Failure to deal with Labour antisemitism was a “tragedy”, says Ed Balls

Elliot Chappell

Ed Balls has described the failure to deal with antisemitism within the Labour Party as a “tragedy and a disaster” ahead of the expected publication of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In a Times Radio interview today, he told listeners that he does not think Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite but argued the former Labour leader had “stood with antisemitic people” and “said things which were antisemitic”.

The former Shadow Chancellor warned that a failure to acknowledge this and apologise would mean that the Labour Party would be left “hamstrung in tackling the genuine antisemites” within its ranks.

He said: “If Jeremy had come out quickly, in a very clear way, and said not only that antisemitism is wrong, but that it will be rooted out in the Labour Party, and that there are things I have done and said in the past, which I now regret, and I apologise for, things could have moved on.

“I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite. He’s not a racist man, but he undoubtedly not only stood with antisemitic people, but said things which were antisemitic.

“And because he wasn’t able to acknowledge that, his sort of anti-American, anti-liberal, anti-capitalist belief in his own anti-racist credentials, I think blinded him to the reality.

“Which is if you say to, to Jews who’ve been in our country for a very long time, as he said in 2013 – “they still don’t understand English irony” – that somehow they are outsiders, they are, because of their Jewishness, that means that they are sort of foreigners in their own country, that is antisemitic.”

Balls added: “If the leader can’t acknowledge that, and apologise and move on, it means that the whole party is then hamstrung in tackling the genuine antisemites who’ve always believed those antisemitic tropes and want to use it for their own political reasons. And so it was a tragedy and a disaster.”

The then Labour leader Corbyn experienced a backlash in 2018 when a recording from 2013 emerged of him speaking at a meeting organised by the Palestinian Return Centre about the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Commenting on the reaction to a speech by the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, he had said: “This was dutifully recorded by the, thankfully silent, Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards…

“They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.

“Manuel does understand English irony, and uses it very effectively. So I think they needed two lessons, which we can perhaps help them with.”

Corbyn said afterwards that he had used the term ‘Zionist’ “in the political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people” and added he is more careful with the word now, which he argued has been “hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews”.

Asked during the interview today whether the former Labour leader should still be in the party, Balls said: “Keir Starmer is going to want to move on. I don’t think Keir Starmer will or should kick Jeremy Corbyn out of the Labour Party.”

Karie Murphy declared earlier this week, in anticipation of the release of the EHRC report, that she is “proud” of the party’s record on dealing with antisemitism complaints under Corbyn’s leadership.

She wrote in The Guardian on Monday: “I want to set the record straight. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, antisemites were removed from the Labour Party more quickly, transparently and effectively than ever before.”

The chief of staff to the former Labour leader between 2016 and 2020 said that Corbyn had asked her to “improve the process, get antisemites out of our party and begin to rebuild trust with Jewish communities”.

She added: “Could more have been done earlier? Yes, of course. But what was done – including changes to the party’s rules and instituting detailed guidance on antisemitism for an expanded complaints team – unquestionably made it easier and swifter to remove antisemites from the party.”

The EHRC sent a draft report of its investigation into allegations of institutional antisemitism within the Labour Party in July this year. The final report is expected to be published on Thursday.

The draft was sent to Labour to review as part of the process. The party issued a statement at the time explaining that it would not comment on the contents of the draft report until the EHRC’s investigative process is completed.

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