across the pond

Jewish leaders, former MPs say new Labour leader will be judged by his actions

In victory statement, newly elected Labour head Keir Starmer apologized to the U.K. Jewish community for party's antisemitism

Chris McAndrew

Keir Starmer

Member of Parliament Keir Starmer was elected leader of the British Labour Party on Saturday, replacing Jeremy Corbyn as opposition leader.  

Details: Starmer, 57, who served as Shadow Brexit Secretary and was backed by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, won 56.2% of the first-preference votes in the Labour leadership election, beating Rebecca Long-Bailey — also a former shadow minister in Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet and considered an ally of the defeated leader — who received 27.6%, and MP Lisa Nandy. 

Jewish connection: In an interview with the Jewish News in February, Starmer revealed, “My wife’s family is Jewish. Her dad is Jewish, their family came over from Poland. The extended family live in Israel… We’re in regular contact with them and we’ve got various visits planned, basically to take our kids for the first time.”

Taking sides: On Friday, The Daily Mail published comments made by the late Rabbi Dr. David Goldberg, who was minister emeritus of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue where Starmer’s wife Victoria is a member, in which he criticized Starmer for not standing up to Corbyn. “I am very disappointed with Keir Starmer. Particularly as his wife and children are members of my synagogue. It’s their community which is under threat and yet he’s done so little. It’s pathetic,” a close friend quoted Goldberg as saying. 

Day one commitment: In his victory statement, the new Labour leader said that “antisemitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s 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 judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.” Starmer wrote a letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on Saturday, inviting them to meet to discuss measures to tackle antisemitism within Labour. 

Wait-and-see approach: The Board of Deputies welcomed the gesture, but emphasized that the new leader “will be judged on his actions rather than his words.” Former MP Joan Ryan, who quit Labour last year over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism, told Jewish Insider that she agrees with the group’s decision to wait to see if Starmer “matches his words” with action. “Corbyn has been a total disgrace and led Labour into a dark place, inflicting a catastrophic defeat on Labour,” Ryan said. “I know beyond a doubt that I and others were right to speak out and resign from Labour. We had to ensure Corbyn’s defeat was emphatic enough to end his leadership of Labour and end any possibility of a hard left candidate following him. Keir was absolutely right to apologize to the Jewish community. I hope now we can rebuild Labour on the basis of its traditional decent values and that he will truly root out antisemitism and extremism.” 

Low bar measure: Former MP Ian Austin, who also gave up his seat in parliament to protest Corbyn’s extremist views, told JI on Sunday that while Starmer was criticized for “not speaking out more strongly as extremism and racism poisoned the Labour Party” under his predecessor, he “is obviously an improvement on Corbyn, but that’s not a high bar.” The former MP said it “is good” that Starmer started with an apology, but Austin’s organization, Mainstream, has “set some very clear tests against which his leadership will be judged, and the public will want to see tough action and a new process to tackle antisemitism.” 

Getting back on track: Austin told JI that the process must include the ousting of racist party members, “including those whose cases were swept under the carpet under Corbyn.” He added, “And there will need to be sensible new policies on areas like the economy, security and foreign policy that show the party has really ditched the extremism of the Corbyn years. It will take years, not months of hard work and bold, determined leadership to restore Labour’s reputation as a credible political party of mainstream values.” 

Disciplining Corbyn: Campaign Against Antisemitism CEO Gideon Falter said in a statement that Starmer has “no time to lose” in making good on his pledge to rebuild relations with the Jewish community. “This must start with addressing our outstanding complaints against Jeremy Corbyn and disciplining him in order to send a message that anti-Jewish racism no longer has a home in the Labour Party,” Falter said. “Only once Sir Keir has shown that he is serious in tackling antisemitism can the Jewish community begin to engage with him in earnest.” 

View from Jerusalem: Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement he hopes the new Labour head “will live up to his promise to eradicate antisemitism” and “will strengthen the friendship between Britain and Israel.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.