London vote: Labour denies anti-Semitism in its ranks

2016-05-02 07:17
Candidate for London Mayor Sadiq Khan.  (AP)

Candidate for London Mayor Sadiq Khan. (AP)

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London - Senior Labour Party figures including leader Jeremy Corbyn are fighting back against charges there is anti-Semitism in the party's ranks before Thursday's vote for a new mayor of London and other posts.

Corbyn used a May Day rally to say the party "is absolutely against anti-Semitism in any form" after a tumultuous week that focused attention on the party's attitude toward Jews instead of its campaigning efforts.

Labour legislator Diane Abbott said on Sunday the party is being unfairly attacked by its political enemies.

"It is a smear to say that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism. It is not fair on ordinary Labour Party members," Abbott said. "Two hundred thousand people have joined the Labour Party. Are you saying that because there have been 12 reported incidents of hate speech online, that the Labour Party is somehow intrinsically anti-Semitic?"

Abbott, who helps set the party's international development policies, spoke on the BBC's widely viewed Andrew Marr talk show as the anti-Semitism debate dominated the final days of electioneering. The airwaves were filled with commentators debating whether the frequent criticism of Israeli government policies from Labour members had crossed over into anti-Semitism.

The issue flared up in the last week when Labour legislator Naz Shah was suspended for posting anti-Israel material before she was elected to Parliament. That prompted former London Mayor Ken Livingstone to defend her by saying that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist early in his political career.

Livingstone was quickly suspended from his role on the party's executive council, but his provocative comments led Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn to set up an independent review of anti-Semitism and other racism within the party, which was soundly defeated in last year's general election by Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives.

Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, who is leading in pre-election polls, said the comments have made his path to victory tougher.

"I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made make it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them," he told The Observer newspaper.

The party was also criticised because of Corbyn's past links to Interpal, a controversial British charity said by US officials to be backing extremist causes.

In April, Interpal helped sponsor a festival in Gaza in which students presented a skit that showed a young Palestinian pretending to stab two Israeli soldiers.

Conservative Party legislator Eric Pickles, Britain's special envoy for post-Holocaust matters, told the Daily Mail that Corbyn has failed to renounce the "repugnant" group.

Corbyn's office released a statement on Sunday defending his involvement with the group, which he said was recognised by the UN Relief Agency and the British Charities Commission.

The statement said Corbyn has supported Interpal's humanitarian work and in 2013 toured Gaza on an "Interpal backed" humanitarian trip that included a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat legislator.

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