The four Labour leader hopefuls all claimed to be Zionist – or sympathetic to the movement – at a special event held by a Jewish wing of the party, drawing outrage from party supporters on pro-Palestinian grounds.
When answering questions posed at the Jewish Labour Movement hustings on Thursday, Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey, and Emily Thornberry unequivocally called themselves Zionist. Their fellow Labour leader candidate Keir Starmer qualified his answer, saying “I don’t describe myself as a Zionist, but I understand, sympathize, and support Zionism.” The pronouncements quickly ignited the ire of many Labour members who took to Twitter to vent their anger – with some even threatening to leave the party altogether.
“Zionism is racism,” one wrote. “In good faith, I will be cancelling my membership. I am Jewish. I am anti-Zionist.” Meanwhile, former Labour MP Chris Williamson tweeted that previous party leaders had “condemned apartheid S. Africa,” but that “today’s would-be leaders condone apartheid Israel!”
Many highlighted the plight of the Palestinian people in their criticism of the remarks, with one commenter asking: “Is Labour a safe space for (meaningful) Palestine solidarity activism? The answer, shamefully, is no.” Others queried even asking the Zionism question of the leadership contenders in the first place.
The Labour Party has been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism ever since Corbyn’s election as party leader in 2015. He launched several investigations into the accusations, which numbered in the hundreds and led to a spate of suspensions and resignations, but critics have claimed this didn’t go far enough.
Some of the party’s members welcomed the leadership challengers’ comments about Zionism, with one calling the move “an absolute triumph for Jewish Labour,” and another saying they now feel “incredibly excited” at having a new party leader.
“What was so refreshing was the unequivocal acceptance from all candidates that there is a culture of antisemitism and bullying in the party and that has to go,” another tweeted.
The Labour Party leadership vote will run from late February to early April, with the results due on April 4.
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