(CNSNews.com) – A deepening row over anti-Semitism in Britain’s official opposition Labor Party could see the party’s left-wing leader punished in his first key electoral test – local government elections on Thursday – and may even jeopardize his eight-month old position at the helm.
Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday dismissed pollsters’ predictions that Labor could shed between 150-175 council seats. Not only would the party not lose any seats, he declared, but it was looking to gain some, as Labor did in the last local government elections four years ago.
Media outlets are reporting rumors that if Labor does badly in Thursday’s election, rivals in Corbyn’s leadership team may mount a challenge to his post.
But Corbyn blamed rumblings of a leadership challenge on “the media establishment” which he said was “obsessed” with the issue instead of matters of importance to the country, like inequality.
Corbyn and loyalists have played down reports about an internal “coup” although some suggest the leader’s opponents inside Labor are exploiting the anti-Semitism issue to undermine him.
Corbyn last September won the leadership with the strong backing of Labor-affiliated trade unions and other party members, but he did not enjoy the support of many Labor members of parliament (MPs).
In the run-up to the election Corbyn’s focus has been diverted by a growing scandal over anti-Israel – critics say anti-Semitic – sentiment in his party.
Several Labor functionaries and councilors are known to have been suspended since March, although the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday cited a Labor source as saying as many as 50 party members have been suspended over the past two months by an internal “compliance unit,” whose task is to investigate members accused of actions that bring the party into disrepute.
The most prominent suspensions, last week, were those of MP Naz Shah and the left-wing former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.
Also last week, Corbyn announced an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and racism in Labor, saying the party “will not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form whatsoever.”
“Anybody that thinks this party is not cracking down on anti-Semitism is simply wrong,” he told reporters on Thursday. “We have suspended where appropriate, we’ve investigated all cases.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews welcomed what it said was a “much-needed” inquiry
It said in a statement it had been “shocked and dismayed at the many people who seem to be in denial of the problem of anti-Semitism which is so clear.”
“At the same time, we wish to recognize the many leading Labor politicians and activists from all sections of the party who have spoken out against anti-Semitism in all its forms and to express concern at the intimidation to which some of them have been subjected,” the Board said.
Asked for the U.S. administration’s view of the matter, State Department spokesman Mark Toner pointed to Corbyn’s remarks.
“We categorically deplore and condemn anti-Semitism and racism in any and all of its forms,” he said. “We were glad to hear, frankly, that Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn did state definitively that his party will not tolerate anti-Semitism.”
Shah’s suspension came after a conservative blog reported on some of her social media postings from several years ago, including one suggesting Israelis be moved to the United States to solve the conflict.
Shah shared a graphic showing the map of Israel against the backdrop of the U.S., and carrying the words: “Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict. Relocate Israel Into United States.”
“Problem solved,” she wrote, adding – in reference to U.S. military aid to Israel – that the plan could also “save them some pocket money.”
Shah also posted a link to an online poll asking whether Israel was committing war crimes, and urged people to vote yes and forward it to all their contacts to do the same, because “the Jews are rallying to the poll” to vote no.
‘Stop drinking Gaza blood’
Other Labor councilors were suspended for making similar suggestions about deporting Israelis to America, and in one case for tweeting to an Israeli professional soccer player that “you and your country [are] doing the same thing that hitler did to ur race in ww2.”
One suspended Labor councilor had shared on Facebook an image captioned with the words, “stop drinking Gaza blood.”
Medieval “blood libels” – legends of ritual abuse by Jews against gentiles, especially children – led frequently to pogroms, mob violence and murder.
Livingstone was suspended after comments claiming that Hitler supported Zionism prior to the Holocaust, and after saying that there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
Livingstone a longstanding outspoken critic of Israel, also stoked controversy during his 2000-2008 mayoral term for hosting an Islamic cleric who had publicly voiced support for Palestinian suicide bombings. Livingstone called Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi a “man of peace.
Livingstone himself made comments perceived as justifying Palestinian suicide bombers.
“Given that the Palestinians don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons,” he said in 2005. “In that unfair balance, that is what people use.”
Corbyn himself has taken some controversial stances in the past. In an interview on Iran’s state-funded Press TV shortly after U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden five years ago, Corbyn called the raid “yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy.”
“The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy,” he continued. “Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back onto the world stage, been canonized virtually into law by Guantanamo and Bagram. Can’t we learn some lessons from this?”