The anti-Semitism scandal surrounding the British Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn intensified on Sunday, with a Sunday Times investigation claiming that a dozen senior Labour staffers are members of Facebook groups that contain Holocaust denial comments and praise for Adolf Hitler. The Observer also reported that a leading Jewish donor has quit the party over its "endorsement" of anti-Semitism.
Under the headline "Exposed: Jeremy Corbyn's Hate Factory," the Sunday Times reported that 20 of the biggest pro-Corbyn Facebook groups contained "more than 2,000 racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, violent and abusive messages."
The report noted that 12 senior staff members working for Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell belong to the restricted-access groups, which include the We Support Jeremy Corbyn page with 68,000 members.
The report cited anti-Semitic posts saying that Hitler "should have finished off the job" and another claiming that the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust "was a big lie!"
The report added that "abusive messages regularly targeted Jewish public figures, including the Labour MP Luciana Berger and [Jewish community leader] Jonathan Arkush."
A Labour Party spokesperson said in response that "No one in Corbyn or McDonnell's office had seen, posted or endorsed anti-Semitic or abusive messages."
The Observer reported, meanwhile, that Sir David Garrard has left the party. He had donated some $2.1 million to Labour since 2003, including one of the largest private donations under then-leader Ed Miliband's stewardship in 2014.
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A retired property developer, Garrard said he no longer felt "any affinity or connection" to the party. "I have watched with dismay and foreboding the manner in which the leadership has, in my view, over the last two years conducted itself," he told the weekly.
"I consider that it has supported and endorsed the most blatant acts of anti-Semitism," he continued. "And yet it has failed to expel many of those who have engaged in the grossest derogatory fantasies about Jewish/Zionist conspiracies."
Another leading Jewish businessman, Lord Sugar – who stars in the British version of "The Apprentice" – was also involved in an anti-Semitism row with the party over the weekend, BBC News reported.
Sugar retweeted an image Friday of Corbyn's face Photoshopped onto a person sitting next to Hitler in a car, below the tagline "When you're pictured at Nuremberg and claim you were going to a car rally." Sugar then added the following words above the image: "Many a true word spoken in jest Corbyn."
After McDonnell and Labour MP John Mann – himself a fierce critic of Corbyn – appealed to Sugar to remove the tweet, the peer did so on Saturday. However, Sugar sent a message to McDonnell, tweeting, "You need to get Corbyn to make a firm statement about antisemitism. There is no smoke without fire in Labour." Sugar was a member of the Labour Party for many years, before quitting it in 2015.
Also Saturday, a Corbyn ally resigned from the party's national executive committee after she had been criticized for defending a party member accused of Holocaust denial.
Christine Shawcroft had already quit her post as head of Labour's disputes panel last Wednesday after it was reported that she sent an email backing a local council candidate who had shared on Facebook an article headlined “International Red Cross report confirms the Holocaust of 6m Jews is a hoax."
But in a Facebook post Friday in which she sought to explain that she herself was not "a Holocaust denier," she also wrote that “This whole row is being stirred up to attack Jeremy, as we all know. That someone who has spent his whole life fighting racism in all its forms should find himself being accused of not doing enough to counter it, absolutely beggars belief,” she wrote.
She is being replaced on the executive committee by the comedian Eddie Izzard.
The weekend developments came at the end of a troubling week for Corbyn and the Labour Party. Last Monday, thousands marched in London's Parliament Square against what they see as widespread anti-Semitic sentiments within the party's membership. They were responding to a "call to action" issued last Sunday by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The rally was prompted by a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn in which he supported the artist behind an East London street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In an attempt to assuage the Jewish community, Corbyn agreed to an interview with the Jewish News last Wednesday. "I’m not an anti-Semite in any way, never have been, never will be," he told the website's news editor, Justin Cohen.
"Anti-Semitism is a poison and evil and wrong that brought about genocide of the Holocaust against the Jewish people. It’s what our parents’ generation fought to defeat," he added.
Cohen himself was unimpressed by Corbyn's efforts. "I can’t avoid the conclusion that this week, we moved a couple of steps forward and then moved back again," he wrote in The Independent on Thursday. Relations now appear to have reached an impasse, with this interview unlikely to warm community leaders to the idea of talks."