LONDON, June 26 — UK Labour leader Keir Starmer yesterday sacked a leading left-winger from his top team for sharing an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory,” in a move that risks reigniting bitter splits in the main opposition party.
Education spokeswoman Rebecca Long-Bailey had retweeted approvingly an interview with an actress who claimed US police accused of killing George Floyd learned their tactics from Israeli secret services.
Long-Bailey, who stood against Starmer in Labour’s recent leadership race, later clarified that she did not agree with everything in the article — but was asked to stand down.
“The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory,” a spokesman for Starmer said.
“As leader of the Labour party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority.
“Anti-Semitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it.”
Starmer was elected in April to replace Jeremy Corbyn, whose time at the helm of the centre-left party was marked by internal divisions and two general election defeats.
Corbyn’s socialist views attracted thousands of new members but his leadership team was accused of failing to act on repeated incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour.
They denied this, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a watchdog, last year launched a formal investigation.
Gideon Falter, head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism lobby group, hailed Starmer’s “swift and firm action.”
But supporters of Long-Bailey, an ally of Corbyn and one of the few prominent left-wingers in the shadow cabinet, said she had done nothing wrong.
John McDonnell, who served as Corbyn’s finance spokesman, offered her “solidarity.”
“Throughout discussion of anti-Semitism it’s always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not anti-Semitic,” he said.
Jon Lansman, who founded the pro-Corbyn activist group Momentum, said her sacking was a “reckless overreaction.”
“Keir says he wants party unity, yet sacks her from the front bench for no good reason,” he said.
Long-Bailey said she retweeted the interview with actress Maxine Peake, a long-time Labour supporter she described as an “absolute diamond,” because of Peake’s call for Labour unity.
“In no way was my retweet an intention to endorse every part of that article,” Long-Bailey said.
She added that she would continue to support Labour under Starmer’s leadership as an MP and “work towards a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.”
In the interview with The Independent, Peake’s claim about US police tactics being “learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services” was challenged.
The newspaper carried a statement from Israeli police, saying “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway.”
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during his arrest.
His death has sparked anti-racism protests across the world. — AFP