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UK Labour leader sacks rival over 'anti-semitic' article retweet

Rebecca Long-Bailey was asked to step down as education spokeswoman [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 June, 2020

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Rebecca Long-Bailey has been sacked from the Labour shadow cabinet in move that risks reigniting bitter splits in the main opposition party.

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer on Thursday sacked a leading rival from his top team for sharing an "anti-Semitic conspiracy theory", in a move that risks reigniting bitter splits in the main opposition party.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was asked to step down as shadow education secretary after endorsing an interview with an actress who claimed US police accused of killing George Floyd learned their tactics from Israeli secret services.

"The article Rebecca shared earlier today contained an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory," a spokesman for Starmer said. 

"As leader of the Labour party, Keir has been clear that restoring trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority.

"Anti-Semitism takes many different forms and it is important that we all are vigilant against it."

Starmer was elected Labour leader in April to replace Jeremy Corbyn, whose tenure at the helm of the centre-left party was marked by bitter splits.

His socialist views attracted thousands of new members but Corbyn's team was accused of failing to act on repeated incidents of anti-Semitic behaviour. It denied this.

Long-Bailey, a loyal supporter of Corbyn, ran for the leadership against Starmer and after missing out, he brought her into his top team in a public display of unity.

In a statement, Long-Bailey said she retweeted the article with actress Maxine Peake -- who she described as an "absolute diamond" -- because of the long-time Labour supporter's call for party unity.

"In no way was my retweet an intention to endorse every part of that article," Long-Bailey said.

She added that she would continue to support Labour under Starmer's leadership as an MP and "work towards a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world".

John McDonnell, who served as Corbyn's finance spokesman, said she should not have been sacked, offering her "solidarity".

"Throughout discussion of anti-Semitism it's always been said criticism of practices of Israeli state is not anti-Semitic," he said. 

However, Gideon Falter, head of the Campaign Against Antisemitism lobby group, hailed Starmer's "swift and firm action".

In the interview with The Independent, Peake's claim about US police tactics being "learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services" was challenged.

The newspaper carried a statement from Israeli police, saying "there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway".

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes during his arrest. 

His death has sparked anti-racism protests across the world.

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