UK Labour leader demotes senior MP over sharing antisemitic article

“I’ve made it my first priority to tackle antisemitism, and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a No. 1 priority for me,” Starmer said.

Rebecca Long-Bailey (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
Rebecca Long-Bailey
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
UK Labour leader Keir Starmer fired his party’s shadow education secretary on Thursday after she shared an article which features an “antisemitic conspiracy theory.”
MP Rebecca Long-Bailey retweeted an interview with actress and anti-capitalism activist Maxine Peake in The Independent in which she accuses Israel of training US police in the methods that resulted in the killing of George Floyd.
Regarding the article, Long-Bailey wrote on twitter that Peake “is an absolute diamond.”
“Systemic racism is a global issue,” Peake said. “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
Floyd’s death by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes has sparked major protests across the US and the world against racism and police brutality.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld was quoted in the article as saying, “There is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway.”
Following an uproar and a call from the Board of Deputies of British Jews for her to apologize, Long-Bailey said she shared the article because of Peake’s “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.”
However, Starmer said, “The sharing of that article was wrong.”
“The article contained antisemitic conspiracy theories, and I have therefore stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet,” he said.
Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in April.
Under Corbyn, Labour was repeatedly criticized for not doing enough to stamp out antisemitism within the party ranks.
Corbyn has made antisemitic remarks and participated in events honoring antisemites, such as laying a wreath on the graves of the terrorists who tortured and killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“I’ve made it my first priority to tackle antisemitism, and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a No. 1 priority for me,” Starmer said.
Long-Bailey, who came second to Starmer in the race to become Labour leader earlier this year, was a close ally to previous leader Jeremy Corbyn and one of the few remaining links to the party's hard Left.
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl thanked Starmer for taking swift action on the matter.
“After Rebecca Long-Bailey shared a conspiracy theory, we and others gave her the opportunity to retract and apologize,” she said. “To our surprise and dismay, her response was pathetic. Her position as shadow education secretary was therefore untenable.
“There can be no space for this sort of action in any party, and it is right that after so many challenging years, Labour is now making this clear under its new leader,” van der Zyl said.
In addition, the Jewish Labour Movement issued a statement over Twitter, welcoming Starmer's actions.
"Keir Starmer's decision to ask Rebecca Long-Bailey to step down from the front bench should be welcomed," the movement said, and referenced the antisemitism and bullying practices that many have stated are prevalent within the party.
"We have consistently maintained that the pervasive culture of antisemitism, bullying and intimidation can only be tackled b strong and decisive leadership. The culture of any organization is determined by the values and behaviors of those who lead them. 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 institutionalized discrimination.
"We hope that the party, at every level, reflect and learn from this action."
Reuters contributed to this report.