Labour MP Ruth Smeeth told Jewish Labour Movement supporters on Sunday that “every time [Derby North MP] Chris Williamson opens his mouth, he helps our cause. His interventions [on anti-Semitism] ensure that the leadership has had to distance itself from him.”
And Ms Smeeth, MP for Stoke on Trent North, declared that “the only people weaponising anti-Semitism are the anti-Semites”.
Condemnation of Mr Williamson’s remarks were a running theme throughout JLM’s first conference, a curtain-raiser to Labour’s Brighton conference which attracted activists from London, Manchester, Norwich and even Somerset. With a morning largely devoted to internal issues — training for students, the experience of Jewish Labour councillors, and how the Labour Party is perceived in Orthodox, Reform and liberal synagogues — and an afternoon highlighting the work of Jewish MPs in confronting anti-Semitism, the conference was hailed as a great success. Senior Labour party officials attended and were made fully aware of the strength of feeling about apparent inability or unwillingness to tackle anti-Jewish abuse.
But Ms Smeeth, who has suffered death threats, on-line abuse and even direct verbal confrontation at the presentation of last year’s Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism, acknowledged that on occasion the Jewish community had dealt “emotionally” with anti-Semitism. “We did not deal with it logically, and we need to be cleverer and deal with things in a more grown-up way”, she said. “We have to challenge people and we need to separate the leaders [of anti-Semitic abuse] from the followers. The followers, you can argue with. The leaders, we need to break and destroy”.
As the newly-elected vice-chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Ms Smeeth, who was on a panel with Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman and the former minister and MP for Hove, Ivor Caplan, now has a weekly meeting with party leader Jeremy Corbyn. “It is the highlight of my week”, she said.
She said that Corbyn “could not get his head around” the suggestion that he might preside over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. She predicted that Chris Williamson’s return to Parliament this week as the new session opens “will not be comfortable” as she revealed that she would report his comments about those who “weaponised” anti-Semitism to the Chief Whip and the party leader. Scathingly, she said that while Williamson claimed never to have seen anti-Semitism in 41 years in the party, she had been advised by police to move house because of the threats against her.
Louise Ellman said she believed that “most Labour MPs” had been “appalled” at Williamson’s comments. “It has lifted the issue [of anti-Semitism] right back up again when people were beginning to think it had been dealt with.”
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.