UK Labour Party in crisis over anti-Jew remarks

LONDON • A week before Britain's nationwide elections, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn finds himself fighting off a crisis over anti-Semitism that threatens to engulf his party and thrust it further into the political wilderness.

Lawmakers have been calling for Mr Corbyn to confront racism against Jews. They exploded after one of his closest allies, former London mayor Ken Livingstone, described Adolf Hitler as a supporter of Zionism in interviews.

Mr Livingstone, 70, said that on Thursday as part of his defence of Muslim lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended from the party on Wednesday for suggesting Israelis should be transported to the US. "Hitler's policy when he first came to power was to move Germany's Jews to Israel," he told the BBC. "That's a historical fact."

While Mr Livingstone was later suspended himself, many within Labour said the leader had to go much further if he wanted to deal with the increasing discomfort many voters felt about the party.

Labour leaders suspended a local councillor earlier this month after she went on Twitter praising Hitler and urging Iran to "wipe Israel off the map". Oxford University Labour Club chairman Alex Chalmers resigned after posting on Facebook that a large proportion of members "have some kind of problem with Jews".

"I don't know how many more times we can point out to the Labour leadership that there is a significant problem with anti-Semitism within our ranks," said Mr Wes Streeting, who represents an East London district.

With days to go before local and regional government votes across the country, including for the London mayoralty, voters were treated to the sight of Mr Livingstone, after he had made his remarks on Thursday, being chased up a flight of stairs by Labour lawmaker John Mann, who accused him of "rewriting history" and of being a "disgusting Nazi apologist". Mr Livingstone later hid in a toilet, while journalists outside shouted questions asking him for his views on Hitler.

As a longstanding critic of Israeli policy towards Palestine, Mr Corbyn has found it difficult to distance himself from the latest row.

He told the BBC he was "obviously very sad" to have to take action against his friend, but denied the party faced a serious issue.

To Mr Streeting, this response reflects a reluctance to confront anti-Semitism because of anger within Labour about Israel's Palestine policy: "There are some people who believe that complaints about anti-Semitism are attempts to silence critics of Israel. That's nonsense."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'UK Labour Party in crisis over anti-Jew remarks'. Print Edition | Subscribe