Middle East Monitor / December 31, 2020
Labour leader Keir Starmer expressed his opposition to Israel’s proposed plan to annex large swathes of the West Bank but he does not support boycotting products of the Zionist state from the occupied territory. The embattled 58-year who has faced criticism over the party’s treatment of Jewish members critical of Israel and failure to combat Islamophobia, made the remarks during an interview for the Limmud Jewish learning festival in the United Kingdom, where he spoke about the tenure of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish heritage of his family.
Starmer reiterated his criticism of Corbyn and his alleged mishandling of the proliferation of anti-Semitic hate speech in the party’s ranks under his four years as Labour leader. He has apologised to members of the British Jewish community and suspended the former Labour leader in an effort to turn a new page.
A long awaited report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) earlier in the year was meant to put a line under the issue. The report concluded: “There were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible”. Those failings, according to the commission, related to the handling of anti-Semitism complaints, interference by the leader’s office in the disciplinary procedure, and “unlawful harassment” by two Labour Party “agents”.
The impression left by the report on the public was that the EHRC had confirmed the claims of Corbyn’s critics that on his watch the party had become “institutionally antisemitic”. Supporters of Corbyn, pointing to the two cases of anti-Semitism identified by the commission, insist that no such conclusion had been reached.
Forensic analysis of EHRC report also uncovered that these same officials that had fashioned themselves as “whistleblowers” were the ones that are alleged in a leaked report to be among those responsible for the biggest failings noted by the commission.
Expressing his disappointment in Corbyn’s statement to the press following the publication of the EHRC, report Starmer said: “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that morning and the response of Jeremy to the report. It fundamentally cuts across all of that work that I had put in trying to make sure that we could do the right thing by that report.”
Responding to a question about Israel’s planned annexation of a further 30 per cent of the West Bank, Starmer said that he had opposed the move but he did not agree with the call to impose sanctions on Israeli goods produced in occupied territory; a view that is at odds with many in his party. Responding to the threat of annexation in June, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy had called for a ban on imports from illegal settlements in the West Bank if Israel pushed ahead with the annexation.
Nandy’s remark was met with outrage by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD). The Pro-Netanyahu UK Board denounced Labour as “divisive” and argued that British Jews are “in the main Zionist” and that their interests “overlap” with the interests of the Israeli government, which is considered the most right-wing administration in Israel’s history, containing members that openly deny the right of Palestinians to self-determination and insist on the complete takeover of historic Palestine.