John McDonnell pulls out of Jewish Labour rally as organisers arrange private meeting


John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, withdrew from a meeting with Jewish Labour supporters last night after complaints from moderates.

Mr McDonnell was scheduled to be the key speaker at the Rally Against Anti-Semitism and Racism held in Liverpool city centre last night by the Jewish Labour Movement.

But organisers announced at the last minute that Mr McDonnell would not be present after all.

The invitation to Mr McDonnell had angered some JLM members who objected to his views on Israel and his defence of Jackie Walker, the activist who was suspended from the party for claiming Jews were behind the slave trade.

Jeremy Newmark, the national chairman of the JLM, told the JC that both Mr McDonnell and the organisers had mutually agreed that the rally would not be the best forum for the Shadow Chancellor to explain his views.

“We felt that we wanted to have a deeper engagement with John McDonnell,” Mr Newmark said. “We wanted to talk to him about his defence of Jackie Walker and we have arranged for members of our executive to meet with him on Tuesday afternoon to have that conversation.

“It is not a conversation we could have had in the context of the rally today. John McDonnell has very kindly agreed to do that.”

Jeremy Corbyn, fresh from his overwhelming victory in the party leadership election, sought to assure Jewish Labour supporters of his commitment to stamping out antisemitism within Labour.

In a message read out by Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson, herself a victim of antisemitic abuse, Mr Corbyn said he would soon begin to implement the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report on Jew-hatred in the party.

Mr Corbyn said: “Let me be clear – I stand against all forms of prejudice and discrimination and will not tolerate any forms of it in our party.

“Anyone who is found to have been involved in antisemitic abuse or instances will be dealt with through our party structures.”

More than 100 people crowded into the small room at The Liverpool pub for the rally, with many standing on a staircase outside to try to hear the speakers.

They applauded after Jewish Liverpool MPs Luciana Berger and Louise Ellman vigorously denounced antisemitism within the party, while urging Jewish members not to leave.

“The ugliness and nastiness inside the Labour Party hasn’t gone away,” Ms Berger said, noting that activists at a rally held by the hard-left Momentum group earlier in the day had accused Jews of exaggerating claims of antisemitism.

“We will stand up to antisemites wherever they rear their ugly heads,” she added.

The longest and loudest applause of the evening went to Ruth Smeeth, the MP for Stoke on Trent North who has been the target of thousands of antisemitic messages, including death threats.

“It is our party,” she said. “We are not going anywhere.”

The meeting was also addressed by the Shadow Defence Secretary Clive Lewis and former Labour frontbenchers Chris Bryant and Lisa Nandy.

The audience applauded Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West who was suspended – and then reinstated - after she apologised for suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the United States.

Miss Shah urged Jews not to desert the Party, saying their presence was needed more than ever.

Baroness Chakrabarti issued a similar appeal, and assured the audience that she would always “stand up” for Jewish people facing abuse.

Michael Dugher, the Labour MP for Barnsley East, said the Labour Party had witnessed antisemitic abuse abuse almost on a weekly basis over the last year.

He said he did not believe Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell were antisemitic but accused them of neglecting to “call out antisemitism” when professed by their “strongest supporters and closest allies”.

Staff on the Labour Friends of Israel stall at the main party conference's fringe event were subjected to antisemitic abuse on Sunday, LFI chair Joan Ryan told the rally.

Across the city, activists from the hard-left Momentum group held an event at which panel members accused Jews of exaggerating claims of antisemitism. It was organised by Jewish supporters of Mr Corbyn at The World Transformed, an alternative conference taking place until Tuesday.

Among the speakers was Ms Walker, who told the crowd the row over Jew-hatred had been “exaggerated” to undermine Mr Corbyn. Antisemitism had been “weaponised” to stop Labour supporters campaigning for Palestinians, she claimed, adding that antisemitism was no worse than other forms of racism.

Mr Newmark, who was attending the session, said her remarks about the slave trade had caused great offence in the Jewish community. He was heckled by activists throughout the event.

Leaflets handed out at the session claimed Mr Corbyn was the victim of a “witch-hunt” and asked why there was “so much emphasis on antisemitism rather than other much more prevalent forms of racism”.

Jew-hatred was “being exploited for factional goals” the flyers claimed. They also called for the Jewish Labour Movement to be disaffiliated from the party because it “acts as a representative of a foreign power, Israel”.

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