No Laughing Matter

Comedian Eddie Izzard Plans to Fix U.K. Labour Party's anti-Semitism Problem

The stand-up comedian has just been elected to the party's ruling body, and has vowed to improve relations with the Jewish community

Eddie Izzard speaking at a pro-union rally in London, September 2014.
Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

The accusations of anti-Semitism that continue to rock Britain's Labour Party are beyond a joke, but stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard believes he can help tackle the problem.

Izzard joined Labour's ruling body on Sunday, and wasted no time in facing up to the crisis gripping the left-wing party.

Writing in British tabloid The Mirror, he stated, "This is a very important time for the Labour Party and we must stamp out completely the stain of anti-Semitism from a minority of members. It has no place in our Party, in our country, or in our world.

"I have campaigned against racism and hate my whole life, and will continue to do so wherever it rears its ugly head," he continued.

Izzard, 56, added that his party "must make amends and repair the damage with the Jewish community as Jeremy Corbyn has promised to do."

Corbyn has been under fire for his response to accusations of anti-Semitism within his party's ranks. Last week, U.K. Jewish leaders declared "Enough is Enough" and organized a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in response to the leader's perceived inaction. The demonstration was attended by an estimated 1,500, including MPs from the Labour Party itself.

On Sunday, one of Labour's leading Jewish donors, Sir David Garrard, announced he had left the party. The Sunday Times, meanwhile, published an investigation that said 20 pro-Corbyn Facebook pages contained ant-Semitic or other offensive statements.

Izzard's ascension to the party's ruling body came after Christine Shawcroft stepped down from the National Executive Committee on Saturday. She resigned after being criticized for defending a party member who shared a link to an article headlined “International Red Cross report confirms the Holocaust of 6m Jews is a hoax."

Izzard is well-known for his wry if rambling stand-up routines, and roles in TV shows such as "The Riches" and "Hannibal," and films like "Valkyrie," "Ocean's Twelve" and "Ocean's Thirteen," and "Victoria & Abdul."

He has performed comedy shows in four languages, including French and German, and also ran 43 marathons in 57 days in the United Kingdom and 27 in 27 days in South Africa for a British charity, Sports Relief.

However, he ran into trouble in March 2017 when he revealed plans to take part in a marathon in the West Bank a day after performing a comedy show in Tel Aviv.

Palestine Marathon organizers said in a tweet at the time: "British comedian Eddie Izzard cannot run for freedom this Friday if he entertains in Tel Aviv on Thursday. We refuse to be used as a fig leaf to cover up Izzard's whitewashing of Israel's occupation and apartheid."

Izzard himself later explained it was his decision not to take part in the race. "I have now performed my show in Tel Aviv but even though the Palestinian Authority are allowing me to run in the Palestine Marathon, others do not want me to run," he said in a statement.

"All I wanted to do was to try and bring a little extra focus to the Palestine Marathon and to the situation there. But if they would rather I didn't, I'm fine with that. "

Izzard explained to Interview Magazine in 2014 that he doesn't believe in God "because he never comes down, never does anything. Six million Jewish people died and 50 million total in World War II. At any point he could have stepped in. He didn’t do that. So if he is there, he doesn’t give a shit. He, she, flying sandwich, whatever."

Izzard also addressed the subject of the Nazis in 2015. The "Nazis were very stupid," he told O Magazine. "Behind their thinking [lay] an essential stupidity. Like the idea that if we cross Nazi families we will get a better race. No: That will be endogamy – and thanks to the British royal family and to dog breeding, we know what comes out of that: idiots. And besides, the Nazi high ranks didn’t look exactly Aryan."

The interviewer then tells Izzard that Reinhard Heydrich was the exception to this, but that he was also half-Jewish.

"Was he really half-Jewish?" Izzard responds. "It seems Hitler was a sixteenth percent Jewish. The thing is that hatred toward Jews was something as stupid as hating Methodists, or Austrians. And was very bad for the country. Should Hitler have accepted them, he would have kept all those scientists and intellectuals: Germany would have had the hydrogen bomb before anyone. And wouldn’t have had to kill all those people. Who would have fought on their side on top of that – because they were German, after all. You just can’t be more stupid than that."

Izzard actually ran for Labour's executive committee earlier this year, but was unsuccessful despite securing some 70,000 votes. In his statement Sunday, he said, "Although this isn't the manner in which I had hoped to join the NEC, I'm honoured [sic] to step up and represent Labour members at the heart of our party."

He has already expressed a desire to stand as an MP for the Labour Party at the next general election.

Eddie Izzard, left, attending a soccer game in England between Crystal Palace and Manchester City, December 2017.
\ JOHN SIBLEY/ REUTERS

In an interview with The Guardian last September, Izzard was asked which of his achievements he was proudest of. "Mostly I hope I have done things that help other people to do them,” he said. “That was the thing with coming out as transgender, and it was the same thing doing the marathons, or learning the languages. I hope people might think, Well, if that idiot can do it, why can’t I? I mean, I’m just some guy, right. Nothing special?"