The most significant Labour split over anti-Semitism is not between the party’s left and right – but within the left itself.
A leaked recording of National Executive Committee member Peter Willsman blaming “Trump fanatics” in the Jewish community for false claims of anti-Semitism has prompted Corbynite commentators to call for his withdrawal from Momentum’s NEC election slate – a demand as yet unsatisfied.
A Corbyn ally and fellow NEC member said of Willsman: “He’s a complete loudmouth, There’s not a single NEC meeting when he doesn’t explode, shout and rant for some reason or another – usually in a deeply embarrassing way.”
The front page of today’s Times goes further and suggests that John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political ally, is “leading a shadow cabinet rebellion” against his handling of anti-Semitism. The paper adds: “In particular he is said to have demanded an end to disciplinary proceedings against Dame Margaret Hodge, MP, brought after she allegedly swore at Mr Corbyn and called him an anti-Semite.”
This is unsurprising: McDonnell publicly said as much on Sky News nine days ago. As the shadow chancellor stated then: “My view is let’s resolve this very, very quickly, almost drop the complaint, and let’s move on.”
This is not the first time that McDonnell, who was recently described by Momentum head Jon Lansman as both “more ideological and more pragmatic” than Corbyn, has publicly differed with the Labour leadership. In March, the shadow chancellor called for Labour MPs to boycott the TV channel Russia Today and unambiguously blamed the Putin government for the Salisbury attack – stances which were not then echoed by Corbyn.
Labour sources reject as “untrue” any suggestion that there are further divisions between McDonnell and Corbyn on anti-Semitism, such as over the adoption of the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance guidelines.
Several shadow cabinet ministers, including shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth and shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, have publicly backed the IHRA position and the four examples of anti-Semitism omitted from the current Labour code: accusing Jewish people of being more loyal to Israel than their home country; claiming that Israel’s existence as a state is a racist endeavour; requiring higher standards of behaviour from Israel than other nations; comparing contemporary Israeli policies to those of the Nazis.
Labour argues that these examples, though not replicated word for word, are covered by other sections of the code (which the party is still consulting on). A senior MP, however, suggested that the leadership was “in a minority” not merely among the parliamentary party but the shadow cabinet.
Several Corbyn allies privately despair that Labour’s anti-Semitism divisions are diverting attention from the party’s policy programme and the Tories’ internecine warfare. Though they argue that there are legitimate objections to the IHRA definition, they believe that its acceptance is now essential for the party to “settle with the Jewish community” and “move on”.