Labour Party conference: Margaret Hodge launches attack on Jeremy Corbyn over 'hostile environment' for Jews

Labour grandee accuses party leader of 'insensitive stubbornness' after he refuses to apologise to Jewish community

Monday 24 September 2018 16:49
Margaret Hodge speaks about being on the receiving end of antisemitism as a Labour MP

A Jewish MP at the heart of the row over antisemitism in the Labour Party has hit out at Jeremy Corbyn, accusing the party leader of "insensitive stubbornness" after he refused to apologise to the Jewish community.

Dame Margaret Hodge, who faced a disciplinary probe this summer after calling Mr Corbyn a "racist and antisemite", also attacked the Labour leader's key trade union allies over their comments on the issue.

Writing exclusively for The Independent, she said Mr Corbyn had "created a safe space" for antisemites and "a hostile environment for Jews".

Dame Margaret has been a vocal critic of her party leader and repeatedly said she believes he is antisemitic.

In her latest comments, she accused him of being "unable to express remorse for his own actions and words".

Asked during an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday whether he wanted to apologise to Jewish people who had been offended by his actions, Mr Corbyn said: "I'll simply say this – I am an anti-racist and will die an anti-racist.

"Antisemitism is a scourge in any society and I will oppose it all my life and I will continue to oppose it all my life."

Criticising his response, Dame Margaret said: "Antisemitism can only be confronted with strong leadership. Labour could deal with the problem if the leader of the party wanted to.

"Yet every time Corbyn has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, he fails. Even when he was forced to concede the adoption of the internationally accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism, he tried to amend the text by adding a clause stating that describing Israel or the circumstances around its foundation as racist was not antisemitic."

She added: "On the Marr programme, he was unable to express remorse for his own actions and words. When asked about his support for a blatantly antisemitic mural he simply said he had been ‘too hasty in my judgement'. When challenged about his statement that Zionists who had lived in Britain for a very long time “don’t understand English irony' he replied 'It was not intended to be antisemitic'.”

"When asked why a growing number of Jews feel threatened by the prospect of a Labour government led by him, he failed to answer and turned the conversation to the NHS."

Suggesting Mr Corbyn was guilty of "insensitive stubbornness" she added: "All this summer’s revelations show he personally has crossed the line of legitimate criticism of the Israeli government to illegitimate attacks on Jewish people. He needs to show remorse."

The Labour leader has "created a safe space on the left for those who expound despicable antisemitic attitudes" and "generated a hostile environment for Jews inside the party", she added.

Dame Margaret also condemned trade union leaders Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka, who are both key allies of Mr Corbyn.

Earlier in the day, Mr McCluskey appeared to attack Dame Margaret, saying MPs who called Mr Corbyn racist "had lost every shred of decency".

Speaking in the conference hall, he said: "Anyone with a point of view should be heard, but anyone screaming 'you are a racist' at Jeremy Corbyn has lost every sense of moral proportion, and I might add, comrades, that they've lost every shred of decency as well."

Mark Serwotka says Labour antisemitism row was invented by Israel to distract from 'atrocities'

Dame Margaret hit back, saying: "As Len McCluskey’s remarks at Labour’s conference show, the row about antisemitism has not gone away. Its continued presence will infect and harm Labour’s standing with voters."

She added: "How can the party ignore the outrageous statements of influential trades union leaders like Len McCluskey, who claims that the row over Jew hatred was simply ‘mood music’ created to undermine Corbyn? Or Mark Serwotka who suggested that Israel created the antisemitism row?"

It came as a new poll revealed voters thought Mr Corbyn had been incompetent and dishonest in his handling of the antisemitism row.

The YouGov survey for the Labour Against Antisemitism group found 52 per cent of voters thought Mr Corbyn had been "an incompetent leader" in his response to antisemitism, compared to just 20 per cent who thought he had been competent.

And more than half (58 per cent) said the leader had not been "honest and transparent" in his response, while 22 per cent thought he had been.

46 per cent of voters said they thought Labour had an antisemitism problem, and more than one in three (34 per cent) said it made them "much less likely" to vote for the party.

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