Rachel Reeves: Labour Party won't tolerate Corbyn 'downplaying antisemitism'

The Shadow Chancellor made the comments at a Labour Friends of Israel lunch on Tuesday


Labour's Rachel Reeves has declared that the Labour Party will not tolerate the downplaying of antisemitism, which is why Jeremy Corbyn is not in the parliamentary party.

Speaking at the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) annual lunch on Tuesday, the shadow chancellor gave a strong defence of leader Sir Keir Starmer's record on tackling antisemitism, adding that Jew-hate "has no place in a party that holds equality as its highest value".

She also addressed "pain" of the recent Israeli election that saw the left wing decimated and the rise of far-right politicians, whose beliefs she described as "an affront to the values we hold dear”, but also unveiled a fresh industrial strategy which would include a partnership between Britain and Israel high tech firms “to explore the lessons we can learn from Israel’s success”.

Also present at the lunch were shadow cabinet members Yvette Cooper, Lisa Nandy, Steve Reed as well as a further 70 MPs and peers. Israeli Labor leader Merav Michaeli was also in attendance, appealing to her British counterparts to "stand by us" after a "disappointing" set of election results.

Ms Reeves began her speech with a passionate defence of Labour’s recent record of dealing with antisemitism, saying Sir Keir Starmer had honoured his pledge to “tear it out by the roots”.

She thanked former MPs Luciana Berger, Joan Ryan and Louise Ellman for their service, saying she had been “dismayed and disgusted” by the antisemitic abuse they had forced them to leave the party during the Corbyn leadership.

“Joan, Louise, we miss you in the House of Commons” Ms Reeves said. She added that she was delighted Sir Keir had now made Louise Ellman a Labour peer and that she had rejoined the party.

“I’m proud to have you back” she added.

She said that anyone who said Israel had no right to exist or compared Israelis to the Nazis were guilty of “antisemitism, which has no place in a party that holds equality as its highest value”.

“We will not tolerate the downplaying of antisemitism and that is why Jeremy Corbyn is no longer a member of the parliamentary party," she said.

However, she did not address claims by senior Labour sources who said last week that Mr Corbyn will never again be allowed to stand as a parliamentary candidate for the party.

She said she had seen the effect of Labour’s changed stance out campaigning on the doorstep in Barnet during this year’s local elections.

She also thanked the Community Security Trust for its vital work in protecting Jewish communities and the Holocaust Educational Trust, and said Labour would always support the Holocaust memorial next to Parliament.

Ms Reeves went on to unveil what she called a “new initiative” in Israel - UK relations. In September, she said, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds had said there would be a fresh industrial strategy under a Labour government. Part of this would be a partnership between Britain and Israel high tech firms, especially in the field of artificial intelligence, in which Israel has the 3rd largest industry in the world. This would enable Britain “to explore the lessons we can learn from Israel’s success”.

She said many in Labour were watching the Israeli election “nervously” and that she “shared the pain” of the Israeli left. The far right’s beliefs were “an affront to the values we hold dear”.

However, she said that Labour would indeed “stand in solidarity” with its Israeli counterpart and continue to campaign for a two-state solution. She quoted Sir Keir’s comment that Labour was “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine and pro-peace”. It would never countenance BDS, she added.

Ms Reeves said that her own visits to Israel had deepened her understanding and made her appreciate its peoples’ warmth.

She ended with a ringing affirmation: “I am proud to be a friend of Israel. I am proud to be a Labour Friend of Israel.” This earned her a standing ovation.

LFI chair Steve McCabe MP said the results of the recent Israeli election were a “wake up call” for the right and centre worldwide. He said LFI sent its solidarity to the Israeli Labour Party, whose leader Merav Michaeli flew in today to be at the lunch.

In her speech, Ms Michaeli thanked Sir Keir Starmer for “restoring the precious relationship between our two parties” and “leading the fight against antisemitism”. She admitted the results of the Israeli election was “deeply disappointing” but she asked LFI “to stand by us, stand with us, we need you. And the wider Israeli public also needs your support”.

She said Israeli Labour would “fight the destructive agenda” of the new government” but also the BDS movement, “which drives Israelis and Palestinians further apart and gives an excuse to avoid the compromises necessary for the path to peace.”

LFI chair Steve McCabe MP also referred to the recent JC investigation into corruption and human rights abuse by the Palestinian Authority. He said LFI remained committed to a two state solution but that for this to be achieved, it was vital that the PA undergo “reform and democratisation”.

He also called on the UK government to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation.

Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely also spoke about Iran, adding her voice to the call to proscribe the IRGC, and to support the protesters in Iran.

In August, now-prime minister Rishi Sunak said that the "brutal" stabbing of author Salman Rushdie makes the case for proscribing the IRGC: “The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie should be a wake-up call for the West, and Iran’s reaction to the attack strengthens the case for proscribing the IRGC.”

Calls have intensified this month for the Iranian religious police to be proscribed after threats to a number of UK-based Iranian journalists came to light, with some receiving police protection. However, the government has not yet responded to the calls.

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