Theresa May has praised the “incredible bravery” of two Labour MPs who spoke out about anti-Semitic abuse they have received from members of their own party.
The PM described Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth as “the best of this House of Commons and the best of Members of Parliament” after they revealed their struggles in a debate on Tuesday.
She used a question from former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith to praise the pair, who appeared visibly emotional as they sat together on the backbenches during Prime Minister’s Questions.
“Can I join my Right Honorable Friend in commending those members of this House, particularly the members for Stoke-On-Trent North and Liverpool Wavertree, who have suffered incredible abuse as result of this anti-Semitism, but who also have shown incredible bravery in being willing to stand up and set that out to this House,” May said.
“Theirs was a fine example of the best of this House of Commons and the best of Members of Parliament.”
The general debate on anti-Semitism, tabled by cabinet minister Sajid Javid, saw Jeremy Corbyn repeatedly urged by MPs of all parties to get a grip on the rise of Jew-hatred within the party.
It followed a protest in Parliament Square by leading UK Jewish groups, who said the Labour leader had not done enough to tackle the issue.
Berger revealed she had suffered nearly two decades of abuse and received her first piece of hate mail aged just 19, which described her as a “dirty Zionist pig”.
She added: “One anti-Semitic member of the Labour Party is one member too many.
“And yes, as I’ve said outside this place in Parliament Square, and it pains me to say this proudly as the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, in 2018 within the Labour Party anti-Semitism is more commonplace, is more conspicuous and is more corrosive.
“That’s 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 my comments, they attacked me for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, they’ve questioned my comments where I questioned comments endorsing that anti-Semitic mural, who say I should be deselected or called it a smear.”
In the same debate, Smeeth read out a long list of some of the abuse and threats she had been subjected to as an MP.
She said: “My fan base has shown scant regard for appropriate parliamentary language so I apologise in advance, ‘hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity’, ‘Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist she has no shame and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler who the Zionists betrayed’, ‘Ruth Smeeth must surely be travelling first class to Tel Aviv with all that slush, after all she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down’.”
Corbyn and newly-appointed Labour general secretary Jennie Formby have pledged to root out the problem, promising a “zero-tolerance approach”.
Formby wrote to all of the party’s MPs this week to set out her plans to tackle the issue.
She revealed she had seconded a team of specialist lawyers to support Labour’s in-house Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) in dealing with ‘outstanding’ disciplinary cases.