Newly elected British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer told Jewish leaders on Tuesday that it is “very important to me to seek to address the disgrace of anti-Semitism in our party as soon as possible,” JTA reports.
At a video meeting with representatives of several U.K. groups, Starmer committed to setting up an independent complaints process for anti-Semitism in the party, according to a statement issued afterward.
He also asked for a report on all outstanding cases to be in his hands by the end of the week.
In his victory speech after being elected on Saturday, the 57-year-old human rights lawyer apologized for how the Labour Party has handled anti-Semitism within its ranks and committed to making change.
After the video meeting, which included the party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, Starmer said he repeated the apology.
“Over the last few years, we have failed the Jewish community on anti-Semitism,” he said. “Labour is a proudly anti-racist party and, going forward, it will not be enough to ‘pass the test’ on anti-Semitism. We need to set new standards for best practice.”
In a statement, the Jewish leaders expressed appreciation for Starmer’s focus on the problem.
“While we would have fully understood the need to focus entirely on Coronavirus at this time, Keir Starmer has already achieved in four days more than his predecessor in four years in addressing anti-Semitism within the Labour Party,” they said, referring to Starmer’s predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.
“As we discussed with Keir and Angela, we want to have a normal relationship with Labour whereby we can discuss the full range of issues affecting our community, from religious freedom to Israel, from Jewish schools to poverty, from refugees to the environment – and not just anti-Semitism.”
Corbyn had faced ongoing accusations of anti-Semitism, both over his history of hostility towards Israel and support for anti-Israel terrorist groups, as well as the rise in anti-Jewish rhetoric within the party.
Dozens of Labour members have been suspended over their anti-Semitic statements in recent years, while the party has been criticized for its failure to deal with the anti-Semitism within it.
In the British parliamentary election this past December, Labour recorded its worst performance, in terms of seats, since 1935.
British Labour MPs who lost their seats in the general election later cited Labour's "unwillingness" to stand up to anti-Semitism as one of the issues that led to the party’s loss in the election.