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MPs debate antisemitism with angry exchanges over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership

Labour MP Ian Austin was applauded after he called for Ken Livingstone to be “booted out” of the party.

    Labour's frontbench react as Sajid Javid opens the antisemitism debate (Photo: Parliamentlive.tv)
    Labour's frontbench react as Sajid Javid opens the antisemitism debate (Photo: Parliamentlive.tv)

    Sajid Javid opened a Commons debate on antisemitism this afternoon by accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of a “frankly deeply worrying lack of leadership” on the issue.

    Speaking directly at an anguished looking Mr Corbyn across the despatch box, Communities Secretary Mr Javid said he “sincerely hopes” the opposition leader would use the opportunity of the debate to "clarify his position" on the problem.

    Quoting from a recent letter sent to Mr Corbyn by the Board of Deputies over the increase in antisemitic hate, the Conservative MP said “rightly or wrongly, those who push offensive material regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead".

    Mr Javid added: "When it comes to the Leader of the Opposition there are too many of these apparently accidental associations to list... it really is a question of leadership.”

    The minister also told the Commons that “many” instances of anti-Israel sentiment were actually a “mask for racist sentiment".

    In a stirring speech, Luciana Berger, Britain's youngest Jewish MP and the recipient of thousands of antisemitic messages, outlined the depth of abuse she had been targeted with during her career.

    Ms Berger delivered a devastating account of her own personal experience. Revealing how she had firstly been the victim of antisemitic hate-mail when aged 19, the Liverpool Wavertree MP said she had more recently been targeted by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn over her attendance at last month’s demonstration against antisemitism in Parliament Square.

    Ms Berger said: "I make no apology for holding my party to higher standards.One antisemitic member of the Labour Party is one antisemitic member too many.

    “And yet as I stood outside this place in Parliament Square, and it pains me to say, proudly as the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement in 2018, antisemitism within the Labour Party is more commonplace, it is more conspicuous and it is more corrosive.

    “That is why I have no words for the people who purport to be both members and supporters of our party who use that hashtag JC4PM, who attacked me in recent weeks for speaking at that rally against antisemitism, where I questioned those comments endorsing that antisemitic mural, who said I should be deselected, or called it a ‘smear.’

    “There are people who have accused me of having two masters, that have said I am ‘Tel Aviv’s servant’, that have called me a paid up Israeli operative, essentially antisemitism of the worst kind suggesting I am a traitor to this country.”

    Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson chose to sit beside her and Ms Smeeth, rather than in his usual frontbench seat alongside Mr Corbyn.

    Ms Berger added: “My party urgently needs to address this issue publically and consistently. We need to expel these people from our ranks who hold these views including Ken Livingstone.

    “We have a duty to the next generation. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough.”

    Mr Corbyn left the chamber after Ms Berger concluded her speech. She received a rare standing ovation from colleagues in all parties.

    Her Labour colleague, Ruth Smeeth, briefly left the chamber in distress during the debate and was supported by Wes Streeting.

    In her own speech - which also received a prolonged standing ovation - Ms Smeeth later spoke of her admiration for Ms Berger and their fellow Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman.

    She added: "I’ve been the target of a campaign of abuse, attempted bullying and intimidation from people who would dare to tell me that people like me have no place in the party I have been a member of for over 20 years.

    "Last month we heard a plea - enough is enough. I stand here to say we will not be bullied out of political engagement, we are going nowhere and we stand and will keep fighting until the evils of antisemitism have been removed from our society.”

    Ms Smeeth said she was “devastated” to be discussing the issue of antisemitism in the Commons.

    Addressing repeated smear claims against her, including suggestions she was in fact a CIA plant, Ms Smeeth said: “What I am is a proud trade unionist – I also happen to be a proud British Jew.

    “I have spent my life campaigning against extremism – but over the last two years I have experienced something genuinely painful – attacks from within my own Labour Party."

    Discussing her attendance at the Parliament Square protest, Ms Smeeth then read out the threats and antisemitic abuse she had subsequently received – including vile taunts about being a "Zionist bitch".

    A number of Jewish MPs thanked the Community Security Trust for providing them and their families with protection and security.

    Responding to Mr Javid, Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, said “recent events” showed Labour “needed to be better” at tackling antisemitism within the party.

    He added: "No political party has the monopoly on vice or virtue – but we will put our house in order.”

    Responding to a call from Conservative MP Simon Hoare for more decisive action from Labour over Ken Livingstone, who is still suspended over comments about Hitler and Zionism, Mr Gwynne said: "Due process is going on. Procedure needs to be followed.

    “Mr Livingstone’s views I do not share. Mr Livingstone’s views are abhorrent.”

    In an angry intervention, Labour MP Ian Austin was applauded after he called for Mr Livingstone to be “booted out” after complaining about the length of time the investigation into the former London Mayor had taken. Mr Austin directed his comments at Labour's frontbench, jabbing his finger in Mr Corbyn's direction.

    Mr Gwynne said he wished to pay tribute to the work of the Shomrim and the Community Security Trust for protecting the Jewish community in the face of rising hate.

    He said criticism of Israeli government policy, which he called “legitimate”, was distinct from spreading demonisation of Zionismand of the right of the existence of the state of Israel itself.

    The shadow minister added: “Zionism is not an insult. It's not a catchphrase, a code word for racism or imperialism, or the name for unpleasant things done by Jews. It stands for a huge range of beliefs and believers. When we fail to recognise this, we assist those on the extremes.”

    Mr Gwynne said peace in the Middle East would only come through “deep mutual” recognition between Israel and the Palestinians.

    In a well-received speech, the Scottish National Party’s Stewart MacDonald said it was “unacceptable to hold Jewish constituents responsible for the Israeli government".

    The Glasgow South MP spoke of the “warmness” of his city’s Jewish community and praised them for being “among the first to offer support and solidarity” to the local Muslim community at the time of a murder.

    But he added that when trouble flared in Israel or Palestine he noted with concern that the local community would become fearful of its safety.

    Conservative MP Robert Halfon told the Commons he was subjected to antisemitic abuse in his constituency in Harlow, Essex, by a person he knew to be “from the left” who told him to “go back to Israel".

    He said the UK was “still a wonderful place” for Jews to live in – but insisted “things have changed.. the air has got tighter".

    Mr Halfon attacked the Labour leader for turning a blind-eye to antisemitism. He also said the internet had become “a sewer” for anti-Jewish hatred.

    WATCH: Ian Austin calls on Labour to "boot out" Ken Livingstone

    WATCH: John Mann MP outlines abuse he and his family have received following his attempts to combat antisemitism

     

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