In one of his first actions as Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer has written to the Board of Deputies of British Jews to reiterate his commitment to stamping out antisemitism within the Labour Party.
Sir Keir was elected as the new leader of Labour Party on Saturday, winning the leadership contest with 56.2% of the vote. In his pre-recorded victory speech, Sir Keir said;
“We have to face the future with honesty. Antisemitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it has brought to so many Jewish communities, on behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry and I will tear out this poison by its roots and I judge success by the return of our Jewish members and those who felt they could no longer support us.”
In what could be seen to indicate Sir Keir’s level of commitment to dealing with the issue of antisemitism, he wrote to the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews during his first day in office as Labour leader. In a letter to Marie van der Zyl, Sir Keir said;
“I wanted personally to write to you as soon as I took office to reiterate my commitment to stamping out antisemitism within the Party and to extend an invitation to meet me to discuss this further.”
Sir Kier added, “I realise there is a long way to go to rebuild trust and that words now need to be accompanied by decisive action”. He said that he will be speaking with the Jewish community regarding the issue ‘in the coming days’ and would set out steps to be taken to ‘root out antisemitism once and for all’.
Antisemitism has now been an issue in the Labour Party for some time. Former leader Jeremy Corbyn did apologise repeatedly over incidents of antisemitism in the party, but many were left unsatisfied with how he dealt with the issue. In March 2019, a spokesperson for the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said: “Having received a number of complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs.”
The Board of Directors of British Jews represents the Jewish Community in Britain and helps the government, the media and others to understand their interests and concerns. Responding to the letter on Saturday and to the election of Sir Keir Starmer, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said;
“I would like to congratulate Sir Keir Starmer on his victory in the Labour leadership election and wish him well in his new post as Leader of the Opposition, especially at this time of an international health emergency.
“We were very pleased that he and all the other leadership contenders signed up to the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges on antisemitism. The new Deputy Leader Angela Rayner also signed up to these pledges and we also congratulate her on her election victory. Now they must act to rid the party of the awful disease of anti-Jewish racism.
“As the Corbyn era comes to an end, it is clear that history will not look kindly on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, where anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok and some at the highest levels of the Party have appeared to collude to protect – rather than discipline – antisemites.
“Keir Starmer has made some headway already today in the statement he made and in the letter he has written to us. We have always said that the Labour Party leader will be judged on his actions rather than his words and this remains the case today.
It was added that the Board will work with Sir Keir and the new Deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner to help the party “begin to repair its relationship with the Jewish community in the months and years ahead.”