Labour’s anti-Semitism woes continue as MPs take aim at Corbyn and union chiefs

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Jeremy Corbyn and senior union chiefs have come under fire over their response to the anti-Semitism row which has engulfed Labour.

The Labour leader insisted he was “absolutely not” an anti-Semite and “will die fighting racism in any form”.

But a series of his MPs hit out at his actions and those of union leaders Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka in seeking to play down the problem within the party’s ranks.

At a packed conference fringe meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), senior MP Dame Louise Ellman said the trade union chiefs’ actions were “sinister” and “playing with fire”.

Unite general secretary Mr McLuskey has accused Jewish leaders of showing “truculent hostility” to Labour and dismissed the anti-Semitism row as “mood music”.

PCS chief Mr Serwotka has suggested that Israel created the row to mask its own “atrocities”.

Dame Louise said: “For major trade union leaders to not only smear the Jewish community and Jewish people for speaking out against anti-Semitism but then trying to blame them for it, I think we are entering into very dangerous waters.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting said comments such as those made by the union chiefs “actively create the conditions in which anti-Semitism can be allowed to fester”.

Luciana Berger said Mr Serwotka’s comments were “the worst kind of anti-Jewish conspiracy theory”.

Many of the MPs speaking at the rally were prominent critics of Mr Corbyn, but former minister Ian Austin said it was “offensive nonsense” to suggest the row had been “weaponised” to undermine the party leader.

But he added: “The truth about Jeremy is that he is much angrier with the people complaining about anti-Semitism than he is with the people responsible for it.”

Speaking at a Justice for Palestine fringe event, Mr McCluskey said Labour had been sucked into arguing on enemy turf “like the Charge of the Light Brigade” over the IHRA definition.

He said: “The truth is we were, like the Charge of the Light Brigade – cannons to the left, right and in front of us – sucked into a debate on our enemy’s territory.”

But he predicted “the time will come when people will say Jeremy Corbyn was right” that the definitions were aimed at preventing criticism of the Israeli government.

He went on to attack the MPs – many of them Jewish – who said failure to sign up to the IHRA guidelines in full was anti-Semitic.

Mr McCluskey said: “How shameful it was those MPs, quick to run to the right-wing media to have a go at Jeremy Corbyn, never raised one word against the Israeli government’s crimes. So, comrades, shame on them. Shame on them.”

Mr Serwotka said: “It is disappointing that some Labour MPs have repeated things that I have never said or believe.

“I am a lifelong anti-racist and I have repeatedly stated there is no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour movement and that it must be rooted out.

“I have never said that anti-Semitism was a problem made up by Israel. I have condemned the Israeli state for its treatment of the Palestinians including the massacre of children in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.

“This was the context of my speech at the TUC.”

Mr Corbyn was challenged on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show to apologise to Jewish people for his role in the anti-Semitism troubles.

He declined to apologise but said: “I am an anti-racist and will die an anti-racist.

“Anti-Semitism is a scourge in any society. I will oppose it all my life and I will continue to oppose it all my life.”

Mr Corbyn also said it was “hurtful” and “offensive” to compare his actions to those of Enoch Powell, as former chief rabbi Lord Sacks had done.

One of the incidents that has triggered the row around Mr Corbyn was his apparent defence of a mural by street artist Mear One which was viewed as anti-Semitic.

Tomorrow they want to buff my muralFreedom Of Expression. London Calling,Public art

Posted by MEAR ONE on Monday, October 1, 2012

Asked if he now believed it was anti-Semitic, Mr Corbyn said: “I think it shouldn’t have been put up.”

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby speaking at the party's conference in Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA)
Labour general secretary Jennie Formby speaking at the party’s conference in Liverpool (Peter Byrne/PA)

She acknowledged headlines on anti-Semitism have made for “very hard reading” but said Labour has made “significant progress” in dealing with it.

Jon Lansman, founder of the pro-Corbyn Momentum group, told the JLM rally that the party had “been on a journey” and called for unity.

“As socialists it is difficult for all of us to have to accept that we have a problem with any form of hatred in the party,” he said.

“I would welcome now a period of calm and reflection, I hope that Jewish communal organisations will now re-engage with the party.”

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