Keir Starmer is under fire from the left of the Labour Party after sacking shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey for sharing an article containing an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”.
In an interview with The Independent, actor Maxine Peake suggested that Israel’s “secret service” had taught US police the “neck-kneeling” technique used by a Minneapolis officer with fatal results while arresting George Floyd.
Peake later retracted the claim, and the newspaper has added a clarification to the interview, with a spokesperson for the Israeli police saying “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”.
However, the article triggered a furious row within Labour after Long-Bailey shared the article on Twitter on Thursday along with the caption, “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond”. The Salford and Eccles MP later clarified that her retweet was not “an intention to endorse every part of that article”.
But less than three hours later, Starmer’s office released a statement announcing that he had sacked his former leadership rival. “Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority,” the statement said.
The Labour leader later told reporters: “I didn’t do that because she is anti-Semitic, I did it because she shared the article which has got, in my view, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in it.”
As The Guardian notes, the sacking has “reignited the party’s internal turmoil over the issue of anti-Semitism”. The Daily Mail describes a “civil war” between Starmer and allies of Jeremy Corbyn, who are rallying behind Corbynista Long-Bailey.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, tweeted that he stood in “solidarity” with Long-Bailey, and also shared the controversial Independent article.
McDonnell later shared a petition calling for her reinstatement that had been signed by just under 10,000 people as of midday on Friday.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Jon Trickett, who also served in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, tweeted: “What has Sir Keir got against Northern socialists from working class backgrounds?”
However, the Jewish Labour Movement said the sacking “should be welcomed”. And Labour MP Margret Hodge, an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism within Labour, tweeted: “This is what a change in culture looks like. This is what zero tolerance looks like.”
According to the BBC, Starmer spoke to members of the Socialist Campaign Group this morning, via Zoom, to discuss Long-Bailey’s sacking.
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