Jeremy Corbyn insists new Peterborough MP Lisa Forbes is not racist as Labour MPs put in official complaints
Jeremy Corbyn has defended the new MP for Peterborough after two complaints were submitted against her by Labour MPs.
Lisa Forbes triumphed at Thursday’s by-election after narrowly defeating the Brexit Party, but she is already coming under increasing pressure due to liking an antisemitic Facebook post in April which said Theresa May has a “Zionist slave masters agenda”.
Despite apologising and promising to deepen her understanding about antisemitism Ms Forbes’ election wasnot universally greeted by her fellow Labour parliamentarians, with Jess Phillips stating that it “shows that antisemitism is becoming normal in the party”.
Now, senior Jewish Labour MPs Dame Louise Ellman and Dame Margaret Hodge have called for action against Ms Forbes.
Dame Louise told The Times: “These serious allegations must not be brushed under the carpet. Lisa Forbes should be suspended while the Labour Party conducts an investigation.”
Dame Margaret added: “The Labour Party is judged by its actions and if we proclaim that we are a party of zero tolerance on antisemitism we can’t then ignore the actions of a leading figure in the party — a candidate who is now an MP.”
Ms Forbes has also been criticised for signing a letter which called on Labour’s ruling body not to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
She also commented on a post from September 2014 which accused the CIA and Mossad, “supported by British imperialism”, of funding and creating extremists such as ISIS.
She wrote: “I have enjoyed reading this thread so much. So much that trys to divide us, but there is much more that unites us all.”
Labour later claimed she was referring to comments underneath the post.
Asked about the criticism towards Ms Forbes, Labour leader Mr Corbyn said: “She has apologised for the remarks that she transmitted through social media.
“If there are complaints about her they will be investigated, not by me, but by our party system.
“But I’m looking forward to welcoming Lisa Forbes, MP for Peterborough, to Parliament on Monday. She ran a fantastic campaign and it is a historic by-election win.”
Addressing whether complaints made about the party’s newest MP are frustrating, Mr Corbyn said: “She has made her position very clear.
“Lisa Forbes is a good woman. Not a racist in any way whatsoever.
“She will be a brilliant MP for Peterborough and she will be a brilliant part of our team in Parliament.
“I’m delighted to support her.”
However, Jewish Labour Movement chair Mike Katz had called for the MP to have the whip revoked in a letter to Labour’s chief whip Nick Brown.
Mr Katz wrote: “These views are surely incompatible with those of someone holding the Labour whip.
“Failure to (suspend the whip) will be taken by the Jewish community as yet another sign that Labour tolerates and encourages a culture of anti-Jewish racism in the party and is absolutely unprepared to take any concrete action whatsoever to deal with it.
The Jewish Labour Movement is the party’s sole affiliate for Jewish members and supporters.
A joint statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust added: “Anti-Jewish racism within the Labour Party is being normalised and fully supported by the party.
“Our organisations have had no direct contact from Lisa Forbes and no response from the party regarding our concerns.
“The party’s failure to even try to engage with our concerns or to implement the changes for which we have called is an ongoing symptom of the racist mess for which it is now being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”
Ms Forbes said she had liked the video accompanying the ‘slave masters’ post, which was of children playing, and had not read the text.
When the Facebook activity was first revealed she said: “Antisemitism is abhorrent and has no place in our society. Standing up against hatred toward one group of people must never be allowed to become hatred of another.
“Regardless of whether I am elected I will deepen my understanding of antisemitism so I can act as an ally, challenging antisemitism wherever it occurs.”
Other Labour MPs have also raised their concerns over Ms Forbes’ actions.
Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh, a prominent campaigner during the by-election, tweeted: “It was extremely upsetting for all of us involved when the posts that Lisa had mistakenly engaged in came to light.
“They were thoroughly unacceptable and I know she sees that and is truly sorry.
“But I know that’s nothing to how the Jewish community has suffered and has been hurting as Antisemitism has become more and more widespread.
“I know Lisa will engage and learn and that she can be a true ally.
“I believe she will be a fantastic voice for Peterborough but she knows she can only achieve this if she has the full confidence of the Jewish community and that she regains their trust. This will take work.”
Ilford North MP Wes Streeting said Ms Forbes’ behaviour was “serious enough to warrant disciplinary action”, adding: “She has apologised, but it is not my place to accept it.
He added: “I didn’t want to see the Brexit Party win, but it is no good to see Labour people demanding loyalty on the basis of being the lesser of two evils.”
Both Ms Phillips and Mr Streeting are prominent critics of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership.
Labour Against Antisemitism spokesman Euan Philipps has also said his group would be submitting a complaint about the new MP.
He said: “The narrow victory by Lisa Forbes in the Peterborough by-election is a dark day for the Labour Party.”
Shadow cabinet minister Andy McDonald told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday he was “discomfited” by the row but “she did apologise”.
“She was careless, she made a mistake and she has apologised unreservedly and I think she should be given credit for that,” he said.