Keir Starmer writes to Board pledging to remove ‘stain’ of antisemitism
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Keir Starmer writes to Board pledging to remove ‘stain’ of antisemitism

New Labour leader starts bid to rebuild relationship with community, as Board president warns he'll be judged on 'actions, not just words'

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Labour leader Keir Starmer, pictured, met representatives from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) on Monday. The gathering was the first formal meeting between a Labour leader and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) since 2014.

(Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
Labour leader Keir Starmer, pictured, met representatives from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) on Monday. The gathering was the first formal meeting between a Labour leader and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) since 2014. (Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Labour’s new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, hit the ground running this weekend by writing to the Board of Deputies and pledging to do all he could to rid the party of the “stain” of antisemitism. He has called for a video conference as soon as possible with the leaders of Britain’s Jewish community.

His election, by an overwhelming majority in the first round of voting, was broadly welcomed by major Jewish organisations such as the Board, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Jewish Labour Movement. The Campaign Against Antisemitism also welcomed Sir Keir as the new leader, but called for “discipline” and an addressing of its complaints against outgoing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Board president Marie van der Zyl, congratulating Sir Keir and the new Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the Board wished them both well, “especially at this time of an international health emergency”. She said she was happy that Sir Keir had reiterated his commitment to the Board’s Ten Pledges, which were supported by all the leadership candidates. (The Pledges, launched in January, were a capsule series of recommendations to deal with antisemitism in the Labour Party).

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But she warned that in acting “to rid the party of the awful disease of anti-Jewish racism”, the new leadership would be judged by their actions, not just their words”. 

She noted: “As the Corbyn era comes to an end, it is clear that history will not look kindly on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, where anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok and some at the highest levels of the Party have appeared to collude to protect — rather than discipline — antisemites”.

Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, also offered congratulations. He said he hoped the elections were “the beginning of a healing process between the Party and our community. Along with our partners, we look forward to discussions with the new leadership as to how we can all move forward and eradicate the scourge of anti-Jewish bigotry that has infected the Party.”

A more cautious welcome was sounded by Denny Taylor, founder of Labour Against Antisemitism. He said: “Ahead of the report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission on its investigation into institutional anti-Jewish racism in the Labour Party, we hope Sir Keir will continue to engage with the three Jewish community organisations: the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust. Having signed up to the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges during his leadership campaign, he must now honour those pledges in full.

“We also welcome the election of three moderate members to Labour’s NEC body, and trust that this will have a positive impact on how cases of antisemitism are dealt with at the highest level of the party administration.

The election of a new leader does not mark the end of our campaign. We will continue to report instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party as we find them, and hold the leader (and the wider Labour movement) to account.”

In its statement, wishing Sir Keir and Ms Rayner “mazal tov” on their election, the Jewish Labour Movement — which had endorsed Lisa Nandy as its choice for leader — said that the change of leadership “must mark a turning point for Labour in its relationship with the Jewish community. Nobody should be under any illusion: restoring trust will take effort, time and political will”.

JLM said it would work “constructively” with the new leaders, and called for transparency, both in the publishing of the forthcoming EHRC report (into alleged institutional racism in the Labour Party), and “staff changes that will set us on course to achieve change”. This is understood to refer to a hoped-for clear-out of the Opposition Leader’s top advisers and officials, many of whom are blamed for encouraging factionalism and a reluctance to deal with complaints of antisemitism.

Jewish Voice for Labour said in a statement that Sir Keir’s election was “a worrying development for those of us who were inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s transformative vision”.

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