LONDON — Britain's Labour Party suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday over his response to a watchdog's report on persistent anti-Semitism in the center-left opposition party during his five-year reign.
The suspension also shines light on a long-running feud within Europe’s largest democratic socialist party over its very soul, as hard-left “Corbynistas” pushing for radical change duke it out with a more moderate wing more ideologically aligned with Tony Blair, the centrist former Labour prime minister.
Jewish leaders, including lawmakers in the Labour Party, have for years accused the party rank-and-file and grandees of using anti-Semitic language on social media and in party meetings, including smears against Jews at large and anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric often veering into outright anti-Semitism.
Corbyn has also personally faced charges of anti-Semitism. He hosted a 2010 panel at which Israelis were compared to Nazis and in 2012 defended an artist’s freedom of speech but did not condemn the London mural that depicted Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on a board balanced on the bent backs of workers.
On the eve of the 2019 election, the chief rabbi in Britain launched a blistering rebuke of the Labour Party and Corbyn, saying the “poison” of anti-Semitism was being ignored.
Corbyn, a 1970s-era far-left firebrand who assumed the leadership of the Labour Party in 2015, almost led the party to victory in the 2017 election against a fumbling Theresa May with a promise to fight for “the many, not the few.”
As it turned out, the Conservative Party barely eked out a win, without a majority. This condemned May’s premiership to countless showdowns in Parliament, especially over her Brexit plans, which were eventually upended by the ascendance of Boris Johnson to the prime ministerial position.
On Thursday, Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a damning report that concluded that Labour under Corbyn suffered from “serious failings” of leadership “in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints.”
The investigators found evidence of harassment targeting those making complaints and “political interference” to blunt the complaints.
Corbyn has played down the report’s conclusions, suggesting that anti-Semitism in Labour was no worse than in British society at large and was hyped by the media and critics.
In a statement Thursday, the 71-year-old said, “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.”
Corbyn conceded: “That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated. My sincere hope is that relations with Jewish communities can be rebuilt and those fears overcome.”
Corbyn’s pushback against the long-awaited report was in stark contrast to the words uttered a few hours earlier by the Labour Party’s new leader, Keir Starmer, who said, “I found this report hard to read.”
Starmer said: “It is a day of shame for the Labour Party. We have failed Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public.”
In a statement he read aloud, Starmer continued, “On behalf of the Labour Party, I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
Corbyn’s rebuttal of the report was swiftly dealt with by Labour leaders, who suspended him from the party pending an investigation.
On Twitter, Corbyn said he would strongly contest his ouster and condemned the suspension as a “political intervention.”