Britain's opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
Members of Parliament from both sides of the British political divide directed their anger at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday in a highly-charged parliamentary debate on antisemitism, blaming him for failing to adequately tackle antisemitism within his party.
In the debate's opening stages, British Communities Minister Sajid Javid warned Corbyn that "it will perhaps not be the most comfortable three hours of debate that he has sat in on."
Accusing Corbyn of a "deeply worrying lack of leadership or moral clarity on this issue," Javid called on Corbyn to "clarify his position." Although present for much of the debate, the leader of the British opposition opted not to make a statement.
Much of the criticism regarding Corbyn's leadership came from his own party's benches.
Perhaps the most impassioned speech came from Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger, subject to much antisemitic vitriol as a result of her activism against antisemitism, who described her recent experiences of antisemitism in the party.
"I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail — it described me as a dirty Zionist pig — and so started my 18-year experience of contending with antisemitism," said Berger, who is also chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement.
"In total, four people have been convicted since 2013 for the antisemitic abuse and harassment they have directed towards me," she added.
"My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently," Berger said. "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."
Fellow Labour MP Ian Austin called on Corbyn to permanently expel former London mayor and Labour member Ken Livingstone over comments made regarding Adolf Hitler and Zionism.
"Let me be clear about this. Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. That is antisemitism, pure and simple. It happened more than two years ago, and there has been ample time to deal with it, so it is a disgrace that it has not been dealt with," said Austin. "Livingstone must be booted out. Boot him out!"
Jewish Conservative MP Robert Halfon lamented the rise in antisemitic acts in the UK, describing them as "increasingly commonplace."
"I genuinely believe that the current Labour leadership is, at best, turning a blind eye to the problem and, at worst, condoning antisemitism. I say that with a heavy heart," said Halfon.
Labour MP John Mann told the chamber that his family had received death and rape threats due to his role as head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism.
"It does not end with me and my family. It does not end with Jewish Members of Parliament here," said Mann.
"Where this stuff ends is with what happened in Copenhagen, in Brussels and in France repeatedly, including four weeks ago: people murdered because they are Jewish. That is where this ends, and we know where history takes that. That is the reality now."
Andrew Gwynne MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, responded to the charges leveled at the Labour party.
"Let me be clear today that if anyone is denying the reality of antisemitism on the left, they are not doing so with the endorsement of the Labour party or its leader. Prejudice against and hatred of Jewish people have no place whatsoever in society, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that they are never allowed to fester again," said Gwynne.
"It is our job — the job of all of us in this place — to ensure that questions are asked, that anti-Semitism is called out, and that antisemitism is rooted out wherever it exists. There is no place in British society, and in British politics, left or right, for antisemitic views — end of."
Amid rising concerns
among British Jewry on the issue, Corbyn is scheduled to meet with representatives from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council on April 24.
The groups will not, however, attend a "round table" meeting between Corbyn and other Jewish community groups scheduled the following day, saying that it has "no agenda for action." The Community Security Trust also announced its refusal to attend.
"After we have had our meeting with Mr Corbyn on April 24, we will see whether he and the Labour Party have committed to the action we need against antisemitism," said the groups in a joint statement issued Tuesday.