Jeremy Corbyn has deleted his personal Facebook account as pressure over the handling of antisemitic abuse within Labour threatens to engulf the party.
The Labour leader’s account has been removed from the social media site, party sources confirmed, which follows claims he had belonged to several supporters’ groups that contained antisemitic comments. Mr Corbyn’s official page remains active.
Labour sought to distance itself from a string of pro-Corbyn Facebook groups, as the leadership struggled to quell the growing crisis over anti-Jewish sentiment within the party.
It comes as:
* One of Labour’s major donors quit the party over the leadership’s handling of “blatant examples of antisemitism”
* Eddie Izzard called on the party to stamp out the “stain” of prejudice against Jews as he joined Labour’s ruling body. He replaced Christine Shawcroft, who resigned on Saturday night after opposing the suspension of a council candidate accused of Holocaust denial
* Labour disowned a string of pro-Corbyn Facebook groups filled with thousands of abusive messages
* Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger said she had been forced to go to the police after she received an email urging her to kill herself
* Labour frontbencher Liam Byrne said Mr Corbyn needed to get on with tackling the backlog of some 70 antisemitic complaints within the party
The developments follow a tumultuous week marked by party rifts and a major march on parliament led by Jewish leaders, who accused Mr Corbyn of failing to adequately address hatred and abuse of Jews by his supporters.
Labour was forced to distance itself from several social media groups backing Mr Corbyn – of which several party staffers are reportedly members – which contain hundreds of antisemitic and violent comments, including Holocaust denial and praise for Adolf Hitler, according to an investigation by The Sunday Times.
A party spokesman said the groups were not connected to Labour in any way and it was committed to challenging antisemitism in every form.
But Labour MP Phil Wilson said he “feared for Labour’s soul” if abuse was not rooted out, saying: “It’s as if people with such views feel as though they now have a home in Labour’s mainstream, where once their views were confined to the fringe.”
Writing in The Independent, he said: “There are those members who say the leader is not responsible for party discipline. This is an attempt to separate Corbyn’s leadership from the rest of the party and absolve him of any responsibility for the membership who elected him.
“I believe he knows this is not possible. Leaders lead, not just with words but with deeds.”
Shadow digital minister Liam Byrne said there was “real alarm” at the scale of the problem and added that Mr Corbyn needed to keep his promise to Jewish leaders to tackle the issue, pointing to the backlog of 70 cases of antisemitism – including former London major Ken Livingstone.
“I personally do not think that Mr Corbyn is an antisemite, I don’t think he has an antisemitic bone in his body,” Mr Byrne told the BBC.
“But the reality is now that we need action and not simply words. We have got a lot of disciplinary cases stacking up. Mr Livingstone is at the top of that queue.”
Comedian Eddie Izzard urged the party to stamp out the “stain” of abuse, as he joined Labour’s ruling body after Mr Corbyn’s ally Christine Shawcroft resigned her post amid antisemitism claims.
Ms Shawcroft quit as chair of Labour’s disputes panel last week after it emerged she had opposed the suspension of a council candidate accused of posting a Facebook article describing the Holocaust as a “hoax”. She then had to stand stand down from the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Saturday following intense criticism from Labour MPs and peers.
In a statement, Mr Izzard said: “This is a very important time for the Labour Party and we must stamp out completely the stain of antisemitism from a minority of members. It has no place in our party.
“I have campaigned against hate my whole life and will continue to do so wherever it rears its ugly head.
“We must make amends and repair the damage with the Jewish community as Jeremy Corbyn has promised to do.”
Mr Izzard was the second most popular candidate in the election for a seat on the NEC and he will hold Ms Shawcroft’s seat until the next election in the summer.
Ms Shawcroft, a senior Momentum figure, said: “It is clear that my continued membership of the NEC has become a distraction for the party and an excuse for endless intrusive media harassment of myself, my family and friends.
“I reaffirm my complete opposition to antisemitism and my abhorrence of Holocaust denial, and support all measures to tackle this within the party.”
Meanwhile, Sir David Garrard, who has donated more than £1.5m to Labour under its three previous leaders, said he had watched with “dismay and foreboding” at how some of the party’s most senior figures have behaved over the past two years, and claimed the party had ”supported and endorsed” antisemitism.
He told The Observer: “As one of the former leading political and financial supporters of the Labour Party, of which I was a member for so many decades, I no longer feel any affinity with, or connection to, what it seems to have become.
“I have watched with dismay and foreboding the manner in which the leadership has, in my view, over the last two years, conducted itself. I consider that it has supported and endorsed the most blatant acts of antisemitism.
“And yet it has failed to expel many of those who have engaged in the grossest derogatory fantasies about Jewish/Zionist conspiracies – and Jewish characterisations and accusations which conjure up the very kind of antisemitic attacks that led to such unbearable consequences for innocent millions in the past.”
A Labour source said the Facebook groups received hundreds of posts each day, the majority of which were ordinary messages about events or party policy.
Many of the staff concerned were either no longer active on Facebook or were unaware they were group members and had not seen the content.
A Labour spokesman said: “These groups are not run by the Labour Party or officially connected to the party in any way.
“The Labour Party is committed to challenging and campaigning against antisemitism in all its forms. Any complaints of antisemitism are taken extremely seriously.
“These are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and any appropriate disciplinary action taken.”
In his Passover message, Mr Corbyn promised to be an “ally”, saying: “We in the Labour movement will never be complacent about antisemitism. We all need to do better.”