Antisemitism in Political Parties

Ruth George

2017-present: Labour Member of Parliament for High Peak, Derbyshire 

Incidents

1. On 19th February 2019, it was reported that Ruth George MP had been asked on Facebook for her views on local Labour Councillor Nick Longos having ‘loved’ a comment made on a Facebook post he had shared, which had been interpreted as calling the new Independent Group of MPs (Labour MPs who had resigned citing Labour’s failure to deal with antisemitism) “Israelis”. Asked whether she endorsed this or thought it an appropriate way for a Labour Councillor to behave, Ms George replied: “I would condemn the calling of anyone as an Israeli when it’s not the case. The comment appears not to refer to the independent MPs but to their financial backers. Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’ of which Luciana was chair is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group’s financial backers are not being revealed. It’s important for democracy to know the financial backers for any political group or policy.”

2. On 8th May 2019, it was reported in the Jewish Chronicle that newly elected High Peak Labour Councillor Rachel Abbotts had, in 2016, shared an article on Facebook, originally published by the virulently antisemitic Barnes Review website, entitled: “The Jewish declaration of war on Nazi Germany.” It was reported that the material had been referred to Ms George in February 2019; in an e-mail to one complainant, she had insisted that both she and the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had been unaware of the post, and of previous complaints about it, and that it had been passed on to the local and national party for investigation. However, it was further reported that the Party’s complaints unit claimed to have no record of receiving the material and was investigating “urgently” after the Jewish Chronicle’s enquiries. It was noted that, notwithstanding the complaint against her, the CLP had continued to support Cllr Abbotts’ candidacy, having decided that there was “no evidence of antisemitism on [her] part.” 

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Ms George’s actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

By lending credence to the notion that the Independent Group of MPs could be secretly financially backed by Israel (making specific reference to Jewish MP Luciana Berger) and implying that this would be harmful to British democracy [1], Ms George was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

By implying that Luciana Berger, as a British MP, indirectly received money in order to serve the purposes of a foreign power [1], Ms George was also invoking the notion of “dual loyalty” by “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.”

By claiming that she had reported evidence of the dissemination of antisemitic discourse by Rachel Abbotts, a Labour activist, in her local constituency party [2] when she reportedly had not done so, failing to publicly call out Ms Abbotts’ statements, and, in the absence of any clear disciplinary process apparently taking place against her, allowing her by default to be promoted to the position of councillor, Ms George may have been enabling the dissemination of antisemitic discourse in the Labour Party.

Outcome

On 19th February 2019, a matter of hours after her initial comment, Ms George apologised, saying: “On my earlier response to a Facebook comment, I unreservedly and wholeheartedly apologise for my comment. I had no intention of invoking a conspiracy theory and I am deeply sorry that my ill-thought out and poorly worded comment did this. I withdraw it completely.” 

It was reported that a Labour Party spokesperson had said: “It’s right that Ruth George has apologised for these offensive remarks. The Whips Office is reminding Ruth George of the conduct expected of her.” It was also reported that she had deleted her original comments.

On 24th April 2019, a Jewish Twitter user claimed that, in May 2018, he had requested that Ms George report a member of her CLP — Ms Kasey Carver — to Labour’s compliance team for “posting racist material”, and that she had responded by saying it had been referred to the Party’s Governance and Legal unit. Having learned that Ms Carver was standing as a candidate in the May 2019 local elections, the user reported that he had forwarded the matter to Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson to deal with “as a matter of urgency”, assuming that the problem lay with the Party’s internal disciplinary processes. It was noted, however, that Ms George and Ms Carver were still ‘friends’ on Facebook, and had been photographed campaigning together less than two weeks previously.

On 26th April 2019, commenting on Ms Carver’s status, Ms George stated: “The complaints against Casey were investigated by the Party’s legal and compliance unit last year and her explanation and apology were accepted.”

On 8th May 2019, it was reported in the Jewish Chronicle that Kasey Carver had been elected as secretary to the High Peak CLP.

On 17th May 2019, it was reported that the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) had written to Ms George, urging her to withdraw her support for Cllr Abbotts and describing her failure to “call out the hate…publicly” as “extremely disappointing”.

