Shadow chancellor John McDonnell rebuked an LBC caller on Tuesday evening after he claimed accusations of antisemitism in Labour are a “smear campaign”.
He told the caller: “It isn’t a smear campaign.. I’ve seen the evidence. I’ve seen the stuff on social media in particular. Some of it is horrendous.
“I’ve seen the threats that have been made against some of our Jewish members and MPs. So we have to face up to it.
“When you say it’s a smear campaign, that belittles what’s happening actually in terms of one, us saying there is a problem here and the action we’re taking against it. We’ve got to root it out.”
This comes as the party’s general secretary Jennie Formby told Labour MPs she did not have to answer to them after they unanimously backed a motion setting a one-week deadline to answer 11 questions about antisemitism in the party.
Formby also said it would be “impossible to eradicate” antisemitism and “dishonest to claim to be able to do so”.
Later during the show, a Jewish caller from Mill Hill told McDonnell: “You have a Jewish MP who has to go to your own conference with police guards.
“You have Jews like myself who, if you and Jeremy come to power, then we will leave. We fear the people who follow you.”
McDonnell urged the caller to remain in the UK in the event of a Labour government, adding: “We will do everything in our power to make sure Jewish people are safe and secure.”
A Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) spokesperson said: “Jewish Members have been saying for years that the issue of anti-Jewish racism in our party is immediate, real and serious.
“We are glad that John McDonnell has rejected any accusations of smears in relation to the cancer of antisemitism within our party.
“It is about time that John McDonnell finally and robustly recognised that our Parliamentary Chair Luciana Berger has faced near constant racially motivated harassment for just being a Jewish Labour MP.”
JJLM also urged John McDonnell to repeat his statement to the Labour Representative Committee, of which he is president, claiming the LRC has said “allegations of antisemitism are ‘propaganda’ from the ‘ruling class’.”
This comes after prominent Labour NEC member Pete Willsman caused anger by ranting about Jewish “Trump fanatics” and asking the community to “show me the evidence” of widespread Jew-hate in Labour.
He narrowly avoided losing his spot on the body by saying he’d enlist himself in antisemitism training – which it is not yet known as to whether he attended.
When interviewed by Jewish News last year, McDonnell, said Willsman needed “to understand the hurt he’s caused”, adding that if he “persists in those attitudes I think he should be standing down.”
Yet, in January Willsman took to Twitter in a late night rant, in which he said it was “not anti sem[itic]” to ask for evidence, calling on his “empty-headed critics” to back up their “ridiculous assertion.”
Labour and John McDonnell didn’t comment on his repeat offence, which caused anger in the Jewish community.
During the interview, he called the row of antisemitism in the Labour Party, and in particular surrounding the adopting of the IHRA definition of antisemitism an “absolute nightmare”. He added the party wants “a process of engagement, dialogue and discussion and hopefully agreement and consensus” in tackling antisemitism.
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