Former shadow cabinet member Ivan Lewis MP joined fellow parliamentarians in denouncing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party this week, after standing in for Labour’s deputy leader at the last minute.
Lewis, the member for Bury South, said Labour figures were happy to condemn anti-Semitism, but “often duck the Israel question,” and praised Watson for confirming the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
In a statement, Watson said childcare commitments meant that he could not attend, but added a message of “unequivocal support” and said he was “ashamed” of recent incidents of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, which were “deeply disturbing”. He also promised to come to Manchester “as soon as possible, so I can talk to you in person”.
Noting that Watson was “a friend of Israel,” NWFoI vice-chair Stuart Alion said: “In the last few weeks, Tom has come under tremendous pressure from elements of his own party for wanting to support this event. Whether you feel that he has succumbed to that pressure by not doing more to avoid the reasons for not being here is really up to you.”
Lewis acknowledged that there were “ongoing attacks on Israel as a state, largely from the left [of politics]” but urged perspective, saying: “We cannot afford to be hysterical about anti-Semitism.”
Meanwhile fellow Labour MP Louise Ellman has said it is “not true” that the furore surrounding her party’s recent spate of suspensions for anti-Semitism was about silencing criticism of Israel.
She said: “There are people now talking to Shami Chakrabarti and others saying ‘this isn’t much about anti-Semitism, it’s about trying to stop criticism of Israel…’ That is just not true. It is very important that the Chakrabarti Inquiry hears directly what your feelings are and why you are concerned.”
Jeremy Newmark, chair of Jewish Labour Movement – which co-hosted the event – said: “The significant level of participation from key figures in Manchester & Bury Councils added an important dimension. There was huge appreciation for Tom’s message and strong statement of support – together with his pledge to visit the Manchester community in the near future.
“As a community heavily invested in family values I felt people understood Tom’s decision to prioritise his responsibilities to his children – if some people have tried to make political capital from that I am deeply saddened.'”