Rebecca Long-Bailey Sacked
Labour leader Keir Starmer sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary on Thursday afternoon amid claims she shared an article containing antisemitic views. The sacking came within five hours of a tweet by Long-Bailey, which praised actress Maxine Peake and shared an interview done with her in the Independent.
During the interview, Peake stated “Systemic racism is a global issue. The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.” This was quickly criticised online, with critics alleging that Peake was linking police brutality and systemic racism in America to the state of Israel, and that this amounted to an antisemitic conspiracy theory.
Long-Bailey quickly distanced herself from this part of the interview, stating that her tweet had not been meant as an endorsement of every part of the article. Peake made various statements in the article, in which she criticized the Conservative government and called for unity in the Labour party. Nevertheless, Starmer chose to remove his former leadership rival from the front bench, one of the few remaining frontbenchers from the Corbyn era.
The Independent initially justified Peake’s comments with a link to an article by Amnesty International, which reported that many police departments have sent personnel to training seminars in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In doing so, Amnesty says that US police were “placed in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years”. However Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson for the Israeli police, has denied that Israeli training seminars specifically taught officers the technique that had killed George Floyd, as some have claimed. He stated that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”, although several media outlets claim to show photographic evidence of Israeli security forces doing so.
The speed of Starmer’s decision to sack Long-Bailey comes as the Labour Leader faces pressure to deal with antisemitism within Labour, with this being one of the first instances he has had to deal with as leader. The move is already being praised on the one hand as a decisive response to cases of antisemitism, whilst also being criticised as a knee-jerk, factional reaction to a complicated incident, with journalist Owen Jones calling it “an absurd overreaction”. The left-wing blog Sqwawkbox, which is known for its close connections with politicians on the Labour left, claims that the real reason for the sacking is an internal row over the leadership’s support for schools returning, which has been opposed by Long-Bailey and several teaching unions.