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Jewish man expelled by Labour claims discrimination over antisemitism accusation

Stephen Marks, a Labour member for more than 40 years, says accusation of antisemitism is 'repellent' and ignored his Jewishness and anti-Zionist beliefs
Stephen Marks warned that Labour leader Keir Starmer's refusal to support a ceasefire in Gaza would have political consequences for the party (Supplied)

A Jewish man expelled from the Labour Party over accusations of antisemitism is set to take legal action against the party, claiming that its treatment of him amounts to discrimination and harassment.

In a pre-action letter seen by Middle East Eye, lawyers for Stephen Marks argue that party disciplinary officials dealing with his case failed to consider Marks’ Jewishness and his anti-Zionist beliefs.

Marks, who is from Oxford and was an active Labour member for more than 40 years, was suspended in July 2021 for signing a number of open letters posted online between 2016 and 2018 which questioned reports of antisemitism within the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

In a submission to the party following his suspension, Marks wrote: “I find it quite extraordinary that I am being asked to defend myself against baseless and completely unfounded accusations of being a Jewish antisemite.”

He was nonetheless expelled in December 2022 and in July was notified that his appeal had been rejected.

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Marks had been left “shocked and distressed” by the process and had suffered “emotional harm and nervous stress”, his lawyers, Bindmans, wrote in a letter sent to Labour’s Governance and Legal Unit earlier this month.

“As a Jewish person, the accusation of antisemitism is repellent to him,” it said.

'He remains astonished that the fact that he is Jewish appears to have had no part in the Labour Party’s decision-making'

- Letter to Labour Party

“He remains astonished that the fact that he is Jewish appears to have had no part in the Labour Party’s decision-making.”

MEE contacted the Labour Party for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Marks is claiming discrimination against Labour on the grounds that its handling of his case failed to take into account his Jewishness and his anti-Zionist beliefs.

His lawyers argue that both should have been considered “protected characteristics” – of race and philosophical belief - under UK equality law.

The letter describes Marks as a “lifelong antiracist campaigner” whose views had been shaped by his “awareness of what happened to his family and other Jewish people in the Holocaust” and his experience as a student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

“During this time, our client formulated the belief, based on early Zionist history, that Zionism was a colonial project and incompatible with his antiracist views. Our client believes that political Zionism is a racist endeavour,” the letter said.

'Clampdown' over Gaza war

Marks told MEE he believed his case had important implications for the party because of current internal divisions over Starmer's refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza.

Marks said: “Across the country there is a clampdown on people who reject the Starmer line on the ceasefire and that extends far beyond people who could be described as Corbynistas.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer, pictured giving a speech in Milton Keynes in December 2023
Labour leader Keir Starmer, pictured giving a speech in Milton Keynes in December 2023 (Justin Tallis/AFP)

He warned that the party's position on Israel and the war in Gaza would have political consequences, citing the resignations from the party over the issue of 10 councillors in Oxford at the expense of the party's control of the city council, and a statement by four local mosques in the city which warned that Labour should not take the support of the local Muslim community for granted.

At least 50 councillors nationwide have quit the party in protest at Starmer's stance, while a number of the party's front bench team resigned from their roles last month in order to join 56 MPs who defied the party line to vote in support of a ceasefire in parliament.

"I've heard the issue is increasingly being raised on the doorstep," said Marks.

UK Labour Party accused of discrimination over expulsion of Jewish members
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Marks’ case is being supported by Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a left-wing group set up in 2017 by Jewish Labour members supportive of Corbyn.

Corbyn himself was suspended as a Labour MP by his successor, Keir Starmer, in 2020 after he said that the scale of antisemitism under his leadership had been “dramatically overstated” following a report critical of the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

In September, JVL wrote to the Labour Party to complain that Jewish members of the party were, it said, six times more likely to be investigated for antisemitism than non-Jews.

Geoffrey Bindman, a human rights lawyer and senior consultant at Bindmans who is not involved directly in Marks’ case, told MEE that Marks was among dozens of Labour members who had faced accusations of antisemitism for expressing views critical of Israel.

Bindman said: “The Labour Party is right to take action against antisemitism, as against all other forms of racism, but it’s not right to take disciplinary action against people that express views about Zionism as a philosophy or a political creed.”

According to the letter, Marks is seeking reinstatement as a Labour member, an apology from the party “for insinuating that he is antisemitic”, and damages.

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