SIR KEIR STARMER’S decision to fire Rebecca Long Bailey is an attack on the whole of the left.
It is also a craven submission to those who accuse all critics of the Israeli state and its practices of anti-semitism.
The false narrative, trumpeted by almost the whole of the British media for years with the patent aim of derailing Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, that the Labour left is a hotbed of vile anti-semitic views has already done huge damage. Further capitulation has to stop.
Long Bailey was the only senior Corbyn ally retained in Starmer’s shadow cabinet. In the education brief she has done well, speaking up for teachers and their concerns over a premature full reopening of schools, which could have accelerated a deadly second wave of Covid-19.
Long Bailey’s presence in Starmer’s team was always a concession to the left. She was the only exception in a reshuffle aimed at making it clear the Labour Party was moving away from Corbyn’s politics, and as such Starmer may always have intended to remove her when convenient.
But the excuse used could do lasting harm.
Board of Deputies of British Jews president Marie van der Zyl described Long Bailey’s failure to apologise and delete a tweet recommending an interview with the socialist actor Maxine Peake “frankly pathetic.”
“Frankly pathetic” is a better description of the grounds for her dismissal. The interview covered a lot of ground: Peake’s acting career, her socialist beliefs, Black Lives Matter, the government’s disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It included an appeal for people to continue to support the Labour Party under Starmer so as to remove the Tories from office.
Starmer’s spokesman claims it “contained an anti-semitic conspiracy theory.”
This refers to a single line in which Peake refers to Israel’s training of the US police, and specifically suggests the knee-on-neck “restraint” technique used by George Floyd’s murderer was learned from Israeli officers.
Israel denies this. In fact use of the brutal method dates back decades in the United States and may be nothing to do with Israeli training, although an Israeli police spokesman’s comment to the Independent that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway” doesn’t clear that up: protocol or not, there is abundant photographic and witness evidence that Israeli police do use the knee-on-neck method.
But Israeli forces do train US police officers, including in Minneapolis. Amnesty International reported in 2016 that officers from numerous US states were sent for training in Israel and occupied Palestine, which puts “police and other US law enforcement employees in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years.”
This training has been linked to the militarisation of the US police and its increasing resemblance to an “occupying army” in poor and black neighbourhoods, as depicted in Craig Atkinson’s 2016 documentary Do Not Resist.
Indeed, ending Israeli training of US police officers has become a demand of Black Lives Matter protesters in some parts of the US, which is why it was banned earlier this month in one North Carolina city.
Attempting to dismiss references to the relationship between the Israeli and US security forces as “an anti-semitic conspiracy theory” is a cynical bid by the Board of Deputies to warn people off attacking the Israeli government at a time when its plans to annex the West Bank are arousing widespread condemnation.
Using it as an excuse to sack Long Bailey looks like a cynical bid by Starmer to drop a shadow minister whose refusal to attack teaching unions and parrot his irresponsible push for schools to fully reopen more quickly showed up the weakness of his opposition to a Conservative government whose mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic has cost tens of thousands of lives.
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