The first face-to-face talks between John McDonnell and the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) in three years have floundered before they begun amid fury over the shadow chancellor’s comments ahead of the airing of Panorama’s probe into Labour antisemitism.
Jeremy Corbyn’s long-term ally was due to meet JLM’s new chair Mike Katz and national secretary Peter Mason last weekend after personally contacting the party’s only Jewish affiliate three weeks ago, Jewish News can reveal. But a clash with his appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show meant the meeting didn’t go ahead.
While a source close to McDonnell told this newspaper he hoped to reschedule, JLM insisted his comments defending legal letters to former Labour employees who’d blown the whistle on antisemitism mean there is “no point” in proceeding. McDonnell claimed Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA’s) enabled organisations to protect confidential information and insisted it wasn’t an effort to gag those speaking out against racism. He also rejected suggestions of hypocrisy from fellow Labour figures over the party’s campaigning against the use of NDAs to gag whistle blowers.
A JLM statement fumed: “We were going to tell him to his face that in order to save the Labour party, he needed to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, sack those who have been responsible for covering up corruption at the highest order, and take some personal responsibility for his own actions. He seemed to be up for it at the time.
“He then went on Marr, and attacked those who are bravely blowing the whistle on antisemitism. McDonnell could fix Labour’s problems in one afternoon with a few texts to his mates. We’re still waiting. There’s little point in a meeting now.”
It’s understood McDonnell approached JLM weeks after it sent three conditions for a meeting to an intermediary. It included calling for the resignation of any staff members shown to have intervened in the disciplinary process and resigning as honorary president of the Labour Representation Committee, which spoke out about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and described the Ken Livingstone case as a “witchhunt”. It was also the also demanded he publicly welcome the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints.
The last meeting between JLM and McDonnell took place at the party’s annual conference three years ago after Jackie Walker was suspended for a second time. There were suggestions he played a role in her removal as vice-chair of Momentum.
Leaders of JLM are believed to have felt the shadow chancellor was moving in the right direction on its demands, after he told Marr last month: “If there are issues that the EHRC can advise us on, I welcome that.” Reports also emerged in recent weeks of splits emerging between McDonnell and Corbyn’s office over handling antisemitism and particularly Brexit.
Speaking to Jewish News last September, McDonnell said described the row over the definition of antisemitism as a “nightmare” and advocated talks with the community – but pointedly refused to disassociate from LRC “because I disagree with them on these particular issues because on most issues I do agree and they’ve been a beneficial force in the party”.
But the shadow chancellor is understood to have privately expressed fears about the deteriorating relationship between the party and its only Jewish affiliate. In April, it overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, with members deciding he was “unfit to be prime minister”.
Speaking to Marr last weekend, McDonnell agreed with Gordon Brown that an apology to British Jews may be necessary. But he emphatically denied a report The Sunday Times that he and Diane Abbott had called for Corbyn’s top aides Seamus Milne and Karie Murphy to be sacked. “I have confidence in them, of course I do, “he said. “Jeremy and I talk about policies on a daily basis. Yes we will disagree on things but we will then come to an agreement.”
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