Senior communal leaders have criticised the Labour Party for a lack of direct contact over controversial new MP Lisa Forbes, saying it constitutes the “ongoing symptom of the racist mess”.
A joint statement was issued by the Simon Johnson, Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council, Marie van der Zyl, President, Board of Deputies of British Jews and David Delew, Chief Executive, Community Security Trust; in the wake of her election victory in Peterborough on Thursday.
This came after the Jewish Labour Movement urged the party to suspend the whip for Forbes, after she was embroiled in an online antisemitism row.
In the week before the election, it was revealed Forbes had “liked” a Facebook post which said Theresa May has a “Zionist slave masters agenda”.
She subsequently apologised for “not calling out these posts” and promised to challenge antisemitism in future.
Communal leaders said that before she was elected, they “commented that we were fed up of hearing that Labour opposes antisemitism yet simultaneously hearing excuses that its members accidentally missed the racism that was staring them in the face.
“Anti-Jewish racism within the Labour Party is being normalised and fully supported by the Party.
“Our organisations have had no direct contact from Lisa Forbes and no response from the Party regarding our concerns.
“The Party’s failure to even try to engage with our concerns or to implement the changes for which we have called is an ongoing symptom of the racist mess for which it is now being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”
— Board of Deputies of British Jews (@BoardofDeputies) June 7, 2019
After her election, the Jewish Labour Movement said the party “has consistently failed to take a zero tolerance approach to anti-Jewish hate. This has encouraged a culture to develop where not only is it acceptable for someone who has shared racist material and rejected the internationally accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism to be a member, but they can advance politically and gain public office.
“Labour’s newest MP is a perfect example of this.
“Ms Forbes will have to go far, far further than her statements at the weekend to demonstrate to our members and the Jewish community that she isn’t racist against Jews.
“The PLP called for the Party to adopt the IHRA definition. Given her previous rejection of IHRA, Ms Forbes should have the whip suspended immediately.
“This show how urgent and necessary the EHRC’s investigation into Labour’s institutional racism is. The Party is simply incapable of rooting out hate by itself”.
A Labour Party source responded by rejecting calls for her to be investigated or have the whip withdrawn. They said: “Lisa Forbes did not make any comments herself or share any posts. She liked a video about showing solidarity with Christchurch victims without reading the accompanying text, which Facebook users know is an easy thing to do. She has fully accounted for this genuine mistake and apologised”.
JLM said that despite talking about reaching out to the community – Lisa had not made contact with the group since last weekend.
Ms Forbes’ online activities were highlighted by the Sunday Times, which reported she also commented under a post whose author claimed that Islamic extremists were the creation of the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
She wrote underneath: “I have enjoyed reading this thread so much. So much that trys (sic) to divide us, but there is far much more that unites us.”
Ms Forbes told the newspaper she apologised “wholeheartedly for not calling out these posts” and said that she had liked the video attached to the post, “not the views expressed in the accompanying text”.
She added: “Regardless of whether I am elected, I will deepen my understanding of antisemitism so I can act as an ally, challenging it wherever it occurs.”