Anti-Semitism has become more commonplace, conspicuous and corrosive within the Labour Party, one of the party’s Jewish MPs has said in an impassioned speech urging change.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), was applauded by MPs from all sides after she spoke of the anti-Semitic abuse she has faced, including from those appearing to support Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
She and other MPs backed calls to expel Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party, with former minister Ian Austin saying the ex-London mayor had been “comparing, claiming that Hitler was a Zionist” – labelling this as anti-Semitism “pure and simple”.
Mr Corbyn was in the Commons to hear Ms Berger and Mr Austin’s remarks, with Communities Secretary Sajid Javid also accusing the Opposition leader of a “deeply worrying lack of leadership and moral clarity” on anti-Semitism.
Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said “much more work needs to be done” on anti-Semitism, adding: “No political party has the monopoly on vice or virtue but we will put our house in order.”
Speaking during a debate in the Commons, Ms Berger said she received her first piece of hate mail aged 19.
She said it described her as a “dirty Zionist pig”, adding: “Here starts my 18-year experience of contending with anti-Semitism.”
Ms Berger said she has been attacked by the far-right and far-left, later saying anti-racism is a central Labour value and there was a “time not long ago when the left actively confronted anti-Semitism”.
She added: “One anti-Semitic member of the Labour Party is one member too many.
“And yes, as I’ve said outside this place in Parliament Square, and it pains me to say this proudly as the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, in 2018 within the Labour Party anti-Semitism is more commonplace, is more conspicuous and is more corrosive.
“That’s why I have no words for the people who purport to be both members and supporters of our party, who use that hashtag JC4PM, who attacked me in recent weeks for my comments, they attacked me for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, they’ve questioned my comments where I questioned comments endorsing that anti-Semitic mural, who say I should be deselected or called it a smear.”
Ms Berger said people have accused her of being a “paid-up Israeli operative”, a traitor, an “absolute parasite”, and told her to “get out of the country and go back to Israel”.
She said the “hurt and anguish” of the Jewish community must be understood and taken seriously, adding the Government must conclude its work on how to better protect everyone online.
Ms Berger also said: “My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently. We need to expel those people from our ranks that hold these views – including Ken Livingstone.
“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.”
Following Ms Berger’s speech, Labour MP Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), could be seen crying and was comforted by her party colleague Wes Streeting (Ilford North).
Ms Smeeth also received a standing ovation during the debate after sharing the anti-Semitic abuse she had faced.
Ms Smeeth, reading a small sample of the abuse she had received, said: “My fan base has shown scant regard for appropriate parliamentary language so I apologise in advance, ‘hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth, you’re a cancer of humanity’, ‘Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist she has no shame and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler who the Zionists betrayed’, ‘Ruth Smeeth must surely be travelling first class to Tel Aviv with all that slush, after all she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down’.”
The Stoke-on-Trent North MP went on to tell colleagues it was “truly heartbreaking” that she had to stand in Parliament Square to protest against the anti-Semitism that was “engulfing” parts of her party.