commons if elected.

Another Labor parliamentary candidate, Graham Jones, was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into anti-Israel comments made at the same meeting.

He is mainly criticized for saying that British people who join the Israeli army should be “locked up”.

These affairs put Keir Starmer, leader of Labor, in an embarrassing situation.

Leading the polls to become the next Prime Minister, he seeks to put an end to the accusations made against his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, incriminated for having allowed anti-Semitism to flourish in his ranks.

Tackling anti-Semitism 

Since arriving at the head of the Labor Party in April 2020, Keir Starmer, 61, has made the fight against anti-Semitism within the party a priority.

He has notably taken tough action against Labor MPs involved in controversies, as evidenced by the suspension of left-wing MP Diane Abbott last year for downplaying anti-Semitism in a letter to The Observer newspaper.

This month's suspension of the two candidates suggests that the Labor Party "takes the issue very, very seriously", analyzes Steven Fielding, emeritus professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

"However, there are still people within the party who, at a minimum, employ potentially anti-Semitic stereotypes, as [Azhar Ali's] conspiracy speech made clear."

He adds: "There are still people on the left of the Labor Party who confuse Israel with the Jews and mix the two. It's not so much that they are traditionally anti-Semitic, but they see Israel as part of the order US-backed imperialist." 

The shadow of Jeremy Corbyn 

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, from September 2015 to April 2020, the Labor Party was plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism at all levels.

Despite the Labor leader's denials, the controversies continue to arise.

In 2018, a message posted on Facebook six years earlier resurfaced, in which he defended an anti-Semitic mural.

The crisis was fueled by the party's reluctance to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) full definition of anti-Semitism. 

Jeremy Corbyn's reputation has already been tarnished in the past, notably due to his invitation of representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah to Parliament in 2009, where he presented them as "friends" - a term he did not use. disowned until 2016.

See alsoUnited Kingdom: the Labor Party accused of anti-Semitism

In October 2020, Labor was investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRC), an independent body of the party.

The report is damning and accuses the party of negligence in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Its new leader, Keir Starmer, recognizes a “day of shame” and suspends his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

A few weeks later, the governing body of Labor decided to reinstate Jeremy Corbyn within the party.  

In February 2023, Labor banned Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labor candidate in the next election. 

According to Steven Fielding, anti-Semitism "was one of the reasons Labor lost the last election", referring to the disastrous results in the 2019 general election, the worst recorded by Labor in 80 years.

Keir Starmer "does not want to give anyone grounds to claim that he or his party is anti-Semitic", continues the professor.

“As the Rochdale by-election proves, [Labour] is prepared to sacrifice a seat in order to take a stand on this issue.” 

Also read: United Kingdom: Corbyn's Labor or the chronicle of a predicted debacle

That said, electoral calculation is not the only element that matters.

Keir Starmer is married to Victoria Starmer, a Jewish woman, and the couple sometimes take their two children to synagogue.

"People I had gotten to know a little at the synagogue would come up to me and ask, 'What happened to your party? Why can't you do something? Are you embarrassed to be a Labor MP?'

I went home angry,” the Labor leader told journalist Tom Baldwin, author of “Keir Starmer: The Biography.”

Unease and division over support for Israel 

But Keir Starmer appears so keen to stamp out anti-Semitism within the party that he has sparked deep unease by backing Israel in its deadly Gaza offensive.

Asked on the radio about the merits of Israel's total siege of Gaza, four days after the Hamas attacks, he replied that Israel "has the right" to cut off water and electricity - which is prohibited by international law.

He later clarified his remarks, saying he meant that Israel had "the right to self-defense." 

“I think that Israel does have that right.”

Sir Keir Starmer tells @NickFerrariLBC that it is acceptable for Israel to withhold power and water from citizens in Gaza.

— LBC (@LBC) October 11, 2023

It was his position on the ceasefire in Gaza that aroused the most anger.

At the start of the conflict, in October 2023, the Labor leader explained in a speech at Chatham House that he was not in favor of a ceasefire, calling instead for "immediate pauses in the fighting for clear and specific humanitarian measures".

A position in contradiction not only with public opinion, but also with a number of legislators within his own party.

This divide came to a head in November 2023, when the Labor Party asked its MPs to abstain on a motion in the House of Commons calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Some 56 of 198 Labor MPs rebelled and voted in favor of the motion presented by the Scottish National Party (SNP), leading to the resignation of ten members of Keir Starmer's leadership team. 

Finally, in December 2023, Keir Starmer aligned himself with the British government's position by calling for a "lasting ceasefire" in Gaza.

Speaking at the Scottish Labor Party conference in Glasgow on February 18, he said a lasting ceasefire “must happen now”. 

On 20 February, the Labor Party officially adopted a position calling for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire".

The next day, scenes of chaos took place in the House of Commons, with Keir Starmer accused of pressuring the speaker to prioritize a Labor ceasefire motion over a motion from the SNP, in order to avoid a new rebellion. 

We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

We want it last.

That means it must be observed by all sides.

That means the hostages must be returned.

That means aid must get in unhindered.

And it requires a roadmap for a diplomatic process to deliver a two-state…

— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) February 20, 2024

The cost of living crisis, a priority for voters

In the midst of the electoral campaign for the next general election, which will probably take place in the autumn, Keir Starmer is betting big.

But for Steven Fielding, “the general elections will not be decided on the Israeli-Palestinian question”.  

The cost of living crisis should be voters' biggest concern: "Muslim voters, who are disproportionately poor [and] in precarious jobs, will benefit significantly more from a Labor government. And it's clear that the Israeli-Palestinian question arises. But I think if the choice is between Labor and the Conservatives, they will vote for Labour."

According to the professor, some voters could still choose a "pro-Palestinian independent candidate" as a protest vote, if Labor victory seems inevitable. 

Despite Keir Starmer's late change of position on Gaza, the Labor Party seems well aware of the electoral calculus.

"Muslim voters might not like it, but the assumption is that they might end up voting for Labor in the [general] election," says Steven Fielding.

But with the Conservative Party also embroiled in controversy linked to the conflict, one thing is certain: the impact of the war in Gaza on British politics will not fade soon. 

This article has been adapted from English.

Find the original article here.

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