A miserable Jeremy Corbyn was accused by Channel 4 News’s John ‘F*** The Tories’ Snow of running a ‘nasty party’
Oh, the bitter irony in the choice of venue for the gathering where the true extent of the ugly face of anti-Semitism in Labour was first exposed at the party conference.
The fringe meeting on Free Speech on Israel was held at the Friends’ Meeting House in Brighton. Home of the Quakers, who live by principles of ‘truth, peace, simplicity and equality’. The Meeting House offers itself as ‘a place of welcome, encounter and spiritual exploration’.
Friendship and welcome were the last thing on the minds of a succession of speakers as they delivered vile and poisonous diatribes about Israel at the 60-minute meeting on Monday.
What is perhaps most extraordinary about that hate-filled meeting — officially billed in the conference schedule — is that none of the participants foresaw the rolling thunder of disgust they would unleash.
Or that it would dominate the airwaves to such an extent that little more than 24 hours later, a miserable Jeremy Corbyn would be accused by Channel 4 News’s John ‘F*** The Tories’ Snow of running a ‘nasty party’ — exactly as Labour had been billed on the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail.
The furore took hold when one panellist in the hour-long meeting, author Miko Peled, compared Zionists — those who believe in the right of Israel to exist — to the Nazis, and said that Labour should respect people’s right to question if the Holocaust ever happened.
Shockingly, these were his words: ‘This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust, yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.
‘It’s about the limits of tolerance: we don’t invite the Nazis and give them an hour to explain why they are right; we do not invite apartheid South Africa racists to explain why apartheid was good for the blacks; and in the same way we do not invite Zionists — it’s a very similar kind of thing.’
Astonishingly, he received huge applause. And even louder cheers came when some of the delegates demanded that the Jewish Labour Movement should be expelled from the party for supporting the state of Israel.
There were no dissenting voices either to the ludicrous claim by another speaker that the charge of anti-semitism in the Labour Party was part of a plot by the pro-Israel lobby to stop Jeremy Corbyn from becoming PM.
By yesterday morning, the meeting and its overtly anti-Semitic tone were dominating the media to the evident frustration of senior Labour figures.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, was forced to confront the party’s anti-Semitism on Good Morning Britain by the presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.
Just as it seemed the day couldn’t get any worse for Corbyn, he had a series of TV and radio interviews. On Channel 4 News he was forced to deny that Labour was the ‘new nasty party’
Watson wanted to talk about plans to renationalise the railways. Morgan had other ideas. He said: ‘The Holocaust Education Trust suggested in the two years since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader there was — their words — a fertile ground for people like this to express such views,’ he said.
‘Has Jeremy Corbyn simply been too lenient?’
A rattled Watson was forced to concede there was a problem in the Labour Party. ‘Well, I wish we could drive out any anti-Semite from politics,’ he blustered. ‘But it’s always been there on the fringes; if it ends up invading the Labour Party Conference space [and] the discussions I’m having with you on national TV, then that’s obviously a bad thing.’
The pressure only intensified on Labour when, mid-morning, a new report by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism emerged. The group analysed allegations of anti-Semitism among MPs, peers, councillors and candidates for public office of all parties.
Their damning findings? That Labour Party office holders account for 61 per cent of all the cases of alleged anti-Semitism.
Labour’s difficulties deepened still further when Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, tore into the party: ‘Anti-Semitism is racism and the Labour Party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party. A zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism should mean just that.’
Labour tried to limit the damage by sending out speakers to TV and radio studios to talk about their plans to end the policy of Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The tactic backfired. As shadow health secretary John Ashworth appeared on Sky News, for example, he was challenged about the race row, and commented: ‘Members who make disgusting anti-Semitic comments [should] be expelled.’
Meanwhile Jeremy Newmark, the chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) which bore the brunt of much of the abuse at the fringe meeting, toured the studios to criticise the fact the meeting had been advertised in the conference guide — thus being given an official stamp of approval — and was chaired by a member who had addressed the conference.
Tom Watson (pictured), Labour’s deputy leader, was forced to confront the party’s anti-Semitism on Good Morning Britain by the presenters Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid
Newmark told Sky News: ‘They allowed their meeting to become an arena for what effectively amounts to a call for Jews and Jewish groups to be purged from the party. I think Mr Corbyn must be acutely embarrassed …’
The row then spilled on to the main conference floor yesterday when an unrepentant Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, a Labour member from Chingford and Woodford Green who chaired the Free Speech on Israel meeting, brazenly mocked the Jewish Labour Movement.
She told the conference it would have a ‘bit more credibility if it did not spend so much of its time running to the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph with stories’. The response? Rapturous applause.
By now panic-stricken at the tidal wave of criticism, Labour high-command tried to calm matters in the afternoon by backing a rule change which will strengthen the party’s stance towards members who are anti-Semitic, racist, Islamophobic, sexist or homophobic — only for Wimborne-Idrissi to hit back, accusing the party of policing ‘thought crime’.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, Labour also came under fire from its own women Labour MPs over the hateful abuse directed at the BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who is accompanied at the conference by a male bodyguard for the first time. Harriet Harman, the former deputy Labour leader, was among the MPs who demanded that Jeremy Corbyn condemn the bullies who have targeted Ms Kuenssberg.
Then, just as it seemed the day couldn’t get any worse for Corbyn, he had a series of TV and radio interviews. On Channel 4 News he was forced to deny that Labour was the ‘new nasty party’.
He said: ‘This is not a nasty party. Nobody should be abused, whoever they are … anyone using anti-Semitic language, anyone using any form of racist language, is completely at odds with the beliefs of this party.’
Asked about the threats made to Kuenssberg, Corbyn replied: ‘I don’t wish anyone to have to be accompanied by a bodyguard anywhere in our society, and certainly not in our conference.’
Corbyn can hardly have been surprised. Last summer when Kuenssberg was called to ask a question at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on the EU, boos and hisses greeted her name.
The Labour Leader smirked before silencing the abuse with a wave of his hand.