POLITICS
26/03/2018 21:22 BST | Updated 27/03/2018 12:32 BST

Jeremy Corbyn Told To 'Drain The Cesspit' Of Anti-Semitism Plaguing The Labour Party

MP Wes Streeting tells demo: 'We don’t need any more mealy-mouthed statements from the leader of the Labour Party'.

Jeremy Corbyn was told to “drain the cesspit” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament for a demo on Monday night. 

The Labour leader faced claims of siding with anti-Semites “again and again” at the rally, organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC). 

It came after a 2012 Facebook post emerged in which Corbyn himself appeared to defend an anti-Semitic mural. He has since made a statement admitting Labour harbours “pockets of anti-semitism”. 

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Placards at the rally bearing the messages - and ‘Labour, for the many, not the Jews’ - were held aloft amid chants of “enough is enough”. Labour MPs, meanwhile, made impassioned speeches for their leader to act.  

The dramatic event also spilled over into violence.  Ahead of speeches, chants of “shame on you” were directed towards a counter-demo by Jewish Voice for Labour and Labour Against The Witch Hunt, as they claimed the protest was simply a bid to undermine Corbyn. 

Police were forced to step in and separate the groups as scuffles broke out and angry exchanges took place.

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Labour MP Luciana Berger speaks during a protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour party in Parliament Square, London, as Jewish community leaders have launched a scathing attack on Jeremy Corbyn

Labour MPs John Mann, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, Luciana Berger, Stella Creasy, Liz Kendall and John Woodcock were at the event. 

Corbyn faced calls from the crowd to resign, while speaker after speaker said former London Mayor Ken Livingstone had “no place in the Labour Party” after his repeated claims that Adolf Hitler backed Zionism. 

Ilford North MP Streeting was visibly enraged. He called Baroness Chakrbarti’s report into Labour antisemitism last year a “whitewash” and called for Livingstone to be expelled permanently. 

Wes Streeting speaking at the Enough Is Enough rally against antisemitism
Wes Streeting speaking rally at Parliament Square

He said: “And to those Jewish members who felt enough is enough and cut their membership cards and walk away, our commitment to you is to work with with every ounce of strength to drain the cesspit of antisemitism within the Labour Party so you can come back and call it your party once again.” 

Streeting praised his “extraordinarily brave and courageous Jewish colleagues” who are “subjected to a daily torrent of intimidation and abuse” by anti-Semites. 

He added: “We know what needs to be done. We don’t need any more mealy-mouthed statements from the leader of the Labour Party.

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“The actions are very simple. Ken Livingstone should not be in the Labour Party. Every antisemite needs to be thrown out of the Labour Party, and that whitewash of a report the Chakrabarti report, can we at least implement every one of those recommendations. 

“We had a wishy washy report, it got someone a place in the House of Lords, but let’s at least make sure it delivers a genuine fight against antisemitism in our party as a response to it.” 

Jonathan Goldstein, chairman of the JLC, said: “Antisemitism has no place whatsoever in a mainstream political party”, to which the crowd replied “Hear, hear”.

Addressing those gathered, he said: “It’s a scourge on our society, it must be rooted out.

“So we are here to say to Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Enough is enough. The time for talking is over, the time for words is over, and the time for action has begun.’

“Enough is enough.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, who has called for a debate in Parliament on anti-Semitism, also stood shoulder to shoulder with the Labour MPs.

Protesters called for Corbyn to resign as he was encouraged to “finally, finally take some responsibility” by Jonathan Arkush, from the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Berger, Labour & Co-op MP for Liverpool Wavertree and parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “I tell you that anti-Semitism is very real and it’s alive in the Labour Party.”

“It pains me to have to stand before you and have to say that today,” she added.

She said anti-Semitism within the party had now become more “conspicuous”, “commonplace” and “corrosive”.

Ex-Labour leader of Haringey Council Claire Kober also spoke at the event, telling the crowd she faced abuse after the council passed a motion condemning anti-Semitism. 

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Labour MP John Mann speaks to the crowd

She said: “Like you, I am sick of the culture of victim blaming when a Jewish member stands up to hate speech. 

“I’m sick of the accusation that people are somehow weaponising their experience of racism. 

“I’m sick and tired of hearing legitimate concerns dismissed as smears against the leadership, and I’m sick of the toll it is taking on my Jewish neighbours and friends. 

“And I’m aghast that Ken Livingstone remains a member of the Labour Party.” 

Mann, meanwhile, won loud cheers from the crowd. 

“I want to apologise that you have had to take the time to come here today,” he said. “What on earth is going wrong with our party when this kind of event even has to be considered? 

“When we set up the party, Jewish workers were there from the very beginning, alongside us, building the Labour Party and throughout our history the values that we have had have been very straightforward. 

“We stand against racism. We stand against discrimination and it is shameful, shameful, that there are some in the Labour Party, who have entered our party, that take an alternate point of view.” 

“We have to drive these people out of mainstream politics. We have to drive them out of the Labour Party. The very existence of the Labour Party, my party, is at stake. 

“We have to win this. We will win this. Every racist anti-Semite out of the Labour Party. It is time for Jeremy Corbyn to act.” 

Josh Leigh, an 18-year-old Jewish man who is not a member of the Labour Party, became involved in a heated exchange with members of Jewish Labour Voice, said: “I’m here of my own accord, because I’m sick of every day going on Twitter and seeing different Jews being ousted and abused.

“You have a Jewish MP taking a bodyguard to Labour conference when she should feel at home with her fellow trade unionists and activists.

“Luciana Berger is marginalised and feeling so uncomfortable in a Labour Party she used to call her home. All these Jews are feeling so uncomfortable and they used to call this their home.

“Jews are beginning to feel marginalised because there is a huge amount of anti-Semitism that is now disguised as anti-Israelism.

Josh Leigh a student at the rally
Josh Leigh, a student at the rally

“They attack Israel and then blame it on Jews. Israel has nothing to do with everyday Jewish life whatsoever.

“We are Jews, we don’t hold Israeli passports. You have Jews at my university who are in hiding because they are afraid to say that they are Jewish because of the repercussions from the far left.”

Roland Rance, member of Jewish Voice for Labour, did not accept Labour had a problem with anti-Semitism at all.

He said: “These people, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Movement for Labour, do not speak for all of the Jews in the Labour Party.

“We do not see evidence of a widespread plague of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

Roland Rance of Jewish Labour Voice
Roland Rance, of Jewish Labour Voice

“This whole campaign is an attempt to undermine the leadership of the Labour Party at a time when it is expected to do well in local elections.”

He said there had been scuffles. 

“There were some robust arguments but I wasn’t aware of anything beyond that,” he said. “There might have been some pushing. 

“There were a couple of hotheads waving fingers in our faces but it wasn’t anything beyond that.” 

In a third statement from Corbyn’s office in as many days, the Labour leader pledged again on Monday to stamp out anti-Semitism. 

His letter to the Board of Deputies reads. “First of all, let me acknowledge the anger and upset that provoked it, and repeat my offer of an urgent meeting to discuss the issues you have raised as soon as possible.

“I stated yesterday, and repeat today, that I will not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism that exists in or around our party and movement. I am committed to eliminating anti-Semitism wherever it exists.

“As I told the Labour Party conference in 2016, anti-Semitism is an evil that led to the worst crimes of the 20th century. Prejudice and hatred of Jewish people has no place whatsoever in the Labour Party, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure it is never allowed to fester in our society again.” 

Corbyn’s defenders have said that he was objecting to the anti-Semitic mural being removed on the grounds of free speech, and that he did not examine the painting properly before making the post. 

He has since accepted the mural was anti-Semitic.