So, another one bites the dust. Louise Ellman MP quit the Labour Party this week. The chairperson of Labour Friends of Israel is the latest in a line of right-wing Labour MPs to quit the party in protest against its left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Ellman is the second LFI chairperson this year to quit Labour. Joan Ryan MP stepped down from the party in February. At first, Ryan joined the splinter “Independent Group for Change”, before finally announcing last month that she intends to stand down from parliament at the next General Election.
After she quit the party to join a rival, Ryan’s position as chair of Labour Friends of Israel became untenable, for exactly the same reason that Luciana Berger MP had to step down as the Jewish Labour Movement’s parliamentary chairperson after she quit the party in the same month. Their positions in rival parties called into question the very “Labour” nature of the two pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby groups.
In fact, Labour Friends of Israel has long been a cut-out for the Israeli Embassy; a front group for a foreign power which is entirely hostile to the Labour movement and to Jeremy Corbyn. That Corbyn and the leadership team around him have utterly failed to come to grips with this crisis has endangered the whole movement, and could yet lead to his defeat and removal as Labour leader.
Indeed, Margaret Hodge – another supporter of Labour Friends of Israel in parliament – has made it her explicit goal to remove Corbyn at all costs. “I’m not giving up until Corbyn ceases to be leader,” she told the Jewish Labour Movement at the party conference last month.
For all their extreme talk of fighting till the bitter end, though, many of Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” ultras in the Parliamentary Labour Party seem to be slowly but surely giving up the ghost. Ryan and Ellman are not the only ones purging themselves.
John Mann played a key role in the political assassination of Ken Livingstone in 2016, pouncing on him with a camera crew in tow, disgustingly (and inaccurately) smearing the former Mayor of London as a “Nazi apologist”. Mann has for the past few years been a thorn in Corbyn’s side, but last month he announced that he too is stepping down from parliament to accept a job working in a powerful post on anti-Semitism for the Tory government.
Without exhibiting a trace of any awareness whatsoever of the horrific history of anti-Semitism, press and official sources alike described his new role as “the government’s anti-Semitism tsar”. The Russian Tsars, of course, were very often brutally anti-Semitic and guilty of some of the most horrific anti-Jewish pogroms in history.
Considering Mann’s role in muddying the waters and conflating valid criticisms of the state of Israel with such terrible anti-Semitism, some might consider his informal title as the “anti-Semitism tsar” to be entirely appropriate. Such conflation does indeed carry the very serious risk of actually promoting rather than challenging anti-Semitism.
Also gone from Labour is John Woodcock. The former bag-carrier for Gordon Brown quit last year, after being suspended over allegations that he had sent inappropriate messages to a former staff member. Woodcock is a big fan of NATO, and of Britain’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. He was a constant gadfly, and a hater of Corbyn’s internationalist, anti-war, pro-peace politics.
Not surprisingly, Woodcock was also active with Labour Friends of Israel, being listed as an officer on the group’s website. His name seems to have quietly disappeared from the site since Woodcock quit the party in disgrace.
Some of this is good, in a way. It means that the Labour Party could soon be free of attempts to flood it with anti-Palestinian propaganda.
However, despite stark media warnings over the past few years that under Corbyn the “hard left” would launch a “purge” of supposedly “moderate” MPs, the Labour leader has in fact bent over backwards to protect them; wrongly, in my view. Right-wing MPs like Joan Ryan stood openly in the 2017 General Election against their own party leadership. Despite this, Corbyn has time and again sought to protect these disloyal MPs from the wrath of the membership.
More optimistic readers may see this as a smart strategic move on Corbyn’s part, but I beg to differ. While allowing these MPs to jump rather than be pushed may save local Labour members from the hassle of running bitter deselection battles, it also leaves Corbyn vulnerable to the perception that he looks too weak to be prime minister. Sadly, there is an element of truth in this. Unless he gets tough and takes on the right-wing, anti-Palestinian elements wrecking his own party, it could soon be over for Jeremy Corbyn as well.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.