Sir Keir Starmer to hold talks with Jewish community leaders in first week as Labour leader

Sir Keir is to meet with members of JLM, the Board of Deputies, the JLC and the CST on Tuesday


DURHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union addresses the audience during the Labour Party Leadership hustings at the Radisson Blu Hotel on February 23, 2020 in Durham, England. Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy are vying to replace Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who offered to step down following his party's loss in the December 2019 general election. The final ballot will open to party members and registered and affiliated supporters on February 24. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Sir Keir Starmer is due to stage a pre-Passover video conference on Tuesday with Jewish leaders as a sign of his commitment to tackling the antisemitism crisis that engulfed the party under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The discussions, which also involved Labour’s newly elected deputy leader Angela Rayner, were called after Sir Keir wrote of his determination to “stamp out antisemitism’’ in his party.

Due to be attendance are Peter Mason and Mike Katz from the Jewish Labour Movement and Marie van der Zyl and Gillian Merron from the Board of Deputies.

Gerald Ronson and David Delew represented the CST, while Jonathan Goldstein and Simon Johnson are also due to speak for  the Jewish Leadership Council.

The scheduling of the conference was the latest sign of the new Labour leader’s determination to put his party’s rift with community at the forefront of his agenda, even amid the coronavirus crisis.

Attempts by Mr Corbyn to meet Jewish communal leaders had ended in disaster as rows broke out over the ex-leader’s stance on the IHRA definition of antisemitism and his failure to distance himself from the claim Israel was a “racist endeavour”.

Ahead of the meeting, one senior communal figure praised Sir Keir’s rapid-fire approach to facing down the problem of anti-Jewish racism in Labour.

They said: “He’s achieved more in four and a half days that Jeremy Corbyn achieved in four and a half years.’’

Another said: “If you would have predicted we would be where we are today just one week ago, I don’t think I would have believed you.

“It is still very early days, of course, but the intent is there.”

Just hours after he was confirmed as Labour leader last weekend, Sir Keir pointedly made contact with leading Jewish figures both within the Labour Party and outside to express his desire to hold an “open and honest” debate about resolving the issues around anti-Jewish racism.

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Sir Keir was asked about his decision to make an apology to the Jewish community in his victory speech.

He said: “I didn’t make [my apology] to win votes, I did that because it was a value statement, a matter of principle.

“And then I spent yesterday afternoon making a number of calls reaching out to leaders in the Jewish community to demonstrate that I want to rebuild the trust that we have to rebuild.”

As the JC revealed last month, Sir Keir has confirmed to the JLM he would see their organisation as “the vehicle we work with within the Labour Party”, particularly with regards to ensuring every local party branch receives antisemitism training sessions.

In a letter sent to Board President Mrs van der Zyl, Sir Keir repeated the apology, he made in his victory speech “on behalf of the Labour Party for our failure to stamp out antisemitism… I now repeat that apology to you.’’

Sir Keir added that he hoped the Board President would “always feel able to speak candidly and honestly with me’’, before repeating his pledge to adopt the Board’s Ten Pledges on tackling antisemitism.

He also wrote that he was “saddened to learn of the particularly high death rate in the Jewish community’’ as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding “if there is anything the Labour Party can do to help, please let me know.’’

Ruth Smeeth, the Jewish former MP for Stoke on Trent North, also confirmed that she too had been contacted by Sir Keir hours after his election as leader.

Writing for Jewish News, the ex-parliamentary chair of JLM said: “Within hours of the result, Keir Starmer called me to discuss anti-Jewish hate in the Labour Party.

“He wrote to the Board of Deputies to both apologise and to set the wheels in motion for moving forward. He has asked the Board, the JLC, CST and JLM to ‘virtually’ meet him next week to start the long process of rebuilding trust.”

Both Ms Smeeth and the Board President said that ultimately, the new Labour leader would be “judged on his actions rather than his words.’’ 

Mrs van der Zyl added: “Now they must act to rid the party of the awful disease of anti-Jewish racism.”

JLC chair Mr Goldstein said he hoped Sir Keir’s victory would be “the beginning of a healing process between the party and our community”.

Sir Keir also sent a letter to all MPs reminding them of their duty to restore the broken relationship with the Jewish community.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Sir Keir also repeated his desire to see the return to the party of Dame Louise Ellman, who quit the party after 57 years as a member in protest at Mr Corbyn’s failure on antisemitism.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive