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Corbyn "can't get head around" antisemitism, says leading Jewish MP

Packed Jewish Labour Movement conference told of demand for action from Corbyn over "antisemitism smear" MP Chris Williamson

    Ruth Smeeth, Louise Ellman, Mike Katz and Ivor Caplin at JLM conference panel
    Ruth Smeeth, Louise Ellman, Mike Katz and Ivor Caplin at JLM conference panel

    Jeremy Corbyn "can't get his head around" allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party because they are the opposite of "everything he believes himself to be", a leading Jewish MP has said.

    Speaking on Sunday, at a packed Jewish Labour Movement conference event in London, Ruth Smeeth, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said it gave her "a level of hope" that her leader was "incredibly uncomfortable" with the issue of Jew-hatred.

    Ms Smeeth revealed she now has weekly meetings after Prime Ministers Question Time with Mr Corbyn after being appointed vice-chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

    She told JLM delegates that at next Tuesday's PLP meeting she would be recommending that Mr Corbyn and the party Chief Whip take action against Chris Williamson, Labour's Shadow Fire Minister and Derby MP, over comments he made last week in which he described antisemitism allegations as "bulls**t."

    Ms Smeeth said: "I think every time Chris Williamson opens his mouth he helps our cause. His ramblings - they did nothing more than ensure the leadership had to distance themselves from him.

    "Every time that may speaks I almost want to thank him. But that is not what I will be doing when we return to Parliament on Tuesday.

    "This will get raised at the PLP, I've already raised it with the head of the PLP, and I'll be raising it with the Chief Whip, and I'll be raising it with the leader of the Labour Party.

    "When I saw what he said - basically he was calling me a liar. And yet on police advice last year I had to move home.

    "The idea that we are weaponising antisemitism - the only people doing so are the antisemites."

    Recalling her own experiences Ms Smeeth said it had taken Mr Corbyn "ten days" to contact her after she was verbally abused by a Momentum supporter at the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into antisemitism in Labour.

    She told the conference at JW3, in north-west London: "Jeremy and I have since discussed it but only in meeting format where he and I and would not be alone."

    She also said that when she received death threats last summer "Jeremy texted me - but only after the Board of Deputies asked him to text me."

    Echoing Ms Smeeth's insistence that Mr Corbyn himself was not an anti-Semite, Labour MP John Mann told the conference: "Nothing destroys Jeremy Corbyn's soul more than the thought in his head that he could actually be tolerating antisemitism.

    "This really hurts him - it disturbs him.

    "His problem is there are so many people around him who are the problem."

    In a surprise intervention Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, and Labour's former shadow foreign office minister, called on Mr Corbyn to "do a trip to Israel" in order to improve relations with the community.

    To loud applause Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, told the audience: "It's not up to JLM to challenge antisemitism, it's up to all of us, as the Labour Party."

    Ms Smeeth added the allegations of antisemitism and racism turned Mr Corbyn's "whole political being upside down and it was much easier to try and put that in a box and pretend it's not happening."

    But in defiant message to the JLM audience Ms Smeeth said it was time to be "more grown up" about tackling the issue of antisemitism within the party.

    She said:"After the general election Jeremy's position as leader is no longer questionable - he is the leader of the Labour Party for as long as he wants to be.

    "Which means conversations like this on issues of antisemitism can now be had in a slightly more grown up way.

    "And honestly we have to be more grown up about it.

    "We were so emotional, and I say that as someone who was probably the most emotional except my mother, that our immediate reaction was to lash out because this was so unfair and unjust.

    "We did not deal with this logically, we did not deal with this politically we dealt with this emotionally.

    "We need to be cleverer, we need to engage with the battles we can fight, we need to hold our ground, we need to challenge people when they are wrong."

    Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside, praised the role of non-Jewish supporters in helping her own fight against antisemitism in her constituency.

    She said "slowly" elements of the leadership were coming around to understanding the issue and that there was scope within the party machinery to deal with the problem.

    Later addressing the 250 supporters and members of JLM who attended the event, the group's chair Jeremy Newmark called for Labour's national executive committee to adopt a rule change at the national conference in Brighton later this month to automatically exclude antisemites from the party.

    JLM took over several side rooms and the main arena at the venue to stage the event which was later described as a "huge success."

    Numerous panels on questons of religion, politics and history took place throughout the day with appearances from Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks OBE, Dr David Hirsh, joint NUS vice presidents Izzy Lenga and Robbie Young , LFI's Michael Rubin and Aaron Simons, Sikhs for Labour and a British Muslims representative.

    There was also a lively debate on Labour's perception in Orthodox, Reform and Liberal Synagogues in which US president Michael Goldstein, Liberal Judaism chief exec Rabbi Danni Rich and Noeleen Cohen, chair of Alyth and Leo Baeck College discussed personal political allegiences and those of their respective communities.

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