Labour MP labels Corbyn an 'antisemite' over party's refusal to drop code

Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of being an antisemite by a senior Labour MP during an angry public confrontation in parliament on Tuesday, after the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) refused to ditch a controversial new code of conduct on antisemitism.

The decision infuriated Jewish leaders and many of the party’s MPs, who had voted overwhelmingly on Monday night to urge the NEC to change course.

Margaret Hodge, the former chair of the public accounts committee, approached Corbyn behind the Speaker’s chair as MPs took part in a series of knife-edge votes on Brexit on Tuesday.

Friends of Hodge denied reports she swore at the Labour leader, but acknowledged she had called him “an anti-Semitic racist”.

They added that when Corbyn protested, she replied: “It is not what you say but what you do, and by your actions you have shown you are an anti-Semitic racist.”

One Labour MP said: “She went to him and he just stood there and took it. She was furious.”

Corbyn had earlier briefly attended a rancorous three-hour session of the NEC, to support its decision to leave the code of conduct in place – but throw it open to fresh consultation.

A Labour party spokesperson said: “The NEC upheld the adoption of the code of conduct on antisemitism but, in recognition of the serious concerns expressed, agreed to reopen the development of the code, in consultation with Jewish community organisations and groups, in order to better reflect their views.”

The code of conduct has been widely criticised because it fails to incorporate all the examples listed alongside the internationally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Labour has said the code of conduct contextualises and expands on the examples in the widely accepted IHRA definition. But the decision to rewrite them has underlined perceptions that Corbyn’s party has failed to take the issue sufficiently seriously.

One Labour MP said he felt “sick to the stomach” that Corbyn had defended the code of conduct.

Hodge could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for British Jews, said: “The decision of the Labour party’s NEC and the message it sends to Britain’s Jewish community is utterly contemptible. The damage it will inflict on our credibility as an anti-racist political party is the leadership’s responsibility – and theirs alone.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting

Wes Streeting, the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for British Jews, called the NEC decision ‘utterly contemptible’. Photograph: Richard Gardner/REX/Shutterstock

A spokesman for the Jewish Labour Movement said: “The Labour party has acted in a deliberate and offensive, reckless manner in believing it understands the needs of a minority community better than the community itself. We await to see if any further ‘reviews’ change this.

“This is not the same party that wrote the Equalities Act and has proudly championed minorities. The impact on Jewish Labour activists has been unprecedented and severe.”

The former Labour leader Ed Miliband waded into the row, saying: “Labour should adopt the full IHRA definition. The argument that it is somehow incompatible with criticising the actions of the Israeli government is wrong. The views of the vast majority of the Jewish community are very clear. I would urge the NEC to get on with this at speed.”

NEC sources said the atmosphere was tense at the meeting and that one member, Peter Willsman, had upset others by asking for a show of hands of who believed there was antisemitism in the party. The Labour MP Keith Vaz also expressed strong opposition to changing the party’s current position, sources said.

They were pitched against Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, and the Momentum founder, Jon Lansman, who both urged colleagues to act. Watson reportedly said: “Are we serious about winning a general election? Are we serious about dealing with antisemitism? If so we need to grip this issue and close it down.”

The examples removed from the IHRA definition include accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than their own nations, claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and comparing Israeli actions with those of the Nazis.

Labour has argued the removed examples were already covered in a wider new code of conduct, but claimed some of the original examples needed clarification to be used by a political party and to avoid stifling debate, particularly on Israel and Palestine.

Labour MPs had demanded a change of heart at a private meeting on Monday night, arguing that the full definition was widely used, including by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and 124 local authorities.

The MPs voted overwhelmingly to back a motion, proposed by two Jewish MPs, Luciana Berger and Alex Sobel, that the parliamentary Labour party should adopt the definition and urging the NEC to follow suit.

The row had been further fuelled on Monday, when an unprecedented alliance of 68 rabbis from across the spectrum, ultra-Orthodox to liberal, signed a letter to the Guardian calling on the party to engage with the community on the issue.

However, ahead of the meeting on Tuesday, a coalition of 36 international Jewish anti-Zionist groups signed a letter of opposition, calling the IHRA definition a “distorted definition of antisemitism to stifle criticism of Israel”.


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