POLITICS
03/04/2018 09:55 BST | Updated 03/04/2018 11:54 BST

Labour MPs Should Not Be Deselected For Anti-Racism Rally, Says Jon Lansman

Momentum founder warns of 'unconscious bias' against Jewish people.

Labour MPs who attended the anti-racism rally in Westminster last week amid a row over anti-Semitism within the party should not be targeted for deselection by local activists, Jon Lansman has said.

The Momentum founder said on Tuesday morning that “every allegation of anti-Semitism” had to be taken seriously even if the row was being exploited by some to try and “undermine” Jeremy Corbyn.

It comes as the Labour leader was branded “irresponsible and dangerous” for attending a Passover seder in his constituency hosted by Jewdas, a left-wing Jewish group. 

The organisation had dismissed worries about anti-Semitism within Labour as “the work of cynical manipulations” by people loyal to the Conservative party and the “right wing” of Labour.

It also described Israel in a tweet as a “steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of”.

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Corbyn’s attendance at the event was revealed by the Guido Fawkes website late on Monday evening.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, Lansman said Jewdas’ comments about Israel were “certainly not helpful to Jeremy or the cause of opposing anti-Semitism in the Labour party”.

However Lansman, who is Jewish and a key ally of Corbyn, said Jewdas were “very much part of the Jewish community” and played down the significance of the Labour leader’s attendance.

“It was his night off. He had nothing in his official diary. His office didn’t know he was there,” he said.

Lansman said he thought there was a problem of “unconscious bias” and called for a “widespread programme of education and training” within the party about anti-Semitism.

Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire has been summoned by members of her local party in Bristol West to ‘explain her actions’ for attending the rally against anti-Semitism in Westminster.

But Lansman said: “You shouldn’t have to defend why you go to an anti-racist rally.

“I think it’s fair enough to answer a question, it’s not fair enough to deselect someone for attending a demonstration about anti-Semitism, because I think it’s clear that there is real concern within the Jewish community about anti-Semitism.

“We have to take that seriously, and we have to take every allegation of anti-Semitism seriously even if sometimes people opportunistically seize upon anti-Semitism as an issue to undermine Jeremy, it doesn’t matter if that’s the reason, we’ve still got to take the allegation seriously.”

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Jonathan Goldstein, the chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council, this morning said Corbyn needed to stand up for Labour MPs who had been “vilified” for attending the rally rather than attending the Jewdas event.

Ivor Caplin, the spokesman for the Jewish Labour Movement, said Corbyn’s attendance at the event “topped off the worst week on record of awful relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community”.

Corbyn has vowed he would will tolerate “any” anti-Semitism in the party. The Labour leader told Channel 4 News he understood there was “genuine concern”.

Labour MP John Woodcock, a longtime critic of Corbyn, said it was “irresponsible and dangerous” for him to have met with Jewdas.

Another Labour MP, Angela Smith, said: “Corbyn’s attendance at the seber reads as a blatant dismissal of the case made for tackling anti-Semitism in Labour.”

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, claimed that Corbyn’s meeting was “clearly deliberate”.

But Lansman hit back at Woodcock, who is not Jewish, on Twitter. 

Comedian David Baddiel dismissed the suggestion Jewdas was a “fringe group” that “despises” mainstream jews.

“They are just Jews who disagree with other Jews. Which means: Jews,” he tweeted.

Charlotte Nichols, who attended the Jewdas Seder said Corbyn should be “commended” for his presence at the event not attacked.

“It is not for non-Jewish people, in criticising Corbyn’s attendance, to determine what is and isn’t a legitimate expression of the Jewish faith. Many of the criticisms I’ve seen are themselves anti-Semiticm” she wrote on Labour List.

“For those in the community who want to paint Jeremy’s attendance as an act of provocation, rather than an attempt to listen, engage, and share our festival with us, it’s actually just alienating many young Jewish people further and validating Jewdas’ very existence.”

Adam Wagner, the founder of RightsInfo, also defended Jewdas but said Corbyn needed to reach out to other groups.

Earlier on Monday, Momentum said anti-Semitism is “more widespread” within the Labour Party than was thought as it argued complaints cannot be dismissed “simply as right-wing smears”.

In a significant intervention, Momentum’s National Coordinating Group (NCG) released a statement in which it revealed it had begun a process with external groups of developing anti-Semitism awareness training for Labour members.