Labour antisemitism row: public figures say they cannot vote for party under Corbyn

Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin
Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Authors John Le Carré and William Boyd are among a string of public figures declaring they refuse to vote Labour because of its association with antisemitism.

In a letter to the Guardian, they said ignoring antisemitism “because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government”.

Both Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, and Boyd have previously expressed strongly anti-Brexit views. They joined others including Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia who has previously been sympathetic to Labour, the actor Simon Callow , and the historians Antony Beevor and Dan Snow.

Trevor Phillips, the former Labour politician and ex-chair of the equalities watchdog, and Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of the Tell Mama group fighting Islamophobia, also said they could not vote Labour.

Related: Concerns about antisemitism mean we cannot vote Labour | Letter

The letter said: “The coming election is momentous for every voter, but for British Jews it contains a particular anguish: the prospect of a prime minister steeped in association with antisemitism. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has come under formal investigation by the EHRC [Equality and Human Rights Commission] for institutional racism against Jews. Two Jewish MPs have been bullied out of the party. Mr Corbyn has a long record of embracing antisemites as comrades.

“We listen to our Jewish friends and see how their pain has been relegated as an issue, pushed aside by arguments about Britain’s European future. For those who insist that Labour are the only alternative to Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, now, it seems, is not the time for Jewish anxiety.

“But antisemitism is central to a wider debate about the kind of country we want to be. To ignore it because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government. Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?

“Opposition to racism cannot include surrender in the fight against antisemitism. Yet that is what it would mean to back Labour and endorse Mr Corbyn for Downing Street. The path to a more tolerant society must encompass Britain’s Jews with unwavering solidarity. We endorse no party. However, we cannot in all conscience urge others to support a political party we ourselves will not. We refuse to vote Labour on 12 December.”

Other signatories on the list include Frederick Forsyth, a Eurosceptic Conservative, Tony Parsons, the author who identified himself as “Tory scum” in 2015, and the actor Joanna Lumley, whom David Cameron once tried unsuccessfully to persuade to stand as a Conservative candidate and who supported Boris Johnson’s ill-fated garden bridge project. Ghanem Nuseibeh, a businessman and chair of Muslims Against Antisemitism, has tweeted supportively about the Conservatives.

There are also Lib Dem supporters on the list, including Maajid Nawaz, the broadcaster and founding chair of the Quilliam anti-extremist thinktank, and Oz Katerji, a journalist and filmmaker.

A Labour party spokesperson said: “It’s extraordinary that several of those who have signed this letter have themselves been accused of antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny. It’s less surprising that a number are Conservatives and Lib Dems.

“We take allegations of antisemitism extremely seriously, we are taking robust action and we are absolutely committed to rooting it out of our party and wider society.”

Labour has been under pressure for some time over accusations it has not dealt swiftly enough with allegations of antisemitism by members. However, the party maintains it has overhauled its systems and now has a streamlined complaints process.

The EHRC began its formal investigation into Labour in May over whether the party has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish.

On Thursday, Luciana Berger, the Lib Dem candidate and former Labour MP, called on the equalities watchdog to publish its report into allegations of antisemitism in the party before the election, saying voters deserved to know what they were voting for.

Speaking at an event, Berger said: “My last contribution in parliament was to say that Boris Johnson should release the intelligence committee’s report into [Russian interference in British politics] and similarly the Equality and Human Rights Commission should release its report into institutional antisemitism in [Labour].

“Both of them point to issues that people should be concerned about and aware of in the run-up to the general election in four weeks’ time.”

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