On 2nd July 2019, it was reported that the Conservative candidate for High Peak had criticised Ms George for not having publicly responded to the JLM, and asked her to provide proof that an official complaint about Cllr Abbotts had been received by Labour’s head office. Ms George reportedly claimed to have responded to the JLM in the week following receipt of their letter, and further stated that she had been sent a reference number for the investigation into Cllr Abbotts, and was therefore confident that it had been received.

On 31st October 2019, the Conservative candidate for High Peak, Robert Largan, claimed that Ms George had appointed Kasey Carver as her campaign coordinator, an allegation which Ms George strenuously denied. 

Whilst it appears that this was a misunderstanding (Ms Carver was campaign coordinator for the Glossopdale branch, not High Peak itself), on 11th November 2019, Mr Largan pointed out that, although Ms George had claimed that Ms Carver had no role in her campaign team, Ms Carver had apparently given a speech at Ms George’s campaign launch.

Mr Largan also alleged that he had complained to High Peak Labour over antisemitic abuse from the former Labour councillor Nick Longos (see [1]), who appeared to believe Mr Largan to be Jewish, but that Ms George and the Party had failed to respond.

On 23rd November 2019, it was reported that Mr Longos had been suspended by Labour, pending an investigation into his conduct, and Ms George said she had also reported Mr Longos to the police. A spokesman for Ms George reportedly said: “Ruth George previously reported Nick Longos’ unacceptable conduct to the Labour Party, which immediately suspended him, and she also reported him to the police. He has not been involved in Ruth George’s campaign team. Robert Largan has not made any allegations to us about inappropriate conduct towards him from local Labour activists.”

On 25th November 2019, Mr Largan shared an open letter he had written to Ms George, in which he alleged that, during a hustings debate held on Friday 22nd November, she had stated that she had “never ever said anything antisemitic, and the only reason [she had] been condemned by both the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Against Antisemitism was because the Jewish Chronicle posted incorrect stories about [her].” Mr Largan went on to request that Ms George clarify whether she still accepted that her Facebook post in [1] was “invoking a racist conspiracy theory”, and whether she stood by her subsequent apology of 19th February 2019 (see above).

On 28th November 2019, Ms George responded by publishing an open letter to Mr Largan, in which she claimed that he had misrepresented her comments at the 22nd November hustings, and stating, with regard to her Facebook post in [1]: “As soon as I became aware that my post was construed as invoking a conspiracy theory, I immediately apologised as I had no intention of invoking such a theory and withdrew the statement. I categorically deny that my comment was racist.” 

Ms George further stated that she was instigating legal action against Mr Largan for what she considered to be false statements of fact about her personal character as per section 106(1) of the Representation of the People Act 1983.

On 29th November 2019, Mr Largan responded by issuing a lengthy statement in which he detailed much of the matter above, and noted that he had reported Ms George to the police for an offence under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, reserving the right to pursue defamation proceedings against her.

We do not know whether disciplinary action has been taken by the Labour Party against Ms George, and at the time of writing, on 26th November 2019, we have no record of any. However, the circumstances and outcomes of any such action would remain unknown, owing to the conditions of secrecy imposed by Baroness Chakrabarti’s report on antisemitism in the Labour Party.

We put this matter to Ms George, who told us in response on 4th December 2019: “Thank you for contacting me about these serious allegations which are being promoted by the Conservative candidate for High Peak. The allegations regarding my actions are incorrect and the case has therefore been referred by me to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is therefore subject to legal process. I take the issue of anti-semitism [sic] very seriously. That is why I immediately apologised for my comment on Facebook and withdrew it in case it gave the impression that I believed any of the anti-semitic [sic] tropes that were being implied by others. I most certainly do not believe such tropes and have always made that clear. As for any allegations of anti-semitism [sic] by association, I have always reported allegations of anti-semitism [sic] when they have been brought to my attention. This includes the instance involving anti-semitic [sic] images which were sent to Mr Largan by Mr Longos. Mr Largan did not make a complaint to me, but when these were brought to my attention when he published them on social media at the start of the election campaign, I reported Mr Longos immediately to both the Labour Party and the police. I wrote to Mr Largan to inform him of my actions and offer him my sympathy.”

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “bad”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 4th December 2019.

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