Hundreds of people have gathered in Parliament Square to protest against antisemitism in the Labour Party, demanding that its leader Jeremy Corbyn do more to tackle anti-Jewish feeling in his party’s ranks.
Crowds joined by over a dozen Labour MPs, chanting “enough is enough” as the Labour leader issued a statement seeking an “urgent meeting” with Jewish leaders to discuss their concerns.
Organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, speakers including the Labour MPs John Mann, Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman and Wes Streeting, as well as Haringey Council leader Claire Kober.
A number of Conservative MPs were also present, including cabinet ministers Sajid Javid and Penny Mordaunt.
Addressing the crowd, Mr Streeting said: “To those Jewish members who felt enough is enough and cut up their membership cards and walked away, our commitment to you is to work with every ounce of strength to drain the cesspit of antisemitism in the Labour Party so you can come back.
“We know what needs to be done. We don’t need any more mealy-mouthed statements from the leader of the Labour Party, we need actions
“The actions are very simple: Ken Livingstone should not be in the Labour Party. Antisemites need to be drummed out of the Labour Party. And that whitewash of a report – the Chakrabarti Report – can we at least implement every one of those recommendations. We had a wishy-washy report, it got someone a place in the House of Lords, but let’s at least make sure its delivers a genuine fight against antisemitism in our party.”
He told the Jewish community: “We are truly, truly sorry that you had to be here to make this stand.”
And Ms Berger said that antisemitism is “very real” and “alive in the Labour Party”, adding: “With the Jewish Labour Movement’s proud 125-year history with both the labour movement and the Labour Party, it pains me to have to stand before you and say that today.”
“This is not a new phenomenon – it has been going on for decades. But antisemitism within the Labour Party is now more conspicuous, it’s now more commonplace and its now more corrosive.”
A small counter-protest organised by the Jewish Voice for Labour group was attended by around 30 people.
It came as Mr Corbyn wrote to Jewish leaders insisting he is a “militant opponent” of antisemitism and again apologised for “hurt and pain” caused as he faced a wave of criticism from the Jewish community.
In his letter to the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council – responsible for organising the demonstration in Westminster on Monday – Mr Corbyn said: “I recognise that antisemitism has surfaced within the Labour Party, and has too often been dismissed as simply a matter of a few bad apples.
“This has caused pain and hurt to Jewish members of our party and to the wider Jewish community in Britain. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused, and pledge to redouble my efforts to bring this anxiety to an end.
“I must make clear that I will never be anything other than a militant opponent of antisemitism.”
He also personally apologised for questioning the removal of an antisemitic mural in east London, by a graffiti artist known as Mear One. The mural depicted a group of businessmen and bankers playing a Monopoly-style board game and balanced on the backs of people.
Mr Corbyn added: “Sometimes this evil takes familiar forms – the east London mural which has caused such understandable controversy is an example. The idea of Jewish bankers and capitalists exploiting the workers of the world is an old antisemitic conspiracy theory.
“This was long ago, and rightly, described as ‘the socialism of fools’. I am sorry for not having studied the content of the mural more closely before wrongly questioning its removal in 2012.”
At the gathering of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) behind closed doors in Westminster a number of MPs spoke out about antisemitism, with at least one MP expressing “disappointment” at the absence of Mr Corbyn, who was at the time in the Chamber responding to a statement from Prime Minister.
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