More than 1,500 people packed into Parliament Square for an unprecedented public display of “fury” against Labour’s actions towards anti-Semitism.
Politicians from across the spectrum joined community leaders demanding the end to “fake” statements and the start of decisive action to tackle the scourge in his ranks, which he apologised for last night.
As the simmering anger over the two-year anti-Semitism controversy surrounding Labour moves on to the streets for the first time, participants held banners proclaiming ‘No to antisemitism: enough is enough’.
Jonathan Goldstein, the JLC chair, hailed the huge turnout from the Jewish community community and allies, just 24 hours after the event was announced. “We’re here to tell Jeremy Corbyn that enough is enough.
The presence of politicians of all stripes is a reminder that we’re not alone in this fight. You are our heroes.
“Anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in a mainstream political party. The time for talking is over. The time for words is over. The time for action is here.”
Speaker after speaker at the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council- organiser event spoke of their sorrow at having to resort to such an event, stressing that protesting against a major political party was unprecedented.
Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush said he’d never before seen such anger towards a major political party, adding: “I hope today’s event will never be repeated.”
Community members were “tired of fake statements” against anti-Semitism from the leader that weren’t backed up by sufficient action, he said. Highlighting the “limp” report by Shami Chakrabarti and the initial suppression of the probe into the Oxford Labour Club, he added: “Jeremy Corbyn needs to lead a cultural shift at every level of the party. This is his chance if he can take it.
“Finally, finally Jeremy, take some responsibility because it’s you and your leadership who are responsible for this and have the power to do something. The Labour Party must go back to being the enemy of racists not the refuge of racists.”
He name-checked many of the MPs who joined the event before attending the weekly PLP meeting including Luciana Berger, John Ryan, Angela Smith, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, Liz Kendall and John Mann – each receiving a round of applause. They were joined in the Square by Tories including Sajid Javid, Sir Eric Pickles, Theresa Villiers and Mike Freer.
The final straw that provoked the demonstration was Corbyn’s reaction to revelations he had questioned the removal of an anti-Semitic mural in 2012 – for which he has now apologised.
Mann, who led the fight against Ken Livingstone following his comments about Hitler and Zionism, apologised “on my behalf and on behalf of every MP that you’ve had to take the time to come here today. What on earth is going wrong with our party when this event has to be considered? We are not prepare to accept anyone staying in our party who is a racist.”
He called on Corbyn to “say tonight that every anti-Semite is expelled immediately. Nothing less will do”. And he warned: “The very existence of the Labour Party is at stake.”
While no speaker went near calling for an end to Corbyn’s leadership, there were occasional outbursts from the audience urging such a move.
Clair Kober, the former leader of Haringey Council, she she agreed with every word of the statement from the BOD and JLC that accused Corbyn of repeatedly “siding with anti-Semites rather than Jews”. This letter was handed to PLP chair John Cryer before the weekly meeting of Labour MPs.
“I’m sick of the culture of victim blaming. I’m sick of the toll it’s taking on my jewish neighbours and friends. Im aghast that ken Livingstone remains a member of the Labour Party,” saying it shouldn’t be left to Jews to call out anti-Semitism.
Taking to the stump, Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger highlighted a series troubling incidents inside the party in the last week alone, including the suspension of a candidate over alleged Holocaust denial.
She told the crowds: “Going forward, I want to address Jewish audiences with my head held high. Prevarication is not acceptable, being a bystander is not acceptable. The time for action is now.” Neighbouring Liverpool MP Louise Ellman also addresses the audience.
Wes Streeting, the MP for Iford North, described it as “a moment of great pain” for the MPs and peers present. To cheers, He said: “It’s a gross betrayal of everything Labour has ever stood for. They can threaten us with deselection. We will never be cowed to silence by momentum members of anyone else.”
He urged those Jewish Labour members who had remained inside the party to “stand with us” and, to those who had walked away, vowed to “work with every ounce of strength to drain the cesspit.” Every recommendation of the Chakrabarti report must be implemented and Livingstone kick out for a start, he insisted.
Around 100 people took part in a counter-demonstration just outside the square, some under the banner of Jewish Voice for Labour.