LONDON – Jewish members of Britain’s Labour Party on Tuesday applauded the decision to proscribe four far-left factions from the party. The move was supported by party leader Keir Starmer.
“It’s certainly good news and shows that the Labour Party under Keir Starmer is serious about zero tolerance of antisemitism,” said Mike Katz, chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, a party affiliate, as its ruling body was expected to expel hundreds of members from the left-wing party.
The four banned groups set to be removed by the National Executive Committee are Resist, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour In Exile Network, and Socialist Appeal, who all supported former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Their proscription was on the grounds that their positions were “incompatible with membership of the Labour Party.”
The first three had been established during the antisemitism crisis under Corbyn. Socialist Appeal, which describes itself as “the Marxist voice of Labour and youth,” had been established nearly 30 years ago.
Resist was founded by Chris Williamson, a former Labour lawmaker who had been suspended from the party in 2019 after he argued that it had been “too apologetic” in its handling of antisemitism.
Labour in Exile, launched in February, offered a “home” for members suspended or expelled from the party, while Labour Against the Witchhunt was formed in 2017 to challenge what it described as politically motivated allegations of antisemitism.
One recent Witchhunt campaign saw it lobby party members to boycott antisemitism-awareness training by the Jewish Labour Movement, which was accused of “weaponiz[ing] false and exaggerated charges” against Corbyn, who was the party’s leader from 2015 until the end of 2020.
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Corbyn has been operating without the part whip since last October, after he said an Equalities and Human Rights Commission report into antisemitism within his party had been “dramatically overstated” by opponents. The 130-page report said its findings pointed “to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it”.
A party source told Haaretz that “the worst of the abuse that Jewish members received at local constituency Labour Party meetings came from members of these [four] groups.” They described the proscription as “a blunt tool, without a doubt. Anyone found to be a member of these groups will be automatically expelled from the Labour Party.”
Luke Akehurst, a member of the National Executive Committee, told Haaretz that he had voted for the bans because “this is long overdue action against a number of groups which, while small, have no place in the Labour Party.
“Socialist Action is another revolutionary party infiltrating Labour and doesn’t share its social democratic values, and the others have minimized or denied the existence of left-wing antisemitism – or indulged in antisemitic tropes themselves,” he said.
Akehurst added that “Labour needs to conclusively deal with antisemitism within our own ranks, and we cannot do that unless these organizations are deemed [incompatible] with Labour Party membership.”
Nathan Yeowell, director of the Progressive Britain think tank, told Haaretz the move was “good news and probably long overdue. There can be no place in the party for antisemitism, so any groups set up specifically to campaign against its existence on the left have no place within Labour.
“Labour in Exile, for instance, was set up explicitly to campaign and attack the Labour Party or subvert it from within. If you believe that your variety of socialism means that antisemitism doesn’t exists on the left, or only exists as part of a factional war, then you also don’t belong. There is no God-given right to party membership,” he said.
Yeowell added: “It’s the beginning of showing the public that Labour is serious about winning this country back. If we carry on the vandalism of the time of Jeremy Corbyn, we will never win and we won’t deserve to win until we can sort our own mess out. If people’s devotion to Corbyn is greater than their devotion to Labour, they should leave. The Labour Party is more than a fan club for one man.”
Figures on Labour’s left had opposed the move. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted, “Standard Blairite fare to try to show how strong a leader you are by taking on your own party but bizarre to do it by expelling people, most of whom have left already.”
Norman Thomas, a founder of Labour in Exile, said the ban had not been a surprise. Himself suspended last December for contravening party rules by allowing a local motion about Corbyn, Thomas described the proscription process as “an old-fashioned McCarthy-type purge. … Everyone knows that it’s just the beginning. This is very bad news for democracy.”
Thomas added that he fully expected other groups such as Momentum and Jewish Voice for Labour, another faction set up expressly to counter the antisemitism allegations, to be next in line.
“If a political party itself cannot function in a democratic way, then what hope for the rest of the country?” he asked.
Akehurst, however, said he was “not aware of any other groups that are being looked at. The onus sits with people who are politically proximate to these groups to separate from them completely and work with us to tackle antisemitism, not apologize or argue against the proscription of groups up to their necks in antisemitism.”
Speaking about the bans, a Labour spokesperson said: “Labour is a broad, welcoming and democratic party, and we are committed to ensuring it stays that way.”