Keir Starmer tilts Labour sharply towards Israel

Keir Starmer addresses a Labour Party event (Han Yan - Xinhua)

Asa Winstanley

The Electronic Intifada  /  April 10, 2020

“I support Zionism without qualification” – those are the words of the UK Labour Party’s new leader, Keir Starmer.

Starmer won the membership election to succeed left-winger and Palestine solidarity veteran Jeremy Corbyn last weekend.

His first act as leader has been to declare the party’s allegiance to the Israel lobby, and to signal an impending purge of the left wing of the party membership under the pretext of combating “Labour anti-Semitism.”

Throughout his four and a half years as Labour leader, Corbyn was incessantly defamed with a manufactured anti-Semitism crisis by the the Israel lobby and by the right wing of his own party.

“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party,” Starmer claimed in his victory speech, giving full credence to the smears against his predecessor.

“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry.”

Labour lawmakers – who are overwhelmingly right wing – never accepted the result of the democratic leadership election which brought Corbyn to national prominence in 2015, and repeatedly attempted to overthrow him.

They finally succeeded last December. After the party’s defeat in the general election, Corbyn announced he would be stepping down.

Polling suggested that the Labour anti-Semitism smear campaign had a major impact on the general election outcome.

The Israel lobby was jubilant, with one major group gloating that they had “slaughtered” Corbyn.

But Labour members never accepted the false narrative.

“Invented or wildly exaggerated”

A major poll after the general election found that almost three quarters of them thought the crisis had been “invented or wildly exaggerated.”

The figure was even higher – 92 percent – among members of Momentum, the party faction founded to back Corbyn.

Starmer in his speech paid tribute to Corbyn as his “friend” and promised to unite the party.

But he immediately followed with his comments about anti-Semitism, meaning the apology amounted to a swipe at Corbyn and the left-wing grasroots membership that brought him to power.

“I will tear out this poison by its roots,” Starmer said, “and judge success by the return of our Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”

That statement erases the many Jewish members who remained loyal to the party, and who have spoken out consistently against the campaign to weaponize anti-Semitism to oust Corbyn and crush solidarity for Palestinian rights.

The members Starmer is seeking to rehabilitate are likely leading Israel lobbyists who stepped down as Labour MPs – such as Joan Ryan and Louise Ellman.

Starmer’s declaration of allegiance to the Israel lobby was the only statement of substance in his pre-recorded victory speech.

Since then – despite the global coronavirus pandemic and millions of newly unemployed – he has made reassuring the Israel lobby his number one priority.

The very same day, Starmer wrote to the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an Israel lobby group which had been vehemently anti-Corbyn, repeating his apology.

He also reiterated an earlier commitment to a list of demands by the Board of Deputies that the new leader should purge the party membership.

“Within hours of the result”

Starmer has also been courting leaders of the UK’s Israel lobby since winning the leadership.

“Within hours of the result, Keir Starmer called me to discuss anti-Jewish hate in the Labour Party,” wrote former Labour lawmaker Ruth Smeeth, in a Times of Israel blog post.

former professional Israel lobbyist, Smeeth has been one of Corbyn’s bitterest opponents.

On Tuesday, Starmer wrote another simpering apology to the Israel lobby, published in both the Evening Standard and the anti-Palestinian newspaper, The Jewish Chronicle.

“Once the coronavirus pandemic is over,” he wrote, “I will be closing the Labour Party’s offices for a day and inviting representatives of the Jewish community to come in and facilitate a day’s training for all members of staff on anti-Semitism.”

Even under Corbyn, Labour adopted a misleading and politically motivated redefintion of anti-Semitism which deliberately conflates Palestine solidarity activism with anti-Jewish racism.

The Board of Deputies’ demands included the stipulation that training on anti-Semitism in the party be run only by the Jewish Labour Movement and not “fringe organizations” – a veiled reference to left-wing pro-Corbyn group, Jewish Voice for Labour.

Founded in 2004, the Jewish Labour Movement had been a moribund group, but was resurrected by pro-Israel activists in September 2015, specifically to fight Corbyn.

The Jewish Labour Movement worked in close coordination with the Israeli embassy.

It played a leading role in promoting the Labour anti-Semitism smear campaign.

Corbyn out of Labour?

Starmer held a virtual meeting on Tuesday with leaders of the UK’s top pro-Israel groups, including the Jewish Labour Movement, the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council.

The lobbyists came out of this meeting singing Starmer’s praises.

But other Israel lobby factions will not be satisfied by the victory over Corbyn.

The badly misnamed Campaign Against Antisemitism (which is actually a campaign against Palestinians) has decreed that the “real litmus test” for the new Labour leader will be “disciplining Jeremy Corbyn.”

“Corbyn must be made to bear personal responsibility,” the group wrote. “This will send a message to other culpable MPs, officials and members that they cannot hide.”

Starmer’s declarations of loyalty to Zionism are for some only a starter.

Labour’s new leader will soon learn the lesson that Corbyn did not heed: No amount of capitulation to the pro-Israel lobby can ever be enough.

These implacable foes of basic human rights and dignity for the Palestinian people take every concession as an invitation to demand more.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada