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Watson issues warning over Labour’s future unless anti-Semitism row addressed

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson warned the party had to take a ‘long, hard look at ourselves’.

Labour faces being lost in a “vortex of eternal shame” unless it addressed the concerns of the Jewish community over anti-Semitism, deputy leader Tom Watson warned.

In a stark message, Mr Watson said Labour had to take a “long, hard look at ourselves” and demanded immediate action to end tensions.

Mr Watson demanded Jeremy Corbyn bring an end to disciplinary action against two of the leader’s most prominent critics.

And he said the party should fully adopt an internationally-recognised definition of anti-Semitism.

This is one of those moments when we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, stand up for what is right and present the party as fit to lead the nation – or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson

His intervention follows an attempt by Mr Corbyn to build bridges with the Jewish community which was met with a hostile response from the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement.

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Tom Watson’s comments go further than Jeremy Corbyn went by calling for Labour to fully accept an international definition of anti-Semitism (Aaron Chown/PA)

In a strongly-worded intervention, Mr Watson told the Observer: “This is one of those moments when we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, stand up for what is right and present the party as fit to lead the nation – or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment.”

He called for disciplinary action against MPs Ian Austin and Dame Margaret Hodge – who confronted Mr Corbyn in Parliament over his response to the row – to be dropped.

“I think it is very important that we all work to de-escalate this disagreement, and I think it starts with dropping the investigations into Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin,” he said.

“I have frequently had very difficult conversations with both Margaret and Ian but what I understand is that your critics are not your enemies. On an issue that is so dear to them, I think people are very, very concerned that these investigations should be dropped quickly.”

And he said Labour should fully adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in its code of conduct.

Mr Corbyn has stopped short of that, insisting that Labour had fully adopted the wording of the definition and had captured “the essence” of its illustrative examples, with seven of the 11 incorporated entirely.

He acknowledged that the Jewish community “should have been consulted more extensively” in drawing up the code, and its development had been re-opened to allow the input of Jewish organisations.

He insisted the differences were “very small” and amount to “half of one example out of 11” in relation to criticism of Israel.

But Mr Watson told the Observer: “We should deal with this swiftly and move on. We can’t have this dragging on throughout the summer.

“I have made no secret of the fact that … we should adopt the full IHRA definition and should do it without delay.”

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell was forced to distance himself from the anti-Semitism row over his links with the Labour Representation Committee campaign group.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the group, of which Mr McDonnell is president, said it was “factually true” to describe Jewish critics as “Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all”, highlighting comments made by former Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush in support of the US President.

A Labour spokesman said: “John has no day to day involvement in the operation of the LRC and is not responsible for its website or for posts on social media by its supporters.”

Meanwhile, Mr McDonnell used a Sunday Express interview to say Labour must lead the fight against far-right extremism.

“We must not underestimate the scale of the recent growth of the far right and its consequences for our society,” he said.

“The onus is now on Labour to take the lead against these reactionary forces by calling them out and placing a transformative programme before the electorate – that offers hope to people on job creation, tackling low pay, providing affordable housing and driving up living standards.”

In a Guardian article, Mr Corbyn insisted he will root out anti-Semites from Labour and acknowledged mistakes in the way the party had handled the crisis.

But the Jewish Labour Movement said trust had broken down with the party leadership, while the Campaign Against Antisemitism lashed out at Mr Corbyn’s failure to apologise for his own conduct.

Mr Corbyn said: “No one can, or should, try to dismiss or belittle the concerns expressed by so many Jewish people and organisations about what has been happening in the party I am proud to lead.”

But after three leading Jewish newspapers jointly published a scathing leader column about Mr Corbyn’s party, the Labour leader rejected their “overheated rhetoric”.

However, he acknowledged there was a “real problem that Labour is working to overcome” and stressed that if he became prime minister he would “take whatever measures necessary” to guarantee the security of the Jewish community.

Campaign Against Antisemitism chairman Gideon Falter said: “There is no acknowledgement of his own role in this crisis. There is no apology for his anti-Semitic activity in the past, but he has hypocritically condemned as anti-Semitic behaviour that he himself has been guilty of.

“He has again preached to Jews that he is right to have rewritten the international definition of anti-Semitism.”

The Jewish Labour Movement also rejected Mr Corbyn’s article.

A spokesman said: “There is no trust left. We find ourselves asking once again for action, not words.”

Political opponents seized upon similarities between Mr Corbyn’s article and an earlier response to allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour which was published in April.

Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly said it was a “cut and paste job”.

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