Parliament Square has seen some extraordinary protests – but surely none like last night’s by Britain’s Jewish community.
No one could recall the last time hundreds, if not thousands, of people – most of whom had never demonstrated here before – felt compelled to assemble at Westminster to accuse the leader of a major party of racism.
Equally remarkable was the sight of so many MPs from both sides of the Commons showing their support for the protesters at this landmark moment in politics.
Such are the fears that unchecked anti-Semitism has taken root among Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour ranks. But then, just when you thought the far Left could not go any lower, there was another poke in the eye for this country’s tiny, beleaguered Jewish community last night. ‘Jews for Jez’ read several Corbynista placards. And, to illustrate the point, there was a big yellow star in the middle of them. Quite extraordinary.
At a protest in Parliament square last night a women held up a ‘Jews for Jez’ sign. Robert Hardman says:’ On the day that British Jews had finally been goaded beyond endurance, a group of Corbyn diehards decided to tell them not only to shut up’
‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’ shrieked Nor, 55, a management consultant from Harrow in north-west London. ‘Take down that star! How dare you spit on my grandmother’s grave!’
On the day that British Jews had finally been goaded beyond endurance, a group of Corbyn diehards decided to tell them not only to shut up. Someone decided to take the most offensive, provocative symbol of Jewish suffering and stick it on some posters.
‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’ shrieked Nor, 55, a management consultant from Harrow in north-west London.
‘Take down that star! How dare you spit on my grandmother’s grave!’
The middle-aged woman holding up the banner gave him a blank look and stood her ground. Had they not been separated by a flowerbed and a couple of bouncers, Nor would have torn the placard out of her hands.
‘All my family except one died in the Holocaust and there is someone making fun of a yellow star?’ Nor told me. ‘Are they a Jew or are they a pretend Jew? How could they?’
The counter-demonstrators – around a hundred of Corbyn’s true believers – had occupied a corner of the square beneath the statue of Winston Churchill. They called themselves Jewish Voice for Labour. They had come to insist that cuddly old Jez hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body. It was all a capitalist plot to undermine Labour’s campaign in the upcoming local elections, you know – a Tory/media/Israeli conspiracy.
Just one problem, comrade. Nearly all those I spoke to were traditional Labour voters. ‘I am 74 and I have never voted anything except Labour. I now have nowhere to go,’ said Terry, a retired accountant from Pinner in Harrow.
‘I would have voted Labour at the last election but I just couldn’t do it with Corbyn in charge,’ said Ben, 32, a lawyer.
What was equally remarkable was that these people had felt compelled to be here at all. Time and again, I spoke to middle-class, middle-aged professionals, many of whom had never demonstrated in their lives. Hence the organisers had arranged this demo for 5.30pm instead of a leisurely lunchtime affair. Unlike some of the rent-a-crowd who turn up to vent their anger outside Parliament, this lot had day jobs to do first.
The counter-demonstrators – around a hundred of Corbyn’s true believers – had occupied a corner of the square beneath the statue of Winston Churchill. They called themselves Jewish Voice for Labour
One protester told Mr Hardman: ‘My fear is not that Corbyn is making people anti-Semitic but that he is legitimising those attitudes’
You could tell they weren’t regular demonstrators because they had come with an utterly useless public address system. I failed to hear a single word that any of their ‘keynote’ speakers had to say. But it didn’t matter much.
This lot were all fully aware of the way in which all those years of anti-capitalist, anti-Zionist rhetoric have corroded the norms of Labour Party discourse and made it acceptable to let slip talk of ‘Zio’ bankers, to give credence to a few Jewish conspiracy theories, to sit down to tea with a rabid Jew-hating preacher, to start asking one or two questions about that Holocaust business …
That is why the Jewish community was adamant that a line had been crossed, that it was time to stop keeping a low profile and waiting for Labour to sort itself out.
‘My fear is not that Corbyn is making people anti-Semitic but that he is legitimising those attitudes,’ said Richard, 40, one of umpteen off-duty lawyers present in the crowd. Like almost everyone here, he was afraid to give me his surname. Why? ‘I think that speaks for itself,’ he said. As we know, Mr Corbyn’s Momentum footsoldiers do not look kindly on Labour supporters who malign the dear leader.
Fellow lawyer Stephen, 30, talked of a friend, a Jewish Labour councillor in north London whose days in the party are already numbered.
Stephen was extremely concerned by the way in which Labour deflects accusations of anti-Semitism back on to the accuser. ‘What I find deeply worrying is the way in which so many people won’t address the problem but question those who raise it as an issue.’
People, in other words, like the Corbynistas gathered in the corner of the square.
Few were willing to give the Daily Mail the time of day. But I met one woman who was adamant that there was nothing anti-Semitic about that grotesque East End mural – the one Jeremy Corbyn used to like – which had been the catalyst for this entire protest. It featured a group of extremely Jewish-looking financiers playing Monopoly on the backs of huddled workers.
‘It was just a picture of some bankers,’ she insisted. ‘It had nothing to with Jews. This is just an orchestrated media witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn.’
But no one had orchestrated people like theatre producer Freddy Clode, 25.
No one had manipulated him into painting the poster which he was carrying. It read ‘For The Many, Not The Jew’ next to a portrait of Mr Corbyn.
‘I have voted Labour before but I am never voting for that man,’ he said. ‘Every time he gets caught out saying something disgusting and anti-Semitic or siding with some hateful organisation, he just says, “Oh, that was years ago”. Well not any more.’
One protester insisted: ‘It was just a picture of some bankers. It had nothing to with Jews. This is just an orchestrated media witch-hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’