Labour suspends party members in antisemitic Facebook group
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Labour suspends party members in antisemitic Facebook group

Labour has suspended several party members who posted in a closed antisemitic Facebook group, of which Jeremy Corbyn was also a member, with the party’s compliance unit working through a dossier on the group compiled by a campaigner.

Posts on Palestine Live appear to include links to Holocaust denial myths, allegations of Israel’s involvement in the 9/11 and 7/7 terror attacks as well as the training of Islamic State fighters, and conspiracy theories involving the Rothschild family.

It is understood disciplinary procedures, including suspensions, have been initiated against a number of members of Palestine Live where they have been found to be Labour members, though it is understood that at least one, who had been presenting as a Labour member, was not.

Corbyn posted several times in the group when he was tagged in posts. He left the group in 2015, around the time he became Labour leader, although the party has not confirmed whether it was before or after he won the leadership contest or what motivated his departure.

Corbyn said his posts were limited to some replies, including “a suggestion on the vote on recognising Palestine, which I supported, and inviting a doctor to speak at an event”.

Corbyn said he had not seen the other antisemitic posts on the group. “Had I seen it, of course, I would have challenged it straight away but I actually don’t spend all my time reading social media,” he said during a visit to Derbyshire.

“I have never trawled through the whole group. I have never read all the messages on it. I have removed myself from it,” he told the Press Association. “Obviously, any antisemitic comment is wrong. Any antisemitism in any form is wrong.”

The Palestine Live group was founded in 2013 and had a privacy setting that meant administrators could add people to the group without their agreeing to it. It is understood that Corbyn believes he may have been added to the group by an acquaintance, who simultaneously added him as a Facebook friend when he was a backbench MP.

The Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Chris Williamson were members of the group, as were two former Liberal Democrat politicians, Baroness Jenny Tonge and the former MP David Ward.

Jacqueline Walker, the former Momentum steering group member who is suspended from Labour for comments calling Jewish people “the main financiers of the slave trade”, is also a member.

The context

Labour has been repeatedly blighted by charges that it has failed to tackle antisemitism in the party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015. Supporters of Corbyn, who has a long history of supporting Palestinians in their dispute with Israel, fear the issue is being used to undermine his leadership.

Labour suspends Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor and former lord mayor of Bradford, after he shared a Facebook post that said “your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the 6 million Zionists that were killed by Hitler”. He later quit the party.

Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, apologises for writing a series of antisemitic posts on Facebook including arguing for Israel’s population to be ‘transported’ out of the Middle East. She also resigns as PPS to John McDonnell and after sustained pressure is suspended from the party a day later.

A two-month inquiry by Shami Chakrabarti, ordered by Corbyn, urges Labour members to avoid abusive language and references to Hitler and Holocaust metaphors. It is criticised as being too soft on the issue and regarded as compromised because Chakrabarti had just accepted a peerage.

Jackie Walker is removed as vice-chair of Momentum after criticising Holocaust Memorial Day but is allowed to remain on its steering committee. She was earlier suspended by the party for questioning why Holocaust Memorial Day did not recognise other genocides.

Livingstone again avoids expulsion from the party after a disciplinary panel rules he should be suspended for another year over comments about antisemitism, Hitler and Zionism. Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis,  accuses Labour of failing the Jewish community by not expelling Livingstone.

In one post, Walker appears to ask: “How safe is this group?”, to which the group’s founder, Elleanne Green, replied: “Very. no one is allowed in who is not trusted. I am very very careful, it is a secret group.”

On Wednesday, when Corbyn’s membership of the group was first revealed, his spokesman said Corbyn would “take whatever necessary action to stamp [antisemitism] out in the Labour party.”

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting that anything that Jeremy has written in any Facebook group or anywhere else constitutes antisemitic comments,” he said. “As I understand it, there were thousands of members of this group. As anyone knows, in social media all sorts of things are posted which often others participating aren’t even aware of.

“It is repugnant if there are antisemitic posts – and I gather there are. If they involve anyone to do with the Labour party then investigation and disciplinary action will be taken.”

Palestine Live’s content was first revealed in a 250-page dossier looking at the posts and profiles of members of the group, compiled by the businessman David Collier, who said his blog was dedicated to “researching antisemitism inside anti-Zionist activity”.

Joseph Glasman, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said the organisation would be filing complaints against Corbyn and Lewis to the Labour party. “There is no conceivable justification for Jeremy Corbyn’s participation in this group. One of Mr Corbyn’s slogans is ‘standing up, not standing by’, but in this case he has not stood up but instead he actively joined in,” Glasman said.

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