Labour MPs share stories of abuse as they demand action against anti-Semitism
Luciana Berger was applauded and Ruth Smeeth received a rare standing ovation in the Commons following their speeches during a debate.
Labour MPs urged their party to deal with “corrosive” anti-Semitic slurs from members after sharing their personal stories of abuse.
Luciana Berger said Labour must expel those with anti-Semitic views and criticised people who attacked her for speaking out on the issue but also claim to be both party members and online supporters of the #JC4PM campaign, which backs Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister.
A standing ovation – in defiance of parliamentary convention – followed Ruth Smeeth’s speech, in which the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North read a sample of the abuse aimed at her and insisted: “Enough really is enough.”
Labour former minister Dame Margaret Hodge was applauded after a speech in which she said it felt as if her party has “given permission for anti-Semitism to go unchallenged”, adding: “Anti-Semitism is making me an outsider in my Labour Party. To that, I simply say enough is enough.”
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said he had been targeted by campaign group Momentum for showing solidarity with Jewish Labour members – with his wife “threatened with rape” by a “leftist anti-Semite”.
Ms Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) and other MPs backed calls to expel Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party, with former minister Ian Austin saying the ex-London mayor had been “comparing, claiming that Hitler was a Zionist” – labelling this as anti-Semitism “pure and simple”.
She was also was applauded by MPs from all sides after she detailed the anti-Semitic abuse she has faced, which she said began when she was aged 19 and described her as a “dirty Zionist pig”.
Mr Corbyn was in the Commons for large parts of the debate, with Communities Secretary Sajid Javid accusing the Labour leader of a “deeply worrying lack of leadership and moral clarity” on anti-Semitism.
Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said “much more work needs to be done” on anti-Semitism, adding: “No political party has the monopoly on vice or virtue but we will put our house in order.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott later said “one anti-Semite in the Labour Party is one too many”, also saying “nothing is gained” by accusing Mr Corbyn of being an anti-Semite.
She said the party was “serious” about fighting racism and anti-Semitism although acknowledged it had been “too slow” in dealing with some complaints – with measures being taken to address it.
I defy anyone to witness the powerful speeches of @lucianaberger @RuthSmeeth @LouiseEllman @IvanLewis_MP and @margarethodge and tell me that there is no antisemitism in the Labour Party, that’s it’s all smears or that it has been weaponised.— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) April 17, 2018
Speaking during a general debate on anti-Semitism in the Commons, Ms Berger’s impassioned words received support from the across the chamber.
She said she has been attacked by the far-right and far-left – later saying anti-racism is a central Labour value and there was a “time not long ago when the left actively confronted anti-Semitism”.
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.”
Ms Berger said people have accused her of being a “paid-up Israeli operative”, a traitor, an “absolute parasite”, and told her to “get out of the country and go back to Israel”.
She said the “hurt and anguish” of the Jewish community must be understood and taken seriously, adding the Government must conclude its work on how to better protect everyone online.
Ms Berger also said: “My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently. We need to expel those people from our ranks that hold these views – including Ken Livingstone.
“We have a duty to the next generation. Denial is not an option. Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough.”
Listening to #antisemitism debate in House of Commons. Heart-broken hearing what @lucianaberger and @RuthSmeeth have had to tolerate. They are outstanding, true Labour MPs, serving the people they represent. I am proud to be their colleague and friend. Sending love and respect x— Thangam Debbonaire (@ThangamMP) April 17, 2018
Following Ms Berger’s speech, Ms Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), could be seen crying and was comforted by her party colleague Wes Streeting (Ilford North).
In her speech, Ms Smeeth read out abuse before saying: “I stand here today to say that we will not be bullied out of political engagement, we are going nowhere and we stand and will keep fighting until the evils of anti-Semitism have been removed from our society.”
Concluding the debate for Labour, Ms Abbott said: “The vast majority of Labour Party members are not anti-Semites as members opposite seem to claim.
“We know what has gone wrong in the past, we realise there is an issue, we are dealing with that issue and I believe that the public understand that we are serious about fighting racism and anti-Semitism.”
But she faced anger from MPs for initially not giving way to Labour backbencher Alex Sobel (Leeds North West), who, when called, said he had been subjected to abuse and asked the shadow home secretary if she agreed on the need to tackle it “right across the political spectrum in our own party”.
Ms Abbott did not address his point, prompting cries from opposition MPs and leading the deputy speaker Eleanor Laing to say: “(Ms Abbott) doesn’t have to address any point.”