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Thu, 3 December 2020

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Keir Starmer urged to take action against Diane Abbott over Zoom call with Labour members expelled in anti-semitism row

Keir Starmer urged to take action against Diane Abbott over Zoom call with Labour members expelled in anti-semitism row

Keir Starmer is being urged to take stronger action against Diane Abbott (PA)

4 min read

Keir Starmer is being urged to take stronger action against Diane Abbott after she addressed a meeting with activists expelled from Labour amid its long-running anti-semitism crisis.

Jewish groups are calling on the party leader to act against the former frontbencher after he promised to make dealing with anti-Jewish abuse his top priority when taking over from Jeremy Corbyn less than a month ago.

Ex-shadow home secretary Ms Abbott, along with fellow MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who briefly served as shadow immigration minister earlier this year, dialled in to an event via Zoom earlier this week hosted by the newly formed 'Don't Leave, Organise' group, supported by former shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

One of the speakers was Jackie Walker, expelled for “prejudicial and grossly detrimental behaviour against the party”, and was also attended by Tony Greenstein, who was kicked out of Labour after breaching party rules on abusive behaviour.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, both Ms Abbott and Ms Ribeiro-Addy gave speeches during the call about the recently leaked report into anti-semitism in the party.

But at one point a Labour activist named Nushi addressed the meeting, and reportedly told the group: "Ken Livingstone was expelled from the party for saying in truth a historical statement.”

Mr Livingstone, the former London mayor, quit the party in 2018 after a two-year suspension triggered after he claimed Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism.

In response to the call, a spokesperson for the Labour Party said: "The previous comments made by some of the individuals on this call are completely unacceptable.

"These are not people who support the values of the Labour Party.

"This is being made clear to the Labour MPs who attended the call in the strongest possible terms and they are being reminded of their responsibilities and obligations.”

But the Board of Deputies of British Jews has called on Sir Keir to go further, after he declared anti-Semitism was “a stain on our party” and pledged to “tear out this poison by its roots”.

Its president Marie van der Zyl said: “As soon as we learnt about this we raised it with Keir Starmer’s office and with the Labour whips. 

“It is completely unacceptable that Labour MPs, and even ordinary members, should be sharing platforms with those that have been expelled from the party for anti-semitism.

“Indeed, this breaches the Board of Deputies’ Ten Pledges that Keir and the other Labour leadership contenders signed up to. 

“We would urge Labour to take swift and decisive action to show that this is a new era, rather than a false dawn.”

And Euan Philipps, a spokesperson for the Labour Against Antisemitism group, said the actions of the two MPs “demanded a strong and unequivocal response” from Sir Keir.

“Unfortunately, his decision to remind the two MPs of their responsibilities is an inadequate measure that fails to meet the standards he agreed to just a few weeks ago,” he added.

Accusing the Labour leader of missing “the opportunity to send a clear message that antisemitism will not be tolerated in his party” he said Sir Keir should have suspended Ms Abbott and Ms Ribeiro-Addy and removed the party whip.

And a spokesperson for the affiliated group the Jewish Labour Movement said: “If the Labour Party are going to be able to demonstrate that it has taken antisemitism and racism seriously, then it need to show consistency. 

“That includes anyone who holds a position of responsibility within the party staying well clear of those who do not share our values.”

In response a spokesperson for both MPs said, “The MPs were not aware that any suspended or expelled former members of the Labour Party might contribute as audience members.

"They did not and would not share a platform with them.

"Both MPs are long-standing anti-racist campaigners and are known for standing up to all forms of bigotry.”

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