Rebecca Long Bailey addressed Zionist council meeting to calm Labour antisemitism fears

Exclusive: The MP, now a candidate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, 'showed very little awareness' of issues important to the audience


Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long Bailey once addressed a meeting co-hosted by Manchester's Zionist Central Council and the Jewish Representative Council in a bid to calm fears among the local community about Jeremy Corbyn, the JC has learned.

But the meeting, which took place at the Manchester Bayit office used by the Bnei Akiva organisation, left most in attendance unimpressed with Ms Long Bailey’s understanding of the community, months after she was elected MP for Salford in 2015.

Multiple sources told the JC that Ms Long Bailey did not display any real grasp of the issues around the connection most in the Jewish community feel to Israel.

At one stage during the question and answer session, who is now shadow secretary of state for business, was asked for her opinion on the Boycott Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement but had to ask what this was.

Daniel Berke, chair of the Zionist Central Council, told the JC that Ms Long Bailey “showed very little awareness of issues which were clearly important to the audience”.

Mr Berke, a lawyer, added: “When asked for her views on BDS, she did not know what this was.

“It needed to be explained that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was a primary tool used to target Israeli academics, businesses, sports and culture and why this is largely considered to be an antisemitic movement.

"We were however assured by her comments that she was opposed to such boycotts."

The meeting's attendees were told in advance to refrain from being too aggressive with the new MP, as she had shown good intentions by agreeing to attend.

“We met with Ms Long Bailey at a time when Jews were becoming increasingly concerned by the leadership of Mr Corbyn and his associations with known antisemites, but still felt it possible to be able to express our concerns to Labour MPs known to be supportive of Mr Corbyn, in the hope that we would be listened to and our concerns given due weight and consideration,” Mr Berke said.

Another member of the Manchester Jewish community used the meeting to ask Ms Long Bailey why she had become a member of the Labour Friends of Palestine but not any other Labour group affiliated with another country or people.

“It was explained by audience members that Israel, as the Jewish Homeland, is central to the beliefs of a very large majority of Jews and that whilst we all hope for a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians, her leadership had been extremely one-sided,” said Mr Berke.

“Ms Long Bailey was asked why she had chosen to join Labour Friends of Palestine and not any other groups offering support to any of the many stateless people throughout the World; for example the Rohingya or Chechens.

"She replied that her first days at Parliament were rather like 'freshers’ week' and it seemed a popular organisation to join.

“She accepted readily that there were clearly two sides and gave a firm ‘promise’ that she would join Labour Friends of Israel so she could better understand the issues and for balance."

Despite this pledge, it is understood that Ms Bailey failed to make any move to join LFI in the months following the meeting.

In a further attempt to win back support for Mr Corbyn, Ms Long Bailey told the room she had no time for those who described the Labour leader as an antisemite and pointed out his lengthy record of attempting to help the British Jewish community.

“Nevertheless, the overall feeling following the meeting was that [she] had listened and had given assurances that she would speak with Mr Corbyn to pass on our concerns,” Mr Berke said.

“I do not know whether she did speak with Mr Corbyn, however she did not join Labour Friends of Israel and I recall feeling disappointed that the very clear promise she made to the audience, was not kept.”

The JC has contacted Ms Long Bailey’s office for comment on the meeting.

Last summer the JC revealed Ms Long Bailey had met representatives of the Jewish Labour Movement in a bid to calm anger over Mr Corbyn’s handling of the antisemitism issue.

Her decision to meet JLM came at a time when speculation grew about her wish to replace Mr Corbyn as leader.

It can also be revealed that Ms Long Bailey campaigned for Jewish Bury Labour councillor Richard Gold at the May 2019 local elections.

Mr Gold, who is the Jewish Labour Movement’s north west education officer, was once joined by Ms Long Bailey on the campaign trail immediately after she appeared on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show for an interview.

On Monday, former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said Ms Long Bailey was the candidate he "would worry about" adding, “she's the continuity candidate, she stands for Corbynism in its purest sense.”

Ms Long Bailey was enthusiastically backed on Monday by her friend and flatmate Angela Rayner, who has announced her bid to become the new deputy leader.

Ms Rayner said Labour needed to “regain moral authority” on the antisemitism issue and said that members who offend needed to know that “cross that line and you are out.”

The contest to succeed Mr Corbyn it to officially begin on Tuesday, with a new leader announced on April 4.

Ms Long-Bailey announced her decision to stand for the leadership contest on Monday evening in an article for Tribune.

It did not mention Labour’s antisemitism crisis and suggested no “compromise” over the party’s “anti-racist” position.

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