Labour’s Rebecca Long Bailey was sacked as shadow education secretary after approvingly sharing an interview in which actress Maxine Peake appeared to link George Floyd’s killing to claims U.S. police had learned tactics from Israeli forces.
A spokesperson for Keir Starmer said on Thursday: “This afternoon Keir Starmer asked Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down from the shadow cabinet. The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
“As Leader of the Labour Party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority. Antisemitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.”
Jewish News understands a new shadow education secretary will be appointed in the coming days.
The vocal supporter of former party Leader Jeremy Corbyn had sought to distance herself from the article earlier today amid criticism from Jewish groups.
“I retweeted Maxine Peake’s article because of her significant achievements and because the thrust of her argument is to stay in the Labour Party. It wasn’t intended to be an endorsement of all aspects of the article,” she wrote on Twitter.
Some critics dismissed as conspiratorial Peake’s claim made during a wide-ranging interview with the Independent that “the tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
Long Bailey issued a lengthy statement on Twitter saying the language used in her clarification had been “agreed in advance” by the leader’s office.
She claimed she had been instructed by the leader’s office to take down both her original retweet and attempted clarification, but refused.
“I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision,” she said.
She said she will continue to support the Labour Party in Parliament under Keir Starmer’s leadership.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Labour Movement, the party’s Jewish affiliate, said Starmer’s decision to ask Long Bailey to step down should be “welcomed.”
“The culture of any organisation is determined by the values and behaviours of those who lead them,” said its national chair Mike Katz.
“The Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into the Labour Party is soon to report. The Labour Party must be able to implement the kind of cultural and structural changes required to end institutionalised discrimination. We hope that the party, at every level, reflect and learn from this action,” he added.
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl thanked the Labour leader for “backing his words with actions on antisemitism.” She had suggested prior to the sacking the incident raised “serious and immediate questions about her suitability for the role.”
Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, meanwhile, praised Starmer for his “decisive leadership and firm action.” Goldstein had earlier called on the Labour leader to use the row as an opportunity “to show that he means what he says.”
The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell was among those defending Long Bailey on Thursday, tweeting: “Throughout discussion of antisemitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not antisemitic. I don’t believe therefore that this article is or @RLong_Bailey should’ve been sacked. I stand in solidarity with her.”
Taking to Twitter on Thursday evening, Peake addressed the controversy, writing: “I feel it’s important for me to clarify that, when talking to The Independent, I was inaccurate in my assumption of American Police training & its sources.”
“I find racism & antisemitism abhorrent & I in no way wished, nor intended, to add fodder to any views of the contrary,” she added.